Bellevue Writers Lunch

That’s what I call it, anyway.

We started out there a couple years ago, meeting at a place on the east side of Lake Washington for a Saturday afternoon to talk business with some other writers we knew. It’s not a reader/critique group, because those have a tendency to devolve into mendacity and outright hostility, more often than not.

No, this is us getting together to talk about the business of being an indie writer. (TradPubs are also welcome, and many of the group have been NY published at some point in their career, but this is about the future.) Many of the group (myself included now, but not until recently) are OWN/Coast writers (people who have taken workshops down in Lincoln City, Oregon from Kris and Dean) and we share what we’re doing, what’s working, what’s not working, etc.

Cover theory gets discussed (they evolve slowly but continuously, so you have to refresh your covers every 3-6 years, depending on your genre) on occasion. What we’ve learned about writing copy. What books we’re planning or working on and how to genre them (you’d be amazed how hard it is for some writers to categorize themselves.)

Business.

Originally, just genre fiction writers, because that’s what we are, most of us, but I know people. And come across people. Through one of my step-daughters, I also know lots of musicians. And through one of them, I met a neat photographer-lady  and managed to convince her to join us last month, and then again yesterday (without running screaming from the restaurant either time, even).

What I have realized is that we are all artists. Writers tend to be more introverted than musicians, but for them, that’s mostly the act of having to always be ON if you want to be a rock star. Or whatever. Writers are more like mushrooms.

But she came, and was telling us some of her stories from the early 90’s, when she was deeply involved in the Seattle music scene (as in, she might have known Chris personally in passing, like so many of them did). His death hit her hard, but she also realized that she has this tremendously interesting insight into the history of the early Grunge Years, because she actually worked at Sub-pop records during some of it.

And she has amazing voice to her storytelling.

Let me put it to you this way, she had a spellbinding, utterly mesmerizing story about filing. As in putting crap into files from the piles of junk everywhere. And had us on the edge of our seats.

And she has gotten the itch to tell some of these stories. (We’ll edit out all the names later, but I’m hoping she does a full-on historical version first, and then we’ll file off the serial numbers for folks wanting to be just entertained by someone who was there.)

So, yay, awesome sauce.

On top of that, I was talking to one of the lawyers at work (I work in a law firm-ish) about hobbies, and she said she wanted to create cookbooks. Not write them, but actually make them in the formatting sense. So I hooked her up with Fabulous Publisher Babe’s(tm) book on publishing and she read it over the weekend. Loved it, apparently. I’m sure I’ll hear more details tomorrow at work, but I invited her to join us at the next Writers Lunch. I’m pretty sure she’ll try to make it, because it apparently opened up a new work of ideas for her, and my sweetie might be able to help her realize them.

And that was pretty much the whole reason we do these lunches. To work with other artists, other creatives, to help them find an outlet, and to make money from it. To learn from them what tricks work to make money. Each little thing might only be worth nickels, but them nickels add up, and them nickels spend. If you have enough of them coming in (little trickles turn into streams of revenue if you work it) then you don’t have to have the ugly day job. Or perhaps any day job at all.

And I got to thinking about it today and realized that, while we average about six people at the average lunch, last month we had thirteen. And probably about twenty on the general invite list but that’s only because some folks we’ve talked to aren’t that into it, or don’t see the benefit, or whatever.

But I wanted to put this word out. Folks in the sound of my voice, or close enough. We do this one Saturday each month. 1pm-3pm. Food. Chat. Business. Contact. Ideas.

If you are in the Seattle-ish area, we meet right now up in Lynnwood (north end, not far from Alderwood Mall). If you are interested in joining us, ping me or Fabulous Publisher Babe for details. Next one is June 17. The weekend after CampCon.

We’d love to see you. And see how we can help you achieve your dreams.

shade and sweet water,

bd

West of the Mountains, WA

 

Science Officer stuff

So, if you have been paying attention, you know that Science Officer volume 4 (The Pleasure Dome) in the series is coming out this Wednesday (5/10). You have pre-ordered your copy, right?

I’m speaking now to your friends, so you should forward this post to them. They’ll thank you, trust me.

Just ’cause, Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) has decided to reduce the ebook price of The Science Officer to $0.99. So now all your friends can rush right out now and get their own copy, just in time to get addicted to everyone’s favorite goofball AI, Suvi, and then stay up all night reading her adventures, and the organics she has to put up with.

Why is this important? Because I’ll be doing a cover reveal on volume FIVE soon (The Doomsday Vault). It is scheduled to come out on August 10th. (Jessica Keller #5,  Flight of the Blackbird) comes out first, on June 10th. Special Agent Kiesler’s first two dieselpunk adventures come out July 10th.

Furthermore, volume SIX (The Last Flagship) is done and ready to go to the copy editor shortly, to fix all the stupid things where I can’t type or use punctuation correctly. (Seriously, she catches all sorts of shit for me.) The penciled-in schedule right now is October 10th.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Science Officer volumes are as follows:

At that point, I will have finished Season One. I am deep into world-building for Season Two, which will be a radically different sort of place, and hopefully even more fun than Season One has turned out to be. Along the way, I have already written some short stuff that goes between volumes 8 and 9, to kind of frame where we go after the War of the Pirate Clans. (Oh, did I forget to mention the arc of story from 4-8? Whoops.)

My plan is that each Season will be roughly 8 volumes long. With some other things thrown in. I love Javier and Suvi, but I want to go explore other galaxies and other parts of the galaxy. And SIXTEEN PLUS volumes ought to be enough to tell the story. I will let your complaining let me know when I should be finished. If you stop buying them early, or start issuing death threats demanding Season Three, that will be on you.

But the big news today is that there is MORE SCIENCE OFFICER coming, and you owe it to all your friends to introduce them to Javier, Suvi, Djamila, Zakhar, and the beginnings of the Alexandria Station universe. (If you were really motivated, you should by paper copies and donate them to your closest library or little library so random strangers can award you bonus karma points.)


And, as always, please send me a note if you want to be tuckerized sometime. As most of you know, I have a LOT of characters in my space opera. Usually, I randomly generate them on the fly, but I have taken to reaching out to folks I know and asking if I can use them. Recently, I turned someone into a Professor of Political History at the Bryce Academy, because I needed one and he didn’t mind. (Even seemed pleased with it, I think.) You turn can be next.

shade and sweet water,

blaze

West of the Mountains

Hiding Behind The Cowl is now out

so on top of all the other craziness going on in my life, I have a new superhero anthology that came out today. (Can you tell my precognition skills are kinda lacking here?)

Hiding Behind The Cowl was born out of several desires. One was to delve into superheroic fantasy as a serious medium for storytelling, when some folks can’t get their heads past the comic book aspect of it. Their loss.

Another was to reach out to several authors I know and work with them as an editor. In the end four took me up on the offer and we had a ball.

I learned a lot about the craft of editing, which was the entire goal for me.  They got to go someplace outside their normal comfort zone and play in a brand new sandbox.

The final product contains stories by (in order): Annie Reed, Leah Cutter, Blaze Ward, JD Brink, and Michael Kingswood. We have teenage coming of age, manga as genre fiction, and an origin story, plus two others:

Kingswood’s story was what happens when an author looks at me and says “you would never publish a story about a racist superhero who was basically Klanman.”

Oh, really? Why not?

Try me…

Is it a well-crafted story? Is it well told? Do the characters have arcs of development? Do they learn from their mistakes? Are there heroes and villains? Is it entertaining?

So, yeah, you have a outright racist who was gifted with superpowers. And he’s using them to protect the white race from extinction.

A lot of editors would have bounced the story right there. Which is exactly wrong, but I  won’t fault them their choice. Not everyone would be comfortable with the heat that something like this might generate.

He’s not a scenery-chewing villain racist from the movies. He’s a man doing what he thinks is right, based on how he was raised. He hurts people he thinks deserve it, based on the pain he is going through in his own life.

And it can be a brutally hard read. I put it last in the anthology because some people will not ever be able to get past that story, and I didn’t want the authors behind him in the table of contents to be ignored and never encountered.

I also put it last because it is a powerful story, and putting it last gives Michael The Last Word. Literally. It will make readers uncomfortable, because it holds up a stark mirror for them to look at and wonder how close to those characters they are. How much of that darkness do they have underneath their cheerful facade?

Some of you will hate the story. That’s your choice as readers.

Some of you will hate me for publishing it. Fuck you. These stories need to be told, because we need to discuss the sorts of casual racism that is still out there. We need to confront the fact that we do not live in a utopian future.

And, more than a year after I started this project, we need to look at the people around us who do not believe the same ways we do. I have been accused of being SJW by someone who considered that an insult, rather than a badge of honor.

Social Justice means fighting for those without. Protecting the weak. Comforting the afflicted. Afflicting the comfortable.

Making the world a better place.

So you need to look at those places, and “those people” and see how to talk to them. Reach out to them. Many are lashing out in pain, not anger. It is a different kind of pain, but they hurt.

Our job is to help.

On the flip side, my story in the collection is about a 32-year-old US Army veteran in 1952. He fought in Europe. Silver Star. Purple Heart. Developed powers in 1947. Wanted to become a hero.

One catch. He’s 5’6 and weighs 130 pounds.

Working with a scientist hero who knows his secret, he became the “teenage sidekick” to another hero. Every major hero in those days had a teenage sidekick. Robin. Speedy. Bucky. You get the picture.

Oh, and this particular gentleman is Japanese-American.

Nisei.

442nd RCT. One-Puka-Puka. 34th Engineering Battalion. Varsity Victory Volunteers.

But he can’t even be a citizen of the country he was born in. There are places where he can’t own property, let alone vote.

People forget that the institutional racism that afflicts Blacks and Hispanics these days used to include Asians of all geographies (E, SE, S). For the Japanese-Americans, it eventually got better. But it took generations. Vietnamese refugees have been here for forty years now, and are beginning to be accepted as just another place that brought interesting cuisine to the party.

So in this anthology we get to explore more than just middle-class white American stories of becoming superheroes. We explore race, culture, and even sexuality to a certain degree. (Always PG-13, with shadows in the background, as it were.)

All things guaranteed to upset some delicate readers who don’t want to think. Just want to be entertained. More power to you.

The point of writing is to tell stories. The point of good writing is to tell stories that make people stop and reconsider their world.

I want you to think.

I want you to ask yourself what you would turn into if the genie offered you three wishes. I bet your place, your response, is far darker than mine is. Why is that?

And then the damned thing exploded

Background: back in November, this country looked around and decided that a carnival barker with a penchant for nude teenage girls, sexual assault, corporate bankruptcy, and a distinct aversion to the truth, was just what this country needed. I held my nose to vote for the other option, having hated that woman for most of three decades (because I found her to be a power-hungry sociopath, and still better than the clueless narcissist.)

So then he took power, and actively began working to undo twenty decades of civilized behavior by emulating the most egregious aspects of such lovely places as the mid-twentieth century Juntas of Central and South America, or the Big Man politics of post-colonial Africa.

If he was more competent, it would be one thing. When he was elected, my fear was that we had empowered Sulla. Later, I revised that down to Caesar. Finally, it appears that the Mendoza Line for the orange shitgibbon will be Caligula.

I’m not sure he’ll stay above it.

(Sulla didn’t destroy the Roman Republic. It was already dying. Caesar just put it down for good. Caligula broke the Empire.)

But it also emboldened my friends Bob and Phyl. Bob’s even more of an old hippy than I am, and decided that joining the ACLU in that big spike wasn’t enough. (I’m now an evergreen member, because they NEVER waver, regardless of which jackass they are defending.)

People were inspired by the words of the President’s bottle-blond-spokes-bimbo who didn’t like to describe his words as flat-out lies, and instead described them as Alternative Truths.

And so Bob and Phyl decided to put together the Alternative Truths Anthology to celebrate the mendacious, lying weasels who are just out to loot the treasury and oppress anyone who isn’t a white, cis, loudly-Christian (anyone here ever read the Book of Matthew?), male, billionaire.

There appear to be a lot of very angry people out there, and not just me.

The deadline for stories was weeks, rather than the usual months.

And I get this email from Bob asking me where his story is.

Uhm, what?

Shit, did I owe Bob a story for something and I’ve totally forgotten?

Nope. Bob just wanted my take on things.

So I listened to writer-brain.

I was inspired by the Alt-National Park Service folks, who went quietly rogue, and imagined that dystopian world where the agencies dealing with the Interior and Science all decided to fight back. To lead a physical rebellion, and not just an emotional one.

I started writing a story about a pair of Park Service Rangers in the post-second-civil-war era, when the United States had fragmented into nations, rather than regions. To envision what civilized folk would have to do when facing a world where the right wing considered 1984 and the Handmaid’s Tale to be good starting points.

It was inspiring. It was liberating. It was really kinda fun.

Couldn’t stop at just that first story because so many ideas kept popping up and demanding that they go on the story-list. Story number 1 went into Alternative Truths. All of them will come out in November as a cowboy novel. In the old days, cowboy novels were 20,000-40,000 words, so about the same length as The Science Officer, for comparison, or what we would classify as a novella these days.

Here are the titles I have for book one:

  • The Last Ranger
  • The Maiden
  • Forty-Niner
  • Posse
  • Refuge

But let’s talk about the Alternative Truths Anthology. It came out on Thursday, ahead of the original goal of Day 100 goal for publication. Bob and Phyl assembled a stellar cast of writers, some twenty-four in all, I think. And they accepted The Last Ranger to be among those.

I’m not sure if it qualifies as hopeless dystopian or hopeful, since it is about the side of civilization that is actively fighting the entropy embodied by a man who thinks sexually assaulting teenage girls is an exciting hobby. Or who never met a lie he wouldn’t tell. Or who thinks that welching out on contracts and settling later for pennies on the dollar is the best way to conduct business. Or actively recruiting racists who are planning the next Holocaust into his administration and putting them in charge of things.

He has permanently damaged this nation. Already.

Unless his kind are crushed like cockroaches, you will be able to tell your grandchildren you were there for the Fall of the American Republic, and its descent into madness, anarchy, and/or an aristocratic hellhole.

Think either Mad Max movie, without the sand.

Can you tell I’m still angry?

The group writers represented in the anthology are also angry. And we didn’t do it for the money, because Bob was never offering professional rates. Instead of six cents per word, it was two cents, plus a royalty share (which rarely make any money). And the royalty share was only ever going to last three years, after which whatever money came in was going directly to the ACLU in their eternal fight for manners against the denizens of the pit (who are today usually represented by the Republican Party, but that’s not eternal, and I expect the wyrm to turn one of these days).

But then something incredible happened.

The damned thing landed on Thursday, and promptly EXPLODED.

Thank you.

We spent a good chunk of time in the top 500 titles for sale on all of Amazon. That’s in the top 500 of something like five or eight million books people could spend their money on. I’m pretty sure Bob and Phyl earned out the advances they paid. And that was Day One. I’m not sure how long it will sustain, but we’ve made our point.

There are a lot of angry people out there.

But that’s the spike.

I need you to do two things now. Not just for me, but for everyone.

One: go get your own copy, or buy one for a friend who needs someplace to channel their discomfort or anger. Or both. The ACLU is getting a writer share from day one. And in three years, they will start getting it all.

Two: After you read it, write a review. What touched you? What sparked your imagination? Or your rage? Or your funny bone? Last I looked, we had already gotten over ten reviews, all amazingly good. Either 30 or 50 is the next threshold, and you can help get us there.

The more reviews we get, the wider the bots spread us out among the “you might also like this one…” for people. And the longer we sustain the Bestseller list, the more we will catch the eye of people who only read the charts for ideas, and the news organizations that cover the news.

I can’t imagine at this point that Bob won’t carry through with his original threat to make this a series of anthologies. He has bottled lightning here, which is a very rare things indeed.

We must push.

There are a lot of angry people out there. You seem them marching for the first time in their lives. As well as asking how they can run for office to try to make the world a better place.

But there are also people who went into a spiral of depression. They need to know that there are people out there fighting for them.

Have you told them how much they mean to you? Nothing more than that. Depression is a terrible cloak that descends and wraps you up. You can’t get out of it, but must accept it and understand it, so that you can find the holes and wriggle free.

Been there. Done that. Got the scars.

Friendly words help.

This anthology is all about rage, at least for me.

But it is also about the love we have for each other. For the hurt, the sick, the lost. For those who need to be protected from the assholes and sociopaths of this world. Even if they work for the President.

They have been given a place at the table, when they should be whipped like curs and driven from the building.

This is your wake-up call.

The Resistance has begun…

More Javier

This seemed like a good time to blog about some of my upcoming stuff. The next six weeks are going to be slightly insane with things, as several projects all decided to come together at the same time. (Alternative Truths Anthology: The Last Ranger; Hiding Behind The Cowl superhero anthology I edited, some marketing with Ryan Zee for The Science Officer, the release of the fifth Auberon book: Flight of the Blackbird, etc.)

Most fun is the fourth Javier: The Pleasure Dome, which comes out May 10, 2017 (in case you end up reading this post in the way distant future and are a little lost chronologically.) After number three, The Gilded Cage, went a little dark, I was looking forward to something a little more light and cheery. Or at least as bright as Javier, Djamila, and Zakhar ever get. It succeeded, and at the same time ended up being a fairly deep and philosophical piece.

One of the things I love about these characters is how complex they are. I have known big-name authors who leave the background characters as little more than cardboard cutouts, while at the same time keeping the main characters as unchanging as humanly possible over tremendous arcs of story-telling.

I don’t know about you, but I like to change who I am on a fairly regular basis. The key to my happiness is jettisoning those things that do not delight me, and opening up space for new things to experience. I want my characters to be the same way. We all change as we grow up. We should demand that our characters do as well.

Think about it. Major things have happened to you. Earth-shattering, cataclysmic things. Births. Deaths. Loves. Hatreds. Wouldn’t you expect someone to react to the change? (Except movie James Bond. He never, ever, changes. And most comic-book superheroes use to be that way as well, but our storytellers are getting more sophisticated these days.)

So I finished the fourth Science Officer. And moved on to the fifth: The Doomsday Vault. It is due back from the copy editor shortly, and will be coming out in July, I think. Last week, I finished the sixth: The Last Flagship. Target: Fall 2017. Pretty soon, I’ll start Seven and Eight, which will be a double-episode season-ender. Think television and the cliff-hanger resolved at the beginning of next season.  I’m nice, and not making you wait, so I’ll drop them either a month apart, or maybe on the same day. (Your votes count, do comment with an opinion, if you have made it this far and are still awake.)

The first eight episodes will also be getting the omnibus treatment, according to Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm). 1-4 and 5-8 will come out as both combined ebooks and novel-sized print books. (And no, I don’t know when yet. The publishing schedule is written in pencil. Always.)

For fun, I have started planning out Season Two. I wrote a short story introduction (first 500 words) as part of a homework assignment, and decided that I liked it so much I kept going and ended up with a story I call 8.5. It will be kinda an interstitial between the end of Season One and the beginning of Season Two, and was meant as a standalone, but then writer-brain helpfully explained that it was the first of a handful of little stories we could write and stick in to explain some of the “off-season” changes that happen.

Yeah, it will make sense when I publish #9, at some point. It barely makes sense in my head, okay? I want to introduce new characters, but I don’t want to spend whole stories doing it, since these novellas are always 24,000-30,000 words long. Not a lot of space to mess around. Better to write side stories, like I did with Siren, and the one coming up after Red Admiral (you’ve been warned, so no complaining from the back).

My goal is to get out all the first season of the Science Officer stories so I can take a break and write some other things. Got a lot more superheroic fantasy to write. Want to write some more Fairchild. Got four more Jessica stories to complete to bring her to fruition.

The joy of Season Two is that I created this huge (YUGE!!) gap in my future history. Javier will be born 7510 CE. (Yes, seven thousand and ten, while I write this in two thousand seventeen.) SPACE. Places to work.

In The Mind Field, I talked a little about the founding of the Union of Man, some five hundred years in the past. 6965 CE, for instance. Rama Treadwell will be born in 6848 CE.

Way down the line.

In between, there are four major Eras of starflight I haven’t even begun to explore:

  • Mass colonization (the terraforming)
  • The Resource Wars
  • The Corporate Wars
  • The Pocket Empires Period

Fabulous Publisher Babe(tm) is looking forward to what I have as “The Gas-Sailors Era” in my notes, long before starflight.

Season Two will add some archaeology to the mix, as Javier and the crew move beyond piracy and start exploring and trading. And no, the Prime Directive does NOT hold sway. Just the Bryce Connection.

I’ll write more when I get there, but I’m inspired and pulling the curtain back a wee bit. For those of you old enough, Buck Rogers (starring Gil Gerard) was all action season one, but moved to more exploration and science and less pulp for season two. I don’t think it worked, but that’e because they ruined Col. Deering by making her a bimbo, and Gil Gerard might be able to act his way out of a wet paper bag with a knife. Maybe.

But it offers me an option that is not Star Wars (grand, epic, save the galaxy from evil) nor Star Trek (a bright, clean future where a military organization is exploring and being nice to people). Serenity/Firefly is part of the palette, but they were limited by the political elements, and the fact that Joss never had time to develop a really deep and complicated world. I would have expected Aliens/First Contact sometime in season two or three, if the show had gone long enough. That would have moved us part Reconstruction, et al.

Battlestar Galactica (the first single season, I never bothered with the remake) was too much running away, find something interesting, talk a little bit, and then flee as more cylons show up for the final space dogfight.

And I grew up reading other things. Doc Smith. Robert E Howard. David Drake. Isaac Asimov. C.S. Friedman.

It all goes into the gumbo. And will come out, but they will come out as side projects in between things, rather than me spending the better part of a year dropping Science Officer stories. Of course, if they start selling like mad, I’ll keep feeding that beast. I have a ways to go to catch up with Perry Rhodan, but that’s not the same as me not trying. Tell all your friends, and I promise you I’ll try to crack three digits. You’re gonna have to sell a bunch of them before I got for four. Just telling 100 Science Officer stories would be 2.4 million words, ballpark.  I’d get bored. You’d get bored. Shit would get really, really weird before it got better.

But money talks. Let us not forget that part. And I like Javier, Djamila, and Zakhar. And I love Suvi.

Hopefully you will as well.  And Matt W is on-board to do audio books as well, so more of those are coming too.

shade and sweet water

blaze

West of the Mountains, WA

The Metric System

I’ll blame Thomas Jefferson.

At one point, this nation’s foremost Francophile politician found the Metric system too French to be thought of as a universal standard, even though many of his contemporaries would have happily moved to that system of weights and measures. Instead, we stayed with the Imperial system, which is a functionally irrational way to do things.

This is on my mind because I have always expected that the Unites States would eventually succumb and stop doing things in pounds, cups, and feet. When I write science fiction in the distant future, I have to use some measuring system for things. As an American from the boring parts of the Midwest, I would be expected to use that system, but there are only a handful of countries still doing it the old way.

Indeed, my expectation has always been that the metric system would become the standard. Certainly, it is more coherent. But making conversions in my head is not always fun. (Thank God for the internet and people way more nerdy than me.)

David Drake always talks about measuring systems in the future with an eye towards history. What we use today bears little resemblance to what the Greeks or Romans used (and he reads Latin for fun). But the modern reader (e.g. Early Twenty-First Century CE and the next few centuries) will need a system they are familiar with.

Ergo, metric. Americans and Brits can figure it out. Everyone else is already there.

This is all on my mind because of Brexit. Used to be, one could expect that Great Britain would slowly lose the battle for cultural weirdness and migrate over a couple more generations into using the same system as the rest of Europe. (Certainly, the idiots in Brussels required that bananas be sold by kilogram weight, and not as individual, pre-packaged units.)

Brexit means that the UK will go their own way. Defiantly, as well, when you get right down to it. Two fingers in the air in a general south-east direction, if you will.

I expect one of the first things they will do is stomp back to the Imperial system for everything. They may even pass a law that metric measurements be removed from packages good in the grocery. (It is a deeply held thing with them.)

But it also colors my view of the distant future.

I am a student of international political economics. (Did my advanced work at Claremont Graduate School in exactly that topic.) And a nerd for currency arbitrage. Plus, my first published paper of a political nature was an analysis of changes in standards of living using US Census data for Kansas over several decades. (Back in the days when you had to program a computer to handle least squares linear regressions and load the data from a flat file. Think days to get results for analysis.)

So I watch the world grow and change.

In my youth, the Soviet Union was an up and coming power. (I was in Petrograd the day Yeltsin was first elected President in 1991, and expected the country to collapse that summer, which it did. Black market currency rates don’t lie.)

Europe was slowly coming together, but the Great Experiment hadn’t gelled yet and it was going to be a small collection of Western European states. (This was before they decided to bring everyone in before they were ready.)

China under Deng had started down the long path to power, but was only starting out.

I look around today (2017), and Russia is failing hard and fast. They are facing a population crash almost as hard as Japan among working ages. Russians are drinking themselves to death, while Japanese tend to not have many kids. Both nations are a century from becoming theme parks ready for some new thing.

China got old before it got rich, and is facing a huge demographic problem where there are too many young, single men who will never find wives, because there are so many more men. Plus, the government is riding a tiger. It has to keep delivering growth, or a number of angry people will start listening to demagogues.

India is an interesting case study. A gigantic democracy, slowly industrializing, slowly becoming a place called India. They aren’t really. Each of the three dozen states is largely organized around a distinct language, where English tends to be the one that everyone speaks as a second or third language. India reminds me of where the United States was in the early eighteenth century: each colony its own country slowly joining with the others in a prickly relationship to become a greater thing.

Their problems (in my jaded opinion) are that the best and the brightest frequently migrate permanently to the United States after they get educated. Yay for me, living in a place where so many smart people want to invent the future, but India has a brain drain going on. Those are the people that would transform the nation away from being caste-conscious and into a place where Dalits aren’t Dalits anymore.

And the growth the Indians do have, while impressive to westerners, is focused on a small fraction of the total population, while the vast underclasses are ignored and getting further and further behind.

Why does all this matter?

We’re going to space soon.

In science fiction, we’re going to the stars. Either Earth will be a mono-culture, or several Terran cultures will individually colonize the galaxy.

Who will those cultures be?

It is a lovely thought experiment I like to play. How would the future turn out if the men and women who set the template for the galaxy were Jordanian? Moroccan? Mexican?

The world of Alexandria Station assumes seven major trade languages, plus all the hundreds of smaller dialects largely limited to a single planet or cultural group: English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Mandarin, Kiswahili, and Bulgarian (don’t ask).

Languages as they exist today will largely standardize, and remain in place, only slowly evolving, because people can record their voice. That means that people will learn a new language from a “standard” template, rather than picking it up in their travels, absorbing words, and adding accents that eventually turn into a different spoken language. (See Mandarin, Cantonese, Fukinese, etc. that all use the same written words, but they speak their own dialect/language incomprehensible to others.)

So then I get back to the metric system.

The United States and United Kingdom use standard. Everyone else uses metric.

What will the future use?

Javier Aritza is currently operating in the year 7550CE. I’m close to done with Volume Six: The Last Flagship. You are about to be able to read Volume Four: The Pleasure Dome in a couple of weeks. (Volume Five: The Doomsday Vault comes out this summer.)

The metric system itself was a radical outgrowth of the French Revolution (and the Rise of Science from the ages of barbarity preceding).

I presume some radical social/political revolution someday will introduce some new system for doing things, but why, exactly, would you move away from a decimalized system? And if you don’t de-decimalize, why bother introducing a different decimalized system from the one you have?

But what if they future (and the galaxy) belongs entirely to a derivative/child culture of the US/UK alignment and everything is in stones, quid, and tablespoons? What does that do to all the science fiction out there?

I can’t be wrong, because I’m writing science fiction on a scale so grand that nobody will probably ever get there. (And if you do, please toast my memory and my ghost at this point at having gotten something even remotely close to accurate.)

You, the reader, needs to be able to understand distances, temperatures, and weights. I have chosen metrics. And, now that I think about it, I’m going to have to write an entire new epic space opera series (already planned, it comes after Jessica) where EVERYTHING is as convolutedly-English as I can make it. And they can get really weird: rods, hogsheads, and such.

I’m going to blame all of you, for not stopping me.

 

shade and sweet water,

blaze

West of the Mountains, WA

 

Hiding Behind the Cowl

So a while back, I mentioned that I was going to edit a superhero anthology, with lotsa details TBD at that point. Mostly because life happens, and stuff, and until you get to the final product and the delivery date, everything can go sideways in a heartbeat.

Good news. Hiding Behind the Cowl is now available for ebook pre-order on all the usual suspects. There will also be a print edition that goes up for sale around the same time (there is no pre-order function for paper, so timing is more interesting.)

I wanted to do this because the best way to find fans is to borrow them from other writers. Put my story in front of people buying it to read your story, and hopefully they will add me to their list. It is a tried and true method for discoverability.

In this case, editing was an adventure, all by itself. The original spec called for stories between 10,000 and 20,000 words. This is longer than traditional short stories, because I wanted to do superheroic fantasy, and that requires backstory to establish the world, the hero, the villain, and their origin. And THEN, go on an tell a story. The short one ended up around 13k. Annie Reed’s story (Faster, first in the antho) ended up at 37k.

I got this frantic email because she was on a roll and already at 26k, with no end in sight and was afraid she was going to have to chop it hard and maybe break the story to get it back down to length. The joy of this kind of anthology (royalty-share rather than paid by the word) is that you can go way long and just tell the story. Hers came in just under novel length, and I expect her to add enough detail later to a second edition of the same story to push it up over 40k.

The other grand adventure was Michael Kingswood’s story (A Switch In Time, last in the antho). He was joking with me when he said that he didn’t really have any ideas, because the one he wanted to explore was something no editor would touch. And with good reason. His idea was a Klan true-believer who becomes a hero to fight for the down-trodden, as he sees them. Think batman in a white hood and you can see why many editors would say no and walk away.

I was concerned when he sent me his submission. I mean, seriously? It turned out to be a brutal read, because he got inside the head of an unabashed racist with super-powers who sees himself as the hero in his story. (Every villain is also the hero in their own story, but that’s a different discussion.)

The language is raw. The hatred visceral. The casual brutality leans off the page and pimpslaps you.

But the story is good. You have a character, in a setting, with a problem, to meet the classic definition. Several characters try and fail, and suffer personal growth as a result. Other characters never change, and show how far the hero comes, from the first page to the last one.

By the end, the hero redeems himself.

Several editors I chatted informally with all suggested I bounce the story. After the BLM movement last year, a number of people (whom that author occasionally refers to as Social Justice Warriors in the pejorative) don’t want anything to do with a story that explores the inner mind of a racist.

Tough. Deal with it. Forcing these stories to not be published is a disservice to the whole reason we do this, which is to tell stories. And speculative fiction as a genre has always been about dealing with uncomfortable topics, frequently political themes thinly veiled in fictional settings.

On the other side, I appreciate that the story will put a lot of people off. So he went last.

In an anthology, the story that goes first sets the tone for everything. Annie’s Faster does just that. Light, adventurous, coming of age and the joy of doing good. The story that goes at the end leaves the reader with the emotional signature. Again, pimpslapped, but hopefully the reader will stop and question themselves, as the main character did on his path of enlightenment.

At the same time, I put that story last because if I didn’t, some readers would put the book down and walk away in the middle of that story, and never get to the ones behind it. It is a balancing act.

Will I catch hell from fragile, little snowflakes who don’t think that other people’s views are as important as their own righteousness? Probably. Don’t really give a shit. In this instance, the one bitching will be left-wing, but on other things, the right-wing is just as narrow-minded.

But there’s more to the anthology than just those two stories.

Leah Cutter wrote me a lovely manga coming of age piece. JD Brink gave me the origin story of one of his heroes.

My contribution was another story in the Modern Gods universe (White Crane, Breakfast Dragon, others coming soon). I went historical with this one, setting it in 1952 in Boston, MA. The hero is a 32-year-old WW2 Army veteran, pretending to be a 16-year-old sidekick, because he is 5’6″ tall and skinny.

Oh, and Japanese-American. Nissei.

One Puka Puka. Varsity Victory Volunteers. 34th Engineering. 442 Regimental Combat Team.

A man with two purple hearts and a silver star. Who isn’t allowed to be American, even as an American hero.

The story is also not the one I set out to write. The themes ended up far more adult and interesting than I had planned, but it works. Dark, but not brutal. PG-13 unless you read close, then your brain goes to a hard R in a hurry. (Everything is off screen.)

And it sets me up to write a sequel this summer. I’m publishing half a dozen or so Modern Gods stories this year. The Breakfast Dragon in “Steam. And Dragons.” Kid Lexington here. Daoma Dan. Chef Tom. The Coffee Doctor.

You should buy Hiding Behind The Cowl. And tell all your friends to buy it. They’ll need to buy a lot of copies if they want to have a good book-burning, and I won’t be offended, as long as the checks clear.  Hell, if you need pallet loads, let me know and I’ll make you a deal on drop-shipping them to your bbq.

Because I can…

shade and sweet water,

blaze

West of the Mountains, WA

Aces!!!

So one historical rule of writing was that a young writer often started with short fiction and got it placed into magazines, developing their craft and their audience. Over time, you (hopefully) got better at words and got more fans. Eventually, depending on the writer, you might write longer pieces and go after an agent and a New York book deal; or you might find a medium-sized press to publish collections of your shorter stuff as an interim.

Whatever your path, the goal was always to get printed books in bookstores as the key to discoverability. A reader walks the shelves and sees something, maybe something they would never otherwise pickup. Thus, a fan. And money.

This is interesting because I saw a statistical on the interwebs that something like 75% of all book sales these days are online, rather than in the bookstores.

My books are generally not available in most bookstores, with a few exceptions. Oh, you can order them, and they’ll arrive fast enough. But what I discovered a long time ago (before I became a writer-writer) was that it was easier to order a book from Amazon or whomever, and it would arrive on my doorstep, no second trip to the mall needed.

The rest of the world has apparently finally caught up with this logic.

Why is this important?

Had a chat on the topic with Fabulous Publisher Babe™ the other day and she explained that the reason why my print books are so expensive is because they need to be priced such that a bookstore makes a 40% profit off the retail price. That keeps the lights on and employs the nice people behind the counter who help you find the perfect book.

However, if I don’t care all that much about selling in a bookstore (hint hint), then I don’t need to set the price that high.

Outcome: ASE. Amazon Special Editions.

Starting with Jessica and Auberon, my publisher is doing Amazon Special Editions where she uses every trick she knows to make the novel shorter. Same story, fewer pages. The goal is a final price of $9.99 whenever possible. Jeff Bezos (Mr. Amazon) wants books in the $2.99-$9.99 range, and he has trained everybody to look for those price points.

That’s her goal. The books are physically shorter, mostly by adjusting the first page of a chapter (and those if you who know Jessica understand how many chapters she has). The result has been books we can sell at $9.99.

These are Amazon Special Editions, because no bookstore will touch them. Considering how few I sell at the range they want, don’t really care. What happens is that you can start picking up paper versions of my novels for under $10, as long as you don’t suffer from Amazon Derangement Syndrome (that person who hates Amazon with every fiber of their being and refuses to deal with them. You’d be surprised how many book dealers and middlemen suffer from it.)

As Mal said: About half the ‘verse are middlemen, and they don’t take kindly to being eliminated.

And Amazon is working on it.

Special Editions, by the way, aren’t a short-time deal. No artificial scarcity model where you must buy today. These are permanent versions of the books where we’re lowering your price, while I still make enough money from them to justify the additional work. (For example, I’m literally only going to make pennies on Goddess of War, whereas I might clear a couple bucks on the rest.)

This is, by the way, a measure of the future. Specialty bookstores will continue, because they offer curation as a service. Used bookstores offer cheap reads and the chance to go wander off the reservation and spend a few bucks on something you might never buy for full price.

It is the big box stores that will evaporate.

The smart stores will reinvent themselves as what used to be called department stores. You see this already in some, where they offer toys and games and stuff in addition to books. Or are physically attached to a store selling computer games (which, with the advent of Steam and such, means they are also selling lots of swag with high margins to keep the lights on). Or, even, as coffee shops, such as Ada’s in Seattle.

Over time, the big box book store as you have come to know it in the last generation will be gone. Jeff’s store is bigger, cleaner, and EVERYTHING is in stock, to be delivered in a few days if you want physical, and NOW if you want it ebook.

The only way to survive is to compete on Jeff’s terms.

Kobo is trying. A few others will as well, but they have to understand that Jeff isn’t just selling books, so they can’t either. On the internet, every other store is just across the way in the mall, and people can compare prices. And the stock is identical when dealing with books and music, so you are competing almost purely on price. Ease of checkout and completeness of stock matter, but again, there is no warehouse holding everything (Jeff is building fulfillment centers to make your delivery faster, not because he wants to have crap in hand to pay B&O taxes on.)

Long story short, I don’t plan to chase the quarter of the market that represents bookstores today. And that quarter is probably declining, but I don’t know where the bottom is. However, at the same time, why cut off my fans? I still see Extended Distribution sales (bookstores ordering my books) several times a year. Not a lot, but a few bucks here and there.

What Fabulous Publisher Babe tells me is that for now we’ll keep two editions out there. One for bookstores, at the 40% profit version, and ASEs for folks who want to order directly from Amazon and don’t mind the same story on a smaller number of pages.

You’ll generally be able to tell by the $9.99 price point, and the Amazon Special Edition sticker on the cover. Hope you enjoy, and let me know how else we can improve your experience.

 

blaze

West of the Mountains, WA

Marketing Troll (or “Oh, you’re a writer?)

Went to a fantastic birthday party last night with a few people I knew and a whole bunch of really neat strangers. Fabulous Publisher Babe ™ was with me. The shindig was for a group of folks who all celebrate March birthdays.

Was an absolute ball.

I don’t talk about being a data nerd at things like this, mostly because so many of the folks are artists of some sort. The host is a classically trained musician, to give you a flavor. Another woman I met absolutely assured me she couldn’t be an artist, let alone a writer, but finally had to confront that she had (if I understood her correctly) created the entire contents of a hilarious game, including writing all the fortunes. So, maybe…

At the party, the host liked to introduce me and the babe as writers, because, in his mind, that’s what we do. It’s where my (our) passion lies. And why I did one of the very few dedications I have done to him.

Of course, everyone asks “Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write?”

For me, that’s an easy question, so Fabulous Publisher Babe lets me answer first. Plus, I’m the Marketing Troll(tm). Pull out the wallet, grab a business card for The Science Officer or Auberon, and hand it to them with the explanation that the next in each series are coming out soon. (Javier in May, Jessica in June).

I have found that the return on the cards is low, but above zero. A standard business card is something you can stuff in a pocket, or put in your wallet/purse, and then you’ll find it again later and look at it.

According to scientific studies, you need to see something something like 3.4 times (THREE POINT FOUR!?!) in order for it to lock into your conscious mind for you to do something about it. In this case, first touch is me handing it to you and you reading it. Second is when you pull it out and look at it the next morning, or in the next few days. Then I’m halfway.

In this case, there were several people who were SF fans, so that might be enough. Plus, I’m happy to send book one in a series to anyone who asks. (Seriously, tell your friends. Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send them something. Working on stories to send to anyone in the sound of my voice soon, including you.) Lemme know if you have not read Science Officer or Auberon.

Hell, feel free to seed a download/sharing site with it. You aren’t stealing from me. You are advertising for me. The biggest problem for an indie author like me is getting the word out to enough people. TradPub has a big enough advertising budget and can automatically put books in bookstores. I think I’m a better writer than most of those folks, and I’m willing to compete. Heh.

So I went through a bunch of business cards last night. Maybe I’ll hear from those folks. Maybe not. Mostly, it is a way for me to meet people, break the ice, and hopefully give  them a way to connect with me. Also went through a bunch of the Babe’s cards as well, since she’s the actual brains of the outfit. And the boss. I just work here, and wear the Marketing Troll hat. (That’s me: Ollie the Marketing Troll. If you want marketing ideas, email me at Ollie AT Knotted Road Press (all one word) dot com. Yes, seriously. Why the hell not?)

I enjoy meeting artists. And there were a bunch there. The question the Babe and I always ask is: How can we help you achieve your goals?

Your success as a poet, musician, writer, painter, or actor does not detract from mine. It helps, actually, because the more art there is in the world, the better a place it is.

And I hope we helped some people.

I know that she did, because she had lunch with another woman yesterday who is a poet, just getting back into her craft after a series of life rolls. That woman wants to support herself with her art, and suddenly realized yesterday that not only was it possible, but it could be fun. We showed her that there was a door.

I’m pretty sure she’s going to be kicking that door in, sometime in the next month or three.

I got a text from the Babe asking if there was a way to include this new talent in a project I have coming up this fall. F@#$ yes. More people, more marketing opportunity for discovery. More chances at the wheel.

Every time I publish something, as the joke goes, there is a one in a million chance I will write something HUGE. The next Harry Potter. The next Hunger Games. The next something.

I just have to keep publishing, keep writing, and keep marketing. It makes me happy. And lets me help people.

What have you done today?

Birthday Girl

I’m celebrating a birthday today.

Because I can. (I think we’ve covered this logic before…)

I have an app on my phone that flashes a red balloon for each birthday on any given day. (If you don’t have one of these, get one. Greatest thing ever in this modern age, especially since I forget birthdays.)

Today’s birthday falls on a Sunday this year, so it is extra special.

The birth itself falls a bit in the future, however, because I write science fiction, and these things happen.

She is not the only one of my characters whose birthday will pop up on my reminder list, but hers is still the most important to me.

The following is a quote taken from The Story Road, the first of the Henri Baudin stories (I promise a trilogy one of these days. Gimme time). I will let her describe it:

I was born, if you will, on the nineteenth of March in the year 7,426 of the Old Calendar, the Homeworld Calendar. It was a rainy Sunday, when those things meant something. The Great War was raging, and the factories did not take a day off to rest. This last spring, when no one was about, I celebrated my five thousand, six hundred, and fifty-seventh birthday. I have been awake for most of them.

Suvi. Summer Baudin. The Historian. The Narrator of History in the Alexandria Station universe. The goofball who was Javier Aritza’s sidekick in his lifetime. Doyle Iwakuma’s greatest discovery. Henri Baundin’s teacher. Jessica Keller’s darkest secret.

I did not set out to make her thus. She grew into her role by refusing to be saddled with expectations or limitations. Suvi can be like that.

I was writing The Librarian, and needed to spell out more of her backstory, so I invented The Science Officer. She took on a life of her own after that.

I have just (JUST) finished with the fifth Javier story (four is coming out in May, I think. Details to follow). In it, Javier has a moment considering his own mortality in the context that Suvi was born before Javier’s grandfather, and will hopefully outlive him by a considerable amount.

And if he’s only going to have one child, he should make sure she turns out to be a pretty nice girl. I think she did. Certainly, she will probably outlive all of her cousins, the other Immortals.

And a good chunk of my career can be laid at her feet. The fact that I sell as many books as I do comes back to The Science Officer taking off when it did, and the Jessica books regularly selling well. And there will be more of both.

And time to fill in the gaps.

Over breakfast this morning, I was talking to Fabulous Publisher Babe™ about writing into some of those spaces one of these days. The Gas-Sailors Era. The Resource Wars. The Union of Man. The Concordancy War.

That will be possible because I expect to finish Jessica soon. I’ve always ever only planned nine novels, and I will start writing number six, The Red Admiral, this summer, right about the time that Flight of the Blackbird comes out.

I’m now done with the fifth Javier, The Doomsday Vault, in the last five minutes, and will head into the sixth one soon. (Title still iffy, leaning towards The Hounded Galleon.) Seven and Eight will follow closely as a double episode, and wrap up Season One, and then I’ll take a short break before I start Season Two. I currently can’t imagine where I go after sixteen Science Officer stories, but I’ll let y’all clamor for more and offer suggestions. He and I might be ready for that to end in a few years. And we might not. YMMV.

I want to step outside the Alexandria Station universe one of these days. I saw a picture the other day that simply popcorn kittened me hard. The picture showed a humanoid with four arms playing an electric sitar. That’s an alien concept, and there are no aliens in Alexandria Station. None. Made that decision early on, because I wanted to focus on a place where all the problems were human.

I can write good alien. It involves getting inside the head of someone who isn’t just an actor with a nasal prosthetic and some makeup. It is an entirely different way of seeing the world, interacting with it, talking about it. I have a lot of aliens running around in my head, wanting to be born, but Jessica Keller cracks the whip on them very hard and tells them to wait their turn.

She’s like that.

But Suvi is even more so.

She exists at all points after The Science Officer. She will outlive Javier, Doyle, Henri, and Jessica by millennia. That’s what happens when you are an AI. You can envision living forever. And that does make you a little alien.

She strives to remain human, however. To remember all the men and women she has loved over the centuries, even as they become reduced to pictures and footnotes. Forgotten by the rest of human civilization.

And she will be born on a rainy Sunday in March, five thousand, four hundred, and nine years from now.

Happy birthday, Suvi.