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.

‘The Purist’ mood board 3

Playing with bits of art I’ve collected or created over the years, to give myself another visual image-set for THE PURIST, a big fantasy novel currently out in Queryland.*

Yes, this is SINGER IN RHUNSHAN revisited, massively revised, and (I hope) getting closer to being fit for outside reading. For now, I’m so happy the damn thing finally decided on a better…and brutally fitting…title.

My next problem is that it also decided it really, really wants to be a graphic novel, too.

*Update 7-3-2017: I decided on querying 23 agents. That’s not a large segment of the available agents who are interested in science fiction and fantasy. But these are the agents I thought might be the best fit. These are the agents who *didn’t* scare me off with the actions I’ve listed in ‘Filigree’s Rule’. I’d be honored to work with any one of them.

I know the query’s as solid as my limited skills can make it. In eleven days I’ve had two full requests, one partial request, and two rejections. Considering the no-response statistics from BLOODSHADOW in 2009, MORO’S PRICE in 2012, and SINGER’s dire performance last year, that’s a much better query performance!

I’ve given myself a set amount of time to wait for responses. After that, the novel gets submitted to two major SFF publishers. After that, I start talking to Draft2Digital, four years after deciding to turn a short story into a book.

What’s my point? There are many avenues to publication, all with positive and negative aspects.

I know someone who tried to get an agent, failed, was published by two small presses that failed miserably, then tried two years of self-publishing, and just gave up. He spent over $10,000 on the process, between editing and marketing. He made around $200. (Not an uncommon fate in solo self-publishing, I’m afraid.) He unpublished his two paperbacks a few days ago, and his ebooks will disappear at the end of the year. He said the worry and strain sucked the joy out of his writing. I hope he gets that back, because his writing is wonderful.

I know many capable authors who, as mid-listers, were faced with dwindling options and industry notice. Self-publishing their backlists gave them new income streams and new readers…and more respect from the trade publishers. Literary agent Russell Galen has a prescient moment where he talks about the big trade publishers eventually realizing they must court self-published authors.

We won’t talk about the self-publishing wunderkind authors who seem to appear out of nowhere with multi-million-dollar success stories. We shouldn’t; those are flukes, and their paths to success often hide a lot more hard work than dumb luck.

What we, as ‘aspiring’ authors CAN do, no matter our eventual path to publication? Write the best thing we can write. Don’t settle for the fast-fashion trend of the day, unless you already have something that might fit. Don’t settle for churned-out Kindle ‘novels’ that are repurposed or outright plagiarized pablum.

Just don’t lose the joy.


Valier, digital pastel, 8-26-2016

So, since I didn’t get Singer In Rhunshan into PitchWars (and knew it would be a longshot), I’m back to the revisions on Moro’s Price.

For those of you who didn’t know, the latter is a big space opera-ish M/M erotic romance set against a futuristic but by no means scientific background. When wrote it in 2011, I deliberately placed it into the far future of the Lonhra Sequence. Bits of ‘Firefly’, ‘Dune’, ‘Bablyon ‘5, and the Vorkosigan saga inspired it; since then, I’ve been watching ‘Killjoys’, ‘The Expanse’, and ‘Dark Matter’ intently for more inspiration.

I get to do crazy wonderful things to this book, now that I have it back from the original publisher. Fun things. Like substantially change the opening chapters, condense some of the dragging middle, and weave it better into Moro’s Shield, the sequel, and The Leopard of Saba, a spinoff novella set before and during Price.

It helps to know what people look like, while I write them. This round of revisions, I changed Valier Antonin, with slightly stronger facial features and curlier hair. Makes sense: his mother has major curls, and she’s the stronger genetic donor in the mix of people who made Val.

This isn’t the teenage Val I had been sketching, but the man in his mid twenties, when Moro meets him.

Val 2016 for blog

I cannot contain my joy

So, this is going to be really embarrassing for a good friend from long ago. Too bad.

The summary: SleepsWithCoyotes is porting her fanfiction over to Archive of Our Own.

My first reaction: fall over, giggling things like YAY! and OMG!

My second reaction: adding her to the top of my Fanfiction Recommendations list.

The long story: This is one of the incredible writers who introduced me to the idea of slash fanfiction (and original slash) back in the early 2000s. Her work helped teach me how to write. Of course I included her pen name in the dedication for Moro’s Price.

SWC is an amazing writer.  If she isn’t pro-published now she easily could be. Her stories have everything good, from brilliant characterizations to searing sex to intricate plots and settings. If it was all orginal fiction, her back catalog alone could power a commercial erotic romance publisher into the big leagues, and make Big Five imprints blink. For anyone who loved C. S. Pacat’s ‘Captive Prince’ original slash series? SleepsWithCoyotes is one of the wellsprings.

But due to very reasonable career worries, SWC took her stories offline long ago. I can’t blame her decision. I mourned but accepted it.

Except…those stories were damned good, and other folks all over the internet were trying to ‘save’ them by archiving them all over the place. Which annoyed SWC to no end. Again, can’t blame her.

I was aware that she had a limited, guarded presence online, but I didn’t pry. Or include links to her well-guarded sanctum. But now that she’s posting on AO3, I can.

Welcome back, Coyo.


Evelyn Elliott: Bad Magic

Bad Magic cover

A debut novel from a fellow M/M writer over on AbsoluteWrite. I’ve been watching the seeds of Bad Magic develop for a little while, and I could tell early on it would be a fun read. When she sold it to Dreamspinner Press, I cheered.

Here’s the blurb:

Morality is relative. At least that’s what young sorcerer Regis Teller convinces himself. He’s done what he must to survive: working for a witch since he was nine, helping her throw the kingdom into anarchy, and taking his only comfort in her mysterious son, Crow. And soon, Regis is going to commit his first murder.

A do-gooder named Jonathan White has information the witch needs, and it’s Regis’s job to get that information and slit Jonathan’s throat. But then Regis actually meets Jonathan. And Jonathan is perfect—a hero with a passion for justice and little regard for civility.

Lucky for Regis, Jonathan has a weakness for attractive men. Lucky for Jonathan, Regis is fast developing a conscience and a heart. But for Regis, keeping both of them alive at their adventure’s end means breaking a magical oath and surviving his ruthless boss—all without telling Jonathan the truth. Falling in love is never easy, especially when everyone involved is lying through their teeth.

Now you can find it here, on Amazon. If you don’t like Amazon, buy Bad Magic directly from Dreamspinner Press.

Kirith Kirin, by Jim Grimsley

In 2000, the same year Meisha Merlin published Grimsley’s Kirith Kirin, they also published the anthology containing my first-ever pro short fiction sale. In another universe, Meisha Merlin would have survived and possibly published my debut novel (whichever one that turned out to be.) MM had a rep for taking on daring, quirky books that the larger imprints might have shied from.

Meisha Kirith KirinThis is the Meisha Merlin cover.

This is a link to the ‘newest’ version, available on Amazon here. (That cover is deceptive, IMO–it’s too obviously inspired by one of the more famous Magician Tarot cards, and the image doesn’t even match the main character’s description.)

It’s hard to believe that in 1999 – 2000, the Male/Male romance genre was still largely limited to explicit romps in fan fiction, and generally tame encounters in mainstream SFF.

There were a few erotic romance houses publishing explicit M/M stories.

In mainstream commercial SFF there were authors like Diane Duane, Tanya Huff, Mercedes Lackey, Storm Constantine, Tanith Lee, Melissa Scott, and Lynn Flewelling. Authors with obvious LGBTQ characters and themes in their work, but the love scenes were rarely explicit (even though M/F encounters in similar books were often shown in more detail.)

Kirith Kirin has been a whispered hallmark among LGBTQ fantasy readers for years, subject of rumors claiming its open M/M content kept it from a Big Six publication.

I think there were other reasons.

I’d had the chance to speed-read a friend’s copy at a convention a few years back. That is no way to read a simple book, let alone one as densely-written as this. I remember impressions of the story: jeweled prose, intense metaphysical battles, a typical Humble Urchin Becomes A Great Power trope, and a tale alternately enthralling and frustrating.

Mostly, I remember being territorially infuriated because some of my decades-old worldbuilding seemed too close to Grimsley’s, and that skewed my appreciation of the book.

Recently, I found a copy of the old Meisha Merlin edition and spent a week reading it. (Thanks, Neichan!)

I’m not so territorial now, due to a second inoculation of parallel development from N.K. Jemison’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Kirith Kirin still enthralls and frustrates me.

First off, Jim Grimsley is one ballsy sonofabitch. Most literary fiction writers who take on science fiction and fantasy fail on at least a couple of levels. They don’t know the tropes, so they reinvent the wheel. Their worldbuilding tends to have holes the size of Texas. Often, they flat-out tell boring stories dressed up in pretty MFA-level prose. When called on their failings, they often retreat to the ivory tower.

Grimsley seems to have read the SFF classics. He jumps right in with them, fearlessly.

With Kirith Kirin, Grimsley aims for and reaches the antique, almost ceremonial prose styles popular in pre 1980’s epic/heroic fantasy. Readers of Tolkien, Joy Chant, and Andre Norton can handle this style. Grimsley’s world is vividly written, a landscape of wonders and horrors, vast magics, and tender moments. But I suspect it may not be easily read by the average M/M fantasy romance reader of today; pay heed to the one-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, to see if this is a book you might love or hate.

The cultures are distinct and interesting, many of them reaching a sane normality for LGBTQ relationships: M/M and F/F are as accepted as M/F. The magic system is intricate as anything I’ve seen in the big imprints. Naming conventions veer between Celtic and Romanesque, with complexities that stretch even my obsession with fantasy linguistics. The worldbuilding, history, and mythology are immense. Do not skip the appendix; it’s there for a damn good reason and it will help your brain stay in your skull while reading this book.

(I’d go so far to guess that readers who liked Diane Duane’s ‘Middle Kingdoms’ fantasy series will like this one.)

Grimsley’s main characters are less delineated than they could be. The immortal Kirith Kirin is a dichotomy of youthful appearance and mien, and incredible age; an ultimately tragic figure whose life will herald irrevocable change in his world. Kind readers might call him diffident and remote, alternating with downright clingy. Many readers (including me at various points in the book) will call him cardboard.

His love interest, the wizard-apprentice Jessex (in a wonderful inversion of most new fantasy writers’ urges) isn’t even fully physically described until nearly the end of the book. Even so, Jessex is a far more compelling character.

There’s a slightly unsettling aura of underage sex in this book, probably one of the reasons the bigger imprints may have passed on it (if Grimsley even approached them.) Kirith Kirin is thousands of years old. Jessex is not yet fifteen when he escapes certain death and finds destiny in the enchanted forest of Arthen. He’s not even sixteen (his legal age in his world) when he becomes Kirith Kirin’s lover. Even so, in his first-person narrative, Jessex makes his reasons clear and understandable, and that it is he who makes the first call. Mainstream houses now might not quail at it, but most erotic romance houses still zealously adhere to the 18-age-of-consent doctrine, no matter how absurd it might be within the context of specific books.

However, there’s little call for caution with this book. The sex is just as delicately, discreetly shown as any similar encounter from the mainstream authors listed above. It’s very tender, and I found the romance sweet enough to be believable from these two characters. The aforementioned M/M romance reader, accustomed to more graphic fare, may really hate this.

Jessex himself is similar to other high-powered characters I’ve read in the genre: sometimes less of a well-rounded person, and more of a nuclear deterrent sort of walking weapon. Like Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss, or Michael Scott Rohan’s amnesiac mastersmith in the ‘Winter of the World’ trilogy, Jessex’s magical training and battles can seem too pat, too perfect, making him almost a Gary Stu proxy for the author.

The end of the ultimate bad guy is unexpected and perfectly in character for himself and Jessex, another great inversion on the usual magical duel.

On the whole, even given my frustration with it, I think I may love this book. Not only for itself, but for what Grimsley achieved with it.

In the two sequels, published by Tor later that decade, he makes a choice not many other fantasy authors dare. The pre-industrial fantasy world of Kirith Kirin shifts into science fiction and space opera, as the inhabitants discover and deal with other worlds and civilizations. I haven’t read them yet, but I plan to now.

After all, this is more or less what I want to do with my Lonhra Sequence stories.

Added 12-04-2015: on behalf of all good self-published authors, I’d like to thank every single one of the people who read this review and then purchased the ebook or the print version of Kirith Kirin through Amazon. I do genuinely love this book, and I hated to see it languish in the years immediately after Grimsley republished it. If this review had even a small part in your decision to buy, I’m happy.

Added 04-25-2016: on behalf of the author, and after reading some of the more recent Amazon reviews, I have to step in and say firmly, “This book is not for everyone.”

I’ll even be callous (my blog, my rules): if you have a short attention span, an underdeveloped vocabulary, and you cannot visualize or even tolerate long descriptive passages, this book is probably not for you. You will hate it. If Tolkien makes you snooze, this book will put you into a coma. If you like hot-n-heavy M/M contemporary cowboy biker erotic romance with two sex scenes per chapter, or M/M alpha/omega mpreg werewolf-shapeshifter-vampire erotic romance, this is definitely not a book to wank by. Comprende?


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Mask of Falling Stars – begins!

A year after I outlined it, I’m starting the first actual writing on a new standalone M/M fantasy novel or novella:

Mask of Falling Stars

Altenlida twilight sketch

Nearly-blind expert maskmaker Parril Morni ignores his better judgment and travels to the city of Altenlida to help his aunt secure the winning bid on some very important festival masks. He arrives to discover his aunt has been murdered, a gorgeous investigator wants to make a shambles of Parr’s vow of chastity, Parr’s travel companions on the journey might be his saviors or his worst nightmare, he’s going to have to replace the rare magical artifact he’s been using to enhance his vision, and no one is precisely who they seem. Parr wins the commission, but the honor brings him far too close to the web of sex, intrigue, and human sacrifice that is the once-a-century festival called Starfall. 

I really wanted a smart, talented, differently-abled main character for this, and Parr just stumbled into place.

The story’s inspired a little bit by Joan Vinge’s amazing Snow Queen, by the settings of Scott Lynch’s ‘Gentleman Bastard’ novels and Melissa Scott’s ‘Point of Hopes’ novels, and by an obscure 1990s fantasy by Felicity Savage called Humility Garden, as well as my love of antique theatrical costuming. It’s not set in the Moro space opera universe or my sprawling fantasy Lonhra sequence. This one will probably have some steampunk motifs, but I’m really just making it up as I go along. It will be a romantic thriller, with a Happy Ever After ending, and a lot of sex on the way there.

As I work on the Moro books, I need a side project that isn’t as big as Lonhra, or as self-absorbing as fan fiction. This could do the trick. Since Mask doesn’t have a home yet, and may well end up being self-published, I’m comfortable with releasing small snippets as I go.

Here are the first few pages of the first draft, rough as they are:

Parril Morni clutched at the limnstone hanging in the hollow of his throat, taking familiar comfort from the smooth weight of the gem and the textured silver bezel and chain. As his eyesight sharpened, he squinted to focus it just a little more. Enough to give him a blurred view of the Altenlida harbor. Masts, rigged and empty, forested the nearer skyline. Beyond the busy docks, Parril thought he saw the unbroken bulwark of merchant palaces and warehouses, their plaster facades and glazed windows burning gold with the reflected sunset. A distant purple blot rose eastward, its summit fretted with towers and domes: the Redoubt Alten and the palace called Crown of Stars.

“Altenlida Evenside docks. How much do you see, lad?” said the tall, massively built man beside him.

“It matches the engraving, Sof,” said Parril. “Beyond that, I cannot tell.”

His eyes ached from the strain. He couldn’t hold onto the pendant forever. Once Parril let his fingers slip from the stone, his world shrank to its normal twelve-foot radius of reasonable clarity. Altenlida turned back into a sunset-colored haze.

“Heh, we’re staying not so far from your kinhouse. What is safe on a ship is not safe on dark and teeming streets. We’d count it discourtesy to the Handmaiden if we did not escort you to your door, little brother.”

That solved one pressing problem. Parril relaxed and said, “I would be very grateful for it. But you have your own duties. I’d not wish to impose too much, and I do not know how -”

Sof made a low raspy sound that was as close to laughter as he seemed to get. He cracked the knuckles of first one large brown hand, then the other. “No fear, little brother. The great Emande Morni is not pious enough to invite a pack of professional torturers in for tea. We do this not for her honor, but yours.”

Aunt Emande had sent the engraving along with her last wheedling letter, a ticket on the wheelship Foros, and the tidy sum of coin she’d spared for his travel expenses. Parril had saved a little more of the latter by transferring from the private stateroom to a berth among a reserved, austere group of Colimbanese leatherworkers heading to the festival. They’d not robbed, threatened, or propositioned him in any way.

The Foro’s class-conscious steward had taken them all aside once Parril made his request.

Parril wondered how that conversation had actually gone. He couldn’t be sure, but he’d thought the steward looked more sallow than before, after hastily exiting the shared bunkroom. That had been a week ago. He’d felt as safe as sleeping in his old house back in Rainton.

One of the Colimbas, Burunad Sof, had actually struck up a sort of friendship with Parril, once Parril revealed a passing knowledge of the smelly, exacting art of crafting leather masks. Parril was not ignorant of how Sof used that craft in far different ways than his own. Professional courtesy linked them, as well as their respect for the Handmaiden who looked out for all who worked in the arts of making and unmaking.

When the docking bell finally sounded, the sunset had faded to a swirling purple-brown twilight sparked by amber lanterns and the brighter white of witchfires. Parril was more and more glad of the Colimbanese escort. His limnstone worked better in brilliant light, and the thought of walking near-blind in a strange city made him nervous. He’d known every inch of Rainton and all its little landmarks. Altenlida was vast, according to the maps he’d tried to memorize.

“Your gear, little brother.” Sof tapped Parril’s right shoulder, before swinging the strap over it. Parril grunted as he took the weight of his few clothes and his chosen tools. There were things he’d not trust Emande’s workshop to stock, Altenlida’s size and wealth be damned.

He heard quiet footsteps ringing him, Sof’s brethren establishing a cordon between Parril and the world. He should not have felt safe. He knew they carried swords and clubs for everyday defense, and more wicked tools to ply their trade. But he knew the law limited their chosen prey to condemned murderers, rapists, and traitors.

Parril was a maskmaker, nothing more.