That wasn’t a problem in and of itself; given the layers of security on this station, it should be reasonably unlikely that anyone who didn’t know her would be in a position to report her to the powers that be.
The pool of blood and the missing hand, on the other hand, were definitely problems, and unfortunately those were all mine.
I rechecked my helmet display, admiring the clueless series of green reads. Whatever or whoever was in here collecting body parts was apparently something completely outside our security program’s experience. It seemed over-optimistic to expect that my heads-up display wouldn’t be equally clueless if my mystery guest decided to add my head to their collection.
Happily, unlike my very ex-boss, neither my head, my hands, or anything else I need to do my job are vital to getting into anything important. I’m a firm believer in the first rule of biometrics: never use a body part for identification you can’t do without.
I slid out of my boss’s office, carrying the largest bit of my own personal collection out, loaded, and ready for use.
My name is Shayanna Willow Anstrim, because three of my parental units were dancers. I chose the Special Forces, instead.
‘Strong suit’ is a phrase meaning a strength, something you are good at. You can easily substitute ‘strong point’ or ‘forte’.
A common mis-spelling is ‘strong suite’, which may have its roots in common terms like ‘Microsoft suite’. It is nonetheless incorrect, however tempting,
My favourite sources are unusually firmly in agreement on the origins of the phrase, and they universally state that it derives from card games, where the suits are hearts, diamonds, aces, and spades.
To be more exact, most of the etymology sources say it originated from the game of bridge. Merriam-Webster and the Online Etymology dictionary disagree on when this phrase came into use: Merriam-Webster holds it was 1742, and Etyonline says 1845. I’m going to go with some considerable time after cards came into common use and before people all got too keen on online games to play cards.
Examples of ‘strong suit’:
Patience is not my strong suit
He’s playing the long game; it’s his strong suit.
This seems to be a phrase that’s used in pretty much all variants of English, and it could be easily adapted for use in SFF world-building; admittedly, you would need to come up with some basic game concept to root it in first. The concept could equally easily be turned around in the world-building for a game-related phrase meaning a fatal weakness.
What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?
Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).
That much was obvious. If the chair being completely dark didn’t give it away, the curl of smoke rising from it might’ve been a clue.
“You think?” Ir-a-tuan’s weight leaving it didn’t bring the gadget back to life, although it did clarify that it wasn’t the chair smoking. “Shit! My ass is on fire!”
Kind of a shame. Ir-a-tuan’s species runs to fur, and the smell was more than the enviro filters wanted to cope with. Hard to blame them on that. While he put out his fire, it seemed like time to find out where we were about to land. Gravity’s nasty shit. That thought was too good not to share.
“Hey, gravity gets everyone down.”
Ir-a-tuan stared at me, the morose expression bifurcated by a single curl of smoke. Apparently his sense of humour was suffering from the stress. “Do they have gateway?”
“G-A-T-E-W-A-Y.” Amazingly, the computer displayed a lot of entries. “Ir-a-tuan! They do!” The computer was doing its thing, picking up information from local sources, and a picture of the globe zoomed in. “We need to land here. They use something for gateways called Mary Jane. The best Mary Jane on the planet comes from a place called Texada.”
“Calculating,” the computer said. “Destination: Texada, locality: British Columbia.”
The landing was smooth, and then the ship shuddered.
“They are shooting us up!” Ir-a-tuan’s language skills were letting him down. The computer clearly showed a welcome wagon, jammed up against the landing gear. Its nose was an interesting fractal shape. It didn’t look very threatening.
“It’s just the locals, welcoming us.” At least they hadn’t blocked the ramp, and unlike the gateway drive, that still worked. Ir-a-tuan looked doubtful, but I was too desperate to get away from the singed ass-fur.
“Greetings! We need Mary Jane!”
The two males at the end of the ramp were staring. They were also unnecessarily tall. The computer angle hadn’t been quite accurate.
“Dude,” one of them finally said. “Dude, did the UFO-guy just ask us for Mary Jane? Aren’t they supposed to, I dunno, probe us, or ask to see our leader, or something?”
The computer fed a suggestion to my headset, and I spread my arms. “Dudes! Take me to your dealer!”
It’s something I like to play with in my books. Most of my characters are telepathic, generally able to pick up on a flat-out lie. However, someone misleading with complete truth…now that’s much harder to spot. Also fun for me, the writer, because my sense of humour could best be described as ‘malign’.
It also plays nicely into the Cortiian ethos, because Cortiian mercenaries aren’t what our maiden aunts would term nice people, and keeping secrets and making people work for their information is pretty much reflexive.
What do I mean by misleading with the truth? Let’s look at a case study. I’m going to tell you two absolutely true stories. They’re probably going to give you two absolutely different impressions.
Story 1: I went through five schools in seven years as a kid; my Dad was a captain in the Army, and we moved around a lot. I didn’t make a lot of friends, but there was always another move coming up. I applied to the Navy right out of school – best idea I ever had.
…that one’s cut and dried; probably a Forces brat, devoted son followed in Dad’s footsteps, maybe career Forces by now, probably quite young.
Story 2: My grandfather won a St. George Cross in World War I. My uncle Peter died on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and my father never would tell me more about his time in the Army in India aside from how his unit trained to get across barbed wire fences in a hurry. Those men I never knew gave me my interest in family history.
…well, there we have someone much older, might be male but probably a woman, most likely a retiree with folders overflowing with sepia photos and newspaper clippings.
Aren’t assumptions fun?
Those two people are both me. Those stories are from my past – but if you read them without the grand reveal, about the only obvious thing they have in common is a father who was in the Forces.
My protagonist, Khyria Ilan, is a past master at the sport, which is probably just as well given how many people are trying to kill her at any given moment. Lying to heavily-armed people who may be able to tell immediately that they’re being lied to isn’t healthy, and is too obvious anyway. Khyria can tell someone something absolutely true and absolutely guaranteed to send them barking up the wrong tree, and while they’re profitably occupied molesting the foliage, she can act with a lot less scrutiny on her doings.
It’s also a lot of fun if the reader happens to know the actual backstory while reading Khyria’s version of it; the differences can be pretty marked, and at least for me, edits go much easier with some evil chortling to be going on with.
Well, it’s finally That Time – after months or years, you’ve written, revised, gathered your alpha and beta readers’ input together, revised a bit more, run a spellcheck, discovered just how awful MS Word spell check is, got a human editor to read it, found a cover designer … and you’re sitting in front of your computer with your heart pounding and your palms going sweaty, about to actually upload your work of genius for the worldwide audience.
How many copies will I sell?
Will there be trolls?
Will anyone pirate my stuff?
When will I be able to live off the money my books make for me?
Will the world know my name?
Before you can become an international bestseller of E L James-style fame (oh, God), you need to find a self-publishing platform. I’m going to provide a non-exclusive, non-endorsing list below of a few of the better-known options to give you an idea.
Self-publishing platforms come in two basic flavours: ebook only, or print-on-demand. In this post, I’m going to focus on the print-on-demand platforms – or this post will attain novella-length in short order. Catch up with me later for the ebook 101 post.
CreateSpace (Amazon), and Lulu are two of the best-known self-pub options if you want to provide physical copies of your book as well as (or instead of) an ebook. They both allow you to set up print-on-demand for nothing and take a cut of the book price every time you sell a book as their payment.
I’m also going to touch on Bookbaby, which doesn’t offer a completely free option, but does offer a lot more support options if you happen to have the funds to pay someone else to tear their hair out to get your book printed.
Pros: They’re flexible, efficient, have great customer service and, provided you use one of their formatted templates (really. This part is important unless you’re a masochist) very easy to use. They provide a great quality of product. They’re also an Amazon company, so your print offering shows up, hassle-free, on the majority of Amazon country sites almost as soon as you approve your proof. You can opt for expanded distribution, which makes your work available to bookstores, libraries, and academia as well as Amazon. You can also opt for a number of helpful extras if you have the need and money, such as professional formatting, cover design, editing, etc. For the record, I print with CreateSpace.
Cons: Getting paid. CreateSpace only offers Direct Deposit (as of today) to authors with bank accounts in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Belguim, or the Netherlands. If you happen to not have access to a bank account in one of those countries, CreateSpace will accumulate the royalties from the sales of your book in each region, and send you a cheque when the total for that region hits about $100 USD. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you can sell $33.33 worth of product in Asia, Europe, and South America (or wherever else) and get a cheque: it means you have to sell $100 worth of product in Asia, or Europe, or South America to get a cheque, which you then have to convert into your local currency. So be prepared for the fact that for a lot of indie authors, this means you’re going to be effectively providing your print books for free for the foreseeable future when it comes to money in hand. Another con: should you choose not to copy your text into one of their pre-formatted templates, be prepared for a lot of hell when you come to upload into their online proofing portal. Their main outlet is Amazon.
Pros: They offer payment via PayPal, which basically means you can be paid anywhere you can have a PayPal account that you can receive payment from. This may, of course, incur PayPal fees, but you aren’t left hunting a bank that will cash a USD cheque for you. They offer optional professional publishing services, but you can also go full-DIY if you choose. They will allow you to distribute your print on Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram, and they offer a wide variety of sizes and binding options, including stitched if you happen to be a fan of the traditional.
Cons: You have to have the software to put the ISBN and bar code, wherever you choose to get that from, on your own print cover for a certain set of print formats. The up-front expertise needed to prep your files for printing from you, the author, is a bit higher than for CreateSpace.
Pros: They give you a webpage space with the publishing package. They distribute to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram, among others, as well as several niche options. You can choose to be paid via PayPal (there is a $1.50 processing fee per PayPal payment). They offer promo services with their packages, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Cons: You have to go with one of their publishing packages. There is no full-DIY option with Bookbaby. You can only opt for Direct deposit if you have a US bank account; if not you’re stuck with cheque in the mail (or PayPal).
So, you’ve now followed a bunch of links, checked out arcane FAQs that talk about metadata, ISBNs, ASINs, the non-transferability of your platform-assigned ISBNs, and tax-witholding, and your head’s spinning.
Is it really worth all this effort and research, just to get a print copy of my book? I mean, I’m indie. Is anyone really going to buy the d*mn thing anyway?
For me, I wasn’t going to bother. Not right away. Not after having figured out that I couldn’t get paid for it in any reasonable amount of time, and given indie sales generally.
Then, I actually had people – family, friends, colleagues – start asking me if they could get a print copy, and I sat down and thought a bit more. After a bit of that, I actually did set up POD – and I’m really glad I did. Not because it’s making me a fortune – hell no, far from it. But it’s not costing me anything extra, as I’d opted to get a print and an e-cover from my cover designer anyway.
But the real pay-off, from my point of view, was the moment my actual book proof showed up on my doorstep, and I got my book, after all the blood and sweat and tears, in my hands looking like a real book.
Every writers’ forum I’ve spent time in has had someone, sometime, show up asking ‘how do I get started writing?’ At this point I always find myself needing to take my hands off my keys and wrestle down a sarcastic response like ‘Start typing’.
After a few months of feeling vaguely guilty every time the situation occurred, it came to me that while the question that kept triggering my sarcasm reflex was a dumb one, there were possibly a few underlying questions more worth offering time to.
Ignoring the fact that some people really do show up on forums and ask stupid questions simply for attention, writing a book can be overwhelming. Here are some thinking points to make it more overwhelming.
Hubble, bubble, boil and trouble
If I were to write a 101 Guide to Getting Started Writing, some twenty years of fiction writing later, I’d have to say that there are a few vital ingredients that need to be tossed in the pot if you hope to make the magic happen.
A dash of crazy. No sane person decides to write a book, spends a year or so of their lives writing, editing, and formatting it, and does all this knowing full well that they’ll never get paid for their time.
A heaping teaspoon of inspiration. You’re crazier than I am if you’ll waste months or a year of time for no remuneration and without something to write about that gets your blood pumping, whether it’s space battles or how to come up with the perfect hall decor.
A solid dose of grammatical understanding (substitute a silly amount of money here if you have it). If you can’t be bothered to learn or look up basic grammar and punctuation rules for your language of choice, or don’t want to pay someone who does to edit your work, stop writing now and back away from the manuscript slowly. There’s a difference between idiot savant and idiot.
What genre should I write?
Doesn’t matter, it’s not catching.
If you have a good story to tell, it doesn’t matter if it’s about terraforming Mars or a half-siren ‘acquisitions specialist’ being paid to acquire the Peaches of Immortality. Good story-telling never goes out of style. On the topic of trying to follow writing ‘fads’, check out Writing Myths: slay the dragon.
If you want to know more about genres of writing, I suggest you pull up a search engine and dig in. Wikipedia is always a good place to start. If someone’s harassing you to come out of the writing closet as a certain genre, I suggest smiling sweetly and telling them that you aspire to be original.
But which writing house will the Sorting Hat put me in?
Writers tend to gravitate to one end or other of a spectrum that ranges from ‘pantser’ at one end to ‘plotter’ at the other. Read on to discover which school of writing wizardry best suits you.
To avoid any embarrassing misconceptions, it may be important to note at this point that ‘pantser’ in this context refers to one who flies by the seat of their pants. It does not necessarily relate to their state of dress or undress whilst engaged in the practice of writing.
You may be a pantser if you have voices in your head, a setting, and no idea in the world how it’s all going to end, but you can’t stop thinking about it and you’ve already had detention for drawing spaceships in class.
You may be a plotter if you have a ton of post-it notes arranged in careful patterns on your wall, detailing the main idea, the sub-ideas, the plot arc, the chapter beats, the sub-arcs (with the kinky bits inserted on the hot pink notes) and have a file on your protagonist detailed down to their first word and the exact position of the mole on their arse.
Which is best? That’s the great thing – there is no ‘best’. There’s the approach that works for you, and the others, which don’t. Most people fall somewhere in between.
Give me facts! I cannot make bricks without clay!
The fact is that the amount of actual money to be made from writing hit rock bottom about a decade ago and then started burrowing. Think I’m kidding? These guys did the math: The Authors’ Guild – The Wages of Writing.
Additionally, traditional publishing houses are taking on fewer and fewer new authors, while trumpeting ever louder that independent authors, or ‘indies’ are the leeches on the underbelly of professional writing. Therefore, starting to write books with the idea that fame and fortune await is delusional, so you’d better have another reason for doing it (see the heaping teaspoon requirement).
If those facts haven’t put you off, then at least you’ve got the dash of crazy. Congratulations (…I think).
So how will I know if I’m doing it right?
Assassin’s Creed II
Assassin “Where other men blindly follow the truth, remember…”
Initiate: “Nothing is true.”
Assassin: “Where other men are limited by morality or law, remember…”
Initiate: “Everything is permitted.”
This quote is particularly applicable to writing. The way I do it won’t be the way you do it. The way J. K. Rowling does it will be different from both of us. None of the three of us is ‘wrong’. Some people use a pencil, others touch-type at 100 WPM, others again dictate to voice conversion software.
Write whatever way blows your skirt up. There is no set of commandments. The only restrictions are your imagination and your writing ability.