Self-Destructive Writerly Sins

Don’t be this Book

I’ve written before about the self-destructive urges writers get. Plagiarism needs to be near the top of the list.  Penning sexist rants about your greatness to an agent is another. And, of course, there’s always the venerable Internet meltdown.

Now we have another example of something authors really shouldn’t do to boost their career: Try to game the NY Times Bestseller list.

Last week, Handbook For Mortals by Lani Sarem, knocked Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give off the No. 1 spot of the Times‘ YA bestseller list.  Now this may happen occasionally with a debut novel, but usually that means the fans have heard some advance buzz about the book.  This one, nada.  Another red flag? Brand new publisher.  Final red flag?  To quote Phil Stamper on Twitter:

This is what I’m referencing. A book that’s out of stock on Amazon and is not currently in any physical B&N in the tri-state area.

Suspicious to say the least.  Then you have the weird fact that the author is listed as playing the lead in an “in development” movie of the book. WTF?  It gets better:

It turns out the author worked as a band manager before she decided to write YA books. One of the bands she managed? Blues Traveler. Yep.

The band tweeted about the author on its official Twitter account: “yes, this is weird but not surprising…We fired her for these kind of stunts. Her sense of denial is staggering!”

So apparently this scam involved a lot of strategic bulk buys of a book that barely existed in order to promote a movie. And, unsurprisingly, when real people finally got their hands on a copy, the writing was really, really bad.

Also, unsurprisingly, the NYT pulled it from its list.

Probably Lani Sarem though having a “NYT Bestseller” attached to her film project would generate some financing. Maybe it would have. But she went about it in such a stupid, sleazy way she probably killed her own project with this spectacular and well-deserved failure.

Lounging About

I just want to let people know about my continued effort to integrate myself into the social media landscape (or other buzzwords to that effect) I have launched myself a Facebook group called Swann’s Lounge. So, for those of you on Facebook, you can join a bunch of like-minded folks to discuss reading & writing genre fiction, particularly Science Fiction and Fantasy. Come on and join the discussion, or start one of your own.

Continuing on my trek into the 21st Century

Updated my blog as I mentioned in the last post. Now I’m looking at my career while I wait for a couple of editors to respond to my latest projects. Short term I’m looking at possibly another Choice of Games title. Long term I’m investigating joining the ranks of indie authors. So far what’s held me back is the shear volume of work involved. Marketing has never been my thing, and I’m scattershot at best when it comes to social media (witness my sporadic blogging). But it does seem to be the future of things, so I’m looking seriously at what it would take. Of course I would need a new novel or three, so best case we’re 12-18 months away from even considering pre-launch stuff, without taking other paying gigs into account. Then again, a lot of the groundwork I need for this (e-mail lists, press kit, &c.) can be worked on well in advance and would presumably help out my traditionally published stuff. So, we’ll see…



I’m going to be at the Cleveland Concoction convention this coming weekend from March 10th through the 12th.  If you’re in the area, directions are here.

You can find the overall schedule here, as for what I’m doing:

  • Fri. 11pm – Fantasy and Rule 34
  • Sat. 12pm – Vampires, Werewolves, and Gods—Rewriting Legends
  • Sat. 2pm – Author Showcase (Session 3) [Wherein I will read a bit]
  • Sat. 3pm – Autographing (Session 3) – Author Alley
  • Sat. 9pm – Why Villains Matter
  • Sat. 11pm – Inter-Species “Relations”
  • Sun. 1pm – There are no Saints in Fiction

Looking forward to seeing some of my fans there.

And Speaking of Worldbuilding…

Since I was talking about world-building earlier, thought I’d follow up with something a little different. Here’s a few ongoing webcomics that I really like that have created truly impressive universes to play in:

1) Girl Genius

ggGirl Genius has been going on since 2002, so if you’re new to it, bank some time to catch up. (Or buy the print copies.) Phil & Kaja Foglio’s “Gaslamp Fantasy” series has been going continuously from the start, with only a few filler strips here and there during it’s run. The world is correspondingly epic, with a vaguely Victorian Europe overrun by mad scientists and their creations. A lot of it is intentionally goofy and amusing, but as Terry Prachett once said, “Funny is not the opposite of Serious.”

2) Gunnerkrigg Court

gcA special child is enrolled in a strange boarding school that seems to exist in its own separate universe. You’d be forgiven if you think of Hogwarts. But if this is Hogwarts, it is Hogwarts filtered through Terry Gilliam and Neil Gaiman. The eponymous Court is a school, but also a city filled with ghosts and automatons, adjacent to a forest where the old spirits live. Including a particular Coyote.

3) Stand Still. Stay Silent

ssssHow many post-apocalyptic stories come with a hefty dose of Scandinavian magic and folklore? One that I know of. All the fantastic elements tie back into the setting, as do the characters. This is one of those stories that could not be removed from its locale. It’s a slow burn, but when the monstrosities start showing up, they are absolutely horrifying. (Though a trigger warning for those who have issues with violence to cats and dogs.)

4) Kill Six Billion Demons

ksbdIf any webcomic ever had the potential to found its own religion, this is it. The world is deep and strange and somehow vaguely familiar all at the same time. The art is stunning and hallucinatory. It’s a story of gods and angels and devils and a heaven/hell that’s suffering severe infrastructure problems due to neglect.

World-building is what you make it. . .

cryptonomicon reamde

I’ve been reading some Neal Stephenson lately and I’ve been reminded of a point that I often try to make when I do my world-building talks. The point being that the skills used for world-building in science fiction and fantasy are not genre specific. I see writers who assume that if they’re not building the universe from the ground up, the whole world-building toolkit is irrelevant. They fail to realize that every writer has to build a world in the reader’s mind, and even if the facts behind the pages are not the author’s invention, those facts still need to inform the story and make it into the reader’s head. The world of Cryptonomicon is no less full and complex and richly detailed as Snow Crash, despite the former being less science fiction than the average Tom Clancy novel.

I’m currently reading (listening to) Reamde. And I’m reminded a lot of a triptych of John Brunner novels; Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider. Like those three rightly classic novels, Stephenson juggles multiple viewpoints to illuminate an incredibly detailed and complex world— even when that world is much more congruent to the one we live in than Brunner’s.

shockwave zanzibar sheep

Still working, still here. . .

Just a little update to let you know I’m still alive, still busy doing game things like revising my final draft for my editor.  Now that’s done, we’re on to continuity and beta testing. In the meantime I had to come up with some additional “assets” for the game. One such “asset” is some descriptions of the game.

Fair enough.

No more than 50 characters, suitable for the Subject: line of an email.

Okay, I can do that.

We recommend coming up with 20 of them.


You think that sounds bad? It’s really worse.  Especially because, well, I’m a novelist. Pithy ain’t really my thing. When your publisher’s documentation of their needs actually uses the word “grueling,” you know you’re in for a good time.  It’s especially grueling because this is no trivial bit of work. One of those 20 lines may be the first glimpse someone has of this game, so it’s kind of important.

No pressure.

PS: I was going to put up a political post instead of this, and then I looked around and told myself, “Yeah, that’s what the Internet needs right now— MORE POLITICS!


CoG Update

fireworks-1759_960_720The first draft of Welcome to Moreytown is done!


After a few more run-throughs I should be handing it off to Choice Of Games by the end of the week. The bad news, for those of you itching to play this thing, is that we still have rounds of editorial comment to go through. Then, unlike my other fiction, there will be the beta testing and more comments. So don’t expect this to be available on iTunes for another six to eight months, at least.

As I mentioned in my last update, writing this thing resulted in a cascade of complexity at the end, resulting in a distinct 28(!) separate paths into the Epilogue. And that may be understating things because there are a few end states that overlap into the same entry point.

A Thought About Lovecraft

The TombIf you were to pick out who is the most “problematic” character in the SF/Fantasy canon, H.P.Lovecraft has got to be near the top of the list. He is probably one of the most influential voices in the genre, not just touching authors as diverse as Stephen King and Charles Stross, but extending his tentacles deep into popular culture; movies, comics, games, t-shirts, internet memes, music. . .  The influence is pervasive.

And that’s what makes him problematic.

Because he was also a racist and bigot of the first order. This is, in the current age, the primary unforgivable sin. And he made life particularly difficult for any apologists because he wasn’t particularly subtle about it in either his fiction or his correspondence. Not only did he make his views explicit in his letters, any reader with half a brain can look into his stories of the terrifying “other” and see the racism staring right back.

It occurs to me that this is exactly why he is such an important writer. Some others might want to, on one side, remove or minimize his pride of place among foundation authors in the genre, and on the other, minimize his “unwholesome” views to protect his legacy from being tarnished. . . I think both sides miss the point.

What Lovecraft did was take his own personal— and to modern eyes bigoted and racist— fears, and abstracted them just enough to make them universal.  The fact is, however progressive anyone tries to be, there is always “our” tribe and the “other” tribe. Some draw the lines by race, some by class, some by nationality, and some by political affiliation.  We may not like this fact of human nature, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists.  Lovecraft looked into the darkest part of his own soul and pulled out something horrifying, and very human.

CoG Update

I’m in the home stretch

Here’s an update for those of you interested in my Choice of Games project. The first draft of Welcome to Moreytown is almost complete. I am working on the final chapters now, and I plan to turn it in to them before the end of the year, assuming the Christmas holiday is more forgiving of my time than the Thanksgiving one was.

An interesting, if predictable, wrinkle is that the closer I get to the climax, the more complex the writing becomes. I don’t even know exactly how many parallel paths the PC can be on in the penultimate chapter, but there are a lot of them. Enough that this chapter alone may weigh in at around 20K words.

However, we seem to be on track to see this game available some time in 2017.