Coming Attractions

Yes. I am evil. I used that title.

In this case, it is happily appropriate. Mark your calenders, good readers, because from May 8 to May 23, 2013, I will be sharing blog space, excerpts, interview questions, and prizes with the talented and insane erotica writers who meet in an atmospherically accurate dive bar a lovely forum over on AbsoluteWrite.com.

Absolutely Erotic Blog Hop Cover art

More details to follow.

Teasers for ‘Leopard’s Leap’, pt 2

My M/M erotic romance space opera Moro’s Price will be one of the titles featured today over at Top2Bottom Reviews’ Thursday Promo section. (Adult content warning if you follow the link, yadda, yadda, you know the drill by now.)

What the heck kind of book is it? Think ‘Firefly’ meets ‘Rome’ in the Fiftieth Century, out in a galaxy where humans are not happy to realize They Are Not Alone. It has multiple plots, because I just don’t know when to stop letting side characters tell their stories. It has black moments and funny moments, and a love story that came out of left field for me. I never expected Price to be my debut novel. I’m grateful for all the people who’ve bought it over the last nine months. (And even – somewhat – for the folks who’ve been pirating it like crazy, because I think that means you’ve at least been reading it…)

To thank the readers who might check this blog first or follow T2B’s links back, here are some random bits from the latest chapters of my spin-off novella, Leopard’s Leap. As with the last excerpt, these lines may or may not end up in the final version.

(Author’s note: while Val and Moro show up in Leopard, they are not main characters, and there are no scenes specifically from their viewpoints. Their story begins shortly after the end of Leopard. Given that limitation, I’m still able to work in a lot of their back-stories and some foreshadowing, heh heh. Just in case anybody cares.)

1) He’s jealous of me, or of Dogleash. Maybe both, Jason thought, damning all resolve. He reached for Mateo’s chin, held it gently. “Hey. Do you have any idea how glad I am, that you watch?”

“Pervert.”

“We’ve established that. No.” Jason flailed for a glib way to say it, found none. “You watch over me. You care if I live or die. Most of us in the arena – we have to pay people to care about us.” He leaned down and brushed a kiss on Mateo’s forehead. “Thanks, cousin.”

2) A coded chime sounded at the door to his tiny apartment. Val’s signal. Mateo rolled his eyes. He punched a speaker panel and barked, “What?”

“Are you decent? Did you get it off yet?” came Val’s light tenor voice from the door com.

“About that –” Mateo began, reaching to engage a stronger locking array. Too late. A university apartment door was no match for Val. Mateo grabbed a throw pillow instead and held it over his lap. The door beeped off-key and slid open with a lurch.

3) He’d lost track of time when a soft bell announced the arrival of food. When he opened the door, Sera Bruitt herself stood behind a covered red plastic tray nearly as wide as the doorway. She winked up at him and said, “Young man, whatever you’re doing in here, you’re not doing it right if you’re still dressed.”

Thanks for stopping by.

A Tale of Two Museums

I recently attended an Al Stewart and Dave Nachmanoff concert at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in north Scottsdale. (Aside: Al and Dave are brilliant guitar players and polished singer/songwriters who not only craft songs with several-hundred-word vocabularies, they’re also wickedly funny in between songs. Come for the music, stay for the comedy.) It was one of the best intimate concerts I’ve ever seen. The MIM theater is acoustically damned near perfect, as far as I can tell. The MIM itself boggled my little mind – but I’ll get back to that.

Right now, I’m going to indulge in a bittersweet compare-and-contrast session.

First off, let me establish that I do not trust any culture or creed that attempts to outlaw music, dance, and adornment. These are basic human activities, possibly hardwired into our brains. I suspect that to deny them is to deny other parts of our humanity, as well: little things like justice, mercy, empathy, and creativity.

Second, this is also a completely amateur analysis of two Arizona cities: Glendale and Scottsdale.

I lived in Glendale for ten years. While there, I rediscovered fiber art and beads, in part due to some amazing local bead shops. Even when I moved away to another nearby city, I tried to make time to go visit the best hidden bead treasure of them all.

The Bead Museum was founded in 1986 by Gabrielle Liese, and moved from Prescott, AZ down to Glendale in 1999. The museum rented an 8,000 square-foot building from the City of Glendale, and featured an extensive research library, almost 12,000 beads and beaded objects spanning 20,000 years of human history, and offered unique classes, exhibits, and guest lectures. I always compared it to two other gems of the Southwest: the Heard Museum in Phoenix AZ, and the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe NM. (At the latter place, in 1985, my love of beadwork and book arts was rekindled as ‘This is something I could do’, not just ‘This is something I like to see’.)

Even in the best economic conditions, the Bead Museum could not get strong local advertising to break out of its niche market. The culture scene of Glendale had made a nod toward the same art-walks and festivals popularized by other local cities, but traffic congestion and lack of parking seemed to keep many potential patrons from attending – even me, when I lived only six miles away.

Beginning around 2003, the City of Glendale gambled on future tax revenues and issued $155.2 million in revenue bonds to pay for a sports complex for the National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes; a $200 million Spring Training baseball stadium for the L.A. Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox; and nearby office, residential, and shopping centers. At least one of the latter projects was not even finished before it was repossessed by the lender. Other planned projects were shelved when the recession hit. The owner of the Coyotes sought bankruptcy in 2009. The NHL purchased the team, and Glendale agreed to pay to keep it in Arizona. The Coyotes games have never brought in the promised tax revenue and ticket returns. The City of Glendale is now stuck with over $300 million in payments to the NHL. Additional debts nearly crippled the city, resulting in massive layoffs and service cut-backs. The city’s bond rating was cut by S & P in December 2012 to A-. (1)

Theoretically, the improvements to downtown Glendale and the nearby sports complex should have led to increased support for the arts, but that didn’t happen. In the case of the Bead Museum, attendance dropped steadily. In spite of desperate and creative fundraising efforts, the lack of a relatively tiny $200,000+ endowment fund spelled the end, and the museum closed in March of 2011. (2)

Comments in the Arizona Republic summed up both the museum supporters’ heartbreak and the reaction of the general public:

‘Glendale can pour millions into the Coyotes, but can’t save a lousy museum that adds a little class to downtown?’

‘Beads (and beaders) are boring.’

After that, the comment chain descended to predictable mentions of porn and politics. (3)

Although the Bead Museum left Arizona, its complete collection was donated to the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, where it remains as an accessible resource for scholars and artists. (4)

The art geek in me cannot help but take a little bitter pleasure in seeing jocks and their business backers so humbled, even though I actually like the Coyotes.

Now consider Scottsdale. It has a mixed reputation: fossil bed for snowbirds, retirees, and social conservatives; vibrant and lucrative art destination; binge-drinking party central for the young and ultra-hip. But another thing Scottsdale has is serious money, even in the depths of recession.

I first heard about the Musical Instrument Museum from someone working on the project, while I was a customer service rep at a local art store. I remember being skeptical: small theme museums go into bankruptcy auctions all the time, and I didn’t know the scale of this project. I was impressed by the publicity when it opened in April of 2010. Living almost 40 miles away, I didn’t have a chance to visit until last weekend.

The architecture, scale, and depth of the project are stunning: a 200,000 square foot visual poem in white marble and blond sandstone, on a 20-acre site in the Sonoran Desert setting of north Scottsdale. A former Target executive helped fund the initial stages, and the rest has been privately funded through individual and corporate donations of over $250 million dollars. The concert theater draws a wide variety of performers, and has even been used in recording sessions. The two cafes feature locally-sourced dishes created by award-winning chefs. The vast exhibits themselves showcase musical instruments, dance costumes, and other artifacts from nearly every continent and culture, with unobtrusive narration from headsets and flat-panel displays throughout. At $18 per adult, attendance can be pricey, but it’s worth an entire day to visit.

From the MIM’s own website, I chose this quote to describe it: Music is something all humans share, a source of beauty and comfort, a means to give voice to joy in times of celebration, and a powerful force that brings people together(5)

Scottsdale got the MIM. Glendale lost the Bead Museum. In the end – in either case – it’s no surprise why.

 

 

Hooked on One-Liners, part 2

Allie Ritch has allowed me to be part of the general havoc/hilarity that is ‘Hooked on One-Liners’.

Again, be warned that we’re erotic romance writers. Following the link can take you to some fairly-explicit sentences, so if you’re underage or live in a place where that could get you in trouble, don’t do it.

The rest of us will be giggling in a corner.

Teaser for ‘Moro’s Shield’

After some Real Life derails, I’m hard at work at both Leopard and on Moro’s Shield. The latter begins only a few hours after the end of Moro’s Price.

Working blurb: On the run from two human empires, Moro seeks Sonta help for his damaged nervous system. Val must make amends for one of his teenage mistakes, or lose Moro to another lover.

I can’t actually post the first paragraph, not if I want to keep this blog somewhere just above PG13. But here’s a fun snippet that may or may not survive into the final version:

“Camalians keep many secrets from other humans,” Val began, trying to choose words from the mandatory classes he’d barely listened to as a bored teenager. “You’re one of us now –”

Moro surprised him all over again. That adorable forehead wrinkle deepened. Moro sat up suddenly, cross-legged amid the tangled sheets, and pointed accusingly at Val. “You can c-control how and when the shed symbionts return t-to Cama, c-can’t you? Otherwise, none of you c-could work around v-v-volatile gas–” 

“Damn,” said Val, fighting back a smile. Moro didn’t need to think he was being laughed at for the returning stammer. “Just how long have you been working that out?”

“Only the l-last hour or so. I-I think.”

“You were able to think? Cama save me, I’m a complete failure as a lover.”

Moro grinned at him. “I j-just have a lot more experience multitasking under d-duress.”

 

Pebbles, Pachinko, and Publishing, part 2

My friend Kate Lowell wrote a very thoughtful rebuttal to my previous post about aiming high in publishing. It’s good enough that I have to examine it in full.

Bear in mind, my normal response to rejections is usually a mild obscenity, followed by a shrug, followed by 1) revision if I feel the editor made some valid points, or 2) trunking or submission to a new market. Thank you, Kate, for reminding me that not everyone has the ‘F**k You’ filters I’ve accumulated during 26 years of writing and being a commercial artist.

Kate wrote, in part: “…Now, here’s my take on this–I have no problem with someone who knows that their stuff isn’t ready for the big leagues picking a smaller–well researched and reputable–publisher to sub to. Or for whom the thought of trying to produce a manuscript, one that might make it even to the point of a personalized rejection, creates a kind of writing stasis mediated by fear. Not everyone can be a Scalzi or a Sanderson (although, Brandon Sanderson wrote 12 novels–count ‘em, 12!–before he got offered a publishing contract.) The way I look at it, I know I can sub to the Big 6, if I’m willing to wait to make it through all the slush piles. That’s not the issue.

What I was talking about was fear, which is a very real issue that many writers face on a daily basis. Some people would say that if you can’t overcome your fear of the rejections you will surely receive, then you shouldn’t be writing. I call shenanigans on that. The business is difficult enough as it is–there’s no need for us to be eating our young.”

Kate is correct. The fear of rejection can be crippling, at any stage in one’s writing life. (I am not going to say ‘writing career’, for reasons I will make plain in a later post.)

“Yes, some people shouldn’t be writing and submitting. They don’t have the proper command of grammar or vocabulary, or maybe they haven’t yet developed the complexity of mind necessary for a riveting narrative. But, there are a lot of people out there who are close, so close, and they shut themselves down because they can see that they aren’t quite there yet and they need someone to guide them those last few feet. I know a surprising number of writers who fall into that category. And this is where I feel these second tier publishers can be of use to us.

You can learn a lot about the mechanics of writing good, entertaining prose through courses, in critique groups, while chatting on forums and from books on craft. But the real learning, beyond the self-training that occurs in those other arenas, is when you have to rewrite your work to suit your market. There are things I will never do again, because I’ve had to rewrite for a market. For those struggling with the fear of rejection, an acceptance even to a smaller market may be what keeps them in the business, despite school, home life, jobs and all the other things with claims on our time. And all those big, well-respected publishers had to start somewhere. There are a number of them out there now that didn’t exist ten or fifteen years ago, markets I would love to get into.”

She’s correct there, too. Respectable smaller markets can give new writers some desperately-needed validation. No matter how long we’ve been writing and submitting, every single acceptance is a gift, a thrill, an antidote to mundane nonsense and soul-grinding frustration. I slightly mistrust anyone who says they don’t sting, at least a little, from rejection. But how much sadder still is it to lose that Christmas-morning joy when someone says ‘yes’ to your story? To treat it as just another outcome, or worse yet, only your due?

Smaller markets can also offer writers a fast introduction to the realities of writing, editing, and formatting to house styles or editorial need. How we respond to qualified acceptance can be more important to new writers than how we respond to outright rejection. I know several writers still trapped in ‘Golden Word Syndrome’: they tend to self-sabotage revise & resubmit requests, because they still regard any criticism as total criticism. They aren’t new writers (I’ve known them for 15+ years), so their responses to editorial suggestions are nearly automatic. The sales they do make are in spite of their resistance to outside guidance and compromise. New writers have the chance to avoid such fossilization, and smaller markets can provide the training wheels.

Kate also says, and I completely agree: “Just be sure you check them out, either on Writer’s Beware, or on Absolute Write (in the Bewares and Background Checks forum), before you send anything out. Check out their authors, read a few of their books to see what you’d be getting. Talk to people publishing in your genre and see what their opinions are of the smaller publishers. Do your homework, just the same as you would research for your book. This is your baby, after all. And don’t start at the absolute bottom, but a little higher than you think you can reach. We are our own worst critics.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t respect yourself if you submit to a publisher that isn’t Random House’s main imprint, or Tor, or Penguin. Everyone has their personal goals and it’s your right not to be ready for that yet. Be aware that you will be sacrificing sales in exchange for a smaller pool to be noticed from, but it’s not the end of the world to publish in a smaller press first. After all, there’s a reason we call them plot bunnies…you can be pretty sure there’ll be more. And when that truly special one comes along–we can hang out together in the slush pile with all the other soon to be big dogs.”

Bravo, Kate. I have been schooled.

 

Hooked On One-Liners

This is a shameless re-direct to Allie Ritch’s blog, where she showcases the first group of one-line promos from some of our fellow erotic romance authors. It’s a quick and tasty derail: one sentence from a book, the author’s name, a buy link, and a website link. I’ll be in the second group in a week or two. Warning: this link will take you to some very short but very graphic sentences.

But if you’re an adult, go on with the clickety. You know you want to.

Pebbles, Pachinko, and Publishing

Today a friend of mine wrote in an AbsoluteWrite.com forum: “…I have the choice to work my way up the ladder and let my confidence grow with my skills.”

Well, yes and no. This is the foundation myth of many new writers, and of many lower-tier publishers: first submit to lesser markets and gain credibility as you go to higher and higher markets. I am totally for confidence-building exercises. I am also for reasoned analysis of one’s writing skills and the markets that might fit them.

But folks, please, please do not fall victim to the strategy of blindly ‘working your way up the ladder.’ All you have done is send your work to lesser markets, without knowing how well it might have done in better ones.

In commercial publishing, it’s better to aim your writing at high markets and work your way down, than the reverse. (Do what you will in self-publishing, since you will be taking on not only the role of publisher but marketing director.)

I know some amazing small (and often low-paying) markets I’d submit to in a flash, because I like the people involved AND a sale there would look great as a publishing credit. There are others I will never bother with, because their low payment ratio isn’t balanced by market credibility. A sale there is only good for my shallow ego, not my long-term career goals.

I know of several authors who submitted brilliant novels to frankly sub-par publishers, either because they didn’t do their research or they were afraid to send their work to the Big Five or reputable smaller publishers. All of these books should be selling in mega-thousands of copies, be on the NY Times lists, and be known to the general public. The best-selling author of the group has maybe sold 5000 copies of his first two novels in two years. The others have sold a few hundred copies, and one says they got their rights back after two years and an $8 or $9 royalty check. All because they discounted their skill and chose publishers who either could not or would not reach the broader markets.

They didn’t work from the top down.

I’ll use a physical sciences example because it is dramatic and obvious: let’s play Pebble Pachinko.

Let’s say you are separating sand from gravel bits, and using progressively-smaller sieve meshes for the separation. The largest sieve holds back the largest pebbles. The smallest sieve will catch the sand grains. Everything in between will find its own separation point on a specific sieve.

Now think of that in terms of publishing. The finest sand grains are the slush-piles and the rejected stories that nobody buys. Your story is a mid-sized pebble, bouncing down through smaller and smaller sieves. If you have slotted in the largest meshes at the top (the biggest, best-paying, most prestigious publishers), your pebble-story might land there, or a couple of layers down. That’s up to the quality of your writing (which you can improve) and the luck of the market/editor’s bad day (about which you can do nothing.)

Ah, but if you remove those top sieve layers, then the pebble-story will stop at the very next mesh too small to let it pass. That could be a great small market – or a mediocre one delighted at snagging some good-quality work out of the slush-pile.

You have not given your story a fair try. Out of fear of public perception and rejection, you deliberately removed yourself from the higher markets.

Fear is often healthy. It’s a survival mechanism to keep us from doing stupid things. But you won’t get eaten by a tiger, if you send a story to a top market and the editors don’t like it. You’ll get no response, or a rejection letter. Maybe a little veiled online snark. But you want to be a published writer, so that means putting some of yourself out there for public scrutiny. You can learn to handle it, laugh it off, and learn from it.

Go play Pachinko with your stories and see where they land.

Edited To Add: My friend Kate Lowell has a good rebuttal over on her Blunt Instrument blog. She’s not wrong, and she has brought up the fear of rejection that all too often cripples new writers. I promise to chew on the topic some more.

Teaser for ‘Leopard’s Leap’

To the good and kind people who keep buying Moro’s Price: thank you. In between Real Life Dramas, I am working on the next installment, Moro’s Shield. I am also playing with a spin-off sci-fi M/M erotic romance novella provisionally titled Leopard’s Leap. If and when it finds its way to an outlet near you, I will let everyone know. In the meantime, here is the working blurb:

Arena gladiator Jason Kee-DaSilva sold his body to pay his family’s debts, but they shun him once he’s set them free. Only his distant cousin Mateo stands by him after Jason loses first his heart, then his status, to the legendary fighter Dogleash. Mateo has long idolized his famous cousin, but Jason’s obsession with Dogleash nearly drives Mateo into the clutches of a duplicitous corporation intending to lure or drag Jason back into their service. 

And here is the first paragraph:

Mateo’s life changed on his fifteenth birthday, in a Taverna DaSilva storage room far from the chaos of an extended family celebrating several name-days at once. He’d hidden behind a stack of crates to get away from some girl’s gropes. He calmed his breath in the dark, spice-scented peace; no longer puzzling over why he’d run away, but how to break the news to Papa DaSilva. 

 

Fun With Spam, Part 2

I don’t have a site counter on the Blue Night blog, so I don’t know how many people read it.

That’s part of the fun. Really? You have never put a message in a bottle and thrown it into the sea, or tied it to a balloon? The law of averages says you’ll never get an answer. Other than contributing to global pollution, that’s not really why you put out the message in the first place. The point is the act of sending the message.

I do know how many times a day this blog gets spammed.

I’m a little sad that I’m not getting the quality stream-of-consciousness spam I used to see. Sure, I can use alpha-numeric gibberish and recycled advertising. I miss the old stuff – the kind that can go straight to formatting for artists’ books, it’s so absurdly earnest and full of awkward English. C’mon, guys, you’re slipping up on my generated text-farm operation, here.

But moderating the contributions has shown me some other sad failings of typical spam texts.

1) I can see who you are. No matter how fervent, enthusiastic, or engaging your comments, I know they are spam just by their originating code. Let’s face it, a ‘replica’ handbag seller out of Hong Kong has very little reason to comment on this blog. Therefore, you are likely a purveyor of malware. That pesky law of averages, again.

2) You say that to all the girls. Spammers use text macros because it’s faster than typing individual messages. These macros show up in searches. A handy hint for new bloggers who might waver over some particularly pithy and seemingly-appropriate comment: check it first via Google Search. Simply drag your cursor over the text and select it. Then click the right-hand mouse button (or equivalent) and select the menu line that says ‘Search Google for <selected text>. If the exact copy or a permutation shows up as a comment on other blogs, it’s more than likely spam.

(Unrelated handy hint: this is also a great way to research urban legends, folklore, and those ‘inspirational’ internet stories that just seem too spooky or heartwarming to not be true. Highlight text, select, Google Search, yadda yadda. Or just go to Snopes.com and start there, because at least one of your search results will go there anyway.)

I apologize for the one-tenth-of-one-percent of ‘real’ comments that might get mixed into spam, and from there consigned into the Pits of Oblivion. I love the Real People who comment here, and I hope to make this place a regular time-wasting spot for their internet rounds.

Oh, and a text-generation resource for me and other book artists.

 

2013 Tucson Festival of Books

As a book artist and writer, I have to do a shout-out for the sprawling, insane, and wonderful Tucson Festival of Books. Held on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, AZ, 2013’s event will run from March 9 to March 10. From its founding in 2009, the Festival has quickly grown to a beloved regional institution, featuring hundreds of authors, publishers, artists, schools and universities, social clubs, churches and faith groups, and commercial ventures – all celebrating the art, science, and sanctity of words. Attendance numbers in the thousands. Yes, there are still that many readers around!

For romance readers especially, consider the Arizona Dreamin’ Romance Books at booths #125-126, #131-132. Lots of great local authors will be on hand to sign their books, give away swag and prizes, and offer their experiences through writing and publishing panel discussions. They’re sponsored by the Valley of the Sun chapter of Romance Writers of America.

For folks interested in book arts, consider stopping by booth #335 and Paperworks, the Sonoran Collective For Paper & Book Artists. These artists regularly floor me with their talent and inspiration.

If you are in the Tucson area next weekend, consider attending. It’s an amazing gathering.

Where do books go?

An interesting and saddening (to book lovers) article from the Phoenix New Times.

Anyone involved in publishing and book selling already knows about the industry-wide practice of stripping printed book covers, sending the covers back to the publisher or distributor for credit, and trashing the rest of the book.

As a writer, I cringe at seeing this. I catch myself thinking: Ohmigod, whatifthatwasmybook? NowIwannasaveALLthebooks. Well, maybe not all the books by Dan Brown, E.L. James, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Posterity deserves some warning of our crimes, ya know. And I’m fairly sure that some of the books and magazines I’ve published in have suffered the same fate.

As a reader, I know very well that when I buy a book at an outlet like H@lfPriceBo0ks or Bo0km@ns, the original author isn’t getting any portion of that sale. Yes, I’m contributing to the slow death of a midlist print author being shunted from bad contract to awful contract, to probably no contract. (Unless they can put their backlist into e-pub formats, and maybe rise like the phoenixes they all deserve to be.) But I am fickle, I am A Reader, and I am poor – so I will get my books as legally and cheaply as I can.

As a book artist, I am often amazed by the ways artists use printed material and even whole books as structural forms. I’m a snob here, too: if it’s well done I’m likely to cheer. If the resulting piece telegraphs its maker’s laziness, ineptitude, and lack of creativity, I reserve the right to go Mystery Science Theater 3000 all over it.

A shout out to anyone who might ever travel to the Phoenix, AZ area during February. If you love books, bring cash and strong shopping bags to the annual, two-day VNSA Used Book Sale. You must wear layers and get there before dawn on the first day. You should be tanked to the gills on the stimulant of your choice. You must block out several hours, if not more, for browsing. You will send money to hundreds of local charities that desperately need every penny they can get. You will leave with treasures.

Filigree’s Rule (updated April 26, 2014)

1. Filigree’s rule:

Filigree's Rule

I’m updating this post over a year after I wrote it, with added information. I apologize in advance. It’s going to be a nasty, cynical read. It will make some people unhappy. However, if you are one of the millions of folks just now deciding you want to become a published writer, you should probably read this. Better yet, just skip this first section and just follow the links below – they’re the most important part.

I’ve agonized for almost a year about writing down Filigree’s Rule. It goes against my every fiber as a researcher, mentor, and former publishing newbie. So many people helped me over the past 20 years, that I feel as if I have a moral obligation to pass on that assistance.

I’ve been part of various internet conversations about writing and art since 1994. I have been Filigree on several writers’ sites for over a decade and a half. I would not be published today without the help of mentors who came before me, coaxed me over the depressing moments, put up with and diplomatically derailed my attacks of Golden Word Syndrome, and guided me through the mazes of the publishing industry. If I’d actually started listening to them earlier, I would probably have been published a decade sooner. Thank you, gentlefolk.

For over ten years I’ve been trying to pay forward that guidance, helping newer writers and artists over the same pitfalls that nearly swallowed me.

I’m selectively backing off that mandate as of now, regarding specific groups of writers, literary agents, and publishers. If I see writers, agents, and publishers revealing certain strategies, creeds, worldviews, and tendencies, I will step aside silently. I will offer no impediment to the three groups meeting up. To be blunt, I hope they drag each other down into acrimony and penury, and leave a more open playing field for the rest of us.

I am tired of reading writers’ forums and seeing variations on the phrase ‘researching agents and publishers is so HARD’. Of seeing writers complain that they resent having to take a week or so to research basic publishing strategies. That it’s so difficult, and so confusing, they’re thinking of self-publishing or giving up.

Fine. Self-publish without adequate preparation, and see what happens if your experience mirrors the 99% of other unprepared self-publishers. Or better yet, give up now, save yourself the time and money. Go start an Ebay or Etsy crafts or reselling business – the chances are good you’ll earn more from that than publishing.

Look at it another way. How long did it take you to write your book? To set up a new business? To buy a house? To adopt a child? To finish a Masters’ thesis? I know careful people who spent over a year researching agents and publishers to find the right fit, to increase their chances of getting an offer of representation or publication. Or to learn the strategies behind different ways of successful self-publishing.

Skilled professionals in many other fields have to do continual research and training to update their skills, and keep abreast of current developments in their business. It’s called ‘remaining employable’. Writers are in business for themselves; if they want to count it as more than a hobby, they have to behave more like business people.

Am I victim-shaming? Maybe. I genuinely feel for anyone jumping into the publishing pool right now, because it is big and confusing. There are a lot of sharks out there pretending to be helpful fishing guides.

The internet simplified a lot of things, too. There’s more information on publishing now, more places to find it, and more ways to rate its effectiveness and honesty. If a new writer can’t manage basic internet search skills and a modicum of skepticism, or if they are so caught up in their own apparent exceptionalism they can’t make objective decisions? Maybe they shouldn’t be writing with the intent to publish.

Maybe it’s not worth my time, or it’s not my place to try saving them from themselves. There is that saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water…’

I will pass on what assistance I can, to people I have deemed worth helping.

What are my parameters?

Added 9-1-2016:

This is my private list of warning criteria against possibly iffy publishers. Just as this is my blog. Both of them are my opinion. Other people are going to have different benchmarks, obviously. But for now, here’s a link to the Filigree’s Rule splash page, which not only lists my criteria (and it’s grown into a very long list!) but some individual essays about aspects of publishing. I hope it helps some people. It will probably offend others; for that, I’m sorry, but…

Image result for Life is hard Princess GIF

I’m not important enough in any particular industry for my detailed opinion to matter. No one sane is going to think that one sentence or a hundred from me makes that much difference in the world; all I hope to do is coax people to engage their own brains and make their own decisions.

Being published used to be a lot harder than it is now. Most of us agree on that. Online access has become both boon and bane for writers. Email queries and online databases have opened up the formerly mysterious and laborious process of finding publishers and agents, querying them, and waiting for each answer through the postal system. With the click of a button, new writers can query a publisher or agent, submit a story, or even self-publish. In fact, there is so much stuff published, blogged about, or otherwise preserved online that we are awash in a sea of information.

Finding the ‘good stuff’ increasingly means relying on review services, social media gatekeepers, and other trusted sources. Easy access has possibly made us lazy. I am amazed that more people appear to spend more time researching prices and features on new automobiles, than on their potential publisher. The necessary research can be time-consuming, but less than writing the book in the first place.

Any writer intent on publishing for profit should learn and use research skills: tracking down primary and secondary sources, following information trails, judging past performances, analyzing online presences, and being objective. The information new writers need to protect themselves is already on the internet, across numerous sites.

Some sites may appear to be less friendly at first, and present harsh lessons that we might not like to hear. So we may gravitate to kinder communities where other newbies are there to hold our hands and feed our egos as long as we return the favor. There’s nothing wrong with that. Humans are social creatures. The friendships we make through social media can be just as fulfilling as face-to-face contacts.

But that level of trust and acceptance can contain danger, as well. New writers crave positive reinforcement, but all too often that comes with a sales pitch as a price tag.

Certain parts of the publishing world share startling similarities with multi-level marketing, for-profit colleges, and pyramid schemes. Many groups rely on a constant stream of new authors/members to make up their profits. Many show less real profit from their alleged businesses, than from recruiting and selling services to new members.

Many victims, no matter how victimized, can’t accept the truth because it would mean that they got taken in. They think it means they are losers and fools, and remain silent out of shame and anger. They sometimes even accept those predatory parameters as ‘the way publishing works’, publish with other dubious publishers hoping ‘this time it will be different’, or even go on to found dubious publishing companies or literary agencies of their own – while earnestly believing they are doing good, because that is all they know. Sometimes they know they’re in with a bad crowd, and recruit newer writers to become part of the essential Ponzi scheme.

Publishers don’t have to be actively villainous to be bad news for their authors. Lots of new businesses over-commit or use up their capital investments within a couple of years. If the market is bad, or the publisher suffers a personal or family problem that requires more attention, the business can suffer. Learning which publishers have gone this route before, or might be going through it currently, might save authors untold stress and financial losses of their own.

The smartest, savviest people can be duped by the right pitch. Social engineering works. I know too many stage magicians and information security professionals to deny it.

2. The Links.

Just because I am being selective about my online involvements and whistleblowing, doesn’t mean I would arbitrarily cut off every well-meaning new writer. These are some of the sites that I have found to be good places to start, for researching publishers and literary agencies. It took me a while to gather all of these, but at least listing them will save other folks that time.

First, you can always try some basic Google Fu: Google “(company name) publishing scam” and see what kind of hits you get.

On Alexa Internet (www.alexa.com) you can see any online company’s global and local ranks, plus numbers of sites linking to them, by inserting their web address into the search area. Sites with low ranking numbers get lots of traffic. Sites with high numbers get less traffic. What does that mean to a writer? If your prospective publisher claims to sell more books through their website than they do through other online sales portals (like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc.) and they have Alexa rankings in the high millions – they aren’t attracting many potential buyers to their site.

For Amazon sales specifically (print and Kindle), you can track books on Sales Rank Express. Simply plug in the title, ASIN, or ISBN of the book. Once activated, this service will track sales histories of books sold through Amazon.com. As with Alexa, very high number rankings (especially into the millions) indicate very low sales. No Amazon ranking for a book? That means there hasn’t been a single sale on Amazon, for that particular edition. Amazon isn’t the only online sales portal, of course, and Sales Rank Express isn’t perfectly representative for strong best-sellers. But for books selling less than 1000 copies a year, it has been shown to be relatively accurate, and a good predictor of other sales patterns. (http://www.salesrankexpress.com/)

If you are already working in publishing, book-selling, education, or the library fields, you may have access to Nielsen BookScan, or know somebody who does. With BookScan data, you can look up the sales history of most print publications. Like Sales Rank Express, BookScan may not cover all print sales of a specific book, but sales outlet participation is increasing rapidly. Why care about your publisher’s previous print sales? Why not believe their press releases and website advertising? You can see fairly accurate tracking of their books, which may give you an indication of your likely print sales. Believe me, all the major publishers and most small presses follow their competitors’ BookScan numbers.     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nielsen_BookScan

One simple article for newbies wanting to learn where to submit work:    http://helpingwriters.com/special-reports-articles/publishing-scams-and-schemes

Another overview of writing scams:    http://www.aliciarasley.com/artscam.htm

A copywriter’s blog with many publishing-related topics:    http://blog.emilysuess.com/ (soon to be moving, so follow links)

David Gaughran has a great write-up of the author exploitation business here.  http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/the-author-exploitation-business/

‘Making Light’, the blog of Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Avram Grumer, Jim MacDonald, and Abi Sutherland. A wide-ranging and informed discussion of many publishing topics, from professionals with many years in the field:      http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/

Preditors & Editors maintains a large database of scam and problematic publishers, agencies, and related businesses targeting writers, artists, game designers, and composers:    http://pred-ed.com/

Writer Beware is the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) public branch of their Committee on Writing Scams, which deals not only with ‘issues that affect professional authors, but with the problems and pitfalls that face aspiring writers.’      http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/

AbsoluteWrite is an online writing industry site with 40,000+ members at varying professional levels, discussing topics across the publishing and creative industries:           http://absolutewrite.com/

These are basic research tools, most of which are available for free to anyone with an internet connection and a working knowledge of English.

Very Inspiring Blogs (and sites)

VeryInspiringBlogAwardThe witty and fabulous Kate Lowell just tagged me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award. Thanks Kate. I’ll try to live up to the high standards placed upon me (cough cough.) I’m supposed to share seven facts about myself. Er, that is, things I can share in a public forum. Then list the blogs and sites I find inspiring. Also things that can be listed in public. Ahem:

1. I share a variant of my given name with a famous fictional murder victim and a hard rock/metal band. This makes me smile, which proves I am not normal.

2. I like werewolves more than vampires, but artifacts more than werewolves.

3. I wrote my first short story at age 6. My first experience with censorship followed rapidly. The censorship was fully justified.

4. When I was 13 my family aimed my obsession with jewelry-making at my fear of fire, by way of a tiny little butane/oxygen torch. This was a valuable life lesson in many ways.

5. I am a long-time fan of the Canadian prog-rock band Rush.

6. If I was an elf in Tolkien’s universe, I’d be a Noldo. See items #2 and #4.

7. I looked for my ‘tribe’ for too long, before I realized that tribes are not as important as being a citizen of the world. I meet the most interesting people that way.

Writing and publishing sites I visit often:

AbsoluteWrite.com   The site that helped me get published properly.
Sales Rank Express   The site that helps me follow my sales progress.
The Erotic Romance Blog  The site that taught me how to pick romance publishers.

Loose Id’s publisher blog
Carina Press’s publisher blog
The Galaxy Express (romance in science fiction)
Locus Magazine: science fiction and fantasy publishing news
Tor USA: one of the best SF&F publisher blogs around

Writers I follow (a small selection out of several hundred):

Alex Beecroft writes brilliant historical romances from a M/M slant.
A collection of writers who inspire and uplift me whenever I hear SF&F geeks complaining about sex in books, much less gay sex.
Lynn Flewelling’s journal, in which she is unflappably nice, deeply funny, and often profound.

General news and art sites:

The Long Now Foundation: how to think for the long-term future
The Arts & Letters Daily:  how to learn what is happening now
Artists Books 3.0:  because I do love artifacts.
F**kYeahBookArts: because these lunatics also love artifacts and book arts.

 

 

 

$pace Marin3

I’m joining such august company as John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, and Popehat, so I feel included in the wave of righteous anger spilling over the internet right now. This stands to get me in more trouble, but I feel so strongly about it that I must post. I simply must.

To that end:

Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine!

And furthermore: Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine Space Marine

Shame on you, G4mes Workshop. We get it. You want to defend your W4rhammer properties against knockoffs. You make lovely games and figures (if hideously overpriced), and The Bl4ck Library looks like a great publisher. That doesn’t mean you should claim ‘common law copyright’ or whatever on an independent, self-published American author by using a British law…after deciding that since you are now in the e-book trade, you can roll over anyone else who is using the term ‘Space Marine’. Which has existed in speculative fiction since, oh, sometime in the 1930s.

And shame on Amazon for instantly obeying a hinky takedown notice, just because they decided their chances of getting sued by a poor author were less than by GW.

There is a story behind my insanity. Interested readers can find it start here.

 

Gay Romance book giveaway

Okay, now that I have the attention of the four or five non-spammers who actually read this blog, here are the details. My insanely talented and prolific friend and fellow author L.A. Witt is hosting a book giveaway over on her blog.

Here’s her reasoning:

“Know anyone who hasn’t tried reading M/M romance, but might like it? I’m doing a HUGE giveaway on my blog to encourage readers who’ve never tried M/M romance to give it a shot. I’ve collected donations from some awesome M/M authors, and will be giving those away along with a chance at a $25 Amazon gift card. The giveaway goes live at midnight tonight, and goes until all the books — 34 in all — are gone. Entries for the Amazon gift card close on February 13th.  If you’re already an M/M reader, you can still enter the drawing for the gift card just by having a friend who *hasn’t* tried M/M enter, as long as they mention that you referred them.”

Link to rules and details is here.

Link to the actual giveaway, once it goes live, will be here, along with a list of the books available.

The books range across many genres, from contemporary to fantasy, sci-fi to historical, and many different heat ratings from ‘PG 13 sweet first love’ to ‘good heavens, people, find a soundproofed room!’

I know Witt’s books are hot and marvelously plotted, because I’ve beta read a couple of them. Plus, she is now writing collaborations with the equally demented Aleks Voinov. I’ve heard from other authors involved, who have generously offered some of their best work. This will be a celebration of the genre for those who don’t know it yet.

Why is this notice here? Because Witt asked* me to donate a PDF copy of thisMCH_MorosPrice_coverlg

*When Witt asks, and then mentions that it might be very good publicity for a debut writer with one paltry book to her name, and that if one doesn’t donate said book, one might be called a cheapskate coward and a weenie across the whole bloody internet…well, it’s just easier to keep the peace and say ‘yes’. Just ask Witt’s nemesis Lauren Gallagher.

 

 

 

Etsy.com, Amanda McKittrick Ros, & RiffTrax

Etsy.com and Amanda McKittrick Ros are brilliant examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.”

Or, in street-speak, “You are not only not as talented/smart/beautiful as you think you are, you are too ignorant/self-delusional to understand that.”

Amanda McKittrick Ros was someone I first stumbled onto in college, where she was trotted out by a world-weary English professor who wanted to gently warn all of us Speshul Snowflake Creative Writers about being clear-eyed and honest with our writing. (Thank you, Dawn!) Dear old Amanda is going through a revival of sorts; I just saw an article about her on Slate.com, and it brought up the old twinned horror and fascination I’d felt in college.

Here was a 19th C social climber more shameless and oblivious than Hyacinth Bucket, a hair-trigger litigant more ready to defend her honor and property than a wolverine on meth, a woman with apparently no discernible sense of humor, and possibly the worst writer in the English language. Her works go beyond the merely terrible. Read too much unadulterated Ros, and even sparkling prose begins to look bad. I’m not kidding. The Slate writer and Aldous Huxley both noticed this. I have heard it rumored that the late great Douglas Adams may have modeled Vogon poetry after Ros and her efforts.

Some movies are like that, too, such as Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’, or *anything* from Uwe Boll. Both of these unsung geniuses get the same general reception as Amanda, especially on the hilarious media commentary site RiffTrax LLC

Yes, that is a paid affiliate link for one of my favorite online comedy sites. If you click on the link and decide to try one of the RiffTrax commentary streams alongside your own copy of the movie, I’ll get a few cents. But I’m including RiffTrax in this post for Reasons beyond making this blog earn its way now and then. Read on…

Etsy.com is an internet site originally founded to provide an online sales portal for handmade crafts (link not provided, deliberately.) Market forces being what they are, the site is now regularly outed as being a haven for mass-produced resold goods and counterfeit accessories. There are still enough actual handcrafters around to keep the site legal. Many of those, alas, are the artistic and creative descendants of Ros. This is not to say that Etsy lacks its share of amazingly-talented artisans–they’re there, but finding them in the sea of Blah is getting harder and harder.

I’m selling, theoretically, on Etsy now. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m eclectic in my appreciation of craft and art. If it’s well-made and beautiful, I’m likely to enjoy it. I’m also likely to be a horrible snob if the quality isn’t there. I have to paraphrase a Maynard Dixon quote, because I don’t have access to the primary text. Speaking of a San Francisco art league exhibit in the early 20th C, he said something along the lines of “These are fools who mistake sincerity for skill.”

Art done for therapy’s sake is a wonderful tool to heal wounded human minds. Sometimes it has a raw emotional power, cousin to the most visceral of Outsider Art, and for the same reasons: it is devoid of the trappings, tropes, and pretensions of the Fine Art world. But student art and art done for therapy is not always great art, and sometimes it is awful. Many new artists have better ideas than the skills to realize them, and have no ability to objectively assess their own progress.

The current patron saint of artistic Dunning-Kruger-in-Action has to be an elderly Spanish woman who ruined a church fresco she was trying to restore. The distorted Monkey Jesus has now become a meme, a tourist attraction, and even a favorite 2012 Halloween costume.

Art has been democratized in the developed world. Hobby stores sell every kind of kit or supply imaginable, and often the classes needed to gain a rudimentary skill. Wine bars and empowerment seminars offer painting sessions where previously non-artistic folks can get in touch with their inner five-year-old and just play. And that’s good. Higher mammals, avians, and cephalopods play. It’s a sign of a big brain letting off steam and processing what-if situations before they arise.

Something miraculous often happens at these human adult play-date sessions: the participants discover that Art is Fun. Because it is such fun, its products must also be laudable – even sacred – reminders of the glory and joy felt by the participant. To the new artist, the object becomes a symbol of that brief escape. The objective critic or possible buyer can’t see that, of course. They see a hot mess. When they speak out about it, they are accused of being bullies. Etsy, DeviantArt.com, and many other democratic display sites are filled with vicious flamewars by artists who are emotionally scarred by any critique. When these artists have a little more experience, if they’re lucky, they begin to realize that not all art is going to be perfect on the first try. Everybody learns from their useful mistakes.

Writers’ sites also fall prey to this kind of victim culture. Here’s where an understanding of EtsyFails, Amanda McKittrick Ros, and few hours of laughing along with the RiffTrax folks might help.

Many of the Etsy artisans are pouring their hearts out, with no idea how bad they are. The market being the blunt instrument that it is, some of them will find customers happily just as clueless. Some will come to the ashamed understanding that they started in the wrong place. Some will quit…and some will buckle down and learn their craft.

Amanda found great satisfaction in writing, but apparently read little other work published in her day, beyond the few authors who inspired her. Initially sure of her originality and genius, she retreated behind those delusions when the wider world didn’t welcome her efforts. Because she had no sense of humor or irony, she could not understand that most of the writers and celebrities who courted her approval did so because they were poking fun at her magnificent delusions.

The founders of RiffTrax (who were previously behind the zany and beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000) have a double-edged approach to Really Bad Movies. Some movies are transparently trashy, get mocked for it, and we all have a good time. But some are so transcendently horrible they become forces of nature and rites of passage: respected for their failures and their creators’ unwavering self confidence.

Added 9/28/2017: Now that we’re in an American Presidency characterized by the same traits, it’s up to us to respect passion, but remain objective AND kind. There are a lot of people hurting out there, and a little laughter and sympathy goes a long way.

 

The walls come tumbling down

This isn’t yer momma’s romance, kids.

I’d like to share some breaking news cross-posted by romance writer Tara Lain:

Hi everyone—

This was just posted on RRW about the new J R Ward book—

Hi guys, I just thought I’d share that earlier this morning the virtual signing opened for J.R. Ward’s Lover At Last (This is Blay and Qhuinn’s book, the male/male pairing). They reportedly doubled the number of books available for pre-order through the signing, and in under three hours more than half the books available were gone. Less than 8 hours later they’re saying they’re almost sold out and they are looking at possibly, for the first time ever, closing out a virtual signing in under a day. 

Yep. It sold OUT! 

: )

Tara is correct to be grinning from ear to ear, like all the rest of us M/M romance writers.

J.R. Ward is BIG NEWS in the paranormal and erotic romance field.  She has thousands of dedicated fans, and she’s made her publishers a hell of a lot of money. She’s also been setting up this particular pairing for at least 3 books that I know of, weaving back-stories and plots. Readers on the pre-order are saying things like ‘I never read M/M, but OMG it’s Qhuinn and Blay so I have to read it!’

Ward’s formula would probably not work for an author who isn’t already market-tested. Having a vampire series during the height of the vampire craze didn’t hurt her either.

This isn’t the only M/M pairing coming to mainstream publishing this year, according to some scuttlebutt I’ve heard from agents and publishers. But it is the most dramatic and satisfying way to announce the M/M genre to the wider world.

Sure, Evangelical preachers are fanning the flames of homophobia in Africa. French protesters are marching against gay marriage. There’s an uneasy Culture War thrashing itself out in mainstream US forums, as old/conservative folks are clashing with young/liberal voters and consumers. But for most people under 30 in the US, sexual preference is a non-issue. Labels like ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are blending into newer, more subtle, more encompassing outlooks.

The hope for M/M writers in general is that if Lover At Last works and gets good reviews upon its March e-book release, then those readers might be more inclined to seek out other M/M writers with less familiar universes and characters. It may or may not convince the bigger publishers that the market is viable, which is why most of us are hedging our bets with the e-publishers who’ve incubated the genre. We have Josh Lanyon and L.A. Witt, who should be celebrated as masters of gay noir and contemporary romance – but they and a few hundred other great writers are stuck in the M/M ghetto.

I have a dog in this fight. I’ve been writing M/M romance since discovering Samuel R. Delany’s and Misty Lackey’s books in the early 90’s (there’s a dichotomy!) It took me years to write something that could be published. I’m not ashamed of the book that I sold to Loose Id last year. I’m thrilled to see even the relatively ‘mild’ M/M relationships in science fiction and fantasy books from Lynn Flewelling, Kate Elliott, Tanya Huff, N.K. Jemisin, and many others.

Readers from the M/M erotic romance community may not be as familiar with mainstream SF&F tropes, but they’ve been welcoming such treatments in erotic romance books for a few years. It’s no accident that most of the support is coming out of the paranormal romance community, and not SF&F. PR is new. It has little experience with the established tropes of a century of spec fiction, and less of the institutional and emotional baggage. Even the Romance Writers of America, a bastion of heterosexual normality at least as conservative as eHarmony.com, has been thawing and allowing LGBT romance writers into chapters and contests.

Less so, on the SF&F side. I’m still seeing a distinct resistance in the SF&F community, whenever M/M books are discussed. My erotic romance friends joke that we will never be up for a Hugo or a Nebula Award, even if we write spectacular SF&F – as long as we have that pesky graphic gay sex in our books. There’s a well-known writers’ contest that discourages gay content. In online writer’s forums, I’ve seen otherwise reasonable mainstream SF&F readers (and writers) become almost hysterically defensive when confronted by M/M themes. (Sometimes even sex, in general.) We suspect the main opposition is coming from the straightboy nerds who still consider SF&F to be their private hunting ground. I’ve had several agents tell me they wouldn’t touch such a mms, or even know how to market it. One of them even plaintively asked me to ‘stop wasting time’ and focus on more respectable romances. Or better yet, ditch the romance and just write epic fantasy.

I don’t only write guy-on-guy sex. I write M/F and even F/F – depending on the story and the characters. But as I’ve said before, when the sex is an integral part of the story, I will write about it.

So I couldn’t be happier to see Ward’s logical pairing of two much-loved male characters vindicated during the book’s first virtual signing. It means good things, people. You can be damned sure Signet and the other big publishers will be watching this debut as carefully as they watched Fifty Shades. If it looks like the general audience will accept M/M pairings, then the authors, agents, and publishers who support it are poised to make a killing.

 

So that’s what I write

A couple of online discussions made me consider just what rocks my writing self. While I love technically-accurate science fiction that ‘works’ on realistic levels, I respond most deeply to stories that can blur the line between fantasy and science fiction.

Space Opera. Sword & Planet. Planetary Romance. Not all the same thing, but they have distinct lineages connecting back to the adventure tales of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. (Note: here, the ‘romance’ pertains to stories of adventure, not love/lust.)

‘Space opera’ is a formerly pejorative term that was re-purposed in the early seventies by publishers eager to counter intellectual, inner-space, experimental fiction and get back to more fundamental story-driven tropes. Easier fare, if you will. ‘Star Wars’ gave those publishers legitimacy and a huge boost, as did the popularity of Tolkien and his disciples/copiers.

Consider ‘Sword & Planet’, or ‘Planetary Romance’ to use the more currently-popular label. Wikipedia defines it thus: “Planetary romance is a type of science fiction or science fantasy story in which the bulk of the action consists of adventures on one or more exotic alien planets, characterized by distinctive physical and cultural backgrounds.” Wiki has this to say about the subtle differences between the two labels: “In general, planetary romance is considered to be more of a space opera subgenre, influenced by the likes of A Princess of Mars yet more modern and technologically savvy, while Sword & Planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series.”

I remember being in my early teens, at that magical age to really discover sf&f. I remember summer afternoons spent reading reprints of Burroughs and Andre Norton, Leigh Brackett, and Doc Smith; or new works by Tanith Lee, Jo Clayton, Christopher Stasheff, and C.J. Cherryh – and finding myself at home in worlds that appeared low-tech and fantasy at first, but were revealed to be much more. Sometimes they were lost colonies or trapworlds settled by marooned star-farers. Sometimes they were set in alternate dimensions or histories. Unlike urban fantasies, they were set in different, strange places where the setting seemed almost as much a driving force as the characters or plots. The ‘magic’ was psionic, or half-forgotten high tech, or Ancient handwavium…or magic just worked on the bloody planet, and the reader had to accept it.

They all fed a deep wanderlust within me, and probably did as much as Tolkien did to jump-start my inner map-making, world-building geek.*

I’m glad to see they’re sort of coming back into fashion again, as subtle crossovers between mainstream science fiction and epic fantasy. This is the next big era of genre mash-ups, yes?

That I’m putting graphic sex into the mix isn’t that new, either.

Thinking back, a lot of sf&f from the seventies and eighties had sexual themes or scenes; a lot more than the nineties, I recall. No long-term reader in sf&f will probably be unaware of John Norman’s Gor series (Ugh. Just – ugh. Any woman who used her hair to clean flagstones would quickly look less like a pampered sex-slave and more like a bag-lady after a dust storm. Sexy? Not so much.) I used to use Norman and Karl Edward Wagner as benchmarks for determining who was and who was not safe to date, among fellow college geeks.

Samuel R. Delany’s work functioned equally-well on adventure, intellectual, philosophical, and amazingly hot levels, most of which I couldn’t appreciate until I’d grown up and experienced enough of life to understand them. Thanks, Chip.

From the early eighties, I remember Andy Offutt’s (writing as John Cleve) hilariously pornographic 19-book space opera series Spaceways: (http://www.amazon.com/Spaceways-Of-Alien-Series/dp/0425060616) I wonder how many of the current crop of erotic sf&f romance authors have ever heard of these? The books are hard to find now, and they were often nearly as exploitative as Norman’s stuff. But they dared to embrace plot as well as passion, and spent some time in the characters’ heads as well as beds. At any rate, most of the books were a lot more fun and more believable to me than the same attempts made over in the mainstream romance world around the time. I’m not naming books, but some of those authors drove me away from sf&f romance for years.

I’m glad I found my way back.

Dragon Sky

* Add to that, my bad-art-making geek. This is a watercolor done sometime between 1981 and 1983. There is no attempt at scientific accuracy or plausibility, just ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if you had one planet that was high-tech and one that was fantasy, and they were backgrounds for dragons?’