Off the Grid ... How it works

I will put a link to this post in the sidebar for future reference. This FAQ may change given the popularity (or lack thereof) of this series, my life, my writing commitments, etc.

The series will officially kick off in March 2016. A few people have already expressed an interest in writing for Off the Grid, or have pitched an idea to me. This is great, and I'm glad I've got so much excitement about the series.

I'm doing this because I know a lot of super authors who have received very little recognition for some really great series and stories. I've heard our online chatter called a feedback loop, and I can't think of a more appropriate description. When an author's work doesn't make it into that loop, then s/he is washed under the tide.

In order to combat the feedback loop, I'm giving authors, reviewers, and fans some space on my blog.

If you have a question that is not covered below, drop it in the comments, and I will incorporate it into the FAQ.

FAQ

What is Off the Grid? Generally speaking in any given year, the SFF/horror community is filled with publications. As time goes on, the community tends to get into a feedback loop where only six or seven books are discussed. Off the Grid is my attempt to level the playing field a bit, but also to give folks a chance to discuss other forms of fiction such as novellas, novelettes, short stories, and poems.

When will it run? Off the Grid will run every Wednesday for as long as I have a post for that Wednesday slot, until I run out of time to manage it, or people lose interest, whichever of these things comes first.

What kind of works can we talk about? Stories should be traditionally published. If the story/poem is online (ie Tor.com, Lightspeed, etc.), then provide the link and I will post the link along with your review. I will allocate one Wednesday a month to a self-published work. Since everything is shiny-new right now, we'll see how that goes.

What if I know the person whose story I'm writing about? Feedback loops online are usually perpetrated by big name authors who know one another and recommend one another's works to others. There is really nothing wrong with this as long you're talking about a quality story. With social media and the tight circles online, it's inevitable that we'll sometimes want to talk about a friend's book, or someone who is published by the same publisher. I suggest full disclosure in these circumstances.

Do I have to be an author or reviewer? For now, I'm going to say no. (Remember: shiny-new.) This is a community project, so I would like to invite the genre community to be involved. However, any submissions should use proper grammar should be pitched like any other submission.

Wait. I have to pitch my idea? Yes. This prevents overlap of two or three people writing about the same book, and also gives me time to look at the book in order to decide whether it's a good fit for the series. I have final say on all pitches, because it's my blog.

What kinds of stories can I talk about? The series will encompass: novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, or poems. Keep it genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, etc.

Does the story have to be published in the current year? No. The item should be something that is getting very little online discussion and/or promotion; however if you've just discovered a previously published author and want to gush about one of their work(s) that garnered very little attention, then come and gush.

Does it have to be written in a specific format? Guest posts can be a formal review or a more lighthearted post about what you liked/disliked about the item, or why we should check out this particular author. I will ask that the post be at least 500 words.

If you want to contribute a guest post to Off the Grid, contact me. Tell me the name of the story and a little about yourself (if you have a blog, if you don't, if you are either traditionally published or self-published, because this will enable me to link back to your blog). In other words, pitch your idea to me, and I'll let you know if I have an opening.

how genre reviews can fail the reader

This is a response to a comment on another post written by Mark Lawrence, Strangely Narrowed Horizons, which I highly suggest that you read before continuing here.

I had already written one very lengthy comment and I don't want to dominate Mark's comments section. The more I responded to Paul's remark, the more I realized I had more of a blog post than quick comment. This will all make a lot more sense if you read Mark's post and some of the comments, then come back here.

For clarification purposes, the comment that I am responding to is by Paul, someone whose opinion I respect, and someone who will take this post in the constructive manner in which it is intended.

Paul's comment regarded two points and here it is in its entirety:

I use the word "fantastika", Teresa, as a shorthand and a synonym for the more inaccurate phrase "genre fiction".

I also think that book reviews and literary criticism are disciplines that touch, but are not as intersecting as people think.

And my response follows:

It’s not that I dispute your (or Clute’s) definition of the word, Paul, it’s just that I don’t like it. It looks ugly and rings hard on the ears and I really don’t feel fantastika is any more accurate than the term genre fiction. It’s a personal thing and very open to interpretation, which brings me to your next point that book reviews and literary criticism are disciplines that touch but don’t intersect as much as people think.

I will respectfully disagree with that last point.

People who review for Locus, PW, Library Journal, etc. are giving readers a highly subjective snapshot of a novel. A novel that rings true and beautiful to one reviewer will be stinky-poo/turgid to another (one has only to look at my Library Journal and PW reviews for Miserere to see the stark difference in opinions).

These reviews are opinions--nothing more. The same is true of literary criticisms; they are opinions; however, in a literary criticism the critic spends a great deal of time, not just analyzing the structure and verse, but also in supporting his/her analysis with convincing arguments. Literary criticism envelops a wide perspective that encompasses the totality of the work in question.

The people who review for Locus, PW, Library Journal, etc. are usually graduates of literary programs and while they're not dissecting a novel publicly through their reviews, they are evaluating novels and stories based on the criteria that they learned. When they evaluate a novel, they are looking at prose, structure, and … wait for it … theme, but they don’t have the time or space to give you a convincing argument as to WHY they feel the way they do about a certain novel.

Does everyone have to graduate from a literary program to be a good reviewer? No. The trick is to read broadly enough to acquire an instinctual feel for story and structure. These are the bloggers and reviewers who I read.

However, some genre criticism has a tendency to veer off the path. The reviewer is widely read and other reviewers pick up the same motif in their own reviews, because they believe this is the way it should be done. When I read a review that only talks about the number of women/minorities/young adults in a novel, I realize that I am not getting a clear picture of what this book is about--I'm getting a census report followed by a lengthy digression on what the author should have done to make this book more palatable to the reviewer/reader.

These reviewers tend to wield large vocabularies, which gives them a semblance of intelligence, but they have very little understanding of literature in any form. They limit their reading to genre fiction, or fantastika, if you will, and review everything within the very narrow scope of social issues that they deem important. It is the equivalent of saying that all fantasy novels should become a terrible plethora of stories that reek of sameness and sterile utopias. Then the review descends (as I posted on Mark's blog) into a miniature political rant, which is fine if that’s what your blog is about; however, these reviewers purport that they “review” books.

These reviews fail the reader because they don't intersect closely enough with literary criticism.

Let me say that one more time: These reviews fail the reader because they don't intersect closely enough with literary criticism.

Do I think that all bloggers and reviewers should cough out reviews of the same quality as the Times Literary Supplement? No.

I love reading comments about novels. I love it when bloggers evaluate what works for them when they are focused on story and technique and prose. I love reading about what magical systems work for you and why. I enjoy seeing what Ria Bridges calls her "fluff reads"--books that she reads and enjoys for no other reason than these stories tickle her fancy. I love all these things and there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with these types of reviews.

But ...

BUT ... BUT ... BUT ... BUT ...

If you host a site that claims to review novels (SF Signal, Strange Horizons, etc.), I am expecting a higher quality review that intersects more closely with a literary criticism. I am more forgiving of an occasional off-beat review, nor am I expecting TLS quality; however, I want to read about prose and story and structure.

Any reviewer who makes an honest attempt to understand a novel based on those criteria wins points with me. Even if I disagree, I believe that for a reviewer to make an effort to evaluate a novel on that level means the reviewer is reading deeply.

If I read a site that consistently publishes reviews that turn into a political platform for a reviewer's beliefs, then I quit that reading that blog, because then the "review" isn't about the story, it is about the reviewer. I can only assume that by continuously publishing those types of reviews that the blog in question supports that type of criticism, which simply does not appeal to me.

Everybody misses the mark on occasion, or has a difference in opinion which sometimes brings about spirited debate on a story's quality. I love those blogs. I don't think for a moment that we need to be a mass of trolling zombies.

However, if we want other people to take genre fiction seriously, then we--the readers and the authors--need to take our craft and our reviews very seriously too. So, yes, I believe that reviews and literary criticisms should intersect much more closely in order to convey the quality of genre fiction. No one else will take us seriously unless we take ourselves and our works seriously.

where can I find a copy of Miserere?

Where can I find a copy of your book? That is probably the sweetest question you can ask any author.

Over the last few weeks, more and more people have been asking me where can they buy Miserere.

As much as I love supporting bookstores, I've had to direct people to online resources. There is no bookstore in the county in which I live, the closest ones are in Greensboro, which is approximately twenty-four miles away. None of the Barnes and Nobles nor the Books-A-Million stores carry my novel in stock. The same is true of the independent bookstores in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Winston-Salem, three cities that are farther afield than Greensboro, but still reasonably close to my area.

So if you're looking for a copy of Miserere, here is where your instant gratification needs can be met. Just click on the link for the format of your choice.

Amazon -- Trade paperback or ebook

Barnes and Noble -- Trade paperback or ebook

Baen -- Ebook

This doesn't mean that I'm backing off my stance for support of local bookstores. I encourage everyone to use their local bookstore first. I have several reasons:

  • local bookstores provide jobs and taxes
  • they host events that enable authors to cultivate a deeper relationship with their readers
  • they have knowledgeable staff who can help you find exactly what you're looking for

Those are just the first three that come to the top of my head. I'm sure if I thought about it a little more, I could come up with about twenty more reasons.

I can't describe what a warm and wonderful experience I've had at every local bookstore that I've had the opportunity to visit.

I can tell you about the cultural void that is left when you no longer have a local bookstore to enjoy.

So if you live near a bookstore, please, please support them.

However, if you want a copy of Miserere, to the best of my knowledge, you can only get it online.

If you see that rare creature Miserere in the wild, send me a photo and I'll post it on the blog.

news of note--book bloggers, NC events, & well-dressed men ...

A few random links of stuff going on and around:

Over at Staffer's Book Reviews, Justin is hosting a rocking discussion on book bloggers and their importance to both publishers and readers.

There are so many events going on in NC, Bull Spec had to break it all up for you. Sam has posted the mid-July update for the Bull Spec Event flyer here.

And finally, Fran Terminiello tweeted one of the best youtube vids ever:

That's it. Be cool and hang on, I hear that winter really is coming . . . someday.

Do we assume all women write YA fantasy; Or what’s in a name?

The first six months after Miserere was published, I felt that I made a mistake publishing under my real name. I am, after all, a woman—a woman who writes fantasy. I think a lot of genre fans made an automatic assumption that a woman who writes fantasy is either writing: a) young adult fantasy; or b) paranormal romance.

I say this for a couple of reasons. My first clue that assumptions were being made came from my initial reviewers. Many of the prominent genre fiction reviewers understood Miserere was an adult novel. However, there were several reviewers that obviously entered the novel fully expecting a Middle Grade or YA fantasy. I believe this little gem of a review encapsulates the confusion nicely:

I had trouble relating too or liking any of them [the characters]. It left me a bit confused about what age group this book is aimed at. Lindsay is a pre-teen, yet there is too much torture, violence and sex for this to be a middle grade or YA book. Rachael and Lucian appear to be older, in their forties or fifties maybe? Their older age and frame of mind made it harder to relate with them as characters either.”

The question that nagged me after I read that review was simply this: Why did she automatically assume this was a Middle Grade or YA novel?

Although Lindsay does have a significant role in the novel, she isn’t a main character. She is not mentioned in the blurb, nor is she pictured in the cover art. That was Night Shade Books’ decision and I thought it a wise one. As a matter of fact, Night Shade Books did not market Miserere as a YA fantasy at all.

Nor did I. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoy reading and writing fantasy for adults. Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasies are wonderful and I occasionally indulge, but not often. I enjoy the complexity of adult themes. So I remained baffled as to why some readers continued to assess Miserere as if it was a YA novel.

At some point in all this, I read one angsty review too many and snapped. Frankly, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often with debut authors. We’re under a tremendous amount of stress and every review influences the overall perception of our novels. Authors are told to say nothing. In some authors this “say nothing” rule creates a powder-keg effect, and mine erupted in the manifesto, “I write dark fantasy.”

Shortly after that blog post, people started taking me seriously as an adult fiction author. Suddenly, I noticed a 180 degree change in attitude regarding Miserere. People viewed the story differently.

Hmmmm, said my brain.

I became curious and looked at reviews for male authors such as George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Doug Hulick, Mark Lawrence. No one mistook their novels for YA or Middle Grade. Stina Leicht took some heat because her urban fantasy Of Blood and Honey was very dark and didn’t meet the hunky urban fantasy romance prototype, but no one banged Alex Bledsoe for doing the same type of dark urban fantasy with The Hum and the Shiver.

Hmmmm, said my brain. (My brain says that a lot.)

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that a strong possibility existed that people automatically equated Miserere as being a YA novel because I am a woman. The reason I infer a “strong possibility” is simply because I have no data with which to support this hypothesis; all I have is circumstantial evidence. However, the more I evaluate the situation across the board, the more I realize it’s entirely possible.

I’m also quite cognizant of the fact there is an overall assumption by non-genre readers that all fantasy novels are written for young adults. However, the reviews and confusion about Miserere came from people who read genre fiction on a regular basis.

So. The unanswered question, of course, is: If I had published under the name T. Frohock, would people still have made the YA assumption about Miserere? I don’t know. The thought has haunted me from time to time over the last year, and it has certainly made me more aware of my initial assumptions when I see an author’s name.

Me?

I’m going to publish under Teresa Frohock. I’ve had that name for quite some time and I’ve grown rather fond of it. I will change your mind about how you perceive my work. I love a challenge.

And please allow me to clarify once more, so there is no confusion:

I write dark fantasy.

For adults.

You know the drill. *winks*

Tell me if you make assumptions about an author’s work simply by looking at his or her name. I’m in interested in what you think.

new work in progress is moving again

I managed a little over a thousand words on my new work in progress last night. This brings me up to 24,000 words and the story and characters are beginning to fall into place. Pacing is always a problem for me in first drafts--it's one of those techniques that I have to feel my way through.

That and characterization.

I always know what I want my characters to be like, but sometimes events and personalities take interesting turns when I actually start writing a scene from a particular character's point of view.

Last night I wrapped up my first chapter from Miguel's point of view. The chapter took an ugly turn that I hadn't expected.

Lo siento, Miguel.

I'm afraid it only gets worse from here on out ...

the importance of a series sheet

Before I start today's post, I want to say thanks to Martha Wells (@) for tweeting this list of relief organizations for Japan. I like this site, because it provides a good listing of legitimate organizations that are providing relief to Japan in the wake of the tsunami and the on-going earthquakes throughout the area.

Now to today's post:

Like most fantasy authors, I knew my world (or in my case, Woerld) inside out. I knew all the characters' names; the names of my countries and towns; my world's mythologies; why the religions all worked together; etc. As a matter of fact, I had spent so long immersed in Woerld and it's particular laws, I thought there was no way I would forget everything.

Of course, after not reading the novel for six months, I was amazed at how much I had forgotten!

So for my editor's sake (and mine) I created a series sheet for Woerld. This includes a timeline, the correct spelling of my characters' names; the countries, cities, and towns; the political climate amongst the bastions and the various countries; languages; and general world building specifics.

I have each character listed with his or her own personal timeline and a mini-biography. This isn't as detailed as the other biographies I have for my characters, but it's more like a cheat-sheet.

Some things, like the spelling of Rachael with an "a" and Lucian with an "a," are details for a copy-editor. I want to keep the spelling the same if I can. I spelled their names like that deliberately, even though the common spelling of Rachael is Rachel. With Lucian, I wanted the Latin spelling of his name, because it was more indicative of the time period Lucian is from, rather than the French spelling, which is Lucien.

This series sheet will be extremely valuable when I start writing Dolorosa down the line. There are a lot of minor details in Miserere that will become more prominent in Dolorosa.

I also marvel at authors such as George R.R. Martin, who are able to create such complex worlds filled with dozens of characters. I would need a concordance to keep it all straight!

Instead, I'm lucky and can get by with a two page cheat sheet that I'm sure will grow as I start working with the other bastions and their hierarchies in Dolorosa. However, I feel like I've got a good foundation with my series sheet for Miserere.

What about you? Do you keep a series sheet for the novel you're currently working on or do you wing it and remember all the facts in your novel?

a tribute to Nichelle Nichols

So while I'm going all fangirl here, I've got one more I'd like to share. If you haven't heard this story by now, you're probably not a Trekkie, or a Nichelle Nichols fan (like me). I recently read an interview with Nichols where she talked again about wanting to quit the series midway through the first season. I can't find the original article now, but a good summation is here. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked Nichols into staying with the series, because she provided a non-stereotypical African-American role-model.

She did something else too. She provided a role model for young women everywhere.

During the late 60s and early 70s, there were a variety of women characters, both on television and in real life, but there wasn't much in between Mary Tyler Moore and Gloria Steinman. Either you were sweetly trying to insert yourself into the workforce or you were burning your bra.

Nichols was perfect as Uhura, a woman she portrayed as beautiful, intelligent, and in command of herself at all times. While the rest of the crew was running from side to side like brainless sheep, there was Uhura, holding her position, rocking a mini-skirt, and keeping the lines of communication open. On-screen, the other characters treated her with respect and trusted her judgment.

Whether it was Nichols' inner essence that shined through or the way she portrayed her character, she had (and still has) an amazing presence. Whenever I thought of an empowered woman, my young mind always conjured images of Uhura.

So while Nichols did fulfill King's request to provide a positive role-model for African Americans, she quite unwittingly provided another kind of role-model to young women everywhere. She showed us we could be in touch with our feelings, yet be tough when the circumstances warranted. She proved that women could hold positions of authority with grace and verve.

I have a great deal of respect for Nichols--she put aside her career on stage multiple times to become Uhura for us, and with each episode and each movie, she brought something fresh to the character.

What about you? Do you have a fictional character that made an impression on you when you were young?