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Feb 28, 2009

Literary vs Genre - the Analogy to Poetry

Lady Glamis is discussing the age-old question of litearary vs genre fiction.

Genre Writer: Genre books have plot. Literary works have pretension.

Literary Writer: Literary works explore life and language. Genre pulps are about bombs that go bang and bombshells that bang.

Genre Writer: Snob!

Literary Writer: Hack!

I know I have about as much chance of putting this dispute to rest as bringing peace to the Middle East, but here's my take on it.

Writing a genre novel is like writing a sonnet.

Writing a literary novel is like writing free verse.

The sonnet has a lot of rules. It has to have a certain number of couplets, it has to begin and end in a certain way, it has to rhyme. It should also be meaningful, profound or beautiful.

Free verse has no rules, except it has to be meaningful, profound or beautiful. And -- ironically -- if it has couplets and rhymes, it is in danger of being mistaken for a sonnet, so free verse usually excludes such tropes.

Some poets mix forms. They might write a piece with the cadence and length of a sonnet, but no rhymes.

Here's the point. It's easy to write a bad sonnet, and it's easy to write bad free verse. It's difficult to write a good poem, no matter what form.

Let's say you're writing Romance. You have to honor the genre conventions: have a hero and heroine, focus on their relationship, end happily ever after. Genre conventions impose limitations beyond the obvious, as well. Lovemaking between the hero and the heroine must be passionate, sexy and arousing.

What? You want to write a love story where the two-minute insipid sex bores the heroine and she finally realizes her ugly, balding lover is also a jerk? Fine, but don't get angry when you can't sell it as a Romance. 

Here's where the argument grows heated. Literary fans will sneer that real life is more likely to include unsatisfying sex and broken relationships than rich, handsome Dukes who are also sensitive lovers. Romance fans will point out they don't read Romance to read about real life. At which point, literary fans will mutter, "Escapist," under their breath.

This is true, in the same way that rhyme is a way of escaping ordinary prose and song is a way of escaping ordinary speech.

There's also the notion that it's easier to write genre literature. I don't think so. Think about the purpose of a Romance -- to make someone experience again what it's like to fall in love. I bet if you cat scanned the brain of a Romance reader, you would see a faint echo of a brain in love. 

No wonder Romance is popular. Falling in love is one of the most wonderful sensations there is. Romance is easy to read, because the feelings it evokes are something we want to feel.

But here I disagree with Spin Regina who equates "easy to read" with "easy to write." ("Eas[ier] to sell"? -- maybe.)

Excellent fiction requires exquisite attention to form, no matter what the genre. It's harder, in a way, to make a genre novel shine, because you have to do so within the restrictions of genre rules. Lots of people wrote sonnets, but it still took the genius of a Shakespeare or a Dickinson to make the sonnet transcend itself. 

On the other hand, if you have absolute freedom to write whatever you want, you have to have extreme self-discipline to create your own rules and structure. 

Feb 27, 2009

When to Revise, When to Relent

I know. I said no more rewrites of Book 1. I promised I would go on with the rest of the series.

And if this series is no good -- then let it be. Start something new.

But I'm not rewriting for the sake of rewriting. Or just because I'm depressed my full was returned with a polite "it's not there yet." Well, okay maybe it is in response to the agent's commens on the full, and to the advice I garnered from the Secret Agent Contest, and from meditating on High Concept. If I didn't have respect for those two agents, I wouldn't take their advice, but I do respect their opinion, so I'm taking a hard look at my story.

Mostly, however, it's because I have a great idea how the book can be improved which is still in keeping with my original vision for the story. In fact, I think it captures the heart and soul of the story even better.

Yet, I am still trying to rewrite cautiously. There's always the temptation to rewrite to the point one is writing an entire new book -- in which case, why not just write an entire new book? I will never be completely satified with my book, because it will never be perfect. I have to relent eventually, and just let it be complete rather than perfect.

I'm still excited about the changes I've made. *grin*

What Happened to all the Followers?

When I peeked at my blog this morning, I saw that the two sweethearts who had decided to become Followers of my blog had awakened from their temporary insanity and unfriended my blog, or whatever you call it. I was sad.

Then I clicked on Janet Reid's site, and noticed she had lost all her Followers too. 

I could believe that all my Followers saw the error of their ways, but hers? No way. 

So what's going on? Has there been a Blog Rapture, which swept up all the Followers of Blogs to internet paradise while the rest of us are left behind?

* * *

Oh, and if I ever do get my Followers back, how do you feel about being renamed "Minions of this Blog"?

* * *

UPDATE:  My Minions -- er, Followers -- are back! Hallelujah!

Feb 25, 2009

Two Things I Love About This Cover

Oh my.

I'm jealous of this cover on so many levels.

The artist in me dreams of painting such loveliness; the writer in me longs for a book cover like this to grace my own stories. This is the kind of cover where I know I MUST buy the book, no matter WHAT the story is.  *Moonstruck sigh.*

I haven't read it yet, only drooled over it, but it looks as though Freda Warrington is fully capable of delivering a story to match the cover.

* * *

When I started writing Dindi, oh, ages past, fae / fey / faeries were rather rare in epic fantasy. Now they are everywhere. Did faeries jump the shark while I dithered in revisions? How depressing....

Here's the thing. My faeries aren't really European faeries at all. They're closer to kachinas or orishas. I made the decision not to call them kachinas, for a variety of reasons, but now I'm questioning my own decision.

If I, as a reader, have noticed a lot of fae, chances are agents and publishers have seen ten times the number. I asked an agent this directly at a conference, "Have fae been overdone?" She said no, not compared to, say, vampires and werewolves, and even for those, a market remains if your idea is fresh.

I still worry about it though, because...well, I guess because I am an writer. That's how I torture myself.

Feb 24, 2009

The Corn Maiden, Chapter 1, part 2

Distance muffled the sound, so Dindi tilted her head to listen. Definitely a woman’s scream, coming from far away and further up, in the wild hills above Lost Swan Clan’s territory. A faery clan, extinct now, had once lived near Swan Rock. Their vengeful hexes haunted many caves and cliffs. More recently, Dindi’s grandmother, Mad Maba, had danced herself to death in those same hills.  A cursed region indeed – which made it the perfect place for Dindi to dance with the fae in secret. She was the only one imprudent enough to go there.

At least, she had been up until now.

The woman screamed again, in pain now. Dindi ran uphill toward the sound. I hope I can reach her in time to help, whoever she is.

Cultivated fields gave way to wild slopes of aspen and pine. Here one found no footpaths, only deer trails. In places, she had to avoid tangles of thorny brush, precipitous ditches, or bald patches of scree.

She reached Swan Rock, an odd boulder as big as a house. The rock seemed to stretch out a long neck and to overlook a cliff, like a swan. A white fir grew out of a crevice between two wing-like extensions on the broad rear of the boulder.

For a moment she hesitated. A windwheel blocked the path. It looked like a giant daisy, with six different colored petals spinning in the breeze. The windwheel marked the spot as taboo. Even Dindi avoided any place marked by a windwheel – she wasn’t obedient, but she wasn’t suicidal either.

Then the woman screamed again, and Dindi ran past the windwheel.

Closer now, Dindi could hear growls and sounds of struggle. She passed a shallow stream, another copse of trees and then –there! –on a barren, windswept hill, a bear mauled a young woman.

Dindi could recognize every member of the three clans in the area on sight; this woman was a stranger. She wore black leather legwals and black breastbands, but both were hemmed in brightly colored beads, and her elaborate necklace of animal canines had also been painted many colors. An odd sort of black feather cape swept behind her. Her skin was paler than bone, her hair darker than obsidian. A quiver of arrows hung from her hips, but though she clutched a bow already notched with a stone-tipped arrow, her weapon was useless to her at such close quarters.

The bear was huge, as tall as one man standing on another man’s shoulders. Instead of brown or black fur, as most of the local bears sported, this bear had shaggy golden blond fur. With a mitt as big as a man’s head, the bear swiped at the woman. The bear’s claw grazed the side of her face. Four parallel gashes sprayed blood as she fell. The loose pebble scree on the hillside did not offer a soft landing, but may have saved her life, for she skidded on the gravel and next swipe of claws missed her. However, she would not be so lucky twice. The bear prepared the throw its full weight on her.

Dindi had no weapon. She threw her clay pot at the bear.

“Fa! Over here, fur face!” Dindi shouted.

The distraction worked. First the bear reared up on its hind legs. Then it lunged at Dindi.

The woman in black scrambled to her feet and loosed a black-fletched arrow. The bear turned on her, but too late. The arrow thwacked the beast’s flank. The bear screamed in agony, sounding human not animal, and Dindi recognized the scream she had heard.

It was the bear I heard screaming – not the woman in black? But

The woman in black, deadly and graceful, unleashed a second arrow into the bear. Another strangely human scream ripped from the muzzle of the bear. The bear rushed her again, but the woman in black spread her cape – no cape at all, but black swan wings – and lifted into the air.

“Not even your sisters can cure my poison,” the Black Lady said with a mocking smile to her victim. “Even if they wouldhelp you, which I doubt. Even now, your seaborn sister prepares to war against you.”

“Curse-bringer!” the bear shouted, sounding exactly like a woman. Black poison dripped from arrow wound. Staggering, full of anguish, the bear begged of Dindi, “Why have you helped Lady Death? Don’t you know who you are? She is your enemy as much as ours!”

The bear transformed into a golden, glowing lady, with butterfly wings – a faery. Even in her true form, however, her wings were torn, and her leg bled black ooze from the wound of the poisoned arrow. She flew away, crookedly, and Lady Death did not stop her. Instead, Lady Death turned on Dindi.

 “And now for you,” Lady Death said.

What have I done? Dindi had already thrown her clay pot. She had nothing left to defend herself, if one even could defend oneself against Death incarnate. What have I done?

The Corn Maiden, Chapter 1, part 1

Six Moons Earlier, Seven times Seven Days Walk to the East

It was not the kind of day one expected to meet death.

The fae scrambled to greet Dindi as she skipped through the terraced fields of ripening corn. The rolling green hills stretched out in every direction under a perfect blue sky marked only with the V of migrating swans. The ripening corn smelled sweet and fresh. Innumerable clouds of tiny willawisps hazed the fields like sparkling mists. Maize sprites clambered nimbly to the tips of the straight-backed stalks to wave at Dindi when she brushed by them. Pixies of every color fluttered on luminous wings around her head, making her dizzy.

“Come dance with us! Come dance with us!” they urged in a babble of flute voices.

“Not today!” She waved them away.

I could be taken for Initiation rites any day now, Dindi thought. And all omens indicate I’ll fail miserably. Like my mother. And my grandmother. And every single person in my whole clan since the days of the Lost Swan Clan’s great-mother.

She wore a basket strapped to her back, she carried a clay pot and her ears still buzzed with a tiresome list of chores from her great aunt. Great Aunt Sullana had also added a number of shrill warnings, Don’t cavort with the fae, don’t dilly-dally, don’t forget to prepare for Barter Day, all of which Dindi intended to ignore. Oh, she would do her chores, eventually, and she wouldn’t dream of missing Barter Day – the Tavaedi Troop would dance, she mustn’t miss that – but she needed to practice. She had told no one of her ambition to be invited to become a Tavaedi warrior-dancer, but she practiced alone every day.

Why does no one in my clan have any magic? I have to make myself different.

The first scream she heard was so distant and faint, she didn’t recognize it as human. She dismissed it. It must be a bird hunting – perhaps an eagle. Slight unease nagged her, so she went so far as to look up, and indeed, saw something large and winged circling higher up in the hills. Maybe a condor?

Another scream curdled the air. Startled, the pixies and willawisps scattered.

That’s no bird.

The Corn Maiden, Prologue

There she was – almost hidden by the soaring sequoias. Between the trees, Kavio glimpsed a solitary dancer, graceful and pale as new maize. Who was she, and why did she dance secluded and all alone, far from the kiva and tor?

He wove through the forest to spy on her, though he told himself he should not. Perhaps she had come to the woods to practice alone, as he had. The possibility intrigued him – who else besides he had no need of the guidance of the troop? Who else besides he would dare?

She must have had magic, for she was human and not fae. Humans without magic danced only to hex, and would be killed in turn, if caught. Yet never had he seen a style quite like hers. She wore no ritual costume – neither wooden mask, nor cornhusk cape – only white doeskin hemmed with a maze of rainbow beads. Her hair flew about her, unbraided and wild. Though her aura showed no light, he had the odd sense she shimmered with power which warmed the cool December wood with hint of hidden Mays.

She circled the stump of a fir tree, as if it were her partner in a fertility dance. He knew the dance of course – it was meant for two, not one.

Kavio debated himself. His mischief won.

He crept up behind her. Stealth he had honed in hunting and battle served him well, and the broad trunks of sequoias and pines provided ample cover. The dance soon called for her partner to lift her, and she leaned toward the tree stump. He made his move.

In rhythm with her sways, he placed his hands about her waist and lifted her into the spin, above his head and down again. She responded as if she had expected him, and followed his lead into the next exultant sequence, toss and twirl, shimmy and turn. Fancy foot work followed on, sweetly easy. In this sequence of the fertility dance, both partners faced forward, so he could not see her face. The top of her head just reached his chin. Her hair smelled of flowers.

They flowed together like partners who had practiced days in each other’s arms. She amazed him.

He dipped her back, and only then met her gaze.

“Dindi!” He choked on his dismay.

Dindi had been tested during Initiation, he knew, and proven without magic. For her to dance was taboo – so decreed the ancient ways. The law left him no choice.

He must kill her.

Feb 23, 2009


I'm going to post the prologue and first chapter of The Corn Maiden

For blog-reader convenience, I'll break it up into 500 words-or-less segments, and try to add a nice mood picture for each one.

There's no way to avoid them being listed in backwards order, because of blog conventions; I will put the order in the post title.

Feb 21, 2009

Just One Leaf

One of my favorite Tolkien stories is "Leaf by Niggle."

It is about an artist who aspires to paint a beautiful forest, only to find his talent insufficient to the task. So he tries to focus on painting just one tree -- perfect the tree, and then maybe, he will grow enough in skill to paint the forest. But the tree is too hard too, so he ends up concentrating on just a leaf. If he could only paint just one single leaf right!

He hasn't much time because his pesky neighbor keeps bugging him (life) and because he has to take a trip (death). Life interferes with art. Death interferes with life. Art must be squeezed in between.

Like Niggle, I wish I could paint the forest, or at least a tree, but it is a struggle to even capture just one leaf.

I've been thinking about High Concept, and my Dindi series, and the desperate feeling that it falls far short of the forest I originally envisioned. I'm down to grasping at leaves.

It's interesting to look at books which become bestsellers. What do they have in common? Actually -- not much. Some of them are short and simple, about just a few characters; others are door-stop epics with a cast of thousands; some are beautiful, lyrical, literary and tragic; others are wham-bam action with 2D characters but 3D explosions. And on and on.

I'd say the one thing all bestsellers have in common is One True Thing. They don't have to capture the be-all and end-all of human experience, only One True Thing about what it means to be human. One leaf's worth of life -- that's enough.

Ah, but it is hard to capture One True Thing. It's the hardest thing there is.

If only, if only, I could paint just one leaf.

Feb 20, 2009

Chapter One

I want to post Chapter One, but I'm having trouble pasting things in Blogger.

UPDATE: I've figure out how to paste in Blogger (for now) but I'm having trouble with Chapter One.  ;)

High Concept Interrogation

The buzz is going around about High Concept stories again. So I'm looking my story in the face and asking it, "Are you High Concept?"

"Yes," says my story. "I'm about Immortals fighting Death. Can't get more High Concept than that."

"Yeah." I bounce my head in a shrug-nod. You know the kind I mean, where your shoulders are hunched and your nose is wrinkled. Your head bobs up and down, but the bob means maybe not more than maybe."But -- don't get offended -- is that obvious in the first couple chapters of the book?"


"No..." admits my story.

"Is it even obvious in Book One at all?"

My story shuffles its feet. "Lots of other cool stuff happens in Book One. It's Dirty Dancing meets Dances With Wolves!"

"What is that even supposed to mean? C'mon, story. You can do better than that."

"The hero catches the heroine dancing without magic. He must choose between killing her or teaching her."

"But what does that have to do with the fight against Death? Or the corn cob doll? Do you tie it together as tightly as possible, so the ending, when it comes feels both shocking and inevitable?"

"Hm," says my story. "Not sure. Maybe it's not clear in Book One how Dindi's struggles tie in to attempts of Lady Death to drive the immortal Aelfae to extinction. At least not starting in Chapter One."

"Is there any way we could fix that?"

"What if..the struggle between Lady Death and the Faeries appered right there in Chapter One, Book One? What if the Black Lady were fighting with one of the Faery Ladies -- and Dindi, unaware of who they were -- saved the wrong one? What if she saved Lady Death? Then, in a sense, the rest of the series would follow her trying to undo what she'd done."

"Story, that sounds pretty good. I'll go write it--"

"Oh, no you don't!" My story steps between me and my computer. "You promised to finish me before you do any more revisions to Book One. You still have the other books to complete."

Now it's my turn to be sheepish.  "You're right. I'll jot down notes on this idea, then get back to Book Two."

Lonely Planet for Fantasy

I confess. I used to be one of those fantasy readers who browsed bookstores by flipping through a fantasy book to find a map. 

No map, no purchase.

If the book had a map, I would definitely buy it, rush it home to copy the map onto a larger piece of paper, add little castles and pictures and then put it in my notebook of other maps. It was my own personal Lonely Planet of all the worlds I planned to visit in my imagination.

Here's the irony.

I suck at reading maps. In the real world, I'm dyslexic. I can't tell left from right, north from south, sometimes I think I even confuse up and down.

Maybe that's exactly why it's necessary for me to have a map of my worlds. Otherwise, I can't keep straight where my characters are going.

Chris Coen blogged about this question recently. Do you make maps for your story worlds and if so how detailed are they?

What level of mapping do you use? Do you draw your own, or do you have a program do it for you? Or do you just steal a real place's topography and use that, as I did with Cavalier Attitude?

Originally, I drew all my maps by hand. For my map of Faearth, I cheated -- stole appropriate topography from Google Maps and then composited my own land.

Feb 17, 2009

Revised Opening

I revised my opening based on feedback from the Secret Agent contest. Several reviewers felt the 250 word version felt rushed, so here I've re-inserted some lines I had cut to meet the word count cut-off.  ;)  Hopefully, the additions also explain a few of the questions people had about why Kavio was out in the woods himself, why he wasn't immediately suspicious of Dindi, and why the taboo is so important. 

On the other hand, I hope it doesn't *over-explain* or drag on too much.

Kavio glimpsed a solitary dancer, graceful and pale as new maize. She danced in honeyed light filtered though sequoias soaring up from languorous, bear-sized roots. Who was she, and why did she dance secluded and all alone, far from the kiva and tor?

He wove through the wood to spy on her, though he told himself he should not. Perhaps she had come to the woods to practice alone, as he had. The possibility intrigued him – who else besides he had no need of the guidance of the troop? Who else besides he would dare?

Never had he seen a style quite like hers. She must have had magic, for she was human and not fae. Humans without magic danced only to hex, and would be killed in turn, if caught. She wore no ritual costume – neither wooden mask, nor cornhusk cape – only white doeskin hemmed with a maze of rainbow beads. Her hair flew about her, unbraided and wild. Though her aura showed no light, he had the odd sense she sparkled, shimmered, with some power deep, some power bright, which warmed the cool December wood with hint of hidden Mays.

She circled the stump of a fir tree, as if it were her partner in a fertility dance. He knew the dance of course – it was meant for two, not one.

Kavio debated himself briefly. His mischief won.

He crept up behind her. Stealth he had honed in hunting and battle served him well, and the broad trunks of sequoias and pines provided ample cover. The dance soon called for her partner to lift her, and she leaned toward the tree stump, in the best approximation she could. He made his move.

In rhythm with her sways, he placed his hands about her waist and lifted her into the spin, above his head and down again. She responded as if she had expected him, and followed his lead into the next exultant sequence, toss and twirl, shimmy and turn. Fancy foot work followed on, sweetly easy. In this sequence of the fertility dance, both partners faced forward, so he could not see her face. The top of her head just reached his chin. Her hair smelled of flowers.

They flowed together like partners who had practiced days in each other’s arms. She amazed him.

He dipped her back, and only then met her gaze.

“Dindi!” He choked on his dismay.

Dindi had been tested during Initiation, he knew, and proven without magic. For her to dance was taboo – so decreed the ancient ways. The law left him no choice.

He must kill her.

Stream Pirate - Instant Redhead

Stream Pirate Cover Art

Okay, Sara, this one's for you. I can email you the jpg file if you like.

I tried to blend Alluvial Fan into the background and she came out with more glow than I intended. I hope she doesn't look  like a ghost. I'm afraid my pirate isn't quite as cute as the one on your site, but you should have seen the other choices.

If you have requests for changes or had other ideas about what you wanted your cover to look like, that's fine too. Don't be shy, let me know.  :)

If anyone else would like a cover for non-commercial use, feel free to let me know. (And, hey, if you want one for commercial purposes, that's cool too, email me.)

Cover Art - Version 2

Here's another title and another take on the cover. 

The main color theme is yellow, for reasons which would be obvious upon reading the book. 

The previous cover used images of actual tribal societies. This one features a much more glamorous heroine, which, I must confess, I prefer.  :)

I'm not completely happy with it -- the bear is a bit too obscured by the title. The corn cob doll peeking out here is actually a corn husk doll, and not quite right, but the only thing I could find available in royalty free stock images.

This cover incorporates a lot of the themes: she is dancing (although I'm not sure you can tell); there's a bear; a corn doll; and corn. Only things missing are the fae and the hunky hero. But I couldn't fit everything.

Cover Art - Version 1

One idea for a title was to name the series, "The Secret Society of Warrior Dancers" and each book a different term in the heroine's rise through the ranks, so to speak. First she would be "the Initiate" then "the Serving Maiden" then "the Traveller" and so on. I think I had seven, though I'm not sure what I did with the list.


I told this title to a couple of agents, one of whom specialized in fantasy and the other who handled only literary fiction and memoirs. The fantasy agent wrinkled her nose. 

"Secret societies? Warriors? Dancers?" She shook her head. "It's all pretty trite."

The literary agent, however, said, "Oh really? I thought it sounded unusual and intriguing!"

Clearly, the thing to do is market my book as a memoir. *grin*

So, here you go. This is a cover which would make the book look like a respectable addition to the literary section of the bookstore.

Mock Cover Art

There's nothing so inspiring as wasting long hours designing cover art for your work-in-progress.

In that spirit, I've mocked up a few different possible covers for Dindi -- the titles, incidentally, differ as well, but it's the same book.

Yes, this is what I've spent my weekend doing instead of working on Book 2. It's okay. I'll get back to real work tomorrow.

Feb 16, 2009

My Son's Paranormal Ability

"Me have idea." This is my toddler's latest phrase. 

"What's your idea?" I ask with great interest.

"Me idea -- drive cars!"

"Wow! That's your idea -- you want to to drive cars?"


My toddler, in addition to his clever ideas, also has psychic powers. In one of my writing groups, it was suggested that if we had a character with a paranormal ability, we give her some physical sensation to go along with it. Maybe every time she is about to have a vision of the future, she has a headache, for instance.

My son apparently has such an ability, 

"My tummy hurts," he announced.  "My owwie putted me to drive cars."

Yes, that's right. He has a paranormal "tummy ache" which tells him when it's time for him to play with his little Matchbox and Cars cars.

Five Things I Love About Ebooks

Ok, I said what I don't like about ebooks.

But the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages.


Ebooks open up new lengths, a new range of lengths.

At the short end, online publishing has created whole new genres of flash, defined by various degrees of short:

>100 words
>500 words
>1000 words

Short stories of the traditional lengths (1000-7000) remain popular.

But what do you do with those awkward 13,000 word stories which you can't cut down to fit in a magazine but clearly isn't a novel?

This is not a problem for an ebook.

Novel length guidelines on many epublishers look like this:

Quickie: up to 15,000 words
Novella: 15,000-29,999 words
Short Novel: 30,000-44,999 words
Novel: 45,001-69,999 words
Plus Novel: 70,001-99,999 words
Super Plus Novel: 100,000+ words

What about mega-books of 240,000 words? There's no reason these couldn't be published as ebooks either. I haven't seen it much yet, although perhaps long books could also be sold as serials.


One word: $$$$

Gotta say, I like how ebooks pay money. Maybe this is just because the only good money I've ever earned from writing has been on ebooks. (And I've only had three published. The bigger your list, the better the mullah!)

Plus, epublishers get your manuscript from submission to royalty check in just a few months, as opposed to a few years. This is a HUGE difference in the life of an author.

I wrote my first ebook when I was pregnant with my oldest son. I was able to buy Baby's First Christmas presents with my royalty checks. If that had been a print book, it would have been coming out... oh, right about now, probably. He's two.


Another word about $$$$.

Ebooks don't pay an advance. To me this is an advantage. As an author, I don't have to wrack my nerves praying my novel will earn out my advance. Although my books were reasonable sellers, they weren't bestsellers. Yet I don't have any fear my publisher will drop me if I try to sell them a new book. Ebooks pay a larger percent of cover price to the author, another good thing.

My books remain happily on the backlist. Ebooks share many of the costs of print books -- a reputable publisher will still need to pay editors, a marketing team, cover artists, etc.


But the difference with print books is that backlist costs almost no additional money. Bandwidth is a lot cheaper than brick-and-mortar real estate. As an author, you want to keep your backlist. Those royalty checks, even if it's just a little here, a little there, can add up.

It isn't just the cost of paper which makes print books more expensive to produce. Think about it. Every time you buy a paperback, chances are you are also paying for the rent on an office in New York, some of the priciest real estate in the world. Ouch!

I would be quite happy if print publishers would adopt the epublishing business model. Drop the advances, increase royalty percentage. This alone would enable publishers to take bigger risks with new authors, because even if the author doesn't sell well, the publisher is not going to go into the red over that book.


My fourth point is actually a wish, not a reality. Yet.

Right now it seems ebooks only work in certain genres.

There's only a few epubs for Sf/f for some reason, and every time I check their sites, they're closed for submissions. I guess readers just don't buy one a week, like readers do with steamy romances. (This reflects print sales, where romance accounts for half of all genre sales, I believe).

If there were more sf/f epublishers, I would definitely consider selling my mss to them.

And if I weren't too busy right now, I'd take a page from the book of Jaid Black and start my own epublishing house. That would be a tremendous amount of work, but it would be great fun.


The final thing I love about epublishing is that it has completely turned the tables on Vanity Press. Vanities used to be scam artists who robbed vulnerable writers of their money. There still exist such entities online, sadly, such as Publish America.

But self-publishing is now so much more.

Authors who simply tire of waiting for a publisher to want their work, or who want more artistic control of their oeuvre, now have the option of putting together a decent product together themselves for a reasonable amount of money.

Better still, with the internet, authors have an actual chance at successfully marketing a self-published book.

Large publishers and some agents are beginning to see a self-published book, not as the kiss of death, but a legitimate way to prove selling power.

I wouldn't particularly want to self-publish my fiction. I have no real desire to do all the editing, marketing and selling myself. I'd rather write.

However, it's nice to know that there is an alternative to traditional publishing -- especially in a dismal market like this one, where so many publishers are buying less from new authors.

Maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without a doubt, new tech and new media are part of the reason for the slump in the old-fashioned publishing industry. As the old-timers retract into a more conservative stance to protect themselves from loss, more new authors will be forced to turn to the new media as an alternative route to exposure. The old-timers will then pick only the proven sellers from the vanity-slush to bring to print.

Maybe this will even become the new model of printing for a while, with self-publishing becoming an almost necessary step for new authors, the way it used to be necessary for aspiring sf writers to publish short fiction in the pulps before they could sell a novel.

Feb 15, 2009

One Thing I Hate About Ebooks

I think ebooks are close to having curl-up-in-bed portability. All the other stuff like, "I like the smell of musty paper" is something that is just a matter of what you're used to. It's meaningless in terms of giving print books any real advantage over ebooks on a reader.
Some people hate ebooks because they think they can't curl up in bed with an ebook. Some people hate ebooks because they miss the musty smell of paper, and the tactile delight of turning pages.

That's not my beef at all.

Here's the main difference in advantages I see between print and ebooks.

I have to update the programs on my computer every frickin' six months. I have actually lost some early pieces of writing because they are on floppy disks. I still have them physically, but they are inaccessible. In contrast, I also have books I've inherited from my grandmother, some of which are over two hundred years old. I can read them easily. They have permanence, solidity and accessibility in and of themselves -- they don't rely on someone else's platform.

Some people think ebooks will allow publishers to charge more for bestsellers than for newbies. This is one possible model, but it doesn't strike me as likely. It's not a model I would want if I were a bestseller!

I prefer the itune model for books. Sell every book of a set length for a set price (this is how epublishers do it now) and let reader-reviewers and word of mouth augment marketing in guiding readers what to buy.I actually think it would be very profitable for authors.

However, I'm not sure, as a reader, I like it in the long run. I already worry about what I'm going to do with itunes library if I want to move it to a new computer, never mind a new medium. It frustrates me that I might buy thousands of books and then if some company tanks or some computer grows obsolete, that's it, those books have to be re-collected all over again. And forget passing them to my grandchildren.

I've published three books. But I have no bound copy of any of them, since they're ebooks.

It bugs me.

Feb 14, 2009

A Writer's Valentine's Day Story

Once I fell in love with a man who didn't fall in love with me back.

* * *

I'm a writer. So when I write a Valentine, it tends to turn into a novella-length opus. And I've embarrassed myself by sending lengthy, unrequited love letters, more than once.

The first time I sent one to my high school / college sweetheart. I wasn't sure I was in love with him, but I wrote him a long, sappy letter anyway.

He called me in response to my letter to tell me he was now seeing someone else and planned to marry her.


Still, in this case, it was my pride which was hurt more than my heart.

Not so with the second time I wrote a love letter.

* * *

This time I was convinced I was in love with one of my co-workers.

I did everything I could catch his attention, but he never even noticed I had fallen in love with him. He didn't act like he loved me -- I'm not even sure he liked me. My friends, who had probably read too many romance novels, assured me not to give up, because they were sure the fact he picked fights with me was a sign he, too, loved me -- secretly, of course.

I wrote him a love letter, but chickened out before I gave it to him.

Eventually, I had to face the fact that, no, he was not secretly in love with me, no matter how romantic that would have been.

On the day we parted, I gave him the love letter. I suppose it was one, last desperate attempt to win his love. Maybe as he would read it, tears would come to his eyes. He would say, "I can't believe you wrote this. Because, you see," -- here he would hand me a thick piece of folded vellum -- "I wrote you one too, and like you, never dared show you how I felt until now."

Nope. He read it and thanked me politely for the letter. I never saw him again.

Even at the time, painful as it was, I knew that if a man did not love me, he wasn't the one for me. Someone else was, and I would find him eventually. Still, it was one thing to tell myself that. It was another thing to make myself feel it.

I was heartbroken for a long time.

Like an idiot, I fell in love again. Worse, I realized what I had felt before paled before real love. If this man rejected me too, it would be time to think seriously about my plan to go stay in the nunnery in Nepal where I had once studied Vajrayana Buddhism.

We were good friends, but did he feel more than that? How could I tell?

Being a writer, I wrote him a love letter. Yup, even though this method hadn't helped me before, I was stubborn and I tried it again.

It was quite long and I'm not going to bore you or embarrass myself by reproducing it. In essence, I asked him, "If you're going to break my heart, please tell me now. Otherwise, let me be yours forever."

And yes, it was that tacky. It was a Valentine's Day love letter, after all, hand-written on parchment wrapped in a cover of red, red roses. I gushed on and on. I swear the thing was at least sixteen pages long.

I waited anxiously for his answer. I surfed the net for Nepali nunneries with good internet connections, just in case.

* * *

The moral of the story: If you give someone a Valentine begging, "Please be mine forever", it doesn't matter how kind they are when they tell, "Sorry, I just want to be friends."

And yet, no matter how hard it is to believe at the time, it really is for the best.

Sometimes writing a query letter feels like writing a love letter. It's not quite as intimate, of course -- thank goodness! -- but you are sharing something you love, your book, and asking if another person can find it in their heart to love your book too.

And sometimes, they just can't. Although it doesn't feel like it at the time you see that polite rejection slip, it's for the best. You wouldn't really want to marry someone who doesn't love you. You wouldn't really want an agent who doesn't love your book. An agent who loves you book is worth waiting for.

* * *

The other moral of the story: There is, of course, one thing even better than finding the perfect agent.

That's finding a man who man who loves you so much, he isn't driven away, even by a gushy sixteen page Valentine in red, red rose wrapping paper. (He will, however, torture you for the rest of your marriage by trying to read out loud every Valentine's Day.)

We're married now with two beautiful children.

* * *

Btw, don't send sixteen page query letters. *grin*

Feb 13, 2009

Progress Report

I'm working on Dindi Book 2, Section 1. It looks like it will be about 20,000 words, which is fine. I hope to finish it this weekend.

Feb 12, 2009

"Luke, I am your father!"

I'm trying to decide whether to have a Darth Vader moment. I have a character who is looking for his dad in Book 3 (of Dindi). I have another character, who showed up in a completely different context in Book 1. Should they be related?


* My original idea was the dad would be from a particular tribe (not the same as the existing character)

* He also dances the wrong Chroma - I would have to either change his Chroma or change something else, to make it consistent

* Too many coincidences might seem hokey

* Dad was supposed to be real jerk, and this character is moderately heroic


* Tightens the story by connecting previously disconnected story threads.

* Reduces the number of characters

* A character who is sometimes a jerk and sometimes moderately heroic is more interesting

I think the last point is swaying me toward doing it. I'd probably want to end up redeeming the dad anyway -- I'm just a softy that way -- so why not save myself the trouble of agonizing over it and go in from the start with the knowledge this is a flawed rather than evil character?

Feb 11, 2009

Secret Agent!

I found out about a delicious contest on the blog of Miss Snark's First Victim.

The idea is so delightful, I couldn't resist entering. Fifty (raised to sixty for reasons explained on the blog) aspiring authors submit the first 250 words of their completed novels. A agent, about whom we know nothing except what genres he/she represents, reads them. At the end of the contest, the Secret Agent unmasks herself/himseslf and picks "prizes" for the winners like a read of a partial or a full. Pretty sweet.

In addition, everyone crits other entries, so, even if you don't catch the Secret Agent's eye, you still receive helpful feedback on your novel's opening.

I entered.

Wow, though, the competition is intense. There are a lot of entries which I, personally, would love to keep reading.

* * *


I just finished reviewing all sixty entries. Whew -- and wow. There's some really lovely prose and smashing hooks in that bunch. It's intimidating, but also exhilarating. I also received some good feedback on my submission.

With so many excellent submissions, I fear my chances of coming to the Secret Agent's attention are not just slim, but downright anorexic. It's depressing to realize that real slush piles are just like this, except with no cap on the number of submissions. I honestly don't know how agents retain their sanity.

However, I'm glad I entered, and so excited to find out who the Secret Agent is!

Feb 10, 2009

Two Things I've Learned About Outlining

Break out your violins, cause I'm gonna wail and whine.

I was supposed spend this month finishing my Mother of All Outlines. Instead, I did the usual shoddy-bum half-baked outline I usually do and then immediately snuck off to continue writing on Book II.

Now, I had an excuse. (Naturally.) Each book has a number of story threads, which follow different PoV characters and eventually meet up somewhere in the book. One of these threads, for every book, is not like the others. It's usually a series of events from the past. In Book I, a thread follows the mysterious Corn Maiden. In Book II, there's a thread which follows Mayara, an Aelfae orphan whose whole family is murdered by humans, and who is then taken in by humans who don't realize she's fae.

Since these threads are in the past, they are out of chronological sync with the rest of the series. When I write them, however, it's easier to do it in chronological order -- so I like to write the whole sequence as a set piece, which I then divide and distribute to the proper chapters.

I did write a shallow outline, which still manages to be more detailed than my previous outlines. I even included some dialogue.

But I learned I need to include two important things right there in the outline, if this detailed "phrase" outline system is going to work for me.

One: Characters.

Who is in the scene? This seems like a no-brainer. How can I have dialogue if I don't know who's talking? But I don't mean the main characters. I know who the PoV character is going to be, but sometimes there are also bit players present, doing things, and I need to figure out who these guys are at the outline stage.

Two: Setting.

Again, I know generally where the scene is taking place. What I need are the specifics. Inside or outside? In whose room, by which rock?

* * *

These still aren't things I'm used to thinking about during the outlining stage.


My outline phrase: Mayara watches her whole family slaughtered by humans.

My realization when I went to write the scene: Who is she with -- mother, father? Where is she compared to her family -- i.e. she must be close enough to watch, but far away enough she herself isn't killed. Are her family members given names or just called "her family"?

My draft:

“Give me your wings,” her mommy said. “I’ll bury them.”

Mayara wasn’t sure what to do. Her wings were part of her – they grew from her back. How could she give them up, even if she wanted to, any more than she could take off her arms or her legs?

“Hurry!” Mommy kept looking back over her shoulder. The forest beyond the cave looked innocent enough, but Mayara could hear the war cries of humans climbing the slope, out of sight. Hu, hu, hu! they shouted in the distance, to the beat of drums.

Feb 9, 2009

Cannibalism and Parenthood

I took my younger son (also known as "Spawn: the Sequel") to his doctor for immunizations. The doctor reminded us of the usual things. Don't shake him. Put him to sleep on his back. Car seat must face backwards. And so on.

She added, "It's also great to read to him. At this point, he doesn't care what you read, he just loves to hear your voice. You can read him any book, whatever you're reading, such as..."

Here she leaned over to pick up the nonfiction book I had brought in with me. She read the title out loud.

"...Cannibalism, Headhunting and Human Sacrifice in North America." Pause. Blink. Look of horror. "Um. Ok, maybe not that book."

Note to self: Do not bring research books for that chapter on human sacrifice into the pediatrician's office.

Feb 3, 2009


I'll be sending out the full mss of Dindi to an agency by this Friday.