Wednesday, July 23, 2014 9 comments

Writing Wibbles

Lots of ground to cover this week, so I’ll get right on it…

• • •

First off, Angela Kulig’s mini-anthology Coffin Nails is free through Wednesday! Go get it.

• • •

Kindle Unlimited… I’m hearing a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over a new lending service. Seems like we get this every time Amazon tries something new, huh? (Tip: instead of spending $10/month, go down to your local library and get set up for borrowing eBooks. It’s free and the selection is wider.)

My take: The per-borrow payout has been a over $2 for months, now, slightly more than the royalty on a $3 eBook purchase. Amazon has offered a 30-day free trial, so I expect that August is going to push down that payout quite a bit (my guess: it will be around 50¢) despite Amazon increasing the fund by 66%. For some authors, the increased borrows will more than offset the depressed per-borrow payout. Others will hate it—perhaps enough to yank their books out of Select.

Amazon is walking a tightrope. At current payout levels, an average of four borrows per member per month (about one per week) will nearly wipe out the monthly subscription fee. But if the payout drops too far, authors will pull their most popular books, making the service much less attractive.

I’d recommend taking Green Day’s advice: wake me up when September ends. The free trials will peter out, Amazon will adjust the lending fund, and I expect that things will right themselves by November.

• • •

I’ve been tagged in the Meet my Main Character blog tour by my Twitter bud and co-op partner, Tony Noland!

Here are the rules:

The taggee must write a post answering the same seven questions about their MC (main character). Then the taggee becomes the tagger and chooses five other authors.

Since I have an ongoing series, this is both a WIP and a published work. It has not one MC, but three. I thought it would be more fun to let them answer the questions.

1. What is the name of your main character? Is he a fictional or a historical person?

Sura: What is this “he” about?

Mik: I think this world uses “he” as a generic pronoun, Sura.

Bailar: Mik is right. No offense was meant. Now, let me introduce us. I am Bailar the Blue, once Sorcerer of Exidy, although we haven’t seen home in over a year now. These are my apprentices: Sura sam Bailar, also my daughter, and Mik sim Mikhile, whom I named Mik Dragonrider. Sura and Mik are 14 and 15, respectively, as of our latest adventure. I suppose you would consider us fictional, although we feel quite real to ourselves.

2. When and where is the story set?

Bailar: We have roamed a great deal of Termag, the name of our world, so far. The three of us are citizens of the Stolevan Matriarchy, and we hope to return there some day. We’ve seen great cities, little upriver villages, and the ruins of ancient sites that will soon be resettled.

3. What should we know about him?

Sura: There’s that “him” again, but no matter. As an infant, I was abandoned on my father’s doorstep. It’s unheard of for Matriarchy women to abandon their daughters, but he raised me as his own. I learned of my true parentage in The Sorcerer’s Daughter. Without a mother, I’m legally the head of our household. Still, I defer to Father on certain matters.

Mik: I grew up in Lacota, one of those upriver villages the mentor mentioned. Two winters ago, I awakened an ice dragon when invaders from Westmarch were set to overrun my home. I had no training in sorcery, but the spell was in a child’s rhyme. It drove away the invaders, but I didn’t know I was supposed to dispell it afterwards. So it flew me to Exidy, and I became an apprentice.

Bailar: There is a fairly complete history of my life elsewhere. To that I would add, I have my hands full these days. Not only with all our adventures, but keeping the apprentices focused on their studies. Sura and Mik are good people, and excellent apprentices, but Nature tempts them. The skirmishes we’ve been in have given them a taste for mayhem as well, and that sometimes troubles me.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

Sura: Patriarchies.

Mik: The mentor scrying when Sura and I are alone together.

Bailar: You need to whisper more softly, Mik.

Sura: That was second on my list.

Bailar: And that is why I scry. But my apprentices downplay our adventures. Each of the stories to date has a primary conflict, or perhaps a series of them. We have faced rogue mages, pirates on rivers and high seas, lovestruck suitors, and creatures thought extinct. We need not go looking for trouble, it finds us easily enough.

5. What is his personal goal?

Sura: His again. I give up. Let’s go, Mik. Father can finish this.

Bailar: Keeping the apprentices focused on earning their sashes, and keeping them safe. Although, sometimes, they end up rescuing me. Serving the Conclave, seeing new things. You know, I dreamed of adventure when I myself was an apprentice. As painful as it can be at times, I do enjoy this life.

6. Is there a working title for this novel and can we read more about it?

Bailar: Of course! First, I shall link to the first four stories already published.

Accidental Sorcerers
Water and Chaos
The Sorcerer's Daughter
Into the Icebound

The next story, Lost in Nightwalk, is about our harrowing experience in Koyr, which was supposed to be a safe haven. There will be excerpts soon enough, I believe.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Bailar: The first draft is complete, and the finished book should be available before the next solstice. Now, let me check on the apprentices before they get into too much mischief…



And… they’re gone. I guess I need to tag the next five victims. A lot of my Twitter friends are already tagged, so I’ll dip into the Google+ pool as well:

Wednesday, July 09, 2014 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

If you haven’t seen the progress bars to the right of this text, check it out. Especially check out that top one, for Lost in Nightwalk. Yup, I wrapped it up Monday night! I wrote a little shell script, with some embedded awk, to generate that set of bars. It reads a text file and spits out the HTML, which I paste into the sidebar.

With that safely marinating for now, I finally get to breathe easy. There was an entire week that I didn’t touch it, but I got unstuck in time for the three-day weekend and made the most of it.

You know what that means, right? On to the next thing! Besides the stories listed in the sidebar, I have a couple others going. I’ll add them once I send Magic App Store and Marginalia to beta readers (at which point, I’ll remove them from the list). Speaking of which, I have two readers lined up for the former, and would like to get one or two more. I need three or four for the latter. Any volunteers? They’re short stores, 18K and 15K respectively, so they won’t take long.

Oh, and I’ve entered the Fantasy Cover Wars round for this month on Masquerade Crew. Follow the link and vote for Into the Icebound and one of the others, and remember to do it every day this month! As you might remember, The Sorcerer’s Daughter did very well in March—won by a commanding margin, in fact—so I’m hoping for a similar outcome this time.

If it’s reviews you’re looking for, it recently got 5 Smiling Frodos on Frodo’s Blog of Randomness!

I owe some people some book reviews, so I ’m off to write those. Until next time…

Tuesday, July 08, 2014 3 comments

Taking a Dive

Daughter Dearest has been living in one of the rental trailers below the father-in-law’s place for the last couple months. I haven’t said much about it, because… well yeah, she left the nest, but it’s the same tree. She has a roommate, whom we’ll call Roomie. I can’t think of a more suitable blog-name that doesn’t insult what little intelligence she has (oops, I did it anyway). But I digress.

So, between her trailer and the family of Mr. Sunshine, BrandX, J, and Evil Lad NOT, is a third trailer. This one is rented out by Some Guy. Some Guy will usually help out around the farm if his part-time construction job doesn’t have him otherwise occupied. He grills a lot on his back deck, and invites BrandX and the girlies over to chow down and hang out.

Two weekends ago, he invited DD and Roomie to do a bar run. (I should point out, DD has a boyfriend, but Some Guy isn't him. He’s in Rome GA.) So Roomie was like “Sure!” and DD was “I’ll be the designated driver.” They took his truck and went to Dahlonega. (There’s a song about Dahlonega. My favorite line is It always smells like chicken $#¡+ on Highway 9 / But at least we can score cheap moonshine.)

Now I should mention, Some Guy is divorced and has a daughter, and of course his wife likes to play the custody games that some divorced people seem to revel in. So he was off to drown his sorrows, and Roomie just likes to drink and par-tay. They went to one place, and it was a little crowded with local college students, so they moved on to a different bar. There, Some Guy was talking with a young woman… and then her boyfriend showed up and got belligerent. DD got everyone out of there without a fight, and they left that place.

This is where it gets interesting. Some Guy was bummed out to begin with, and this didn’t help. DD was driving his truck, with Roomie in the middle and him in the shotgun position. Except that he said, “I’m tired of this,” and abandoned his position. By which I mean he jumped out of the truck that was moving at around 30mph.

DD stood on the brakes, and they jumped out. By this time, Some Guy was already on his feet, which says something about drunken luck. Still, he was banged up pretty seriously; he looked like an extra for a Walking Dead episode. DD took charge, started to call 911, but realized they were close enough to the hospital that she could drive him to the ER faster than an ambulance could get there. “Get in the truck,” she told Some Guy. (Meanwhile, Roomie was standing in the road in dark clothes, just gaping.)

“I don’t want to get blood in my truck,” he replied.

The tailgate was down, fortunately. Long-time blog readers know that DD can do a pretty good imitation of She-Hulk when things get dicey. She picked him up and threw him into the bed, told Roomie to watch to make sure he didn’t jump out again, then drove to the hospital. This was around 12:30am. DD called home to let us know what happened, because she wasn’t sure if he was even going to survive it. However, they let him out at 4am with a few instructions about changing the dressings.

The interesting thing was, back when the wife had the knee replacement just before Thanksgiving, they sent us four boxes of supplies —massive dressings, wide gauze rolls, tape—and she didn’t even need one box worth. We stacked them in the bathroom, and there they sat until we sent them down to him. After DD got through with him, he looked like an extra from The Mummy, one of the corpses that was only partly wrapped:

Don't jump out of a moving truck.
You might need more bandages than this.

So yeah, Some Guy is lucky to be alive and able to gimp around (he wrenched his ankle). He’s also lucky DD didn’t do him in herself, after that little stunt. :-P

Somebody’s very glad he’s still around:

Who would feed and brush me
if you're gone?

Remember, boys and girls, keep your bods inside the vehicle until it has come to a complete stop.

Friday, July 04, 2014 7 comments

The Sentinel Tree (#FridayFlash)

This originally appeared on Google+ in one of +MJ Bush’s “tell me a story” prompts. I’m using a similar but different photo here to avoid copyright issues.



Image sources: Wikimedia Commons
Lis looked at the ancient tree, the sentinel of the gods, standing watch under the night sky. When her ancestors first came to this place, uncounted generations ago, it had stood on this hilltop. She shifted her burden, nestling in the crook of her arm, and began.

Climbing up to the hollow space one-handed was difficult, but not impossible. Lis teetered at the edge for a moment, then hopped down and crouched. The hollow was safe and inviting, and people often came here to meditate or leave offerings. Lis knelt and laid her infant son on the smooth floor. “O gods,” she whispered, tears streaming, “I am dispossessed of my home, through no sin of my own. Do with me what you will, for none are innocent, but do not allow this child to starve in a heartless world.”

As she stood, she heard a whisper: Take up your child.

“You reject him?” she sobbed. “You would have him starve?”

No, the whisper replied. Take him up, go south to the old road, then follow it west.

“But we'll starve before we go far!”

There are trees and vines whose fruit will sustain you. And streams of clean water. Follow the road, and you will find a welcome and a home.

Lis looked up the hollow at the sky. A star streaked across the Highway of the Gods, toward the west. Trust. Follow.

“I… I will.” Lis lifted her son and scrambled out. The way south was easy, all downhill. She could do this. More stars streaked to the west, perhaps preparing her new home.

Behind her, the tree returned to its long slumber.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 6 comments

Writing Wibbles

When I released the first three Accidental Sorcerers novellas, I had a good start on the next story in the series. That wasn’t the case for Into the Icebound—I only had about 3000 words down for the sequel (working title Lost in Nightwalk). After sending four of these stories into the eBook stores, I now have a pretty good idea how long it takes to get a first draft knocked into shape. If I want to keep my “roughly six months” schedule, I’ll need to have the first draft done by mid-July.

Scrivener is a great tool for this kind of thing. Select “Show Project Targets” in the Project menu, and you get a little window with the basic stuff you need:

Scrivener’s Project Targets

The “Options…” button lets you set the deadline date, and what days of the week you intend to write (I set it to take Sundays off). Clicking on the rightmost number under the top progress bar lets you set the target manuscript size. You can adjust it later if you need. I set a somewhat optimistic target of 40,000 words, as you can see, although I now think 32,000 is going to be closer to the actual word count.

It’s pretty simple, really. Tell it how big, how often, and how soon, and it gives you a daily word count target (the “Session Target”). It has moved around some, as I’d write over 1000 words some nights and not at all on others, but right now it’s pretty close to the 850 words/day target I started with… which means that, averaged out over the last month or so, I’ve stayed pretty much on target.

• • •

Salon Doubles Down

There’s a disturbing trend these days. Some organizations will say or print something that’s rather detached from reality, and people will call them on it. Instead of doing some research, or anything that might lead them to have to say, “dang, we really hosed our credibility running that tripe,” they dig in. In some circles, it’s called doubling down on the stupid.

Enter Salon. Andrew Leonard kicked off the month of June with your basic publishing industry press release stenography (because committing journalism is a misdemeanor or something), called Amazon’s scorched-earch campaign. He threw around inflammatory phrases like “monopoly power,” “heavy-handed tactics,” and (the worst insult of all) comparing Amazon to Walmart. Of course, he provided no evidence that Amazon has a monopoly on anything, nor that what they’re doing is disproportionate, nor that they’re sending thousands of publishing jobs to China.

So indies, from Hugh Howey and J.A. Konrath all the way down to me, called them on it, providing counter-arguments with evidence. In some alternate universe, a senior editor at Salon acquired clue, pulled the article, and ran a more balanced piece that used actual data and provided links. In this universe… Salon doubled down on the stupid. This time, it was Laura Miller and Amazon is not your friend: Why self-published authors should side with Hachette. (This disturbing lack of title caps seems to be a thing with Salon. But I suppose if you're not doing actual journalism, it doesn’t matter.)

In this article, the points are:
  • The only people defending Amazon are indies.
  • Many indies are angry with traditional publishers because the authors failed to get in (or are former midlisters who got screwed over and dumped).
  • Self-published authors really, really, really hate traditional publishing (actual quote here).
  • High prices for tradpub eBooks help indies by allowing us to compete on price.
  • A publishing contract is a business deal.
  • Most indie works are dreck, slush pile, etc.
  • Tradpub books are higher quality, and so deserve a higher markup.
  • Amazon might screw us over in some unspecified future.
OK, the fourth and fifth points are good ones. Stopped clocks, blind squirrels, etc. The rest is once again long on flamebait, short on evidence. Now I remember why I quit reading Salon around 2006.

C’mon, tradpub supporters. Is this the best you can do? Really? Regurgitate the same tropes from 2010 and pretend nothing has changed? If anything, traditional publishers have been squeezing their authors even harder since eBooks started booming. With almost zero production costs, eBooks give publishers more profit… and lower royalties to authors. Don’t take my word for it, Lagardère (Hachette’s parent company) put it on their slides in their shareholder presentation. Hugh Howey has them on his blog.

As far as tradpub books being higher quality goes, just saying “50 Shades of Grey” would be too easy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at a book published 50 years ago, and one published now, and see how production quality has deteriorated. Typesetters have been replaced with Microsoft Word. Copyediting isn’t nearly as rigorous as it once was, and your typical tradpub book has plenty of typos and errors to go around. One of the hardcover editions of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas books had an entire line missing from the bottom of the first page! If they’d let that get by with Dean Koontz, what chance do midlisters have of getting a quality production run?

Finally, the notion that Amazon might stop giving indies decent terms—when the worst-case the detractors suggest might happen is still a better deal than authors get from traditional publishers—is laughable at best.

If publishers had some regard for authors and readers, beyond squeezing as much money as possible out of each, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Sunday, May 25, 2014 7 comments

Taking a Dive

I was working at home Thursday morning, minding my own business, when:

KA-RASSHHHHH

My first thought was, “OMG, +E.J Hobbs just had something fall on him!” and was out of my seat and halfway up the stairs in a heartbeat.

“I’m OK,” he said. “I was just in here shaving…”

Mirror, mirror, on the floor,
Why’d you have to fall down for?
“It just came off the wall,” he said. If you look at the picture, you’ll see five black spots where the mirror was. They’re some kind of caulk, dried up and hard and not sticky at all. A line of silicone caulk at the bottom of the mirror, where it contacted the vanity, was the only thing holding it in place. No clips or anything else. Just another example of why FAR Manor was a bad idea.

“Oh well,” the wife said. “We” (that is, she and Daughter Dearest) “were talking about repainting the bathroom anyway. We also need to do something about the lighting.”

She had bought Daughter Dearest a mirror with a white frame a while back, that she isn’t using, and it’s just big enough to cover the black spots (the wallpaper underneath is dissolved, so chipping it off won’t solve anything). I found a cardboard box in the garage, and EJ used that to collect the shards. Since it’s a 3-day weekend in the US, maybe I’ll be able to hang the mirror today or tomorrow.

Friday, May 23, 2014 9 comments

Red's Basket (#FridayFlash)

Image source:
openclipart.org
Once upon a time, in the Strange Lands north of Aht-Lann-Tah, a pretty red-haired girl dwelt with her stepmother. Being a red-headed stepchild, Red (as she was called) was often called upon to do the hard and hazardous tasks, and today was no different.

“Take this basket to your granny,” the stepmother told her. “Visit with her, and help her out if she needs it.”

“Whatever,” Red sighed, because Granny always had work needing doing. But she pulled on her favorite red hoodie, the one with a large G on the front, stuffed a few essentials in her pockets, and took the basket. Getting out from under her stepmother for the day was worth the hassle, after all.

As Red made her way through the woods, a rather large and impolite wolf heard and saw her. He sat in the path and waited for her to approach.

“Good morning, little girl,” the wolf purred as Red stopped short.

“Don’t give me that,” Red growled. “I know you’re after my goodies.”

“Actually, I was more interested in that basket. But if you’re offering…”

Red reached into her pocket and pulled out a chrome snub-nosed .38 revolver, the only thing she had kept of her mother’s belongings. “Back off. I’m taking this to Granny’s.”

“Okay, okay.” The wolf slunk off the path, but ran on ahead. Red was a tough customer, but Granny was the baddest badass in the Strange Lands. It would take careful planning and a little luck to get that basket.

Arriving at Granny’s place, he saw her hoeing in the garden. “Get outta here!” she greeted the wolf, brandishing her hoe.

“Sheesh. I just came to tell you there’s five cows gone through the fence. Such gratitude.”

“Right.” Granny grounded the hoe. “Chase ‘em back in, and I’ll give you two chickens.”

“If I chase a cow, I’ll probably eat it,” the wolf said. “Nature just kind of takes over.”

Granny cursed. “If any of them chickens are missing when I get back, I’ll make your hide into a scarf for my scarecrow!”

The wolf stared at the scarecrow, the mummified corpse of a dragon stupid enough to cross Granny in the past, and gulped. “I don’t feel like chicken. I’ll make sure nothing else gets in there, either.” He laid in front of the chicken coop, but Granny was already gone, hoe and all.

Not long after, a fox came by. “Morning,” said the wolf, “what do ya say?”

“Oh, that’s original,” the fox sniffed. “Who let the wolf guard the henhouse? I thought that was my job.”

“The early wolf gets the goodies.”

“Whatever. I’ve got a taste for some grapes, anyway.” The fox trotted off.

The wolf hid in the grass as Red arrived. “Granny?” she called. Hearing nothing, she slipped inside. As the wolf peeked in the window, Red laid the basket on the table and took out her cellphone. She and the woodsman hadn’t seen each other for a while, after all, and he was working nearby.

Red searched the entire house, making sure Granny wasn’t hiding somewhere, until the woodsman arrived. “My,” said Red with a grin, “what big hands you have!”

“The better to grope you with, my dear,” said the woodsman, licking his lips.

“My, what a long tongue you have!”

“The better to taste you with, my dear.”

Nature took over, as the wolf would say, and they skipped right on by the last part. As they got down to business, the wolf slipped inside. He grabbed the basket, thinking so much for the goodies, and departed. He was long gone before Granny came back, fuming.

“Blame wolf was right about the fence,” she muttered, “at least the cows all went back in—” her old ears finally picked up on the noise, and stormed into the bedroom. “In my bed, of all things! If you two are gonna do that, take it out back of the woodpile or something! Of all the—you got two minutes to get dressed.”

It took them half that to throw their clothes on and agree to meet behind the woodpile after lunch. The woodsman slipped out the window to avoid Granny’s wrath, and Red walked out alone.

“Where’s your friend?” Granny demanded, glaring at the bedroom. “Out the window? Good. Too bad you didn’t get here sooner, I had a fencing problem. You brought lunch?”

“It’s on the table.”

“No it ain’t.”

“What?” Red ran into the kitchen. “I left it right here!”

“That wolf was skulking around,” said Granny. “He musta grabbed it while you and your friend were busy. Serves him right; that stepmother of yours can’t cook for squat anyway. It won’t take five minutes to fix something better than what she sent. Then after you change my sheets, you can help with the garden.”

Meanwhile, the wolf inspected his prize: ham, store-bought cheese, and home-made rolls. The rolls were hard as bricks, so he donated them to the birds and wolfed the rest. Red stayed on with Granny, until the woodsman divorced his ill-tempered wife and built a new cabin, then she moved in with him. They made sure Granny was well-supplied with firewood, and she had them over for dinner on Sundays. Except for a touch of indigestion on the wolf’s part, and occasional interference from the woodsman’s ex, they all lived happily… enough.

(“Happily ever after?” In the Strange Lands? Yeah, right.)

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