Jan 16

Worldbuilding for Urban Fantasy

I’ve been writing the Gryphon Clerks series, which is secondary-world fantasy, for a while now. I did a lot of worldbuilding for it upfront (originally, I planned it as a game setting, but it kept generating stories, and games are hard). It’s very much a distinct world, with a lot of specific differences from our world that I have to keep in mind when I write. For example, there are no pigs, and no New World plants or animals. The calendar is completely different. The counting system is different. The way society is structured, the names for common things (even marriage)… I have to keep constantly alert to avoid breaking my own canon by writing sentences like “She got married last month”.

Now, I’m not saying that a secondary-world setting doesn’t have advantages. It opens up possibilities that are closed off if you set a story in our world, just because our world has things that are true of it that you can’t ignore. In a secondary world, I can outright make things up if it suits me, and I don’t have to do much research (I do a little research occasionally to give me an idea of whether things are basically credible or reasonable, but I’m not bound by the results.)

At the same time, setting a story in a version of the real world means a lot of work is already done. I don’t have to invent all the technology from scratch, all the history from scratch, all the sociology from scratch. I may need to research it a bit, but that isn’t especially hard, thanks to Google. And I don’t have to invent cultural references; I can make pop culture jokes, which is something I can only do indirectly in secondary-world fantasy. (My current WIP has a Bechdel Test joke embedded in it, but it would be easy to miss.)

One of my projects this year is an urban fantasy. I’ve written the first chapter and done some planning of things I’d like to include – one of them is an action set-piece that takes place along the route I walk to work, which will be great fun. But, while it seems like urban fantasy would require a minimum of worldbuilding, there are actually a number of questions that I have to ask myself about the world, and that any urban fantasy writer has to answer, even if only by implication.

I thought I’d work through them in a blog post, so that other people could see my process. I’ll use some of my favourite (and one or two of my non-favourite) urban fantasy series as examples, and I’ll make my decisions based, in part, on what opportunities it offers me for setting up conflicts and developing a series over time.

1. Out, or Masquerade?

Masquerade
Old Creeper / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The term “masquerade” (in this context) comes from the game Vampire: the Masquerade, in which it means the conspiracy by which the vampires conceal their existence from the world at large. One of the key questions of urban fantasy is whether people in general know that magic, the supernatural, and/or the various races (vampires, fae, werewolves) exist. In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, so far at least, they don’t know (though it’s largely through natural human rationalisation, rather than any particular conspiracy, that they remain ignorant). In Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville books, they do know, as of early in the series, and Kitty was involved in the outing process (not by her choice). In Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, we have a middle ground: werewolves are out, fae are out, but vampires remain unrevealed to the populace at large, and everyone wants to keep it that way to avoid a panic.

One of the consequences of this question is that if the existence of the supernatural isn’t common knowledge in the world, preserving the secret – or, alternatively, the secret coming out – may become a plot driver. A series can even be partly driven by successive outings, as the Mercy Thompson series is.

If the supernatural is out, on the other hand, that’s a difference from our world, and we need to think about the consequences. In the Kitty Norville books, for example, there are people (often religious) who see the supernaturals as inherently evil and to be destroyed. There will generally be a government response (this can exist even where the secret is hidden from the population at large, of course), and government agents from an agency that deals with the supernatural are likely to show up and do what government agents do. The main character may even be a part of such an agency.

Since scientists tend to write hard SF rather than urban fantasy, the scientific study of the supernatural tends not to be a huge emphasis, though in my opinion it would be a big consequence of open, undeniable supernatural phenomena. There are sometimes sinister labs which want to vivisect the characters, but there isn’t a lot of in-depth “this is what it’s like to be a scientist in a world where there’s magic”, probably because that’s complicated to work through and risks the fragile suspension of disbelief that you’re working hard to create in the audience. I’m noting that as a potential avenue for future exploration. I can imagine a scientist in a world where the supernatural exists, but isn’t public knowledge, coming across unambiguous supernatural phenomena and being torn between wanting to study and understand this fascinating new thing, and the knowledge that attempting to publish any findings will probably end his or her career.

Because that seems like a cool idea, and because starting with the supernatural hidden gives more scope (after all, I can always have it come out later, whereas I can’t start with it out and then later have it be hidden), I’m choosing to make my world one in which magic exists, but isn’t generally known or acknowledged.

New, or Always There?

If magic, the supernatural, or whatever exists, has this always been the case? Or is it a recent emergence (or re-emergence)? And if it’s always been there, why isn’t it generally known?

In some series, like Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels, magic has started up relatively recently, as part of a more-or-less apocalyptic event. In most, though, magic has always been there. Kim Harrison has a dollar each way, and has her apocalypse kill off a lot of normals so that the magicals are now a substantial enough majority that they feel safe coming out (though they were there all along).

To me, if magic has always been around, you need to give at least some thought to a secret history of the world in which magic featured significantly in historical events, and also to historical practitioners of magic. Most urban fantasy magic is more or less made up wholesale, or based on modern “witchcraft” or New Age practices (but I repeat myself). There’s a long and fascinating history of real-world attempts at magical practice, though, and it seems a pity to throw it all away (particularly since I know enough about it to fake my way through it in a manner that should convince most non-experts, which is as much expertise as I care to develop).

Here’s my decision, then: magic has always been around, always been a human potential, but the ways in which it was done historically were flawed or simplistic in similar ways to how, say, chemistry was done in the same periods. People were able to achieve useful effects, but without really understanding why things worked, and sometimes they put things into the process that really made no difference, because of that lack of understanding. As of relatively recently, people started getting good at magic (ironically, because of a more scientific mindset, in which they set out to understand why things worked through an experimental process). However, there’s still not a comprehensive theory. It’s more like magic’s early 19th century than its 21st, and it’s more engineering than science.

One of the things that enables is that magic use itself, not just the characters’ ability to use magic, can grow and develop in the course of a series. They can come up with new ways of doing things that nobody has ever thought of before (and that the author didn’t think of earlier on, even if they would have been handy – in fact, the earlier problem that could have been solved by a particular bit of magic can be the stimulus to develop that solution). Most urban fantasy series have a static magic system, already as good as it’s getting, so to introduce a new thing involves introducing a new (usually) antagonist who’s a different kind of fae or whatever.

And speaking of fae:

What Supernaturals Exist?

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files spends the first few books setting up the many different supernatural beings in his world. Wizards, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, fae, the undead, and the Knights of the Cross/Order of the Blackened Denarius each get a book, and for a while they rotated, so we’d get a book in which the werewolves featured (but not the fae or the knights), and then one in which the knights featured (but not the werewolves), and so on. These days, he’s mixing them up more.

This makes for a rich world, but it’s a lot to manage. Some series just have a bunch of diverse fae. Others are all vampire, all the time. It’s unusual to have werewolves (or other shifters) without vampires, but I’m sure it’s been done.

Alternatively, you can have just one supernatural, like the djinn in Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series (arguably, the Wardens are a second kind of supernatural, in that they’re humans who can work with the djinn).

My inclination at the moment is to go with just the magic, not the creatures. I’m tired of vampires and shifters, and they’re pretty hard to justify if I’m going to have any science in the story, which I do plan to. (I have some university-level training in life sciences; high school chemistry; and as much physics as the average nerd picks up from reading a lot of SF and some nonfiction. That is, if anything, more than enough for writing urban fantasy, and I expect it to hinder more than it helps, to be honest with you.)

At the same time, I do have an idea (which probably won’t go in the first book) about what the demons/angels are that medieval and renaissance European magicians were summoning and talking to. At least, I have an idea for a theory that a character has, a theory which may well turn out to be mistaken. And I don’t guarantee that there won’t be lycanthropy spells (that don’t cause physical transformations, only mental ones), or entities that feed off others that are hosted by humans, give them superhuman abilities, and are transferred by feeding, but are totally not vampires. As for the fae, I tend to think of them as extradimensional aliens anyway, and while at the moment that’s not an idea that I’m excited about for this setting, I’m not ruling it out.

Initially, though, it’s just human magic-users. Which leads to the question:

Training or Genetics?

Can anyone, more or less, learn to do magic? Or is it something you’re born with or without?

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is one in which the inherited ability to do magic is a significant plot driver, because it’s a basis for discrimination. There are “muggles”, who have no magic, can’t see it, can’t do it. There are wizards and witches, who have magic and can do it. But there are “muggle-borns”, whose parents aren’t magical, but they are; and there are “squibs”, vice versa. I’m sure someone has worked out the genetics somewhere. (Yep, sure enough.) In Mendelian genetics, an offspring either does, or does not, have a simple heritable trait (there is no try), but most significant human abilities, like intelligence, involve multiple genes. Even eye colour does.

Most fantasy (urban or secondary-world) that involves magic, in fact, assumes that there are magical haves and have-nots, and vaguely indicates that this is somehow based on genetics. I like to use the parallel of musical ability. Some people have none at all (though they don’t always know it, as American Idol auditions prove every year); some have enough to sing in tune in a choir; some are musical geniuses. It’s heritable (nearly 50%, which is very high, according to this article), improves with certain kinds of training, and so forth. Because it’s so heritable, it’s presumably getting more common in the population over time, as well – any geneticists want to correct me on that one?

This excellent post on statistical patterns by Yonatan Zunger suggests that a biologically-based ability will usually form a power law: there will be a few people with a lot of it and a lot of people with a little of it, and a fairly steep drop-off between the two. Right there, you have a have/have-not situation, with a few powerful people and a lot of lesser talents, and this is a great setup for conflict (and you can use it as a political metaphor, which I happen to think is cool). And as part of the trope-aversion part of my project, I’m not choosing, as my main character, one of the super-powerful, exceptional people, but someone further down the slope of the curve, who has to work damned hard and apply a lot of intelligence to survive in a world where there are people a lot more powerful than she is.

So, How Does Magic Work?

There are several parts to the “how does magic work?” question. There’s the sciency part, which at the moment for me is a vague and handwavey “human consciousness meshes with the quantum mumble mumble and look, over there, a squirrel!”. This should be sufficient to get an urban fantasy going; most urban fantasy series never even address the question.

There’s the “what can you do with it?” part, and here I’m thinking that you can affect:

  • movement of matter – so telekinesis, etc.
  • movement of energy – heating, cooling, slow or sudden
  • electromagnetic fields and patterns (this will be a big one – one of the characters I have in mind is an electromancer)
  • human minds – think pulp hypnosis, which is different from real hypnosis
  • biological systems – up to and including healing, but you can do various kinds of enhancement and, of course, harm

As it happens, those (plus time and space, which I haven’t really played with yet) are more or less the categories of things that magic can affect in my Gryphon Clerks novels, so I’m clearly going to have to re-skin it. Which leads to the last version of “how does it work?”: “what does it look like?”

Remember, we’re at a kind of early-19th-century-science level of understanding and use of magic. There’s a history and a tradition. And magic works by the human mind interacting with the structure of the universe, so magic tends to work best when you use your own system of symbology, whatever that may be. Some people use a very precise, structured, traditional set of symbols, though most magic users realise that the traditional methods are full of unnecessary flounces. Some draw only on one symbol set; others are more pick-and-mix. Essentially, magic consists of ordering your will and mental effort in such a way that it will produce the desired effect (and only that effect) in the world, by whatever means works for you. Some people’s magic is sloppy, and has unintended side effects; that’s also likely to happen if you cast on the fly and in a hurry. Some can produce a wide range of effects, while others can only do a couple of reliable spells. Some people make up their own spells (they’re like cooks who create their own recipes), others can only work from an existing spell or with a pattern that’s been laid out for them in some object.

My Setup

So, what’s the story going to look like? What characters fall out of that setting?

Tara is an artist who creates magic items for other people to use, working with Celtic design elements. Sometimes, the way that they use the items causes problems for her. This is the situation in Chapter 1: some more-powerful magic user is about to send her a goon-o-gram about how annoyed he is with one of her customers.

Tara’s friend/sidekick/cotagonist/definitely-not-love-interest, Sparx the electromancer, does something similar to her in a completely different way. He has very little raw power, even less than she does, but has learned to use it precisely to create complex effects. Warned by one of his clients about the hit on Tara, he warns her in turn, and helps her to deal with the attacks.

The third in the trio, Steampunk Sally, has a minor talent for seeing a few seconds into the future (magic sometimes throws up these oddities) – and a reckless nature which tends to get them all in trouble, because, despite her ability, medium-term consequences tend to elude her in her decision-making process. She’s the client who has caused the issues for Tara.

My current draft of Chapter 1 is here.

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Nov 14

Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2015

It’s SJV Awards nomination time again, and I have several eligible works. However, I’d like to focus on one work in particular, my short story “Gnome Day“.

That link takes you to the full text of the story here on my website. The story is included in my collection Good Neighbours and Other Stories from HDWP Books, but the publisher has given permission for me to make it publicly available.

If you enjoy it and think it’s good enough for an award, please nominate it by sending an email, with the information laid out as below, to sjv_awards@sffanz.org.nz. Make sure you include your contact details at the appropriate place.

Although this is a New Zealand award, anyone anywhere in the world can make a nomination. The more nominations a work gets, the more likely it is to end up on the final ballot, which is voted on by members of SFFANZ (Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand). Full details here if you need them.


Name / Title of work: Gnome Day
Name of Producer / Author / Creator: Mike Reeves-McMillan
What the work is: Short Story
Year of First Release: 2014
What category you think the nomination belongs to i.e. Fan awards, Professional awards: Professional awards
GENRE: fantasy
Contact details of the person making the nomination e.g. email or/and phone number
Publisher / Production company name: HDWP Books
How to contact the producer / author: mike@csidemedia.com (author email), books@hdwpbooks.com (publisher email)
Where to get a copy of the work: http://www.hdwpbooks.com/books/shop/product/good-neighbors-stories/ or http://csidemedia.com/gryphonclerks/gnome-day/
Any other comments you wish to add


I’d really appreciate it if you’d send in a nomination – assuming, of course, you think the story is award-worthy. Thanks in advance!

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Aug 30

Books Like Mine

In many ways, there are no books like mine. I deliberately don’t imitate other people too closely. I’m not writing generic commercial fantasy; that’s been done by plenty of other people, and I have no interest in it.

At the same time, nothing that’s readable at all is completely unlike everything else. If you’re a fan of my books, here are some others that resemble them a bit. I’ve noted the ways in which they resemble them, so that you can avoid the ones that are like my books in ways that you put up with, rather than in ways that you actively enjoy.

These authors have something else in common with me and each other, apart from the content of their books: good editing. This isn’t a given for indie authors (or trad authors, these days), as you’re no doubt aware.

Disclaimers: Links are to Amazon and include my affiliate ID, so I get some laughably small amount of money (in the form of Amazon credit) if you buy on my recommendation. I’ve beta-read for several of these authors, and sometimes vice versa, and know most of them on social media – because that’s what I do when I find an author whose books I like.

Cheerybright

Cheerybright is my extremely tongue-in-cheek, not-at-all-literal name for the opposite of grimdark. Grimdark is a style of fantasy that’s very popular right now, being written to great critical and commercial acclaim by George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and others. It features morally ambiguous or downright villainous protagonists, lots of suffering and slaughter, and very little hope. That’s not my thing. It’s not the thing of several other authors I know either, and when the revolution comes and people get sick of grimdark, we’ll be waiting with our backlists.

Even though I jokingly use the name “cheerybright,” I absolutely don’t mean that this style is always sunshine and rainbows. People suffer and struggle through dark times, but they’re decent people, and they struggle in the justified hope of a better world.

C.J. Brightley: Her Erdemen Honor series is the epitome of what I’m talking about. I’m reading the second book right now. Start with The King’s Sword (Erdemen Honor Book 1). The hero is a loyal soldier, humble and dedicated, and that makes all the difference. Although it’s about a soldier, there’s no rush to get to the fighting; there is some fighting, but that’s not what the book’s mainly about.

Brian Rush: Brian’s books have more explicit sex than mine do, and go a bit darker in places, but I include them in my “cheerybright” list because of their unambiguous moral universe. It’s very clear who is wearing which colour hat, especially in The Order Master (Refuge Book 1). The Stairway To Nowhere (The Star Mages Book 1), an earlier work, has much the same feel. Both series are science fantasy, mixing technology and magic, something that I also do in a completely different way. There’s action, but it’s not continuous.

Debora Geary: I refer to Debora’s work as “suburban fantasy”. Where your typical urban fantasy has cosmic battles against supernatural supervillains, featuring a heavily armed, smart-mouthed protagonist, her books are about comfortable contemporary suburban witches being kind to one another and eating cookies. It sounds dull, but it really isn’t; there’s plenty of struggle, it’s just more intra- and interpersonal, and very few things explode. The start of her main series is A Modern Witch (A Modern Witch Series: Book 1). The whole long series is very consistent, to the point of formula, but it’s a formula that, if you enjoy it, you’ll want a lot of.

Larry Kollar: Larry’s loyal, brave, resourceful young adult protagonists treat each other decently and with respect. His series starts with Accidental Sorcerers.

Morgan Alreth: Athame (The Unfortunate Woods Book 1) begins the story of two youthful characters who feel like real people, and who navigate the pitfalls of a fantasy world with humour, determination and integrity.

Daniel Swensen: Unlike the others featured here, Daniel has only one book out so far (and it’s from a small press, so I initially forgot it). Orison is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read, which, if you look at my reading list on Goodreads, you’ll see is an impressive achievement. It could so easily be grimdark, but it very much is not.

Fantasy in an Age of Steam

Medieval fantasy is fine. Some of the books I’ve mentioned above are medieval fantasy. But it’s also fun to break out of that mould and write about the collision of magic and technology (and society) in a more industrial-revolution setting.

I’d describe these books (and my own) as “steampunk-adjacent” rather than out-and-out steampunk. Mainstream steampunk is often very silly. It features extremely high concepts that, all too frequently, are let down by poor execution. These books try for less (they don’t go over the top with the devices and the aesthetic), but achieve more (they’re well written and tell a good story).

Sabrina Chase: Unlike the headstrong “plucky gels” of so much steampunk, the main character of The Last Mage Guardian (Guardian’s Compact Book 1) is level-headed, pragmatic, and highly effective at something that women aren’t supposed to be able to do: magic. It goes cinematic at the end, but is none the worse for that.

Lindsay Buroker: when I’m looking for people to review my books, my best results come from approaching people who’ve enjoyed Lindsay’s books. She’s highly productive at the moment, and has a large backlist, so if you’re just starting you’re going to have to read fast to catch up. Her main series, now sort of complete (though she keeps writing new books in the same setting), starts with The Emperor’s Edge. It’s permanently free.

Her books are more action-oriented than mine, but they also have a lot of good character interplay, often humourous, and some of the characters at least try to resolve things without fighting. There’s also a science-fictionish aspect behind the magic in most of her series, which isn’t always apparent at first.

I welcome anyone’s suggestions of other books that are similar to mine. And for a longer list of indie books I recommend (some of which are very unlike mine), go here.

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Aug 19

Untold History of the Gryphon Clerks

I’ve hinted at some of this before, but there’s a substantial history to the world of the Gryphon Clerks novels which sets up some of the conflicts and opportunities that are explored in the series. I thought I’d post it as a summary here for fans to enjoy.

Many centuries ago, the elves kidnapped a group of humans from our world – somewhere in the Mediterranean region, and before people there were literate, so a very long time ago in our world’s timeline. They made them slaves, in order to have someone to do the work that their own discontented lower classes didn’t want to do. The elven society was structured into three classes – the ruling Golds; the administrative, mercantile and professional Silvers; and the working-class Coppers – and the elves used biological means to match their hair colour to their social class.

The elves had a society based on bioengineering, though their civilization had already declined from its technological (and ethical) peak by this period. They were able to do a certain amount of genetic engineering still, though, and practiced some of it on the kidnapped humans. An ancient manuscript, now destroyed by Human Purity thugs (as described in Realmgolds), hinted that they changed humans to be able to use magic. They also experimented with combining human and animal traits in “blends” like the beastheads, the centaurs (and camel-centaurs, who we haven’t seen yet), and the werewolves and selkies – not shapeshifters, but people with dual natures and some physical characteristics of wolves or seals, as we see in Beastheads.

The elves had an imperial structure, which went through a series of declines, internal wars and political struggles. During one of these periods, the human slaves rose, with material help from the gnomes and dwarves, and overthrew their elven masters, who perforce joined a movement already in progress to return to the forests and adopt a simpler lifestyle. From an elven viewpoint, the Gryphon Clerks stories are post-apocalyptic.

The humans who worked in the cities and manor houses, in particular, had adopted some of the elves’ culture, speaking Elvish and practicing the elven Asterist religion rather than the Earthist animism of the country dwellers. They tended to become the rulers of the new human-dominated realms that arose out of the fallen Empire, and, again in imitation of the elves, referred to themselves as Golds. Following elven practice, on the death or retirement of a Gold who held a demesne (a realm, province, county or local holding) their successor would be elected from the descendants of previous office-holders, though if the previous incumbent had designated an heir their wishes were normally observed.

Not far from the ancient elven capital on the Isle of Turfrae, now abandoned, two realms formed on either side of the Koslin River. Denning, the larger, lay to the west of the Sea of Turfrae, while Koskant lay to the south. In Koskant, the emergent Provincegolds decided to rotate the position of Realmgold by election (for life) from among themselves. Denning, meanwhile, had a hereditary Realmgold in a separate family which didn’t hold a province, and this family gradually lost power until the post of Realmgold had less practical importance than the Provincegolds. The realm became decentralised and disunited, not helped by its difficult terrain. The Koskanders, by contrast, managed to keep their realm connected, united, and moving in roughly the same direction, despite the usual internal tensions found in any large group of people. The two realms early on negotiated a treaty, magically enforced, which prevented either party bearing arms across their Koslin River border.

The Isle of Turfrae was taken over, several centuries after the fall of the Empire, by a group of academics who founded a college among the imperial ruins. Over time, members of this college came up with the philosophy of Human Purity, which stated that humans were superior to non-humans and the natural rulers of the world. This philosophy found keen adherents in Denning, particularly since Denninger Golds tended to be sent to Turfrae for their education.

The main targets of their prejudice are the prosperous dwarves, technologists and traders living in holds which have “free city” status and can make their own laws; and the gnomes, who serve the dwarves as an underclass.

Humans have used the Dwarvish alphabet, numbers, coinage, and aspects of their timekeeping system for some years now, abandoning the harder-to-use Elvish systems with their imperial associations. Over recent years, humans and dwarves have interacted more and more, and the humans now have a greater grasp of technology and are beginning to create their own innovations, while the New Dwarves have absorbed some of the human antipathy towards slavery and are beginning to question the place of the gnomes in their society. The gnomes, exposed to the same ideas, are restive.

As the Gryphon Clerks series starts, Human Purity is on the rise, championed by an ambitious Countygold in Denning. Determined, the Realmgold of Denning, is a compromise candidate, elected by his cousins because none of them hate him much; he would rather be still studying history at Turfrae. Koskant’s Realmgold is Victory, former Provincegold of Western. She’s a relatively young woman whose strong reformist agenda is popular with the people, but anathema to the more traditional Golds and prominent Silvers, who flourished under her repressive predecessor Glorious.

Victory has opened trade negotiations with the beastheaded people who live on the shores of the Sea of Turfrae, and, aware of the looming Human Purity rebellion in Denning, is about to contact her counterpart there and propose a more active alliance.


News

BeastheadsIn case you missed it, Beastheads is now out. If you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can get it for free; otherwise, it’s $2.99 like the rest of my books.

My short story collection, Good Neighbours and Other Stories, is on the way from HDWP Books. There have been some delays, because it’s a small press and people have real lives and stuff happens in them. It’s nearly ready, though, and I hope to announce publication soon.

I have five assorted non-Gryphon-Clerks short stories out on submission at the moment (to the Hear Me Roar anthology and the magazines Inscription, Stupefying Stories, Buzzy Mag and Analog), and another that I need to finish fixing up and send to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I keep getting personalised “ooh, so close” responses, so I’m anticipating another sale sometime soon.

I have a new story in the Gryphon Clerks setting that I haven’t sent out yet (I want to workshop it a bit first), and I’m most of the way through a Gryphon Clerks novelette that will become a membership perk for my mailing list. It’s set a year after Realmgolds and Beastheads, is told in first person from Determined’s viewpoint, and deals with a contest for the honour of being the Realmgolds’ Guard. It needs an ending, and to go through a couple of rounds of editing, because I’m not just dashing it off and shoving it at you. I want it to be as enjoyable as possible.

I’m fortunate in that my wonderful editor, Kathleen Dale, has offered me the chance to put her on monthly retainer, so she’s now going over my short pieces as well. She and my regular beta group go over all my stuff before I put it out, and it’s much the better for it.

Finally, I’ve started on the next Gryphon Clerks novel, Mister Bucket for Assembly. We rejoin Bucket the gnome and Hope’s friend Briar after the events of Hope and the Patient Man, as they get involved in the elections for the new Representative Assembly. I have plans for Hope and Patient, Mister Gizmo, Rosie and Dignified too, but I’m not sure how much of them will go in this book and how much in The Rediscovery of Hardlac, which I’ll be writing in semi-parallel. I’ll have to see how things unfold.

So, if you’re not a member of my mailing list, but you are a Gryphon Clerks fan, sign up so you can pick up extra material, get discounts on a couple of my older books, and be notified when new books come out. I won’t spam you.

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Jun 17

How to be a Light Hybrid Author

I recently participated in a thread on Google+ started by someone who was arguing for leaving self-publishing in favour of trad pub. Now, I’m not sure if he’s genuinely naive or just trolling, but his view of trad pub is, let’s say, rosier than the facts justify.

I’ve set out my views on traditional publishing before, but to summarise: the main remaining benefits of traditional publishing that I can see are wider exposure, including print distribution to bookstores, and some residual (and rapidly vanishing) extra credibility.

The two are intertwined. There are many podcasts, book review sites and the like which still only feature traditionally-published books and authors, often as a matter of explicitly stated policy, and the underlying reason is presumably that this gives them a straightforward filter to reduce the amount of crap coming across the transom. A high-profile site of this kind gets inundated with far more material than they can handle, and saying “no self-pub” reduces the volume by filtering out material that, additionally, is still statistically more likely to be of low quality.

The quality issue in self-pub is real, but things are shifting rapidly. As clueless trad-pub houses get rid of editors and savvy self-publishers take them on, the quality gap is shrinking. I have “shelves” (tags) set up on Goodreads for “needs-editing”, “seriously-needs-editing” and “well-edited”. At time of writing, I have 20 books marked “seriously-needs-editing,” of which 5 are from large publishers and one from a small press (the rest are indie). I have 39 marked “well-edited,” of which 33 are from indies. Now, disclaimers: I read a disproportionate amount of indie fiction, I’m pretty good at filtering out the bad ones, and out of those 33 well-edited books, 15 are by Debora Geary, who just doesn’t seem to put many typos in or else has an incredibly eagle-eyed editor. Regardless, the quality gap is smaller than it’s often portrayed, and as more and more of the most imaginative work is done in self-pub, the credibility gap will shrink.

Not only in editing, either. I occasionally browse the cover designs that Joel Friedlander features on his Book Designer website (link is to a post featuring a couple of my covers), and at a casual inspection, it looks to me as if they are getting much better than they used to be. Indies are aware now that they can’t stick a hideous cover on their book and expect it to do well. Trad-pub, on the other hand, can still put out cliched and awful covers sometimes. One of the reasons I choose to publish independently is exactly this: in trad-pub, the author is stuck with whatever cover the publisher comes up with, good or bad, even if it’s a terrible representation of their vision or undermines one of their main points. If that happens with one of my covers, I only have myself to blame, because I commission them and approve them.

As for print distribution, the value of that is shrinking rapidly, and Hugh Howey’s analysis shows that it isn’t financially beneficial overall (at least, not for the authors). It gets more eyes on your stuff, which is important in awards season, but it doesn’t get you more money if you publish with a traditional publisher who gives you low ebook royalties and print distribution to bookstores, vs getting higher ebook royalties and no print distribution. (In fact, if you publish through CreateSpace you can buy an add-on that gets you print distribution to bookstores, though whether it is worthwhile is another question – the answer will vary depending on the individual book, but my sense is that on average it is “no” unless you’re doing well already.)

The average traditionally-published genre book will have a couple of copies sent to each bookstore, where they will be displayed “spine-out” on a shelf in that genre’s section of the store for a limited period of time (3-6 months, I believe), after which they will probably be returned for a credit if nobody has bought them. That kind of exposure is increasingly not worth signing over lifetime rights to a publisher in exchange for low royalties.

I do have a point, which I’ll get to soon

I’m rehearsing these well-rehearsed thoughts (which many have stated before me) not so much for their own sake as in order to give background for my main point, which is this: there is another, backdoor way to get some of the “gatekeeper cred” and exposure that traditional publishing still, for the moment, grants.

If I did the submission dance and was fortunate enough to be one of the comparative few given a trad-pub contract – and I’m reasonably confident that I could eventually achieve that if it was a goal of mine – I would face four problems which are reasons I don’t participate in that dance (apart from the tedium of the dance itself).

The first problem is timeliness. From submission to acceptance to publication is a long and winding road in trad-pub. That’s time in which my work could potentially be earning me money, and in which I could be getting reaction to it which could influence the next thing I write.

The second problem is control. I’d have no control over the cover, no control over the price, no control over the blurb, and the final editorial decisions would not be mine. Now, you can argue whether my retention of that control produces a better or worse result. I think it produces a better result, but I do know this for sure: my preference is to have it.

The third problem is scope of rights. Under the usual traditional contract, my rights in that work – and possibly other subsequent works – would be severely restricted, and the publishers would effectively control them for what amounts to an unlimited period (from my perspective, anyway, since copyright freedom 70 years after my death does me no good). The problem here is not that the publishers have the right to publish the work – that’s what they’re buying, after all – but that they retain it indefinitely.

The fourth problem, of course, is earning potential, and anything I could say about that is covered much better at Authorearnings.

The Answer

So what’s the answer? How can I get the benefits of trad-pub (exposure and perceived legitimacy) without the drawbacks I’ve just enumerated?

The answer is short stories.

There still remains a vigorous, and if anything increasing, market for short stories, especially genre, especially fantasy and science fiction. There are anthologies coming out all the time, and numerous magazines, not to mention many competitions. There are different kinds of markets; some pay only royalties, others a token upfront amount, but many pay an upfront per-word rate ranging from 0.5c to 25c. Professional rates are considered (by fiat of the SFWA) 6c/word, and according to The Submission Grinder, there are currently 35 pro-paying markets for SF and 29 for fantasy (many of them, of course, the same markets).

Now, nobody’s going to get rich just selling short stories for 6c/word. But what the short story markets provide is a more flexible, more timely, less rights-grabby version of trad pub.

Anthologies, even from small presses, get reviewed in places that are closed to indies. The major short story magazines (and there are several) are highly regarded in the field. Short stories get on awards ballots; there’s a special place for them in several of the major awards. And all these markets have editors, so you can prove that someone other than you thought your fiction was worth publishing.

At the same time, their turnaround is relatively quick – few take as long as three months, much faster than the query process for traditional book publishing, and then publication usually follows in short order. That solves the problem of timeliness. (Exception: tor.com, a short fiction market which is owned by a book publisher, has a notoriously slow turnaround).

In terms of control, I don’t expect control over the cover of an anthology or magazine that includes my story among several others. I hope it’s not awful, and usually it isn’t, but nobody else thinks of it as representing me either, so if it is awful, the splashover onto me is minimal and people will believe me when I distance myself from it.

Scope of rights is something that short story markets mostly make very clear upfront. Usually, their submission guidelines will say something like, “We’re buying first serial rights with an exclusive period of X”. X can vary from zero (you’re free to use it elsewhere as soon as it’s published) to a year, rarely more, and seems to average about 30-90 days. Anthologies usually have a longer exclusivity period than magazines, since magazines have a faster churn time – once the next issue is out, they’re usually not worried about someone republishing a story that was in the last one. Anthologies are either one-off or annual, and in either case often call for a one-year exclusive.

And once that period is up, your rights revert, and you can try to sell the story to another publication (though not many take reprints, and those that do often pay less for them than they do for first appearances). Or you can put it on Amazon, alone or in a collection, and people can buy it from you there. (You might, if you’re lucky, get into a Best Of anthology of some kind, though some of those primarily pay in exposure.)

And that’s the earning potential issue addressed. Sell your story to the highest-paying market you can (knowing in advance how much you’ll get), potentially resell it to another market afterwards, then stick it in Kindle Direct Publishing and make some more money from it. You’re not stuck earning 25% royalty while the publisher cleans up for the rest of your life. You can rewrite it, turn it into a novel, collect it, whatever you like, because you have your rights back.

Pink Moped
Kanaka Menehune / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I’ve got a collection coming out soon, in fact, from HDWP Books, including several stories I’ve published with them or elsewhere before, as well as some new ones. I joke in the back of the book that this makes me a “hybrid” author, though not like a Prius – more of a moped.

This, along with the good things it’s doing for my practice of the craft of writing, is why I’m working on short stories a lot these days. I’ve placed one in New Realm magazine (royalty-only, and I haven’t hit the threshold for a payout, nor do I seriously expect to – but it’s a publication credit, and the story is mine again now); three in the Theme-Thologies from HDWP Books (again, royalty-only, and I’ve had one small payout so far); and I just the other day got the news that I’ve sold one to the Alternate Hilarities 3: Hysterical Realms funny-fantasy anthology, which is another step up the ladder. There’s an upfront payment (at least 1c/word, and up to 8c/word depending on how their Kickstarter goes) and a share of royalties.

I have five or six more stories on submission and several more that I’m working on. My plan is to work my way up through the semi-prozines and semi-pro anthologies to the big time: Strange Horizons, Sword and Sorceress, Unidentified Funny Objects (to name three that have sent me encouraging emails saying they wished they could buy my stories but they weren’t quite right for this time).

All the street cred of traditional publication, without the lifetime rights grab and the long delays. More like being a contractor than being a low-level employee. This is how publication ought to work.

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Jun 12

Lost Books

As I gear up to publish Beastheads, the next Gryphon Clerks novel, and my short story collection Good Neighbours and Other Stories, I’ve been reflecting on the books I haven’t published.

It’s sometimes pointed out that one of the problems with self-publishing is that there’s nothing to stop people publishing novels that should never have seen the light of day, “practice” books that are useful for learning, but will only put your potential audience off your writing if anyone reads them. In the biz, these are known as “trunk” novels, because back in the pre-digital day they were kept in trunks.

Trunk Novels

I have two. The first I wrote in my mid-teens. It’s SF in the vein of Harry Harrison (only serious) and Heinlein, two authors I was reading a lot at the time.

Earth has interstellar travel, but the only thing they’ve been using it for is to exile criminals to a planet of Alpha Centauri. The criminals have taken over this planet and named it Joli Rouge, after the original name of the pirate flag, because I loved that sort of trivia. They have a cruel, but effective society there, and are gearing up to invade Earth.

Earth is populated largely by pinko wussies (I think that bit was Heinlein), but there’s a secret organisation that protects them without their knowledge, because someone has to. The hero, Jim Grey (named in honour of Slippery Jim diGriz, though he’s a lot closer to James Bond) is sent to Joli Rouge to scout, and discovers the invasion plot. He goes back with a female agent to thwart it, and they’re shot down, if I remember rightly. He goes forth in his armoured battle suit and shoots people and blows things up on a wholesale basis, assisted by his female sidekick. Partway through this, they hook up.

With the plot thwarted, their boss decides to blow this pinko popsicle stand and leave Earth to its fate, taking all the agents in a space ark along with as much Earth culture as they can carry, because that’s the really valuable part of Earth: its past cultural productions, not its people.

I was, as you can tell, a cynical, arrogant and snobbish teenager, which is the main reason this book is staying trunked (quite apart from the pulpiness). A literary agent friend of my aunt’s liked it enough to take on its representation, but never sold it, and that’s probably a good thing. I wouldn’t want it on my permanent record.

My second trunked novel is a Tolkienesque fantasy, involving members of a number of fantasy races in a quest for seven magical swords (made from unicorn horns) which render their wielders invulnerable and unaging. It developed out of a cyberpunk novel, never finished, in which the fantasy plot was a game the characters played, but I decided that the fantasy made a better story and dropped the cyberpunk frame.

Unfinished Novels

I have several unfinished novels, as well. I don’t remember what their working titles were, or even if they had any. The first was my first attempt at fiction, when I was about 12. It involved a youth organisation for teaching survival skills and assisting in search-and-rescue. Several members were sailing a boat from New Zealand to Australia to train the Australians in their techniques, but I never figured out how to write a plot, and abandoned it.

Then there was the cyberpunk frame for the fantasy novel that I already mentioned. The characters were high achievers who had been given brain implants and were figuring out creative things to do with them, such as controlling a second set of (robot) hands.

I re-used one of the characters, a red-headed Welsh jazz musician named Miranda Llewellyn, in my unfinished post-cyberpunk novel Topia. The main character of that one has cerebral palsy, and speaks using a brain implant. He’s grown up in a highly unusual faith community extrapolated from the one that I’m a part of, which emphasises creativity and innovative thinking, and he works as a greyware engineer, helping other people to go beyond their natural limitations through brain-implant technology. Miranda hires him to enable her to play the saxophone and sing at the same time, and they become friends and, later, a couple. I may finish that one someday.

The only unfinished novel I have that you can actually read is right here on the C-Side Media site. The Y People (the title is a nod both to the X-Men and the Tomorrow People) is a YA novel about a group of orphaned teenagers with powers who discover one another when a man calling himself Mr Brown comes after them. Mr Brown doesn’t seem quite human, and they don’t know why he wants them, but they do know they don’t want to go with him. I got twelve thousand-word chapters in before losing momentum, between the press of other priorities and not knowing where the story was going. I do know this: the mysterious adversaries are either aliens, interdimensional beings, time travellers, or Fae, and which ones they are will not be clear to the kids for some time.

Again, I may start the book up again sometime, if the mood takes me.

Ideas Not in Active Development

As well as all the books I have planned in the Gryphon Clerks series (which you can read about on my Books page), I have several SF novels that I may eventually get round to. They are, I think, in the same general setting as Topia and/or Gu, and are relatively near-future, near-space or Earth-based. One is a sequel to Topia, State of Lunacy, and involves the moon declaring its independence. Canned Goods Inspector is about the last honest cop in the inspectorate which, under a successor to the UN, is in charge of making sure that massive human rights abuses are not occurring in the cheap orbital habitats being built from asteroids. It’s a companion novel to Up the Line, about a kind of interdenominational chaplain working at the base of the Space Elevator as refugees from ethnic wars and climate change emigrate to those same habitats.

As the saying goes, ideas are easy, execution is hard. The thing I’m really pleased about in my writing life is that I’ve started to execute consistently. By next month, I should have seven titles out (four Gryphon Clerks novels, City of Masks, Gu and the short story collection), I’m about halfway through writing the stories for Makers of Magic, and depending on what else happens in the second half of the year it’s likely that I’ll finish another novel or two.

That puts all the unfinished stuff in perspective.

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May 30

Makers of Magic: New Project

I’ve been working on this one for a little while now, but I decided it’s time to announce it on my blog.

Makers of Magic will be a single-author themed anthology, thirteen stories in twelve settings (two Gryphon Clerks ones), each with a different kind of magic-user as a character. Mostly, the magic-using character will be the protagonist, but sometimes the antagonist, or maybe even a secondary character.

A single-author anthology unified by theme rather than setting is unusual. I’m sure someone else has done it, but I’m not aware of any. The reason I’m doing it is simple: I like stories about magic-users, and I noticed I’d written several and decided to go for a collection.

I’m submitting these stories out to magazines and anthologies, in the hope of getting as many as possible published before I do the collection. It’s a kind of social proof thing. The downside of that is that I’ll have to wait for the rights to revert, and that sometimes takes a year from the date of publication, so the book is unlikely to be published before late 2015 (more likely early 2016).

Given that I’m planning 13 stories, and my stories average about 3000 words, it’s probably going to have a total wordcount around 40,000, unless I find a story that needs to be longer.

The Wizard
seanmcgrath / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

So far I’ve written four stories which are out on submission, and which cover Necromancer (“Axe Stone: Svart Detective”), Sorcerer (“Family Curse”), Wizard (“Alix and the Dragon”, though I may write another wizard story and substitute it), and Alchemist (“Lock and Key”). I have another one in beta (“Mail-Order Witch”), and a sixth story partially written (no title as yet; it’s about a thaumaturge). The settings include a mashup of a sword-and-sorcery city with Damon Runyon’s noirish 1930s New York; a city that could possibly be Edwardian London; a secondary-world dukedom; a sword-and-sorceryish place with similarities to the Crusader kingdom of Outremer; and more-or-less contemporary Alaska.

The rest of the stories will cover Mage, Shaman, Adept, Illusionist, Warlock, Theurgist and Enchantress, unless I have better ideas, which is always likely.

The tone of the stories I’ve written so far generally includes some humour, though that’s not always the case (the sorcerer story is pretty serious, and more like an old-style Weird Tale of the 1930s). That’s not to say that they don’t also include drama involving love and/or death.

I’ll be sure to post about any of the stories that get accepted for publication elsewhere, so you can pick them up if you want to get in early, and it’s likely that one or more of them will end up as bonus content for members of my mailing list.

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May 23

Is Speculative Fiction?

I’m going to do a foolish thing here. I’m going to set up a distinction.

Nothing is more likely to lead to arguments than definitions, but here we go.

Speculative fiction. It’s a term that’s used to cover SF, fantasy and (supernatural) horror, and the bits and pieces that fall in between and across those genres. Bizarro, weird, surrealist, magical realist, slipstream – you could toss them all into a broad definition of spec-fic, though it’s more often used for SFF: science fiction and fantasy (“oh, and horror, I suppose” as an afterthought).

Let’s look at the first word, though. “Speculative”. Spec-fic is based around the idea of “what-if”. In science fiction it’s usually “what if this technology existed?”, and in fantasy “what if magic existed?”, though there are vast numbers of exceptions to those generalisations.

I’d like to argue, though, that after a particular trope becomes familiar enough, it’s not “speculative” in the strongest sense any more. It’s just a counterfactual setting. Everyone understands space opera, now. You have spaceships, probably warp or wormhole drives, quite possibly blasters and stunners, usually some kind of artificial gravity/antigravity, there’s interstellar trade, there are space colonies, there may or may not be aliens of fairly predictable types (comedic, antagonistic, just plain weird). A space opera that only uses these tropes, that doesn’t introduce anything new to them, can be an excellent and very enjoyable story, but it doesn’t really speculate all that much. It’s using a set of trope technologies established in the mid-20th century (notably, the computer technology isn’t usually very advanced, sometimes not even as advanced as our actual present-day tech in a story written today), and has not very much to do with the current state of science. Writing a space opera of this kind is like writing a planetary romance: it’s a literary genre that’s become established with a certain set of assumptions and understandings about how things work, and we continue to enjoy it even though we know now that things don’t really work that way.

Everyone, likewise, understands paranormal romance. There are supernatural creatures, most commonly vampires, werewolves, and/or Fae (in roughly that order of popularity). There may or may not be witches/wizards. These elements are, in many ways, background. They’re furniture. They’re not what the story is, in any strong sense, exploring, any more than a cosy murder mystery explores crime or a spy thriller explores international espionage.

In the short story field, in particular, referencing a trope can be a useful shortcut in a limited space, which enables you to get to the story itself without a lot of tedious explanation. I’ve become more aware of this as I write short stories. It’s one of the tricky things about short stories in my Gryphon Clerks setting, especially, which is very different from the usual tropes in ways that I don’t always want to dwell on, but which need to be conveyed somehow if the story is to make sense.

As well as these heavily troped settings, there’s also a rising phenomenon – you can see it in the award nominations and the Best Of anthologies – of “literary” stories that have small, sometimes vanishingly small, spec-fic or counterfactual elements. For example, the Hugo-nominated short story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” while a good story, is not speculative fiction by any rigorous definition. It contains speculation, but the speculation is counterfactual within the world of the story.

Scaring !
blavandmaster / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Now, I’m aware that I’m not going to bring about a revolution in which we all agree to save the term “speculative fiction” for fiction that actually, you know, speculates, and does so in fresh ways, and in which that speculation is at the heart of the story and couldn’t be removed without killing the patient. For better or worse, and quite probably it’s for better, “speculative fiction” has a broad definition rather than a narrow one. It includes the troped settings in which no new speculation is taking place, and the literary stories with a minor counterfactual that may not even make a difference to how the story goes.

What I would like to do is start at least a small amount of discussion about whether we could do with a few more terms. Maybe a spectrum of “tropedness” for subgenres like space opera and PNR, so we can talk about whether the story has just taken all its furniture ready-made from the archetypal space opera and pushed on with the action, or whether it’s a story about what it might actually be like to be in space. Whether it’s a vampire romance according to the usual template (so far as worldbuilding goes), or whether it’s playing with, subverting, even adding to the tropes.

I’m starting to sound evaluative, so I want to make clear again: A heavily troped space opera can be highly enjoyable to read. Not having much original worldbuilding in your book can leave more room for character and plot, and if that’s what you do with it, more power to your arm. If I’m reviewing, I probably will mention that it’s on the familiar end of the familiar-to-fresh spectrum, and that I personally would like more freshness, but many other people will love it exactly because of the familiarity, and it is meet and right so to do.

Likewise, maybe a spectrum of “light” to “heavy” would be a useful way to talk about whether stories have speculative elements at their core or are using them more as decoration.

And finally, I personally would like more freshness and heaviness from time to time in my spec-fic. I hear good things about Anne Leckie’s book Ancillary Justice in this connection, and I will probably read it at some point soon, even though it sounds darker than I usually like. There are still people writing spec-fic with a high level of speculation. The trick is finding them when there’s not a clear vocabulary to describe such a thing.

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Apr 16

Technique: Parallel Stories, Slow Reveal

I review books from Netgalley, and I recently got two significant short story collections: Writers of the Future Volume 30 and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eight. So far, I’ve only read the first one, but it’s taught me something.

Of course, that’s exactly why I read it; I wanted to see what is considered really good spec-fic short story writing these days, rather than just reading classic short stories. I’ve been writing a few short stories lately, mostly for the collection I’m doing with HDWP Press, and based on the feedback I’ve had I seem to be getting better. I’m yet to sell a story to a major magazine, but I’ve had a very encouraging personalised rejection from Strange Horizons and some good comments from critique groups.

Part of the point of writing short stories is to improve my craft by working at the short length, and then take those lessons into my novels. Here’s the lesson I learned from several of the stories in Writers of the Future, which I call “parallel stories, slow reveal”.

The clearest and best use of the technique is in Shauna O’Meara‘s story “Beneath the Surface of Two Kills”. At the opening of this story, we learn that the narrator, a professional hunter, is hunting a rare animal for the last meal of a convicted felon on death row. As the story progresses, we discover more about the “two kills”: the one which the hunter is working towards, and the one which we know occurred in the past to place the killer in prison awaiting execution. The hunter thinks about the news coverage he has read of the killer’s stalking of his victim as he, in turn, stalks the rare beast.

This works for a few reasons. Firstly, the parallel stories obviously reflect on each other (and the conclusion differentiates the two characters). Secondly, as also happens with several other stories in the same collection, we start out knowing the ending of a story that occurred earlier, and gradually learn how that outcome occurred.

Now, given how some people react to “spoilers”, you’d think that would be a problem, but done well it actually keeps the reader’s interest. We know the outcome, but we don’t know how it came to be, and we want to.

Here are some ways I can think of to use the slow reveal:

  • Hint at something surprising about the character early on that doesn’t match up with what you’ve revealed about them so far.
  • Let the reader see a terrible (or wonderful) outcome looming, of which the characters remain ignorant until it happens.
  • As the story opens, let the reader know that the character feels a strong emotion (fear, anger, sadness) about something that happened, but don’t tell them why (or what) until later.
  • Show a character learning something that another character has already learned, and tell their stories in parallel.
  • This is a classic: Start the character out in a fix. Gradually show how they got into it as they struggle to get out of it.

Like any technique, this can be done badly and fail. Used well, though, it holds the reader’s attention and keeps them reading. Watch out for it in my future stories.

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Apr 10

Review Books, Win Books

So, review deal, involving free books for you.

I want to increase the number of reviews I have for several of my books, mainly so that I can use promotion sites that require a minimum number of Amazon reviews.

If you post a review of any of the following books on Amazon, let me know, including the link to your review, and I will send you another of my books, of your choice:

Now, most of those promotion sites also require a minimum of 4-star reviews, or an average above 4 stars.

I want to be clear here. I am not saying that I will only give you the free book if your review is 4 or 5 stars, because that would be undue influence.

However, if you’ve given one of my books a review with less than four stars, you will need to explain to me why you would want to read another book of mine, given that you didn’t enjoy the previous one that much. “So that I can assassinate your book” is not going to be a reason that convinces me to facilitate that process.

Your free book doesn’t have to be one of the three above. It can be Gu or Realmgolds if that’s the book you want. You can see all my books, including blurbs, on this page.

Contact me in the comments or via the gmails (mikermnz) if you want to participate. Thanks!

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