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Feb 25, 2011

UK Cover for The Unfinished Song: Initiate and Taboo

I didn't expect to do so many revisions to Taboo, the second book in The Unfinished Song, but wow, my editor had some great ideas that add just that perfect extra bit of yum to the story, and I am having so much fun with this book. I hope you guys will enjoy reading it as much as I am writing it.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share the news that there will be UK editions of the series. Ok, right now, everything about the books is pretty much the same (even the spelling, sorry UK readers) except... drumroll... the covers.

There's this theory that Brits like different covers. Symbolic and schematic covers are supposed to be more popular than covers with people-oriented scenes.

I have no idea if this is a myth or reality. I suspect it's nonsense. That is, I'm sure there are readers who prefer symbolic/schematic covers to people/scene pictures; however, their dispersion is probably statistically unrelated to their nationality. But hey, I'm willing to experiment. So here are the other covers. (US readers: if you really like these better, I think they are also available through the US store.)

Judging by my low sales in Amazon UK, it's possible I don't have any British fans anyway. Or maybe they were just waiting for the right covers to draw them in! If you shop on Amazon UK, consider adding these books to your shopping cart.... They need some UK love!

Feb 20, 2011

Cover Art for The Unfinished Song: Taboo

It's a brave new world of epublishing, and one theory I would like to test is that cheaper, faster, shorter will win the day. But how does one do this with epic fantasy, which notoriously requires at least 300,000 words just to get the first 3000 characters introduced? (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough* Terry Goodkind *cough* Stephan King *cough* excuse me I have a cough, sorry about that *cough*) You can't just dash out a 50,000 word epic fantasy once a month in your spare time. That's what Sword & Sorcery is for.

The answer to the length of fantasy stories has always been to break them up into smaller, more digestible elements. Lord of the Rings is really one story published in three volumes, not three books. There's a fine difference.

That's how I am approaching my epic fantasy The Unfinished Song. I could publish a 400,000 word ebook, but I thought it would be more delectable to parcel it out in delicious snack sized bites of epic.

That also means, however, a rather grueling publishing schedule of one book out every two months--yikes!--good for readers, but definitely a schedule to keep me on my toes. There are revisions and edits and ARCs, oh my!

All of this is a lot of throat-clearing for the Big Reveal of the cover art for the second book in the series, Taboo. Out in March, fingers crossed! (Curse you, revisions!) So without further ado, here it  is:

Yes, it will also be available in trade paperback, starting in April. Book Three, The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice will be out in May.

Feb 17, 2011

What Does Change in Copyright Law Mean for Writers?

I caught this item of news from Piers Anthongy:

Meanwhile, of interest to other writers: Congress changed the law, and now publishers can't hang on to an author's rights until 70 years after s/he dies. The new Copyright Act allows authors and their heirs to terminate contracts 35 years after the contract date and "recapture" the books, regardless whether they remain in print, beginning with contracts dated 1978. All my books are on license, meaning I can get my rights back after about ten years, except for 17 at Random House/Del Rey. Now, year by year, I can start recovering them. Other writers should check this out, because their publishers will not tell them.

There's a gold rush going on right now for the e-rights to millions of backlisted titles by previously published authors. A lot of these are older folks who aren't comfortable with the new tech and may surrender their rights without realizing it. If you fall in this category, or you are related to a writer who does, you should tread with care. Or sell your rights to me. :D

Feb 16, 2011

Google-Apple Smack Down

Apple and Google are going at it for the future of publishing! What does it all mean? Frankly, I have no idea. I'm hoping to sort through all of this and figure out what this means for writers, readers and books.

Here's how Google responded to Apple's subscribtion model:
Here’s the key nugget that everyone seems to be overlooking:
With Google One Pass, publishers can maintain direct relationships with their customers and give readers access to digital content across websites and mobile apps.
I’ve confirmed that this means that customer information collected by Google will be shared with publishers. What kind of information? Name, zip code, and most importantly, email addresses. Billing information will not be shared, we’re told. Users can choose to opt-out of sharing this information, but they’ll have to explicitly do so. By default, the information is shared.
And as we’ve talked about before, that’s a huge win for publishers who mainly fear these online subscription services because it could mean giving up their all-important rolodex of customer information. You know, the information they use to market stuff to you. With Google’s system, they’ll be able to maintain at least part of that direct relationship.
And that’s important because with Apple’s system, publishers are getting the shaft. The way Apple set it up, user data can be shared with publishers — but only if the users themselves explicitly choose to share it. When you subscribe to a publication, a pop-up appears asking if you’d like to allow the publisher to get your contact information. There are two options: “Allow” and “Don’t Allow”. It’s a simple option that will make sense to customers. But it also means that basically no one is going to share such information. Who in their right mind would?
Well, unless it’s shared for you, that is.
There is no question that Google’s system will be more flexible for publishers. And yes, Google will be keeping only 10 percent of the revenue from sales, as opposed to the 30 percent that Apple is keeping. But from a user perspective, given the data sharing situation, there’s no question that Apple’s system is more favorable.

Feb 14, 2011

Love Is a Triangle

Rick or Vic?
"Under stress, two people tend to draw in a third. They stabilize the system by forming a coalition of two in relation to the third. The basic unit of an emotional system is a triangle." -- Monica McGolderick, Genograms

Does ever great love story actually involve three people?

I've been wondering this as I work on the outline for a romance. Originally, I envisioned the conflict as coming from the opposing motives of the hero and heroine. But I feel as though perhaps a third charcter, now on the periphery, might move in to create a love triangle.

What do you think? Is there more tension when there is a serious second contender for the hero or heroine's heart? Clearly, the love triangle has the power to generate interest above and beyond the simple romance, or it wouldn't be such a tried and true plot device....

Ed or Jake?
Then again, Romeo and Juliette was not a love triangle. Jessica Rabbit was not actually playing patty-cake on Roger. The conflict came from just two sides, and that was enough to cause suffient mayhem. I hate to set up a love triangle merely to be formulaic.

It seems also that in the best love triangles, the two choices mean something, beyond the obvious. Rick and Victor in Casablanca represent different attitudes towards involvement in the war, which is why, no matter how much Elsa loves Rick, it's right that she goes with Victor. (Please don't whine about spoilers if you didn't know this. Please.) Likewise, Jacob and Edward are totally different personalities, and bring out a different aspect of Bella. James Bond always has two female flings, the good girl and the naughty vixen; usually one is blond or redhead and the other is a brunette so you won't be confused by their otherwise identically vapid personalities.

It would be fairly boring if the love triangle offered the chooser the option of two guys/gals who were pretty much alike. It would be like Bond having to chose between two redheads in the same movie. What would he do with himself?

My point is, if there is a triangle, it should have a deeper meaning than just another pretty face. It shouldn't be, "Well, I could marry this guy and live in suburbia with five kids, or that guy and live in suburbia with five kids," it should be "Well, I could marry this guy and save the free world or marry that guy and defect to Burma."

Who we choose to love should impact the fate of the whole world. At least in fiction.

Happy Valentines Day!

Feb 10, 2011

Publishing, One More Bastian of Male Chauvanist Pigs (Apparently)

In 1903... a disgruntled sorcerer in eastern New Guinea announced that within three days he was turning every man in the village into a woman, and every woman into a man.

The men were panic stricken, New Guinea being such a male dominated society, but, as the investigating white magistrate observed, “the women viewed the threat with supreme complacency.”*
Laura Miller, over on Salon, chips away at the issue of why there aren't more female authors.

Franklin, who was chagrined to find that only 33 percent of the books she reviewed last year were by women, concluded that "magazines are reviewing female authors in something close to the proportion of books by women published each year. The question now becomes why more books by women are not getting published." Since publishing a book tends to burnish the reputation of a reviewer or essayist (just as publishing well-received reviews and essays in journals can lead to a book contract), the two situations are certainly intertwined.

...The imbalance in books published is indeed a puzzle; book publishers, like any other business, want to make money, and multiple surveys indicate that women buy and read far more books than men do. (This fact has long been established within the book business, but since some Salon readers have questioned it in the past, please see the National Endowment for the Arts "Reading at Risk" report.) If women were only -- or even primarily -- interested in books by women, the logic of the marketplace would dictate that publishers should release more titles by female authors.

And here's where we have to get anecdotal. There's really no hard data on how many books by male authors are read by women readers and vice versa, nor are we likely to ever see any. But try this: Ask six bookish friends -- three men and three women -- to list their favorite authors or favorite books, without explaining your motivation. Then see how many male authors the women list and whether the men list any female authors at all.
A couple of researchers at Queen Mary College in London did something along these lines in 2005. They asked "100 academics, critics and writers" to discuss the books they'd read most recently. According to the Guardian, "four out of five men said the last novel they read was by a man, whereas women were almost as likely to have read a book by a male author as a female. When asked what novel by a woman they had read most recently, a majority of men found it hard to recall or could not answer." When it comes to gender, women do seem to read more omnivorously than men. Publishers can assume that a book written by a man will sell to both men and women, but a book by a woman is a less reliable bet.

So not much has changed since 1903... men still freak out imagining themselves as women, but women are complacent about the reverse.

The only thing I can't figure out is if this study included geenre romance books. As far as I can tell, those are reviewed by most "serious" reviewers (fantasy and sf aren't either, with some notable exceptions), and I think most of the authors in that genre are female. Interestingly, when male romance authors usually use a female pen name--a fact that seems to imply female readers are looking for female authors.

There's still the issue of why a genre of predominantly female interest would be considered unsuitable for serious consideration.....

*(hat tip to Laura Anne Gilman, who posted that on Facebook.)

**I am really annoyed with Blogger's new formatting. 

Feb 9, 2011

A Talk and Booksigning with Deborah Harkness

I attended a talk by Deborah Harkness last night at USC, the university where she teaches. It was the release day for her novel A Discovery of Witches and the first book signing in what's likely to be a whirlwind tour. She's already a bestselling novelist.

A lot of profs from the history department were there, as well as grad students and undergrads. Syrie James, the author of Dracula, My Love and Nocturne was also there, but not too many other novelists that I know of. (If you know otherwise, correct me.) The talk was held in Doheny Library and books lined the room where she spoke, so it was a fairly rarified academic atmosphere...the perfect background, given the book. Nonetheless, I resisted, as long as possible, the urge to geek out and take notes. I mean, she's used to students taking notes when she give lectures, but I figured she probably didn't want note takers during her novel reading. My resolve lasted all of fifteen minutes. Then I broke down and took notes, mostly because I already knew I wanted to blog about it, and also because Deb is damn funny.

She began by explaining the bare bones of the novel to those who hadn't read an ARC or (like me) downloaded it on their kindle and finished it in one sitting before the talk.

"My character is 33 and has tenure at Yale...that's how you can tell it's a fairytale..." The audience laughed uproariously. "...and this is the last time I'll be able to use that joke," she added, "because no one else will get it." (We laughed even harder.)

She read some sections aloud and talked a bit about why she wrote a novel. She didn't plan it; it just happened. The Twilight craze was going strong in 2008 and she wondered what vampires would do for a living. "They can' all be private investigators."

But academia would be perfect for vampires. "You could spend 600 years on a research project and really get somewhere!" (Which is probably about how long it's going to take me to get my PhD at this rate, by the way. But I digress.) Or, they could build their portfolio.

"Just as you don't know the point of your paper until you write the last paragraph," she said, to more laughter from the academics in the audience, she didn't know what her themes were until she had written the novel. She had a couple aspirations for the book. She hoped to make academic life sexy. A major theme that evolved (inside joke, since evolution is a big theme) was the balance between science and history, logic and magic. Diana and Matthew represent the alchemical process, the marriage of opposites that gives rise to the Philosopher's Stone, to novelty and eternity.

Another amusing bon mot was when she mentioned that her novel was publicly graded in a national magazine ... and received a B+.  "Students and former students of mine may remember all the lectures I gave that a B+ is a fine grade, a sign of future potential.... Well, I don't promise to never give that lecture again, but now I know how it feels. Just be glad your grades are not published in a national magazine!"

I probably laughed WAY too loud at that one. Er, yes, I did get a B+ in her class, and I did hear that lecture. I have to say, however, that her book is a million times better than my class papers. Which just goes to show something I've always known, that grading novels is a ridiculous conceit. Novels can be judged; I don't believe they can be graded.

(Oooo, wouldn't it be great if you could submit a novel for a history class, though? I know, you're thinking, "Hello, moron, isn't that called an MFA program?" To which my answer is: "They don't study history in MFA programs." I want to study history, I just think it would be more interesting, sometimes, to write about it as fiction. Ah, well.)

Deb noted that her experience of studying how various historical figures had build their concept of the world helped her with the novelist's task of world-building. I thought that was a fascinating insight, a connection I've made intuitively, but never analyzed before.

During the question and answer period, a prof of modern history asked her, "What's wrong with getting over magic? I like the modern world. I'm going to come out in favor of disenchantment."

Deb answered that magic represents "limitless potential" and we need a little magic in modern life, we need faith in limitless potential.


Feb 8, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel

So yesterday I was obnoxiously boasting I knew someone who would be famous today. I hadn't decided if I should do the big reveal or not. But what the hell. The author is Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches, which is ranked pretty high on the Occult, Fantasy and Vampire books on Amazon. (Along with an indie author, J.R. Rain.) Feel free to snicker at me for getting all excited about this, but Deb Harkness was my history professor, a delightful teacher and a wonderful person, so I'm pretty thrilled at how well her book is doing.

Also, I downloaded my copy this morning and I've been racing through the book. It's awesome. It's not surprising I would think so, is it? I don't mean because I know the author, but because she wrote a book that is exactly the kind of vampire fantasy to appeal to someone, like me, in academia, and a historian in particular. The heroine is a historian, and the tall, dark and dangerous vampire hero also happens to be scientist with an interest in evolution. It doesn't get better than that. No, seriously. It makes me realize that the one thing missing from all other vampire stories I have ever read is that the vampire hero lacked advanced degrees in biochemistry and the heroine didn't spend enough time in the Bodleian.

Admit it, have you never read a vampire story and wondered, "Dude, how come if you've been alive for three centuries, you're still such an ignorant dumbass?"

Not that I doubt someone could spend three centuries being a dumbass. I really don't. If you can waste three decades, you can waste three centuries. I can't recall the entire 26th year of my life. I'm pretty sure I wasted it doing something dumb (probably writing a novel) and it's not hard to imagine that if I were immortal, it would be easy to just let whole centuries go by where you do nothing but watch all five seasons of Babylon 5 in reverse chronological order. I'm just saying, it could happen.

This book also made me want to take up my study of alchemy again. I studied Kabbalah way before it was cool. Learned Hebrew For Magicians and everything. I filled dozens of little black notebooks with my notes in English and Hebrew on the Sefer Yetzirah, the Zohar, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Emerald Tablet, the secret studies of Newton.... That's one reason I refused to buy the American edition of the first book of Harry Potter, it so offended me that the publishers changed the name from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The Philosopher's Stone has a rich historical meaning dating back millennia. The idea that publishers assume American kids are too stupid to deserve the real name grated on me. Still does.

A Discovery of Witches has been called the Twilight for smart people. At the most superficial level, this might seem to be playing to urban intellectuals instead of small town culture. For instance, the vampires do yoga instead of playing baseball. It goes deeper than that, though. 

I think one of the fascinating things about vampires is that they can stand in for a number of different thing (often at the same time). In traditional horror, they stand in for those predatory members of our own species who destroy others. In the whole paranormal romance genre, they stand in for predation of another kind--sexual predation, which the victims both fear and desire. 

In Harkness' book, the vampires are overwhelmingly scientists, and science itself--or knowledge--is something to be feared yet desired. Many of the creatures in the story, not just the heroine, are driven by their desire to know, to discover their origins, to find out where magic comes from and what it is. Diana, the heroine studies early modern European history, specifically the transition from alchemy to chemistry, from magic to science. The rich irony of this, of course, is that in this world, magic is real, and as a witch, she knows that. She's made a personal pledge to try to avoid magic in her own life, so it's as if by discovering how society as a whole purged magic and embraced science, she can do the same.

Feb 7, 2011

I Know Someone Famous!!! So Obviously, I'm Cool Too

No, the person I know is not Lady Gaga, sorry.

I know someone who's about to become famous.

She's going to be a famous author, in my field (fantasy). She's also already pretty famous in another field that's important to me, but I already knew that before I met her, so it's not as thrillingsome.

I've been thinking about fame lately, and how, in some ways, it is more enjoyable to bask in the aquaintance of someone famous than to be famous. But even better is to know someone before they are famous, so that that you can prove to the world that you knew how cool that person was long before everyone else.

I know her now before she's famous, and I can see fame gathering like rainclouds on the horizon. I mean, she's going to become famous, literally, tomorrow.  And it's pretty awesome. It's great for her and all that, but it's even better for me. Because, well, I KNOW her. Or, more to the point, she knows me. She's not my bff or anything, but we've had lunch together.

I read an article, which, sadly, I'm too lazy to cite, that said the internet had given rise to an unprecendented number of unilateral friendships. Ordinarily, when you become friends with someone, you both share more and more about yourselves until you both know each other pretty well. But with the rise of mass media came the possibility of unilateral intimate sharing. We peons can see famous people on our tv, read their personal blogs and their tweets about what they had for breakfast, and feel like we know them better than we know our spouses. But they know (or care) squat all about us. That's a unilateral friendship.

Ask yourself a question. If you saw a famous person and a stranger of the same age, gender etc. drowning, and you could only save one, who would you save?

Chances are you would instinctively try to save the one you "knew," the famous person. Because your monkey brain would be screaming at you, "This is an important ally! This person is part of your kin, one of the tribe!"

Sadly, however, if you were drowning and a famous person had to choose between you and a stranger... well, you *would* be the stranger. Your monkey brain has mislead you into imagining a reciprocal relationship where there is none. Hope you brought a life jacket.

Have you ever noticed one of those awkward exchanges on Facebook or some other public social media forum, where an Ordinary Bloke makes a rather personal request of Famous Person? And then Famous Person demurs and says, "I'm sorry, I can't do that for everyone who asks, too many people ask." Sometimes it ends there, but sometimes Ordinary Bloke turns nasty... as if he has just been betrayed by a good friend. Of course, Famous Person is NOT his good friend, but Ordinary Bloke feels hurt because that's not what Monkey Brain says. Monkey Brain says he and Famous Person are BFFs, because after all Ordinary Bloke knows EVERY DETAIL of Famous Person's life, just as if they were BFFs.

Here's another thought. No one likes a loser. But everyone likes a winner who was once a loser. There are plenty of people who go from Ordinary Bloke to Famous Person, practically overnight. (Did I mention I know one?)

In fact, I might know more than one of them, because, as it happens, I know a lot of very good writers who are on their way to becoming famous.

You, reading this blog, might well be one of them.

So just keep in mind that once you become a Famous Person, people are going to make more demands of your time and attention than you can give. And at first you'll remember what it felt like to be an Ordinary Bloke, and you'll try to help all of them. Gradually, you'll get tired of that and just blow them off. As long as you are polite, that's just what you have to do, because you are only one person and you can't be BFFs with everyone who reads your book or your blog or your brainwaves. (Who knows what media they will have in the future, right?)

Just also keep in mind--whether your are famous yet or not--that an Ordinanry Bloke, even some out-and-out loser, won't necessarily always be a loser. Remember the fairytale where the ugly beggar woman knocks on the door and asks for a crumb? Don't slam the door in her face. Because she's a fairy in disguise. And when she's a Famous Person, she will remember if you treated her like trash.

The safest policy? Treat yourself as if you were already Famous. Your time is valuable; don't squander it. But also treat everyone you meet as if they were Famous too. Seriously, ask yourself, "If this were Famous Person X saying this to me, would I respond differently? Would I let this person drown?"

Feb 3, 2011

How Magic Dominoes Are Like the Internet

First check out these magic dominoes that tip each other over without touching.

Then you'll understand my analogy to the Internet. (Hopefully.)

It used to be that we mainly impacted people who were near to us. Like, three feet near to us. All of human evolution has been a process of expanding that distance. First, spoken language itself. About 100,000 years later, through writing on clay and stone. Papyrus, books, those were really just refinements.

The internet couldn't exist without the alphabet. The alphabet is a set of magic dominoes that can knock down whole governments without even touching them directly.

Just my thought for the day.