Swept away in the mainstream of life ...

Some friends of mine have a saying about getting back into the mainstream of life. These last few weeks, it seems like I was swept away in a stream that became a flood, and I mean that literally and figuratively.

I haven’t been blogging and only recently got back into my writing groove.

My husband had some health issues with his heart for which he was hospitalized. He went to see his cardiologist and they admitted him that day. It was all very frightening and sudden, but he got the absolute best of care. I spent nine days holding down my day job, visiting him in the hospital, and doing all the things I do in addition to all the things he does. My daughter was an absolute lifesaver for me. She stayed with me and picked up all the slack. I don’t know what I would have done without her and my sister-in-law. I’m so very lucky to have them both in my life.

While my husband was in the hospital, Hurricane Florence decided to visit. We’re far enough inland that we’re usually safe; but on Wednesday of last week, NOAA predicted a Category 4 hurricane. A Category 4 will produce high winds for us, even as far west as we are, and although it’s usually downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrives here, those winds can be fierce, especially when you’re living in a rural are with a lot of trees. When we lose power, we lose our well, which leads me to the next part of this story …

Needless to say that my stress levels were somewhat higher than normal. Let’s all recall that I’m a little high strung in the first place. So when I went to the grocery store and saw all of the bottled water had been sold, I had a mini-breakdown on the aisle. I eventually managed to score some bottled water. I panicked and purchased about six cases. We’re good on bottled water, thank you.

By the time my day ended at 8:00 p.m. each evening, I was so exhausted that I fell into the bed and died until it was time to get up and do it all over again. My husband’s cardiologist is wonderful. He did all the right things, so now I have my husband back home again. Florence was evil, but we weren’t affected with anything other than some blustery weather and rain.

The first part of September was wild, and there is still a couple of weeks left, but I’m sort of hoping that it’s a case of in like a lion and out like a lamb. I’m so happy to have my husband home and feeling so much better. We’re making some lifestyle changes that will benefit us both.

I’ve finally had a chance to see Black Panther. It is a wonderful movie filled with all of the things I love: a nuanced villain, wonderful acting, a clear recognition of history and how it affects our lives, and a wonderful theme. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, check it out.

Sea.jpg

I also had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of John Hornor Jacobs’ new novella, The Sea Dreams it is the Sky, which is due to be published on October 30.

It has been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure to read such a cerebral work of cosmic horror. The last time I enjoyed a horror novella this much, I was reading Stephen King’s 1922.

In Jacobs’ novella, Isabel meets a fellow ex-pat, who is simply known as the Eye. When the Eye receives a mysterious note, he returns to their homeland and leaves Isabel in charge of his apartment. There, she finds that the Eye is none other than the reviled poet, Rafael Avendaño.

As Isabel reads the manuscripts the poet has left behind, I was immersed into a creeping sense of dread that intensified with every page. Like Isabel, I was drawn into the terror of Avendaño's life during the military coup that left him maimed in body and soul. And behind the coup, seen only by Avendaño, is an ancient horror that Jacobs reveals by masterfully stripping away one layer of reality after another.

Equal turns poetic and hypnotic, Jacobs resurrects the surreal imagery of Jorge Louis Borges and couples it with visceral prose that cuts to the bone.

It gave me nightmares.

Needless to say, I loved it, and I send it your way highly recommended. Pre-order it if you can so it drops into your magical device just in time for Halloween.

So that is what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been. I’ve also been reading Pitch Wars entries and having to make some hard choices. Everyone who submitted to me is talented is so many different ways.

On Monday of this week, I got my page proofs for Where Oblivion Lives. They get the priority, because deadlines. I’m also working on the next Los Nefilim novel, Carved from Stone and Dream. After many false starts, the story is beginning to take shape.

I can also now confirm that I will be a guest at MystiCon (February 22-24, 2019) in Roanoke, Virginia! That’s really exciting for me. I’ve been wanting to attend this con for quite some time, so I’m looking forward to being a part of their program.

I’ll also be attending World Fantasy Con in Baltimore this November, so watch for me there. As always, take care. I’ll be around.

Watch for me.

On Miserere and sequels and how all of this works ...

A lot of people have been asking me about a sequel to my debut novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale. A lot of people. I have responded to several emails along with discussions on various social media venues. I've answered the same questions privately to each person as I am able, and I am finding it a bit difficult to keep up with the questions.

So this [very long] blog post is going to be one of those posts that I can refer people to whenever they ask, primarily because I think it helps readers to understand the evaluation process an author goes through when deciding which projects to pursue. This post is NOT designed to be a guilt-trip on anyone. I'm just stating the facts as they are. The burden of promotion should not be allocated to the fans. I know you guys buy what you like and talk about the novels you love the best, and that is all cool with me.

So what happened with Miserere?

Miserere stumbled out of the gate at a distinct disadvantage due to several reasons beyond my control. The publisher, in a moment of marketing brilliance, categorized Miserere as Christian Fiction. For those of you who don't understand how these categories work: Christian Fiction is reserved for books and stories that promote a Christian worldview. While Miserere doesn't portray Christianity or Christians as evil, Miserere does promote a worldview of tolerance and acceptance whereby all religions are respected, honor one another and the philosophies of each, and work together and so on and so forth.

Anyone who has read Miserere can tell you that Miserere no more promotes Christianity than Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon promotes Islam. Both novels rely on myths and common knowledge of their respective religions, but Ahmed isn't out to convert anyone anymore than I am.

Unfortunately, having Miserere in the Christian Fiction category colored people's initial perceptions of the novel. A hate review of "ew, ew, Christians" in one major publication didn't help matters. The same women authors who were cheerfully publishing their own novels about fallen angels of various kinds also went "ew, ew, Christians" as if they didn't realize the mythologies they were relying on to sell their own works were Christian in nature.

Fans of young adult fantasy picked up the novel and were absolutely flummoxed by the fact the novel wasn't about the twelve-year-old character. Why were young adult readers picking up Miserere? Once more, poor marketing.

Where was the publisher during all of this? I'll get to that in a moment.

Meanwhile, the young adult readers found many scenes "icky," which is good, because Miserere is dark fantasy, but bad, because the readers' expectations were totally blown away, and they wound up with a book they didn't like. It wasn't until after I'd finally had enough and exploded with a blog post that I write dark fantasy that everyone finally seemed to get it.

File that one under WHY AUTHOR BLOGS ARE IMPORTANT.

If bad marketing doesn't kill your novel, your publisher filing for bankruptcy will definitely screw you to the wall. When a publisher files for bankruptcy the rights to the novels under contract, in this case Miserere, become tied up in the bankruptcy proceedings. This meant that even if I wrote Dolorosa (Miserere's sequel), it couldn't be shopped to other publishers while the bankruptcy proceedings were progressing. Publishers are leery about picking up a second novel if the sales to the first book weren't good, because the numbers prove that the second book in a series doesn't always sell as well as the first.

A bankruptcy proceeding of this nature can last for years. During the bankruptcy proceeding, rights are rarely returned to the authors. At that time, I had started Dolorosa, but when the news of the possibility of a bankruptcy action hit, I had to re-think my publishing strategy.

I suppose this is a good place to pause and point out that I'm not writing novels for funsies. Oddly enough, I have the same objective as every male author out there, to make money. It might seem strange to phrase it that way, but many men seem to be of the opinion that this is some kind of hobby that I indulge in for empty praise. However, as the sole wage earner in my house, it's not a hobby to me.

So when I'm balancing the facts that I have a full-time job, a family, and the strict limitations on my writing time, I have to focus on projects that have the potential to sell.

During, what I now refer to as the YEAR OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, the entire Katharoi series was dead in the water, because Night Shade Books had purchased Miserere along with the right of first refusal on any sequels. This portion of the contract tied Miserere along with any sequels into the bankruptcy proceedings. Night Shade did eventually sell their company to Skyhorse/Start, who currently publishes Miserere under the Night Shade Books label.

However, that sale left all of the Night Shade authors holding our collective breath, because if the original owners of Night Shade Books had changed their minds and filed for bankruptcy during the year following the sale to Skyhorse/Start, the sale would become null and everyone's contracts would enter the bankruptcy proceedings [see all of the angst in the paragraphs above, but especially the part about time]. Needless to say, the year came and went with no further bankruptcy proceedings, and that was a VERY GOOD THING.

Last summer, Start posted Miserere in a BookBub deal. This was also a VERY GOOD THING, and a lot of people snapped up the novel. Unfortunately, some people have posted the book to Torrent sites.

Here is a list of things that book publishers DON'T examine prior to signing an author:

  • The number of free downloads from Torrent sites
  • Reviews (reviews are nice and the best publicity an author can get, but reviews don't impact decisions in marketing unless they are in major publications like the New York Times)

Here is a list of things that book publishers DO examine prior to signing an author: 

  • SALES

Nor do marketing divisions take into account all of the negative things that were totally beyond the author's control, regardless of the fact that these factors might have been the cause of low sales. Numbers are the bottom line and everything else is simply excuses.

So what does all of this have to do with Dolorosa?

TIME and SALES.

Time is something I don't have lot to spare, and sales, sadly enough, are why you see authors on Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites, constantly whispering: Buy my book. We're like demons in the machine, but we can't help it. We need those numbers.

I had hoped that if I could get another series off the ground, or place a major project with another publishing house, then I might get the chance to develop a larger following. With more fans, I could justify the time necessary to write Dolorosa.

That plan is still fully in effect. I haven't given up, which is why you see me all over the Internet, whispering: Buy my books. It's also why I've been pushing Los Nefilim so hard over the last year. A win for Los Nefilim is a win for the Katharoi series.

So the crux of the whole matter isn't the lack of desire to write Dolorosa, because the desire is there. The issue is the time necessary to write a work that will most likely fail to sell due to the poor sales of the first novel.

I want to reiterate: this isn't a hobby to me. So I have to keep focusing on writing projects that have the potential to sell, and when the right day comes, I will write Dolorosa, because I never say never. I hope that helps to explain my reasoning in this process and why you haven't seen Miserere's sequel.

If you have a question, drop it in the comments, and I will try to answer as time allows. Comments are moderated, so don't panic if you don't see yours appear immediately.

Driving fans away from SFF

I'm going to talk about this again; although no one really pays attention to me, but hey, it's my blog, and I can whine if I want to, because I think the subject is important. We, the authors, are driving our fans away from SFF, and if the genre dies, so will our incomes, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

Three things in general have stood out to me lately: 1. Yet another protracted battle for the Hugo; 2. Authors telling fans they should be patient and shouldn't write certain types of reviews; and probably the most important, 3. Forget we write for the fans.

Number 1. The Hugo is a fan award that has been hijacked by authors--let the finger pointing commence.

Thus far, I've only seen a few authors rise above this mess. One is George R.R. Martin, who has made every attempt to keep his posts factual and to the point. As for me, I maintain precisely the same attitude this year that I had last year: you should all be ashamed for shitting on the fans, the very people that buy our books.

Number 2. Authors instructing fans on how to act.

Seriously now, maybe it's because I've been around since the 1980s, but fans aren't saying anything new. The only difference is that all of their comments and discussions are nowadays in places where authors can see those discussions. Frankly, I think the fans have every right to complain and express their frustration so long as they are not sending abusive emails to the authors.

I draw the line at abuse, verbal or otherwise.

However, when I was a fan, as opposed to being an author and a fan, but before I ever wrote my first word, I recall grousing about this author or that author being too slow. Back in the old days before the Internet, we ... talked ... outloud ... to one another. Shocking, but true.

What I'm seeing now in the forums are those same types of discussions. I can't speak for everyone, but I know for me, my complaints developed from a sense of helplessness and frustration. It was a form of grieving, of letting go. I don't see why fans should be deprived of this grieving process for characters and stories that they love. Sometimes this grief will result in bad reviews for an author, but seriously, I can read reviews and tell which reviewers honestly didn't like the story. 

Most people can. People are actually fairly intelligent and can suss through the bullshit quite well.

So let the fans have their space where they can complain and grieve and speak of their frustration. I, as an author, don't have to take these things personally. I understand my circumstances, and if others don't, that's okay.

We, the authors, have no business explaining to fans how they should manage their expectations.

Number 3. Forget we write for the fans.

I write for my fans, and also in the hope to acquire new fans as I go along. The people who are attached to my brand of dark fiction have certain expectations, and I try to meet those expectations while also growing as an author and experimenting with new techniques. Sometimes those new techniques will win me more fans, other times, my writing will fall flat.

Skill is honed through failure, not success.

However, I keep my fans and the market in my sights at all times. I'm not a talented writer. I'm the kind of writer that has to work very, very hard to achieve a good story, so it takes me a little longer to produce one good work.

I know that requires patience on the part of my fans, but I am very lucky. My fans are above average readers with discriminating tastes, and I appreciate you all, each and every one.

So let's stop driving fans away from SFF and give them the kind of open and nurturing community they deserve, where they can feel safe and at home.

[Please note: comments are off, because I'm writing. Feel free to whine on your own blog. Here, have some cheese.]

I'm still here: taking care and trying for quality over quantity

Authors are just chock-full of advice about writing and publishing and commas.

Okay, we don't know shit about commas.

BUT we can swing a mean panel discussion on characterization, story-building, marketing your book, and how to manage a write-until-you-drop work schedule. As a matter of fact, push ... Push ... PUsh ... PUSH ... is mostly what you hear us say. And it is true that we often have to manage grueling schedules to get our work done.

What we don't talk about enough is self-care, which should be part of your writing routine.

I'll tell you a story--no, really, this one is true.

I went to the doctor recently for my annual checkup. My blood sugar was up, along with my weight, and all the things that come after a certain point in adulthood. I was exhausted all the time. I felt bad all the time, but I couldn't pinpoint the source of my malaise.

Some nights I went to bed at eight o'clock. My diet consisted of cereal at breakfast, and at lunch, of a sandwich, chips, and a candy bar. Often we had healthier fare at dinner, but I would either consume too much of it, or I'd be too tired to fix dinner, and we'd wind up going out to eat.

Last year, my doctor let me off with a warning. This year, he said I had to get it together. So I've been eating healthier food (cut out the chips and candy and reduced the carbs), and I started walking on a regular basis.

The walking takes time away from--you guessed it--writing. Yet I'm getting more quality writing done.

How does that work? you may ask.

And you may.

I'm staying up later in the evenings, because I have more energy. My brain is sharper, and I don't feel exhausted all the time.

Although taking care of myself has cut into the quantity of work in terms of blog posts, it has enhanced the quality of my writing. Please don't take this to mean that people who write quickly, or who produce a lot of works in a short amount of time aren't quality authors. There are an incredible number of factors that go into how much and quickly someone can produce a work. Some authors can easily produce two good books a year and several short stories.

It's just that I'm not one of those authors. Partly because of many factors beyond my control, but also because of the way I write and how I tend to edit as I go. Some days I can easily pump out four thousand words, and on other days, I consider it a victory if I manage some editing and two new sentences. It also helps me to step away from a manuscript or story for at least two weeks, maybe more, before coming back to it for the final edits.

My novella In Midnight's Silence was written at the end of 2014. During 2015, I wrote two novellas at approximately 33,000 words each, or the equivalent of a 90,000 word novel. Those words came quickly, because I already had the novellas mapped out when In Midnight's Silence sold to Harper Voyager Impulse. Those 96,000 words do not account for blog posts, interviews, and shorter works of fiction that I produced in order to promote both In Midnight's Silence and Without Light or Guide.

Things I didn't factor into my deadlines: a month of edits on the front end of a new novella and a month of promo on the back side of the gig. However, even knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn't have scheduled them differently. I wanted about six months between each work and with the help of Harper Voyager, it worked out beautifully.

Now that The Second Death is out in the world, I've been focusing on promotion and a new novel. All of these things consume a lot of my energy. Which sort of brings me back to taking care of myself. My free time is short, so I have to manage my time very carefully, and factor in that self-care. I do that by focusing on projects that pay, or projects that help me promote the novellas (i.e. blog posts and interviews). Since I am also involved at The Supernatural Underground, you will sometimes find my monthly post over there rather than here.

The point of all this is: I can't do all the things anymore, so sometimes those things, such as they are, will get quiet here at the blog; although not for long.

All this eating right and exercising more has helped my mental health, too. Walking is wonderful and frees my mind. I'm able to burn energy and quiet the voices in my head long enough to achieve a little peace and serenity in my brain. For me, that is a necessary and pivotal part of my mental health. My brain tends to run in overdrive 24/7 and I need to remember how to slow down and listen to the quiet.

I've also been reading more of other people's works, and that, in turn, helps me produce more quality work. Since I'm more alert, I've able to read more analytically. I learn by writing, but I also learn by reading quality books. I'll be talking about some of those books later. For now, I am enjoying them as a reader and a fan. I also want to write a Goodreads review for each book, because I think it is important to support other authors, and reviews, even a couple of sentences, can help someone else.

So that is where I have been and what I've been doing. I'm also working on a short story with the Los Nefilim characters, maybe one with Rafael since he is so many people's favorite. I've no shortage of ideas percolating in my busy brain, but I'm going to take care of myself so I can be around to write them.

Random thoughts: the Hugo, slates, Diago and Miquel, and LGBT tropes

This is one of those blog posts where I think out loud for a bit as a way of getting thoughts off my brain so I can focus on writing fiction. If you've got better things to do with your Saturday--you know, like being with real human beings or just having fun--you might want to skip it.

On the Hugo: Once upon a time, back when I was a baby writer in my twenties, I thought that winning a Hugo was the epitome of an author's career. Having watched the logrolling and constant infighting within the SFF community, I don't hold the award in the same esteem as I once did.

However, I do believe in change, and I know the community is working on changing the rules for nominations in an attempt to derail the logrolling and the building of slates. That gives me hope. The Hugo is a fan award, and it should be about the fans, not the authors.

To the fans: vote for the works that you love.

To the authors: suck it up and let the fans pick what they like.

On slate voting: I see nothing wrong with a recommended reading list, or an eligibility list, but slate voting has got to stop. It's simply juvenile. Every time it comes up, I question the emotional maturity of the people involved, regardless of their chronological age. Seriously. I can't think of anything else to say about it. [See the suck it up portion above.]

On Diago and Miquel: When you're reading Los Nefilim, remember that Diago and Miquel are hundreds of years old and have been in a relationship with one another for over a century. I did this for a couple of reasons, the most important of which was that I wanted to show you the kind of relationships that a lot of my friends have.

Diago and Miquel have been through many adventures, but they've also been through many of the ups and downs that people experience during long-term relationships. They support one another emotionally, which can be far more critical than fighting, or even physical attraction, especially given the kinds of circumstances in which they often find themselves. In other words, they aren't quite as emotionally angsty as a young couple still getting to know one another.

Like a lot of people, I get very tired of the trope where the LGBT person dies in a story, or even worse: LGBT characters that live miserable lives simply because of their sexual preferences. Those tropes are evident in both literature and film.

Most of the LGBT men and women that I know in real life are nothing like their literary and cinematic counterparts. These men and women have fought long battles in order to accept themselves for who they are, in addition to cultural fights against oppression so that others won't experience the hate and misunderstandings they were forced to endure. They have strong moral character and fierce spirits.

Those are the characteristics I wanted to portray with Diago and Miquel. These characters were designed to give you an example of two emotionally stable men living together as a married couple. I want to believe that if enough people see strong LGBT people in literature, they will be more accustomed to the idea in real life.

Those are all the thoughts I have for today. My brain is empty now. Thanks for listening.