Sep 17

Some things that need to stop

I had another post in mind for today, had a clever title even, then something happened in a

Scarlett (G.I. Joe)

Scarlett (G.I. Joe) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

book I’m reading, something I’ve seen far too much lately, and I need to vent a bit now.


Author of the book?  If you happen to see this, remember, it’s not about you.  You didn’t do anything that hundreds of other authors haven’t done, that’s why I’m ranting about it.


The book in question was a pretty good fantasy.  A bit first novel-y, a bit “yeah, this was definitely self-published”-y, but not bad.  Then something happened that’s making it hard for me to enjoy it.


You see, there’s only one female character . . . that alone isn’t that big a deal as the cast  is pretty small . . . and at first she’s competent and awesome and all that other sort of stuff.  Then she falls in love, suddenly, like the author suddenly remembered there needed to be romance in the story . . . as an aside, I’d like to remind authors that it is not, in fact, necessary to have romance in every story, as this is the third or fourth book I’ve read in the past few months that has had one abruptly happen with no development . . . anyway, author suddenly has two characters fall in love, and now the one female character exists pretty much just to burst into tears and fall into the guy’s arms.


Fuck that shit.  Seriously.  I’m tired of it.  Just because you have a female character and a male character does not mean that they have to fall in love, lust after each other, whatever.  Just because your female character is now in love does not mean she is now some fucking helpless damsel in distress.


Love does not, despite what entertainment media would have you think, turn a woman’s brain to goo.  Stop this nonsense.


It’s one thing for women not to be equal in the fictional society of your story.  I know some people like to insult GRRM because women are seen as not as good in Westeros, but I’m cool with that.  It’s his setting and that’s how he wanted it to work.  I’m not cool with people writing women like we’re not capable of being competent once we’re in love.  I’m not cool with people automatically pairing up the sole female character with the hottest male one . . . save it for the fanfic authors if it’s not actually part of your story.


Hell, this seems like a good time to go off on a tangent and talk about something else that I’ve been meaning to for a while.  Maybe this time I can manage it without saying “fuck” twice a sentence.


I know part of the reason romances are shoe-horned into stories:  this crazy ass idea some people have that you won’t get female readership unless you have a romance in the story.  That is, quite frankly, utter, total, and complete bullshit.


You know one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in the past few months?  The current storyline in GI Joe: A Real American Hero.  Not a hint of romance in it.  It’s been a straight up action-adventure, military fic, storyline for months now.  Hell, I can’t remember the last time Scarlett and Snake Eyes or Lady Jaye and Flint were even in the same place . . . oh, wait, I can.  Scarlett and Snake Eyes were working together to be sneaky, deadly, and awesome.  And that was six months ago.  So, for six months I’ve been reading a comic with no romance in it.


Now, to be honest, I don’t know what first attracted me to GI Joe comics . . . wait, yes I do.  It was . . . well, this whole issue:  Or at least the bits with ninja and Cobra Commander, as I don’t remember the rest of it, it turns out.  Still, no romance.  Okay, so I was maybe nine when I first read it, possibly younger, but still . . . to listen to some, even then I would’ve only been interested if there was a love story, because that’s the sort of thing that appeals to females.  Yet the scene from that comic that I can still see as clearly in my mind as the day I first read it is the one where Fred shot CC in the back.  I remember the “Oh my god!” feeling I got right then, the total shock, wanting to know what happened next . . . At no point did I care who was in love with who.


You know what appeals to me in a story?  Cool characters, awesome world-building, some humor, and good writing.  Those are the main things.  True, I’m more likely to have even noticed the story in the first place if it fits under the broad headings of “action-adventure”, “fantasy”, or “space opera”, but even those aren’t a necessity.  One of the best books I’ve read the past few months was a work of “chick lit”.  No romance, though a cheating husband is what triggered the plot.  Okay, the narrator’s deep, loving relationship with her husband was an important feature of the story.  But that was a character defining element, not a plot focus.  Her close relationship with her best friend was just as important, really.


Now, I’m not going to run screaming from a story if it has romance in it.  Romance is an important thing in lives, after all, so it’s natural it’d show up in stories.  But it doesn’t needed to be shoved in where it doesn’t fit in some mistaken idea that no woman will read your story without it.  Sure, there are women who won’t.  There are men who won’t too, I’m sure.  There are people who won’t read your book if it has elves.  There are people who will only read your book if it has elves.  Different tastes and all that.  To quote one of the best TV shows ever, “Some people juggle geese.”


Oh, hey!  There’s another example!  I wasn’t watching Firefly for Mal/Inara or Simon/Kaylee or Zoe/Wash.  I was watching to see what Mal got himself into this time, to hear witty dialogue, to hopefully find out more about Book . . . somewhere on that list might be wanting to see Mal and Inara or Simon and Kaylee hook up, but it’s nowhere near the top.  If I’d wanted to watch a romance, I’d have watched a romance.  I wanted a space opera, and that’s what I got.


Really, don’t put in romance to get female readers; don’t put in fight scenes to get male readers.  Just write your story and readers who like that sort of thing will read it . . . if they can find it, which is a whole other issue that I’m not getting into right now.


In closing, I’ll quote GRRM when asked how he did such a good job writing female characters:  “You know,


I’ve always considered women to be people.”


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Sep 12

Jake’s Last Mission, conflict, a defense of Kristark’s Coronation as a story, probably other stuff too because I’m writing this right before bed so my inner editor is already asleep

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, I apologize in advance for, even for me, an unusual amount of rambly-ness in this post.  And typos.  And homonym errors.  If I had any sense, I’d probably wait until tomorrow . . . err, later today, I guess . . . to write this.  If I had any sense, however, I’d have gone into a much more lucrative career than writing space opera, so . . .

Second, this isn’t complaining about my reviews.  My reviewers are entitled to their opinions.  They just gave me something concrete to point at while I make a point about something that’s been bothering me for quite a long time.

Now, on to my actual post:

Ursula K. LeGuin said:

Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing.

Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.

I just discovered this quote a few days ago, but it’s something I’ve thought of before.  Years ago, in fact, I argued this very point on a rpg forum when I was told, pretty much, by some people that my games couldn’t possibly be fun because conflict wasn’t the driving force.  And it wasn’t even a “rpgs are about killin’ things and gettin’ mad loot” or whatever thing.  Apparently if there’s a love story in your game or story, the drama and change that comes just from being in a relationship isn’t enough, you have to bring in soap opera elements like love triangles and kidnappings and such, for example.  Change wasn’t enough; there had to be conflict, according to these people.

I’d almost forgotten about that discussion until recently when Jake’s Last Mission started getting review after review (and a couple of private messages) that mentioned the lack of real conflict and tension and all that other sort of thing.  Here’s the deal, guys:  It’s not that kind of story.  I’m sorry.  I can see how the blurb might make you think that.  I suck at writing blurbs.  If I could tell a story in that few words, I would.  But my attempts at drabbles and flash fiction tend to suck. Brevity and conciseness aren’t my strong suits.  But, anyway, what the story is really about is right there in the title:  “Jake’s” the first word for a reason.  It’s about his last mission, yes, but ultimately, it’s about him.  It’s about a man who’s served his adopted planet for forty years and is about to retire and the last thing he gets involved with before he does.  It’s not about the events of the mission.  See up there?  “Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story.”  Jake’s changing from commander to civilian; Kristark is changing from decorated captain (very, very loose translation of hulvim) t0 emperor.

By this same definition, “Kristark’s Coronation”, the short story included with Jake’s Last Mission, is a story.  It’s the final step in his change from his old life to his new.  Something happens, ergo, it’s a story.  Maybe not an exciting story, but a story nonetheless.

I was starting to wonder if maybe I’d been wrong to call “Kristark’s Coronation” a story instead of a vignette or something when I went looking for reviews of a book I was interested in and noticed that almost all the “bad” reviews criticized it’s lack of a central conflict . . . even though I’m only 11% in and am pretty sure there is one, it’s just “the human heart in conflict with itself” is apparently really hard for lots of people to spot when it’s happening, unless the author is burying us in so much angst that I, at least, want to shoot the character because then they might stop fucking whining.  No, I’m not a nice person, nor a patient one.  Anyway, this book, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, apparently doesn’t have a central conflict that some readers can spot, ergo, it’s not a story.  So, I got to thinking about some of my favorite books.  You have to really, really stretch things to find a conflict in These Happy Golden Years.  Little Women is a bit easier, but the second part, Good Wives is pretty much just “And then this is the rest of what happened to the March girls.”  Cheaper By The Dozen is mostly just a series of anecdotes, which I guess makes it not a story since there’s no conflict, yet as it tells events in a roughly chronological order, and is, really, about growing up in that family, it’s a story.  Growing up is some of that “change” stuff again.  Slice-of-life stories are still stories.

So, “Kristark’s Coronation” is a story; the short stories on the main page of the website are stories, and I’ll get back to editing to them so they aren’t quite so embarrassing to actually link to.  I’ll, maybe, even get back to writing Lyn and Rusark’s love story.  It doesn’t have any conflict, except a bit of internal stuff on Rusark’s part, but it’s still a story.

Really, when I was a kid I had a book that was about a girl breaking her arm and going to the hospital.  There was no conflict.  She broke her arm and had to stay in the hospital overnight.  She got a tour of the hospital.  She went home the next day.  I’m pretty sure that’s all that happened.  It was a story.  It told events that happened.  No one would’ve told six-year-old me that it wasn’t a story, yet if I write something that’s a more grown-up version of that, it’s not a story?  How does this make any sense at all?

And, yeah, this did get pretty damned rambly.  Oh well.  I made my point.

And I understand there’s a whole series of space opera novels, The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, or something similar, that’s nothing but pure slice-of-life, yet still loved by most people who read them.  They’re outselling my stuff, so clearly there’s an audience for books with no conflict.

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Sep 05

The Yellow Wallpaper, the problems with star ratings, and escapist fiction

Cover of "The Yellow Wallpaper and Other ...

Cover via Amazon

In college I briefly was an English major.  During this less than enjoyable time, I had to read many, many depressing stories.  “The Yellow Wallpaper” has come in my mind to represent all of them, partially because it was one of the final straws in me changing my major.  It was a brilliant story, an important story, a well-written story.  It was not, however, a story I enjoyed at all. Because of this, if I were to give it a rating somewhere like goodreads or amazon, I’d give it only two stars if I were to try to be honest to what the stars mean.

You see what many people don’t realize, unfortunately, is that those stars are supposed to be a rating of your enjoyment of a story, not its technical merits.  They’re supposed to mean, on goodreads:

1 — didn’t like it

2 — it was ok

3 — liked it

4 — really liked it

5 — it was amazing

and on amazon:

1 — I hate it

2 — I don’t like it

3 — it’s ok

4 — I liked it

5 — I love it

You notice how all of those, except possibly “it was amazing” are opinions, not an actual rating of the quality of a story?  Annoying, isn’t it?

Now, for some people, like the founder of one review group I’m in and most English majors I’ve known, this isn’t a problem.  Their enjoyment seems to be based on how well-written a story in and have nothing to do with whether or not the story itself is actually enjoyable.  For me, however, this creates a serious issue when it comes to reviewing things.

You see . . . oh, screw it, I’ll let Neil Gaiman explain it:

“And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”

That’s what I enjoy in fiction:  escaping from reality.  There’s nothing fun about reading about depressing situations that have no hope of getting better which is what so much literary fiction seems to be about.  It may be brilliant, but I can’t say “I love it” when I come away from the story needing to watch hours of The Guild and play fetch with my dog to remind myself that there is still such a thing as happiness and joy in the universe.

This is presently causing me a serious dilemma.  I’ve got a book of short stories I agreed to review.  From a technical side, they’re wonderful.  There have been a few punctuation errors and a typo or two, but other than that, they’re nearly perfect.  Unfortunately, they’re also all depressing.  Every one of them is about loss and despair and other such cheerful subjects.  So do I give the collection four or five stars for being well-written and doing exactly what it set out to do (four because some of the shorter pieces are too short to really tell the story they’re trying to tell), or do I give it only one or two because it is so very, very much something I’d never want to read?

I know what I’ll do this time, since it’s a book for a review group.  I’ll give it four or five because of all the stuff I talked about in my last post on reviewing.  But, what if it was a book I’d bought because I’d been interested in it?  What would I have done then?  I’m not sure.  Because I wouldn’t want people to get the impression it’s poorly written — and let’s be honest, more people pay attention to the stars than they do the actual reviews, but on the other hand, I’m lying to say it was something I enjoyed.  Maybe I should just do what one of my favorite authors did on a book, say something like “The star rating system is inadequate to explain my feelings on this book” and then review it without leaving any stars.  Doesn’t work on amazon, but it does on goodreads, which probably has a more intelligent user base.

I don’t think I’ll be doing any more review groups.  They are a great way to get reviews, but my experiences have not been great, and I’m way behind on my for pleasure reading.  Unless anyone would be interested in starting a space opera specific one?  Maybe I could get behind that . . .

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Aug 30

Authors Are People Too

Cover of "The Name of the Wind (Kingkille...

Cover via Amazon

In defense of George R. R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and any other author who doesn’t churn out books as fast as their readership thinks they should:

Neil Gaiman says it best here, but after spending some time reading reviews of Patrick Rothfuss’s books today (I’ve read part of Name of the Wind and was wanting to know if it stays as good as it starts.  I’ve wasted too much money on books with good opening chapters but sucky everything elses.  So, I read reviews before buying books now.) I feel compelled to share my feelings.

Look, as amazing as some people might find this, authors aren’t machines.  We’re, amazingly enough, actual people.  We have lives outside of putting words to the page.  We have families.  We have hobbies.  We have obligations that have nothing to do with the book we’re currently working on.  We get random inspirations for other things that we have to write right then so they don’t get lost forever.  We have crises.

In other words, aside from maybe the random inspiration thing, we’re just like you.

Yes, I know that there’s a common thing now — I saw it in way too many Nanowrimo pep talks last year, in fact — that when working on a book the author has to make it their whole life.  Kids, spice, taking care of yourself when you have the flu from the ninth layer of hell . . . none of that matters as much as writing.  That, dear readers, is utter bullshit, in the same way putting any career ahead of everything else is bullshit.  If I have to explain that statement to you, quit reading.  You won’t get a damned thing I say.  Ever.

To those of you still reading, yes, I know that there are authors who can write x number of words, pages, chapters, whatever a day without anything else suffering.  Awesome.  That doesn’t mean everyone can.  Or even that they can all the time.  Life happens sometimes, you know?

And sometimes, sometimes regardless of how much you want to sit down and turn out several thousand words a day, the story just won’t cooperate.  I fully expected the second Kavaliro Cousins book to be out by now.  Instead, I’ve barely even looked at the file since last August.  Why?  Because it’s just not working.  First, I realized I started in the wrong spot.  Then, once I realized what the focus of the story really was, I realized that I’d gotten my characters into a situation that I had no clue how to get them out of.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, I later got a completely different idea for what sort of space opera the second book should be and started over completely.

Now, I know I can, supposedly, avoid all of this if I was a planner instead of a pantser (as in “write by the seat of your pants”, cute, no?).  But even that doesn’t keep a story from falling apart.  I was writing a romance last year with a pretty good idea what was going to happen and when and things like that.  Then as I wrote it, I noticed something horrible:  the only way to generate the drama and such necessary for it to work was for the characters to act horribly out of character.  So, I abandoned that story.  Luckily I was less than twenty pages in, but I’ve heard of things like that happening to authors much further in.  No plan survives contact with the enemy, and, believe me, characters can be the author’s enemy.

“But,” some of you are saying, “Patrick Rothfuss had already written his books.  They just needed revised!”  And I can tell that you’re not authors.  Revision is not an easy process.  Revision is a bitch.  You’ve got this book you’ve dedicated all this time to writing, right?  You know it’s not perfect, but you think it’s pretty good when you finish it.  Then you, and frequently other people to, start reading it critically.  Sometimes you’re lucky.  Jake’s Last Mission changed very little from first draft to published form.  Sometimes you’re not so lucky.  The first version of Stolen Time and the published form differed in things as big as what person they were in.  And then there are times when the revision process means you have to add or seriously change scenes because of some little change you made somewhere else.  I’m anticipating this with No More Lies because there’s one scene I really want to change, but changing it means I’m going to have to redo about three other scenes slightly, and changing them may mean I’ll have to change others and . . . now you see how “just” revising can take years?  I’m going to have No More Lies out by no later than next June because I know me.  I need a hard and fast deadline or I’ll do one of two things:  I’ll either keep tinkering with the book until I’ve sucked all the soul out of it, or I’ll keep putting off revising it forever.  From what I can tell, that’s not what Rothfuss is doing.  Just from reading some of his blog posts, I think it’s pretty safe to bet that if he released the book as is, it’d still be pretty good.  Thing is, “pretty good” isn’t what he or his publisher wants.  “Pretty good” isn’t what got him #1 on the NYT Best-Sellers List, I’m pretty sure.

(And if you’re one of those crazy authors that considers revision the fun part, please comment explaining this, because it makes no sense to me at all.)

Let’s see, what haven’t I covered yet?  Oh!  Right, them working on other projects or even doing things besides writing.  Look, I’m very much a “stick with one story until it’s done” sort of author, but lots of authors aren’t, and even I have times where I have to take a break and work on something else, or even take a break from writing completely, to refocus myself.  And lots of authors?  They’re working on several different things at once all the time.  Don’t assume that just because they just released a novella it means that they weren’t working on their other book too.  There are authors who write best when they take months off at a time.  Some writers have to write every day, not for any sense of duty or whatever, but just because it’s what works for them.  I have to do something creative almost every day to keep those muscles exercised, but I can’t write every day or I start writing from a sense of responsibility instead of from love and my prose suffers as a result.  Again, it’s all about what works best for that particular author.

Now, my final point:  this weird ass idea that you are somehow owed the next book because you bought the others.  No.  Purchasing their book is not, amazingly enough, signing a contract with them that stipulates they will release the next book when you want to read it.  It’s purchasing that one book.  If they want to take twenty years to put out the next book, that’s between them and their publisher.  If they want to stop writing the series completely that is a slightly different matter . . . in my opinion, you have the right to be pissed then, but, ultimately, it’s still between them and their publisher.  They’re not violating any sort of agreement with you.

And I have no pithy or witty or anything like that way to end this.  That kind of sucks.

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Aug 29

Music and writing

Jimmy Buffett

Cover of Jimmy Buffett

There are authors who can’t write unless there’s complete silence.  There are authors who can’t write without listening to a meticulously created playlist.  I’m neither of these.  Silence makes me wonder what my pets are up to.  They have a magical ability to know when I’m writing and decide it’s time for me to play with them.  Silence while I’m writing means they’ve found something fascinating in the trash, or a dead bug, or something else that they really don’t need to get into.  Or the mighty huntress cat caught a brown recluse and is about to bring it to me, though I seriously hope my screaming convinced her to never do that again.  I’ve tried the meticulously created playlist thing.  For me, it’s just another way to feel like I’m working on something at least tangentially related to writing when I’m really procrastinating.  (This blog entry may be the same sort of thing  . . . )

But, I do listen to music when I write usually.  There are many reasons for this.  One of them is that my neighbors on one side of the loudest ac in the universe and it’s right outside our window.  Another is that my neighbors on the other side like to having screaming fights with each other any time I’m trying to really concentrate on something.  Another is that there’s a tone deaf guy down the street who likes to loudly sing karaoke all day on the weekends, sometimes accompanied by what can charitably be called guitar playing.  (By the way, profits from purchasing my books will help me move to a neighborhood without these nuisances.  Just saying . . .)  The biggest though is that it’s a bit of a signal to my brain saying, “Okay, time to quit fucking around and get down to business.”  And, sometimes, it helps me get in the mood to write specific characters.

I don’t, as I said before, do the playlist thing for stories, but some characters have . . . not really their own playlists, but songs I listen to when I’m having trouble getting into their heads.  Bobby, the protagonist and narrator of No More Lies and “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” and the thing I’m currently writing that really needs a good title, possibly has the oddest combo of songs that help me get into his head.  The artists on that list range from Eminem to Mary Chapin Carpenter to Bon Jovi.  Oh, and Jimmy Buffett.  Viktor, on the other hand, the other protagonist of “Once A Hero, Always A Hero” who is the viewpoint character in many, many unfinished and probably abandoned stories, has a much less eclectic mix of artists.  Mostly for him I listen to Jackson Browne and . . . well, pretty much anything depressing sounding.

Music is also a big part of where I get my inspiration for stories from.  “The New Bar” was inspired by “If I Can Find A Clean Shirt” by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Bits of No More Lies we’re inspired by “Measure of a Man” by Jack Ingram.  I’ve got bits and pieces of ideas, not enough to write yet, but ideas nonetheless, from “If I Die Young” by by The Band Perry, “Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks, and “Incommunicado” by Jimmy Buffett.  And that’s just the ones I can remember at 5:30 in the morning.  Apparently country is all I can think of at this hour.  Weird.  Especially since that’s not what I’m listening to.

And sometimes, there are songs that feel like some of my ideas were put to music.  “This Is Love, This Is Life” by Bon Jovi pretty much is the story that goes between No More Lies and its epilogue, the story that I have the horrible feeling I’m going to end up writing someday despite not really wanting to.

And I’m sure I had some kind of actual point when I started this, but damned if I can recall it now.  Oh well.  I’m posting this anyway.  It’s a fascinating look into the mind of an insomniac author on the morning of her 34th birthday.  One day I’ll be famous and you can use this to prove your point in some essay you’re writing about me for a lit class or something.

(I have no idea why the Laura Ingalls thing was considered a related article, but I’m actually on a mailing list to keep up with news about the book’s release date, so I’m sharing it with you anyway because I’m so excited that it’s looking closer.)

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Aug 17

When the story catches fire

English writer Neil Gaiman. Taken at the 2007 ...

English writer Neil Gaiman. Taken at the 2007 Scream Awards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Neil Gaiman‘s Journal, on October 15, 2007:

“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.

You don’t live there always when you write. Mostly it’s a long hard walk. Sometimes it’s a trudge through fog and you’re scared you’ve lost your way and can’t remember why you set out in the first place.

But sometimes you fly, and that pays for everything.”

Today (I count a day from waking up to going to bed, because I’m nocturnal) has been one of those days where the story caught fire.  This story had been kicking around in my head as a “What if?” that was fun to play with in a “I make up AU versions of my own stuff for amusement” sort of way.  (Yes, I’m weird, I know.  I write space opera for a living, weird is a prerequisite.  Normal people don’t have lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of various ftl methods over dinner.)  I started writing it mostly because I haven’t written in long enough that I’m starting to feel weird, partially because it wouldn’t leave me alone until I did, and next thing I knew, it was over 1000 words already.  And, what’s more, I HAD A PLOT FORMING!  As my reviewers are quite happy to point out, plot is not my strong suit.  So, I’ve finished the day with just over 3000 words and a pretty good idea what’s coming.

It’s thrilling and terrifying all at once.  Thrilling, because not that long ago 3000 words was a whole week’s hard work; terrifying because there’s always the fear that it won’t happen again, that the story will be stuck forever.

It’s no wonder writers tend to be as superstitious a bunch as gamers.  We both suspect that all kinds of weird things actually influence the magic, the random chance, everything.  There’s a part of my brain, for instance, going “Well, you’re jinxing the story now by blogging about it!”  Why?  Because the last time one was going this smoothly, I blogged about it, and, well, it’s been stuck for over a year.  The more rational side of me knows that’s not true though.  That story, really, got stuck because the two main characters got along entirely too well.  I was expecting it to be a space opera romantic comedy.  But the romantic leads just wanted to cuddle and make out instead of bickering or amusingly misunderstanding each other.  It’s always very annoying when the characters won’t do what I want.  This time though?  I stopped because I couldn’t find the right words for what happened next and because I was reaching the sort of tired where I always end up writing really maudlin stuff.  Bobby’s conflicted right now, not maudlin.  So I stopped until tomorrow.  Besides, Bobby’s the viewpoint character.  That means he’s going to talk.  When Bobby talks, trouble tends to follow, because heaven forbid he should ever think before he speaks.  So if I get stuck, all I’ve got to do is have him open his mouth.  That’s one of many reasons he’s one of my favorite characters.

Though I had been hoping to have a break from him.  I wanted to write some more about Jake, or about Renata and Quinn and their weird relationship, but those stories wouldn’t play nice, so, more Bobby it is.

I just hope this story doesn’t take as long to finish as No More Lies.


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Aug 03

Literary Geek Meme


Terry Pratchett

Cover of Terry Pratchett

I found this on Facebook, then accidentally closed it, then found a slightly longer version, and I’m bored and insomniac, so . . . 

1) What author do you own the most books by?

Terry Pratchett

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

This is an easy one. The Hobbit.  I think we have a total of four copies.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

No, why would it?  That’s not an actual rule.  There was just some dude in the, I believe it was 18th, century who didn’t like it and pushed the idea that sentences shouldn’t end with prepositions.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

It’s not so much secretly as it just doesn’t come up in conversation very much, you know?  Limiting myself to book characters:  Aragorn, Gilbert Blythe, Verity Price, Conway Costigan, and Elminster.  That’s a weird list.  I worry about me sometimes.

4a) What fictional character would you most like to be?

I can’t think of one. Every one that comes to mind, the downsides to being them make them unappealing.

4b) What fictional character do you think most resembles you?

Hermione Granger, overbearing know-it-all, that’s me!

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?

Either Little Town on the Prairie or These Happy Golden Years

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

Treasure Island, I think.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

One that was about how to make $14,000 a month as a Kindle author that advocated techniques that were just this side of plagiarism.

8) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Oath of the Brotherhood by C. E. Laureano.  It’s a Christian fantasy, which is a sub-genre I’d never read before.  I’ll be looking for more though because it was nice to have a fantasy that wasn’t trying to show how “mature” the genre could be through gratuitous and overdone fight and sex scenes.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

Well, I’m not tagging anyone, but if I could I’d force everyone to read Jake’s Last Mission. Because I’m mercenary like that. :)

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?

Fucked if I know.  Mira Grant deserves the Hugo for best novel though, I know that.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

Discount Armageddon

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

Q-Squared, because I don’t think the actors could convincingly play ST:  TNG first season versions of themselves any more.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I don’t remember the details, but after reading Game of Thrones for several hours one night, I checked Facebook and then fell asleep. Bits of stuff from my Facebook friends’ lives and what was going on in the book combined.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

Uhmmm, errr . . . this goes no further, okay? I, uhmm, well, the thing is . . . IrereadsomeofmyfavoriteBabySitters’Clubbooksregularlyish.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

I tried to read Finnegan’s Wake once.  The most difficult one that I’ve finished was one I was obligated to read for reasons I don’t feel like getting into that was so horribly edited it literally gave me a headache at times trying to figure out what was meant.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

Othello. I know, really obscure, huh?

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

Never read either.

18) Roth or Updike?

Can’t recall having read either, thought I’m pretty sure I at least was supposed to read something by Updike once.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

Sedaris seems overrated to me, never heard of the other guy.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?


21) Austen or Eliot?


22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

I’ve never read a whole novel by Asimov, Clarke, or Bradbury. Disgraceful for an sf author, isn’t it?

23) What is your favorite novel?

I’ll give you the top ten. Time Enough For Love, The Hobbit, Imzadi, Little Women, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, Anne of Green Gables, Discount Armageddon, Stolen Time (though it’s probably unfair to count this one since I DID GM the rpg sessions it was very loosely based on . . .), and Wyrd Sisters.

24) Play?

The Odd Couple

25) Poem?

Three way tie: “Female of the Species” by Kipling, “The Quitter” by Robert Service, and “The Men Who Don’t Fit In”, also by Service.

26) Essay?

The one in Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury that has this line:  “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  If I pick up the book to find out what that one’s called, I’ll end up reading the book instead of finishing this.

27) Short story?

A tie between “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut and “Elminster at the Mage Fair” by Ed Greenwood.  Yes, weird combo, I know.

28) Work of non-fiction?

Delta Force by Col. Charles Beckwith, though this may be replaced by Lords of the Sky by Dan Hampton if it stays as good as it’s been so far.

29) Who is your favorite writer?

How about the top five? Heinlein, Pratchett, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Ed Greenwood. 

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Stephenie Meyer

31) What is your desert island book?

I’m going to be pragmatic here and say a book on how to survive on a desert island. :)

32) And … what are you reading right now?

Experiment by Cyma Rizwaan Khan, The Remnant by Paul B. Spence, Flint by Louis L’Amour, Lords of the Sky by Dan Hampton, Evermeet by Elaine Cunningham, Blazon by Kenneth Bulmer, The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery, Star Rangers by Andre Norton, and Heroes of Zara Keep by Guy Gregory.   I have a system now that keeps the number of books I’m reading at once limited to ten.  Yes, it was really necessary for me to work one out.  I don’t understand this “reading one book at a time” thing I’ve heard of people doing.

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Jul 31

I’ve finished my first novel!

No More Lies Cover In Progress 8

Well, finished writing it.  Now it gets to sit for a month or so and then I get to tackle editing.  But, for now, I’m going to celebrate.

Some stats for No More Lies:

Final word count:  116,335

Date started:  The first attempt at it that was going to be a 3000ish word short story:  I honestly don’t know.  I first sent a backup of it to myself June 5, 2011, but I’m pretty sure it’d been written for a while before that.

The date I started the revision that became the actual novel:  July 3, 2013

Date finished:  July 31, 2014

So, depending on how you look at it, I’ve been working on this for either a year, or three years.  Either way, I’m damned glad to be done with the thing!

Look for it in your favorite ebook store next spring!

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Jul 26

Thoughts on reviews and reviewing

English: Icon for lists of science fiction authors

English: Icon for lists of science fiction authors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For reasons that are complicated to explain without getting into oddities of book promotion that I’m pretty sure most indie authors already know and no one else cares about, I’ve been reading lots of things to review them lately.   I’ve also just recently gotten in the habit, probably because of this (and possibly because my OCD found keeping notes on things as I read them to be a nice process to latch onto), of writing reviews for everything I read.  The only exception in the past few months are Stolen Time by J. M. Brink, because I’m not reviewing a work when I co-created the setting, and “Oh Pretty Bird” by Seanan McGuire because I couldn’t figure out how to fairly review it, because my appreciation of it was so tied into my appreciation of earlier works in her InCryptid setting.  I’ve also begun getting reviews.  So, reviews are very much on my mind of late, needless to say.

There are some common bits of author wisdom passed around.  One is “Never respond to reviews”.  I violate this.  I don’t respond to every review, I don’t even respond to many, but some, I do respond to, so far just to clarify things like “The sequel to The Crown of Eldrete will be more clearly space opera, so that’s why this one was marketed as such” for readers of the review.  I also Like (on Goodreads) and mark as helpful (on Amazon) truly helpful reviews.  Note that I said “helpful.”  I’ve liked a two star review, and even thanked the author of it.  Why?  Because his criticisms were valid.  If what he was criticizing the lack of was what you were looking for in a story, you’d be right to not read Jake’s Last Mission.  So, it was a helpful review for readers, so I liked it, same as I would if I was a reader and found it.  On the other hand, I’ve got a four star review of The Crown of Eldrete that I marked as unhelpful on Amazon because it would give the reader the impression it’s straight up fantasy.

Another bit of author wisdom is “Bad reviews are more helpful than good reviews”.  This is, mostly, bullshit.  Of course, I’m not counting three star reviews as bad reviews as some authors do, and most of my most helpful reviews have been three stars.  But, for the most part, one and two star reviews — not just on my stuff, but on lots of other things I’ve read lately — are useless.  “This sucks!”  “This was a horrible book!” and the like are more common that truly thought out criticisms.  Now, I’ve left enough two star reviews lately that I’m starting to wonder if I’m the pickiest reader ever, but I try to always make clear why I didn’t like the book.  Note, “why I didn’t like the book”, not “what the author should fix”.  This is a thing many reviewers seem to have trouble with, especially ones who are authors themselves.  The purpose of a review isn’t to be a beta reader and tell the author where they goofed up.  It’s to tell a potential reader whether or not this book is worth their time.  Yes, in many cases what makes a book not work for you as a reader can be seen as “where the author goofed up”, but I guess it’s mostly a difference in phrasing.  “This book could be good after another revision pass to tighten up the plot” is a phrase I’ve actually seen in a review.  That’s not a review.  The book is published.  If you’re reviewing it, treat it like it’s something you bought having never heard of the author, even if it is something you got for free as part of a review exchange with the author.  I’m reading two books right now that I’m not particularly enjoying.  One is by an indie author as part of a review exchange group.  The other is by someone who’s been dead for thirty years.  I’ll be reviewing both the same way.  The difference is, I’ll cringe as I post the first review and not the second, because having talked to the other author, even for only two seconds, I know there’s a person who’s going to see my criticisms and be hurt by them.  But, I can’t put the line about receiving the book for free for an honest review in a review unless I treat it as dispassionately as I would any other review I’m writing.  Maybe this makes me a heartless bitch.  I prefer to think it just means I’m being professional.

Which brings me to another point:  If you have published a book, be it through one of the big publishers or on your own, you are a professional author.  Act like it!  Don’t give vengeance one star reviews.  Don’t automatically mark all low star reviews as unhelpful.  Don’t encourage your fans and friends to do so.  It’s petty.  Again, just because the reviewer got your book for free for the express purpose of reviewing it doesn’t make them any different than any other reviewer.

And now, I have some comments on writing reviews.

First — and I know there are many who disagree with this — you have to judge a book by the genre, and in some cases even sub-genre, it is.  It’s not fair to judge, say, sword and sorcery, by the same standards you’d judge hard science fiction.  What they’re trying to accomplish are very different things.  Magic that doesn’t make complete sense if you try to break it down scientifically is part of the fun of sword and sorcery.  Hard science fiction, on the other hand, better have science that can be explained by current theories.  Contemporary fiction needs to seem like it takes place in the real world.  Erotica better be arousing.  It does a reader no favors if a book has all five star reviews praising the quality of the writing if the book fails to be what it is supposed to be.

Second, you have to judge a book with an eye towards when it was written.  I’m tired of seeing reviews of Little Women that criticize how unfeminist it is.  For the 1860s, it was a rather feminist work, actually.  I see reviews of classic space opera like Triplanetary that criticize the science, despite the facts — and this goes back to my first point — that scientific rigor is not a feature of the sub-genre and under scientific theories of the day, some of it wasn’t that far-fetched.

Third, a review should, well, review the book.  “This was the best book ever!” isn’t a good review, regardless of how many stars you leave.  Why did you like the book so much?  If you can’t tell, that’s fine.  I have a hard time reviewing books I love.  It’s easier for me to criticize things than to compliment them.  Maybe that says not-so-good things about me, but I’m sure I’m not the only person with that problem.

Really, what it all boils down to is this:  reviews are for other potential readers to know if they want to read the book, not a place to give feedback to the author, and therefore a review should be of the book as it is and based on what it’s trying to be and do.

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Jul 05

My first obligatory fanfic opinions post

The Star Trek fanzine Spockanalia contained th...

The Star Trek fanzine Spockanalia contained the first fan fiction in the modern sense of the term. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty sure every author makes one or more of these eventually, hence the title.

This was inspired by Seanan McGuire‘s post here.  (By the way, if you like Universal Nexus, try her InCryptid series.  I think my characters may be descendants of hers.)

Universal Nexus exists because I failed horribly at writing fanfic.  The genesis of what has become Universal Nexus was born of my attempts at fanfic for various things I love.  I won’t detail what.  If you know me in real life you can probably guess.  If you don’t, you can still probably guess at least a couple because I hide them about as well as Scalzi hides the influence of Starship Troopers on Old Man’s War.  (Hint:  Read the dedication to The Crown of Eldrete to discover two of my most favorite things in all of media.)

But anyway, I can’t write fanfic.  I apparently can’t play in other people’s sandboxes.  I don’t know why this is.  Probably because I’m a control freak.  I do the same thing as DM.  I can’t run settings as written.  It’s a weird quirk of my brain.  I have to tinker with everything until, for example, it’s not still Star Wars fanfic when all that connects it with Star Wars is a character’s last name being Skywalker, in my opinion.  So, eventually I changed the character’s name and . . . I won’t tell you who all were originally part of the Skywalker clan.  That was several years and many revisions of the setting ago.

So, while I don’t write fanfic, I clearly can’t be opposed to it.  It’d be rather hypocritical.  Nor do I, as I’ve seen other authors say, consider it a training ground before someone tries real writing.  All writing is real writing, just not all writing is for the intent of publishing professionally.  Fanfic is, in my opinion, the ultimate compliment to a creator.  It’s someone going “I like your stuff so much that I’m going to stay there after I’m done with this book/movie/TV series/whatever.”

Fanfic also allows people to explore possibilities that weren’t in the source material.  I would have never thought that Duncan/Methos was a remotely valid pairing, but I’ve read many Highlander fanfics that made it work while remaining true to the characters.  That, my friends, takes talent.  I would have never wondered “what if Snake Eyes was an Old West gunslinger?” but I once read a GI Joe fanfic that posited just that and was, as I recall, pretty good.

But, you say, “Most fanfic is porn!”  First, that’s not true.  Second, even if it was, so what?  Maybe one of the possibilities people want to explore that was missing from the source material is what two or more characters do in the bedroom.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  If you don’t like it, don’t read it, applies to fanfic as much as to any book on the bookstore shelves!  As Seanan says, not everything is for everyone.

I, for instance, have no interest in reading Bilbo/Frodo slash, but I’m sure someone out there does.  And as I was wondering yesterday if anyone had ever written Matthew/Marilla Cuthbert fics, I have no right to judge.  And even if you’re not as disturbed as you’re now thinking I am for wondering that, I’m sure you’ve got your own “I wonder if” or “I wonder what it would’ve been like” things that would make me think you equally disturbed, so you don’t get to judge either, even if yours have nothing to do with sex.

But, you say, “Most fanfic is horribly written!”  To which I say, Sturgeon’s Law:  Ninety percent of everything is crap.  I’ve read some fanfic that I can only hope was written by a six year old, but I’ve also read some that was so well written that when I read that the author was a published novelist, I wished she’d reveal her real name so I could go buy her book.

Now, I can sort of understand one argument against fanfic.  GRRM just doesn’t like people touching his characters because he thinks of them as his children, from what I understand.  That makes a bit of sense.  I know if I ever become as famous as him, people are going to write things about, say, Lyndsey, that make me very uncomfortable.  But, I know there’s no point in trying to stop it.  If I don’t let people put it online, they’re still going to write it, so what’s the point?  They’re also probably still going to put it online, just in a members’ only area or something, so, again, what’s the damned point?  Write your Lyndsey/Darrien fic.  Write your fic where Lyndsey gets brutally and graphically raped and murdered because she overestimates herself while fighting the wrong person.  Write your AU where Lyndsey is a demure housewife.  Whatever.

Once a story is out in the world, what happens to it and its characters are beyond the author’s control.  Just don’t make money off of it, because I’m trying to make a living here.



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