Archive for August, 2009


Arrrrr and arrrggggh!

I love google alerts. Love them to tiny little pieces. I have alerts set on my name as well as “Mark of the Demon”. In the early months of my promo for my book, those alerts were invaluable for letting me know when and where people were talking about my book. (I’ll go into the value of that in another post, because that definitely deserves a post of its own!)

But, google alerts have also let me know about some more unpleasant things, such as sites that host illegal downloads of my book.

I had an extensive screed on online piracy mapped out in my head, and then I saw a post that Shiloh Walker made about piracy that said it a thousand times better than I ever could have.  So, even though I know I’m preaching to the choir here, I encourage y’all to go check it out, and then hopefully pass it along. Really, go read it.

Okay, back now?

The first time I received an alert of this sort was the day of my book release. Two hits. Seriously, it was that quick. I worked myself into a Righteous Ire, and immediately sent off DMCA takedown notices, requesting that the copyrighted material be removed from the offending sites (usually torrent sites that are jammed full of nothing BUT copyrighted material.)  One of the sites took the material down. The other pretty much ignored me. Within a couple of weeks at least a dozen other torrent sites had my book available for download, and I gave up trying to get them to take the material down. Other writers consoled me by saying things like, “The people who download illegally wouldn’t buy it anyway, so try not to think of it as a lost sale.”  Or, “Hey, welcome to the world of being a writer! Now you know you’ve made it!”

Either way, Ouch. But, there’s just no way to keep up with all of the illegal torrent sites, and doing so would eat up too much time. It’s a game of whack-a-mole, and I’ve reached a point now where I’ll only fire off a takedown notice if the site has my book either posted directly on their site, or available for direct download.

But every now and then there’s a happier ending. I recently had the shock of finding my entire book posted on, a site that’s designed for people to post and share their own work. I gritted my teeth and sent a barely-politely-worded notice advising the owners of wattpad that my copyrighted material was posted on their site. I was prepared to have my email ignored, but to my quite pleasant surprise, in less than ten minutes I received an email from one of the co-owners of apologizing profusely, and advising me that my book had been removed from their site. I was so pleased at the prompt and efficient response that I let them know that the particular user who had posted my work, had also posted at least a dozen other authors’ books. Within another ten minutes, every single one of the illegally-posted books had been removed.

So, mad props to you,, for keeping your site professional and honest, and for restoring a small measure of my faith in the internet. Thank you for that.


Publishing situations I didn’t think of

In the years I spent trying to get published, (querying, reading, re-writing, etc.) I read a lot of publishing blogs. This was partially because I wanted to be an informed author, but mostly because I hate looking stupid, and the best way not to look stupid is to be informed! Anyway, I thought I’d pretty much covered my bases in my research. I mean, I’d gotten an agent, gotten an editor, and turned in two books, without running into a problem I hadn’t at least read about… Until yesterday.

So yesterday I get a call from my lovely, wonderful editor telling me that we have a problem. The book I’d just turned in, the second in my series, is about half again as long as my first book. I replied that I knew this would be a problem, and that I was going to work on shortening the second book. Oh no, she replied, that’s not what she meant. You see the problem isn’t  the length of book 2, it’s longer, but still perfectly in line with standard fantasy word counts. The problem is that the first book and the second book won’t look right sitting next to each other on the shelf if one is half again as big as the other.

Huh, I said, I’d never even thought about that. Learned something new! So, I asked, a little perplexed, what did she want me to do?

Turns out, she wants me to add about 40 pages to book one. This was around where my brain exploded.

Here was an editor asking me to make a book longer. And not just a little longer, but 40 pages longer. That’s about 10,000 words. Of course she had a good point about the relative lengths, and that book one was a trifle on the skinny side (Editors often have good points, this is one of the great blessings and infuriations of working with them), but… 40 pages! On a book that’s been done for months! Forget for a moment that I don’t even know where to begin adding pages, until this book I, as a writer, have never been asked to make anything longer. Keep it short, stupid, was the watch phrase! Even with my editor’s urging, it feels to deeply wrong to make something longer on purpose.

I’m going to try my best to do it, of course, but this just goes to show that I should never relax and think I know the publishing game, or the writing one, for that matter. It has a bad habit of proving me wrong.


The Research Readers Don’t See

I often get asked — generally by writers from other literary traditions, like creative nonfiction or mystery or thrillers — whether I do research, as a fantasy writer, or whether I just make it all up.

This question flummoxes me, and it also tells me just how (poorly) these people regard fantasy. Or maybe it’s not that they have a poor regard for it; maybe it’s that they have no regard for it, and they’re speaking out of ignorance. Maybe they genuinely don’t understand what goes into writing a typical fantasy novel. So at the risk of stating the obvious for the fantasy writers/readers in our audience, let me answer that question here.

Of course I do research. I do a metric ton of it.
Continue reading ‘The Research Readers Don’t See’



Zombies scare me.

I know that this is part of the point of zombies; they’re not usually in a story to make it more cuddly or increase the romantic angst, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies notwithstanding.  But I tend to have a really bad reaction to zombie movies or books (World War Z in particular) that’s disproportionate to the source.  It’s to the point where I’m unwilling to play even as fluffy a game as Plants Vs. Zombies because I know I’ll have nightmares later on.  That’s pretty damn sad.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure it’s not the zombies themselves that I’m scared of.  It’s what they represent to my subconscious.  Contagion, panic, friends turning hostile and murderous.  Those are the things that get to me.  And I know some of this has to do with my own personal issues (it’s probably no coincidence that I had my first zombie-related nightmares after getting some bad medical news).

It’s been discussed at length that trends in horror tend to correspond to similar undercurrents in popular culture.   Trouble is, I don’t know enough about horror or popular culture to make a sweeping statement about the zombie zeitgeist.  But for a number of reasons (one of which is, admittedly, along the lines of “holy crap I need something to write a blog post about”) I’ve been thinking about fear, specifically the kind of fear that makes you freeze up rather than panic.  And I’d rather not reduce every monster down to its sociological underpinnings, not least because that kind of analysis strips away all the nuance.  (I get irritated with attempts to map stories out as allegory for the same reason.)

What interests me is that point of personal contact — the individual shiver, the image that’ll stay with you till late that night and the next.  For me, it’s the idea of losing everything and everyone, the despair that permeates a lot of zombie apocalypse stories.

So what monsters scare you, personally?  Nameless horrors for their implications of an uncaring cold universe?  Werewolves for their unbridled id?  Ghosts for their implacability?  Haunted houses for their shifting geographies?  Or are there certain setups in horror that trigger it for you, rather than the monsters themselves?  (Or are there monsters that scare you for reasons that have nothing to do with their symbolic roles?)


The mirror don’t lie

Pretty much, I’m the luckiest guy on the planet. Because when I pick my nose, I get diamonds!!!

No, that’s not true. But I am lucky, because I get to wake up on Monday mornings and instead of going to the cubicle, I get to stay home and write.

You can hate me. I’m used to the hate. I don’t mind the hate.

There’s plenty of stuff on the webbertoobs telling writers to be very, very, very cautious about quitting the Day Job, and they’re all correct and you should listen to them.

That being said, I quit my Day Job some years ago. My partner and I were both making healthy full-time incomes while living cheaply, and with her generous support, we figured we could afford to live off just the one income for a while while I tried to be a full-time writer.

It was Failure. Not financial failure, not even career failure, but emotional failure. I felt I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t writing enough. I wasn’t achieving enough. I wasn’t getting good enough. I was just slacking, squandering, frittering, wasting, taking. Without sufficient publishing successes, and without sufficient determination and good self-image, I came to hate myself a little bit.

That’s the thing I don’t see enough in discussions about quitting the Day Job. You might be reading this now and rolling your eyes and thinking if you could quit your job and focus on writing you’d be wearing the cat’s pajamas and the dog’s too. But  are you sure you know what you need to make you happy? How much success will it take to keep you from the spiraling-toilet feeling that you are a sucking drain? You should at least seriously consider the question while you’re spreadsheeting things like health insurance and retirement and grocery bills.

Quitting the Day Job was the wrong choice for me. I was writing a lot, working hard at it, but I felt my self-esteem grow dimmer with every passing day. It just wasn’t emotionally sustainable. So I went back to my 9-5 (and I was very lucky that they took me back, even gave me a raise and a promotion), and even though I hated going to the cubicle on Monday mornings, I got back to the point where I could look myself in the mirror.

And then, a while later, I quit again. And this time I wrote my ass off (and I also taught part-time and did contract work to help make up some of the income loss). Not that I hadn’t written a lot the first time, but this time felt different. I was writing for my very life. I didn’t know whether this would be a year-long opportunity or a month-long, but I was determined to wring every drop of joy and passion out of this opportunity.  I don’t think it’s an accident that I sold my first novel soon after this point, and then my second and third. This year I’ll earn a full-time income from writing for the very first time in my life. Not a great full-time income, but one that materially contributes to the household and doesn’t offend me.

I’m still on a see-how-this-goes basis. Every six months, at least, we sit down and talk over our financial status and goals and decide if this is still working. But just as important as the money stuff, I give myself a good, hard, sustained look in the mirror. A spreadsheet can’t reveal everything.

by Greg van Eekhout


Experience in genre

by Diana

I’ve been a member of a local literary society for a while, and, since I have a recent book release, I was invited to be the speaker for the August meeting. It’s a terrific group of people with a common love of books, and even though there’s no emphasis on genre, the group is completely accepting of all fiction and non-fiction, and very supportive of its members and local writers. (Plus, for a five dollar donation, they supply wine and snacks. Win!)

My plan had been to talk about Mark of the Demon, how I came up with the ideas behind the book, and urban fantasy in general. However, before the meeting started, one of the women in the group came up to me to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my book. (And, y’know, I’m totally cool with people telling me that!) But then she said something that left me momentarily speechless: She told me how impressed she’d been by the creative and unusual concept of alternate dimensions that I’d used in my book.

I nearly blurted out, “Are you serious? The use of an alternate dimension/sphere/plane of existence is one of the oldest tricks in SF/F!” (And I’m glad I managed to hold that back, because this person is a talented and award-winning author of literary fiction, and also a lovely, gracious, and genuinely nice person as well.) But it took me a couple of seconds to process the fact that she was completely unfamiliar with the established concepts used in science fiction and fantasy, and a few seconds more to recover from my surprise at that.

My surprise continued during my talk. Only one person there had ever heard the term “urban fantasy” before, and someone else asked me what the difference was between vampires and demons.  Five minutes into my talk, and I had to mentally rewrite it from scratch as I threw out anything that assumed familiarity with genre conventions and standards. I suppose I should have been prepared for that, since it’s not a genre group, but that was the first time I’d really understood just how wide the divide can be between “literary” and genre… and WHY the divide is so wide. This woman had purchased my book purely as a show of support for a local author and member of the group. (And I dearly love her for that!) But under normal circumstances she would most likely never venture into the sort of fiction that deal with alternate worlds, arcane powers, supernatural beings, and the like–which meant that she’d read my book with utterly fresh eyes, unaware of stereotypes, tropes, or concepts that have been explained in other genre books often enough that there’s no need to explain them again.

And now I finally understand why, when a literary author writes about something that we as genre readers consider to be a fairly well-worn trope, the literary world hails it as a bold and astonishingly new concept.  And why it drives genre readers bat-shit crazy when that happens.


my stones have a 2 bird minimum

I love efficiency. Love it. When I play video games or clean my house or go shopping or cook or move or do CSS or anything, efficiency is the watch word.  Everything must be done in the most time and resource conserving way. There are few happinesses as great as finished off a day’s work an hour ahead of when you were scheduled to thanks to efficient use of materials and time.

This love of efficiency has served me well in many areas of my life, especially in my professional career. In writing, however, it is a constant source of frustration. Writing, you see, is not an efficient art. Oh, there are efficiencies in storytelling, like making sure every scene is serving as many purposes as possible, or using a conversation to shed light on several secrets at once (As the title says, for my scenes, my stones have a 2 bird minimum). But writing, the act in itself, is not and can not be efficient. This is because the act of writing a novel is what programmers call a wicked problem; you don’t know how to solve until you’ve solved it.

I plan my novels out pretty thoroughly, but anyone who’s ever gotten through a book will tell you that a plan rarely survives the first encounter with the enemy. Writing is idea based, and the author, as a human, has no control over when the best ideas will come. More often than not, I think of a better way to write a scene right after I’ve written it, or right in the middle of writing it, or when I’m writing an entirely different scene 50 pages later. Sometimes I’ll write a scene just as planned only to realize that, thanks to this brilliant idea I had two weeks ago, the scene is now irrelevant or redundant or plain stupid. Often I only realize this when I’m knee deep in the scene, when it’s far too late for even the pretense of efficiency.

If I were being really efficient with writing, I would have those brilliant ideas at the beginning and plan all the little fallouts ahead of time. You can see how this is impossible. Writing, at least for me, is as chaotic as the creative bursts that inspire it, and yet, I feel it is infinitely improved by that chaos. At the same time I’m ripping out my hair over the week I’ve lost writing a chapter that I’ve just realized is irrelevant, I’m happy, because the book is better without that chapter. Some of the best scenes in my books are the ones I never planned, never even knew existed until I was neck deep in an unsolvable problem and then, there, rising from the murky depths of the subconscious, was the perfect, shining solution, and all it would take to implement is going back and rewriting three chapters at the beginning… again.

After three books, I’m still struggling to let the efficiency go, and just accept that any novel I undertake will not be an efficient process. It will be messy and broken and I’ll have to redo about 120% of it, and these things are not failures, they’re just the nature of the beast. I don’t think I’ll ever embrace this completely. There’s a nasty little part of me that thinks this time, this novel, it will be different, and maybe someday it will be, but probably not today.


It Never Gets Old

As I mentioned here earlier, I went to Worldcon in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. I met lots of folks and had some great conversations, including one with a more-established pro author I couldn’t help fangirling at because I loved her work. Thinking that she was probably sick of people gushing at her, though, I stopped after the initial babble of praise and related my own recent experience with being fangirled, which had happened in the Dealers’ Room a few hours before. Totally floored me; someone gushed at me about one of my short stories. (It ended up happening twice more before Worldcon ended; whee!) I was still a bit dazed in the aftermath. “But you must have gotten used to that,” I said to the more-established pro.

“No,” she said. “You never get used to it. It’s always a surprise, and it always feels strange, and you never really stop loving that reaction. It never gets old. If it does, something’s wrong.” (Paraphrase, but I think I’ve captured it for the most part)

Have been contemplating this for the last 24 hours, as the first couple of reviews of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms have come online in the wake of my ARC giveaway at Worldcon. These aren’t professional reviews, published in big-name markets and full of big words like “deconstruction” and Derrida — so I find them especially heartening, in a way. After all, professional reviewers have reputations to maintain, political considerations, and so on. Not that they can’t be impartial — most can be, and are — but there are still some things they can’t say without in essence damaging themselves. They can’t gush, for example. They can be effusive in their praise, but not giddy. They can trash, but even then they can’t really resort to the kind of language that readers tend to use. (Incoherent rage-frothing probably wouldn’t make it into, say, Publishers’ Weekly.) So, rightly or wrongly, I tend to regard reader/fan reviews as… hmm. I was going to say “purer” expressions of feelings about my work, but that’s not correct. Readers are just as likely to be swayed by peer pressure and other external motivations as pro reviewers. But their expression of those opinions/motivations does tend to be unfiltered, or less so. Yes, I think that word fits better.

Both of these reviews are nicely positive, so naturally my head is in the clouds today. But that does make me wonder about the lattermost part of that pro author’s statement: if it gets old, something’s wrong. Could there ever come a time when this kind of review elicits a “ho-hum” reaction from me? I can’t imagine it. I might not publicly respond to all reviews (in fact, I probably won’t; it’s usually not a good idea for authors to publicly respond to reviews, IMO), but in private? I’m going to giggle and squee and PM my friends to say “Look look look look!” If I ever get to the point where I don’t respond that way, what will it mean? What kind of author will I be when I no longer care how my readers react to my work?

I hope I never find out.

In the meantime, back to squeeage. And hopefully there will be more positive reviews over the next few weeks and months, and I’ll get lots more opportunities to feel delighted and strange.



I have a weird habit when reading or watching something for the first time, and I’m not sure if it’s a common reaction to fiction or if it’s just me. So, obviously, I’m going to the Internet to find out.

After I finish a book, even if I’ve disliked some parts of it, even if I can tell there are going to be unfortunate questions bothering me later, there’s a period right after I close the cover where I’m still suspended in the author’s world. Later on, I’ll be able to regard the book’s flaws and judge them, and maybe I’ll decide that it wasn’t worth such a reaction — but that doesn’t lessen the first flush of enjoyment.

(There are a few times when this doesn’t happen, either because I’ve already fallen out of the book or for other reasons I can’t pin down. But that afterglow feeling is frequent enough that I think it’s just part of how my brain’s wired with regard to fiction.)

It’s the same thing with television or movies — after the credits roll, I want a minute or two where I’m still uncritically enjoying what I saw. (Actually, I first noticed this with movies, because many of my friends have the habit of picking something apart while the credits are rolling, and it irritated me to no end.) This has resulted in one or two movie nights that ended up with me trying to defend, something like the third Matrix movie, even though in the morning I’d realize that yes, that one fumbled everything. And I still remember coming home from the theater after seeing The Phantom Menace, trying to justify that it was entertaining, really, and Jar-Jar . . . well, you could just ignore Jar-Jar, right?

Yeah.  Right.

You can see why I don’t think this is a good thing. Trying to hold on to that high, that sense of being in another world, can blind me to valid criticisms of the work later on. It’s also a little embarrassing — if a book has a mawkish, incredibly sentimental ending and I’m still reduced to outright sobbing by it (as happened at least once in high school), then that doesn’t speak highly of my taste. And it’s certainly not helpful to be the one person saying “guys, shut up, I liked it!” when my friends are happily analyzing the storyline.

In a broad sense, I think this may be what the creators of those stories intend — for the reader or viewer to be caught up so strongly in the story that they don’t yet see any problem. But it’s also part of the point of fiction in general, and I don’t know if there’s something skewed in how I respond to it.

Does this happen to anyone else? Am I privileging that first reading over later analysis? Or am I just a sucker for fiction?


Stupid Writer Tricks

Since I’m up against a deadline today, I thought I’d take a break from heavy writer stuff and talk about some of the stupid tricks I use on a day to day basis.

1) Backing up my work – mailing things to myself

As someone who has lost 2 computers now, I have a horrible and well earned phobia of losing work to technical failures. My solution? Gmail. Every morning when I’ve done my writing/edits for the day, I mail my latest version to myself at my gmail address. Gmail lets me assign behaviors to incoming mail, so I have it set up that all mail from myself with an attachment and the subject “backup” is automatically marked as opened and shoved into its own folder, so they don’t clutter my inbox. Not only does this let me use Google’s billions of dollars in infrastructure and backup to store years (about 4 now) of daily versions of my novels, but they’re available from anywhere and I can search for the name of the attachment, thus finding any novel I’ve mailed to myself in the past. This is AMAZINGLY handy. Gmail, it’s free, smart, and easy, I can not recommend it enough as a backup system or as a mail client.

(Also, if you’re worried about your mail getting hacked, you can just do what I also do and keep a secret gmail address only used for backing up work. Hey, they’re free, get tons.)

2) Writing by event, not wordcount

I used to be a word count fanatic. Video games have taught me that there is no greater pleasure in life than watching my numbers go higher and higher.  Shooting for a high, round number was a great motivation for me, but then I started hitting numbers over and over again, and the shine wore off. Also, I was no longer thinking of my novels in terms of numbers, I was thinking about them in terms of events. So that’s how I started writing. Every morning I’d sit down and say “I will write until x happens” or “I will write until y is complete,” and then I’d do it, or not. Sometimes the story would change and I’d have to pick a new goal, or sometimes I’d just quit in frustration. Still, writing until you finish a scene can be a more organic approach and encourage you to use only the words you need. I switch between word count and scene as I need to, whatever motivates me most at the time (sometimes it just feels awesome to call it a day when you hit 50k).

3) Remembering that writing is not a performance art

I have a post card above my desk with the following: “Writing is Not A Performance Art,” and I try to look at it at least once a day. I tend to get caught up in details when I write, like, did I word this scene correctly? Would Character A really be such a jerk to Character B? Have I been spelling “waved”  as “waived” for the last 80,000 words? (Yes)  When sticks like these occur, I pull back, break away, and remind myself again: writing is not a performance art. No one is watching me, no one is reading over my shoulders. No one ever has to see anything I don’t want them to see. It doesn’t matter if this scene is stupid, unless I tell someone, no one ever has to know it existed. If I can’t get it now, I’ll make a note to fix it later and move on. Who knows, I might not even use it. I might find a better way later in the book. On the first draft, grammar, spelling, even coherency are not as important as getting the thing down. You can always fix it later, or trash it. Any worrying over details at this point will probably be wasted work.

Writing is not live action performace, it’s all post production editing and special effects.