Book Stuff and Blog Stuff

For audiobook fans, I have good news.  Blackstone Audio has just contracted to do an audiobook version of Wolf’s Cross.  I’ve also added buy links for the Audible.com versions of Prophets and Heretics.   I also finally added this widget:

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To the Wolf’s Cross page.

A Webcomic you should follow

Gunnerkrigg Court: If you took Harry Potter, tossed it a blender with some of Girl Genius and some Neil Gaiman, you’d end up with something in the same genre as this.  The story goes from cute, to creepy to heartwarming in the space of a couple of panels.  And, if you pay attention, everything that seems to be arbitrary weirdness (and oh, is there weirdness) does eventually get an explanation.  You have to love a story about an English boarding school where Coyote (yes, THE Coyote) is a major player and this guy is the heroine’s sidekick.

Writing Linkage: Queries

For some reason, lately, I’ve been running across a lot of info on writing query letters. I’ve written myself about them, but I thought I’d pass on linkage to some of the items I’ve run across lately.

Joe Moore at Kill Zone gives 8 tips on writing a strong query letter.

A.C. Crispin from Writer Beware on How to Write a Query Letter.

For counterexamples we have Slushpile Hell, (via Redlines and Deadlines)

Then there’s a whole site devoted to query critique I found recently, Query Shark.

5 Terms From TV Tropes We Really Could Use

TV Tropes is a massive time sink, but there are some gems in the general pop-culture amusement that I think could use some wider currency with those of us who workshop or otherwise talk about the nuts and bolts of story construction on a regular basis.  Some of these are just too useful not to use.

  1. Moral Event Horizon – You have a character who’s the bad guy.  But we all like to believe in redemption, and he’s got a tragic back-story that makes him a little sympathetic, and he’s got enough charisma that the reader would like to see him join the side of the angels.  The Moral Event Horizon it the event where he does something so heinous, so evil, that any chance at redemption is lost.  It’s the point of no return where all ambiguity about the character’s status as in irredeemable evil bastard is removed: he’s raped the heroine, killed her child and/or eaten their puppy. Note, this can go unpunished, in which case you have a
  2. Karma Houdini – The complete bastard has eaten the puppy, burnt down the orphanage and kicked granny downstairs.  He’s walked off with a million bucks stolen from the Salvation Army.  If there was any justice, the hero would serve him a gruesome and appropriate death. . . but no, the guy walks off into the sunset, happy as a clam.  That’s it, he lives happily ever after.  This character may be a sign you’re reading about a
  3. Crapsack World – The world is fucked up not just on a social level, but on a spiritual and philosophical level.  Evil is rewarded, good is punished, and if God exists, he doesn’t care for you.  A staple of satire as well as horror.  Of course, when done badly, can result in a
  4. Broken Aesop – You had a moral in there, right?  About the sacredness of human life in against the boots of a faceless bureaucracy, and how your hero saved the world from the evil overlords. . . by stomping that human life out of thousands of the evil overlord’s faceless servants?  However, all might be forgiven with resort to
  5. The Rule of Cool – If something is just wicked awesome enough, the audience doesn’t care how believable it is.

Two random bits of writing advice

From conversations I had at a party this weekend:

1) After you establish a character in a story, make sure you ask yourself the following two questions before every subsequent appearance of that character:  Where were they since we last saw them?  And what were they doing during their time off-screen?  It’s easy to lose track, even with a major character, and pick their thread up right where you left it.  But there’s little else that’s as jarring to a reader as following one character through a week’s worth of activity, and switching to someone else who’s apparently done nothing but a paragraph of introspection in the intervening time.

2) All writing rules are optional.  But only if the following condition holds: You know exactly why you’re breaking said rule.  And not in some vague wishy-washy sense of being bold or artistic.  There is a concrete effect you are trying to achieve.  Also, just as important, the intent is only justified if the rule-breaking succeeds in the effect you’re trying to accomplish.

Well, it’s better than a Nigerian scam

Been a while since I posted some writing-related spam.  Unlike a lot of fly-by-night endeavors designed to separate a newbie writer from their money, this one is not really a scam.  At least, I’m sure they’re giving you something for the money.   A lame something, but something.  That is perhaps the best thing I can say about a business this terribly ill-conceived from the name on down.

So, what is the name?

I present AuthorForSale.com! [Are you getting images of strippers doing  Jane Austin cosplay?  No?  Well now you are, heh.]

Hello author S. Andrew Swann, [Is that the lit-fetish version of “Hello Nurse?“]

Author For Sale. com The Showcase for authors where the publisher comes looking for You! [Where gratuitous capitalization comes looking for You!]

Visit: www.authorforsale.com [In case we cannot intuit the url from the above.]

The above link is exciting news for authors everywhere and is turning the literary industry on its head. [I’m excited.] It is fast altering the balance of power in the endeavour of publication and contract negotiation. You can now present your literary talent on a truly international stage [as opposed to the normal submission process wherein federal law prohibits the querying of anyone 50 miles beyond the territorial waters of the U.S.], and be seen by 100’s of publishers specializing in your specific genre [Even if my genre is Amish lesbian splatterpunk erotica?], all searching for new or established authors. [As opposed to the thousands of publishers not looking for new or established authors.] This means that when you get a book deal offer, you may even have more than one on the table to barter with [The economy is so bad, some publishers are paying in chickens], rather than have to accept the only deal available.[Why do I think if you had that deal, you wouldn’t be taking this spam so seriously?]

You are being offered a confidential [Ooops, not anymore, my bad.] Free Trial[i.e This crap will cost you money in the long run.] Showcase Listing valid until September 30th as part of a Writers Group[You know the Writers Group, right?  Every year they hand out the Book Award for Best Novel in a Genre] association.[i.e. We lifted your name from the SFWA mailing list, and we’re desperate for a published author to lend our hare-brained scheme some legitimacy] After the Free Trial [With Gratuitous Caps!] date you may terminate your listing with no obligations or renew your account by payment of the membership listing fee as ruling on October 1st 2010. Your Free Showcase Listing will attract the exact same benefits entitled to fully subscribed members, so the sooner you register, the more free.exposure [More and more I get the image of Lit porn. Shake those metaphors, baby. Yeah, show some symbolism.  That’s hot.  Come give daddy a little denouement. ] you’ll have.

Your Showcase can present an intended literary concept,[I intend to have a literary concept!  Sometime.  Watch this space.] a work-in-progress draft [Yeah, show everyone your fist draft, that’ll leave them begging for more.] or a completed manuscript. Getting early exposure may even attract an advance to complet it. [Yes, post a complete manuscript and they’ll pay for you to complet it.  Instructions on how to “complet” a manuscript come with a full membership subscription.]

[Technical login crap deleted to leave room for snark]

You want a more serious deconstruction of AuthorForSale.com, you can visit the Writer Beware Blog.  Here’s the thing.  The concept of this site is, essentially, trying to outsource the slush-pile.  Seems like an OK idea in the abstract, after all that is a major hassle for most editors and writers.  But, you need to ask yourself something; why does any editor want to go to this site when they have the old slush-pile staring them in the face?  It’s not like they’re going to stop getting traditional submissions.  So adding this website to the mix is actually increasing their workload.  Let’s add to this the fact that publishers have to pay to play, over five grand in fact.  That’s a small mid-list advance right there, for the privilege of adding additional work and getting more of something they already get too much of for free.  Yeah, they’re going to beat down your door.  Oh, and that author subscription fee?  Only $225 a year.  For something the author can do for the price of postage, and insure that it gets somewhere at least in the same building as an agent or an editor.  Hell, this website costs a tenth of that, and I guarantee you more publishing professionals have seen this content than would ever dream going somewhere with the squiktastic name AuthorForSale.

You’d be better off posting your writing on Facebook, it’s free and would be at least twice as effective.

The Permanent Floating Publishing Apocalypse

Cue REM.

Dorchester Publishing looks at its bottom line and decides OMG we can’t afford to do this anymore, switches to e-publishing launching the Greek Chorus chantingdeath of print, death of print.”

This is premature for a number of reasons. (Not the least of which is the technical reasons I listed in an earlier blog post.)  But the primary one is the fact that this maneuver wasn’t an attempt to make money, it’s a last ditch effort to stop hemorrhaging and keep the doors open.  As such, it probably has a 50/50 chance of staving off bankruptcy.  It has little, if anything, to do with e-publishing vs. print.  It is a desperate attempt to cut costs, which may in fact backfire if the authors who are being screwed (and getting e-pubbed with a print royalty is being screwed) decide to start with the lawsuits.  This is only an indicator of the death of print insofar as it is a marker of the financial health of the publishing industry. . . And I think someone somewhere might have noticed that we’re in a major recession where just about every industry across the board is suffering from sudden overcapacity, red ink, and the need to downsize.  Everything’s readjusting, and everything is volatile.

If you’re a writer my suggestion to weather the economic storm is the following:

  1. Grow relationships with as many publishers as possible.
  2. Hang on to every subsidy right as you can (foreign sales, audio, e-pub).
  3. Avoid committing to projects with deadlines more than 18 months out.
  4. Get the option clause as narrow as you can (i.e. strike out “right to see next book,” in favor of “right to see next urban fantasy,” or even better “right to see next series title featuring this particular protagonist.”)
  5. Get as much money up front as you can.

Bottom-line: Negotiate every contract as if the company is going into Chapter 11 tomorrow and all your future contact is going to be with a court-appointed lawyer who doesn’t particularly like you or your agent.

Keep Your Laws off my Starship

I tend to write libertarian-themed Space Opera, which means that when I read this recent blog post by Charlie Stross, I had a bit of a reaction.  Here’s the money quote:

“In other words: space colonization is implicitly incompatible with both libertarian ideology and the myth of the American frontier.”

Okay then.  I guess it should come as no surprise that I think he’s wrong.  Or, should I say, half wrong.

I think I’ll first address the point wherein I think he’s got it right.  He points out, correctly, that space colonization is horrendously expensive in time and resources, the infrastructure needed to independently maintain a technological civilization is pretty damn huge, and the nature of a space borne environment means that voting with one’s feet is pretty much off the table.  Thus he’s quite correct that any analogies to the American frontier are waaaaaay off the mark.  Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a strawman there because this also means the same thing about analogies with the Australian frontier, or the Age of Exploration, or any other historical migration/invasion/colonization you might want to name ever since our Australopithecus ancestors walked out of Africa.  This is for two reasons, one he mentions and one he doesn’t.  Every other historical migration of humans from point A to point B involved a point B that was largely habitable and could support a population on its own.  The point he doesn’t mention is that every human migration also had a motive of somehow exploiting point B for the profit of those migrating: be it better farmland, more slaves, gold, oil, or just some real estate to put between them and the folks who wanted to steal their stuff.

Where he gets it wrong is the following:

I postulate that the organization required for such exploration is utterly anathema to the ideology of the space cadets, because the political roots of the space colonization movement in the United States rise from taproots of nostalgia for the open frontier that give rise to a false consciousness of the problem of space colonization. In particular, the fetishization of autonomy, self-reliance, and progress through mechanical engineering — echoing the desire to escape the suffocating social conditions back east by simply running away — utterly undermine the program itself and are incompatible with life in a space colony (which is likely to be at a minimum somewhat more constrained than life in one of the more bureaucratically obsessive-compulsive European social democracies, and at worst will tend towards the state of North Korea in Space).

This is where he makes a mistake that I fear is endemic in popular political thought on the left; the idea that since libertarianism cannot abide collectivism and believes in a minimal State, it must therefore be a philosophy of social nihilism that opposes any and all collective action, organization, or rules.  (How often I hear, “But don’t you approve of traffic laws?” in a self-congratulatory tone.)  This, to put it mildly, is bullshit.  The libertarian ideology is NOT incompatible with life in a space colony, however draconian the rules of survival need be, as long as the colony is a privately run enterprise and the inhabitants were all there by their own choice, and aren’t living off the threat of force to appropriate the resources needed for their survival. But that scenario runs counter to the unstated assumption that it is impossible to have a massive organized effort of people and resources of the kind required to build a space colony without a State-run effort appropriating, by force, the resources and manpower to do it.  That is also bullshit.  If there is a significant enough return to be had on the investment, a private entity can act with the resources and organization of a State.  (Though, given the corporatist post-fascist globalized world we all live in, the most likely scenario is the corporate hijacking of the State’s monopoly on force to have the State appropriate the resources to invest in space exploration adventures on their behalf, therefore minimizing their own risks by spreading it among the entire taxpaying population, sort of like the banking industry— of course someone will use that as a critique of capitalism and call for more State control of the effort, giving yet more power to the symbiotic State-corporate entity, which is so completely missing the fucking point my head wants to explode…)

The primary reason that neither State nor corporation has built anything remotely like the space colonies envisioned in SF is because there’s absolutely no compelling reason for them to do so.  So far the only profitable uses we’ve found for space is communicating long distances and spying on the enemy.  Neither of which requires a manned presence.  As I said above, every human migration from point A to point B also had a motive of somehow exploiting point B for the profit of those migrating.  So one might as well just say that such colonization— at least until there is some substantial profit in the enterprise— is anathema to human nature.

Truffle Update

Unfortunately, Truffles has begun taking a turn for the worse.  Again, she can no longer walk, and still no firm diagnosis.  The steps outside were really becoming an issue, especially since I’m going to cons and such and Michelle can’t lift Truffles all by herself.  So, now we have the Trufflevator:

Going up:

Top floor, everybody out:

That mechanical engineering background finally came in handy.