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Character interview: Cristina Batista

Character interview: Cristina Batista

Interview with Cristina Batista

Sitting on a nice secluded end of a breakwater with a good view of the harbour

J C Steel: There are times I miss sunshine, wind, and palm trees.

Cristina Batista: I didn’t want to move to Europe in my teens, and having seen it, I still don’t want to move there.

JCS: Your family was originally from Spain. Which area?

CB: My father was from Cáceres, in Extremadura. I have no idea where my mother was from, she left after I was born.

JCS: And your father moved you all onto a yacht and sailed for the Caribbean. What was growing up on a yacht like?

CB: …when it’s how you grow up, and you have known nothing different, growing up on a yacht is very normal. I played in the harbour with the children from other boats, when there were any; I learnt to row and sail; I learnt to shop in the open markets, and how to tie up a dinghy so I didn’t end up swimming after it. I explored around the anchorages, I snorkelled. You must have been asked this one often enough.

JCS: Very, very often. Now I’m asking you. How about schooling?

CB: We had a basic set of material from a correspondence course. It wasn’t designed for complex thinkers, but it provided the basics.

JCS: Yeah, amen on the last part. Where did you spend most of your time?

CB: Mostly between Grenada and Martinique. We visited St. Eustatius once.

JCS: Do they still keep an elephant at Pitons?

CB: I think so. I haven’t been there in a few years. Papá liked the less touristy areas. Union Island was one of his favourites.

JCS: Least favourite aspect of living on a yacht?

CB: Water runs. For something that empties so quickly, it takes an amazing number of jerry-cans to fill a water tank.

JCS: Any opinions of living in a house?

CB: I have hardly lived in a house. Let’s say…they don’t move, and if you open the windows there are bugs everywhere.

JCS: You have Spanish citizenship. How do you respond if someone asks you where you come from?

CB: I tell them I spent most of my life in the Caribbean. My nationality is never very relevant to my life until I need to pass Customs.

JCS: Most people don’t believe in vampires. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing, from your perspective?

CB: I find that the facts remain the facts no matter your beliefs. It makes my job a little easier, in some ways. Vampires have a vested interest in human ignorance, so populated areas can provide good cover under the right circumstances.

JCS: Is it true that vampires can be driven away with a cross?

CB: No. Or any other type of religious symbol, either, unless you sharpen it.

JCS: Where do you think that belief originated from?

CB: I’ve noticed that people believe a lot of strange things when it comes to religion. Personally I prefer stakes and fighting knives if I need to kill a vampire.

Etymology Excavation: Raining cats and dogs

Etymology Excavation: Raining cats and dogs

‘Raining cats and dogs’ means a very hard rain, or a downpour.

Happily, I haven’t come across any mis-uses of this one – feel free to chip in if you have, my comments section is your comments section – but I hate to think what today’s creatively illiterate might come up with as alternates for it.

There’s a rather nice (but convincingly de-bunked) theory that had it that cats and dogs would shelter in thatched roofs in rainstorms, but if the rain was much more than than a shower, they’d be washed out – hence, heavy rain came to be expressed as ‘raining cats and dogs’. Sadly, as anyone familiar with thatched roofs will realise, thatch is very tight. You won’t fit anything much larger than a beetle in thatch; and while a cat might sun itself on top of a roof, it wouldn’t stay there after more than a couple of drops of rain. Also, the next time I see a dog on a roof of any make will be the first.

A more gruesome, but probably more historically accurate, theory states that due to the poor (read non-existent) drainage prevalent for much of England’s history, smaller domestic animals frequently drowned in very heavy rain, and in the aftermath, their bodies would lie in the roads, giving the appearance of it having literally rained cats and dogs.

There’s also a nice version involving Norse beliefs, cats and dogs having influence over winds and storms, and adoption of the phrase into English. Take your pick.

I’ve seen dates on this one from from the 17th Century to the 19th; I’m inclined to credit the earlier end of the spectrum as thatched roofs became increasingly less common, giving way usually to roof tiles in Britain, the closer to the modern day you get. A gentleman named Jonathan Swift seems to be universally credited with one of its earliest uses in writing, in 1738.

It also seems to be largely a phrase used in British English. I haven’t heard it used in North America, although I suspect it’s been around long enough that most people would understand the basic idea, even if it might sound rather quaintly old-fashioned. My usual favourite source for these posts, Etymonline.com, wasn’t willing to commit to much on this expression.

While this phrase might be tricky to adapt as-is to an SFF world, taking the base idea and running with it would provide some excellent world-building opportunities. Take the mythology angle, and you get the chance to develop a spectrum of creatures with influences over the elements, for example.

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).

Gender and genre

Gender and genre

Gender and Genre

…lying on my back on the library floor, staring blankly up at my bookshelves, I realised two things.

First: it’s not hoarding if it’s books; second, that I have a lot of series by female authors. Given all the unmitigated crap that occasionally hits the airwaves about ‘women ruining science-fiction’, and given the amount of sci-fi I read, it took me rather by surprise. I didn’t, in fact, set out to collect books written by women authors. Actually, if I’m completely honest, unless I’m looking for some more of someone’s work that I’ve already enjoyed, the author’s name tends to be about the last thing about a book that I look at.

Generally, if someone’s unwary enough to let me off my chain in a bookshop, my method of picking out books (yes, it’s never ‘a’ book, kindly don’t blaspheme) is to wander along the sci-fi and fantasy shelves, picking up random books that look interesting and reading the first few pages.

I like that first few pages, I buy the book – simple. If I like the rest of the book, when I’ve got it home and devoured it, then I’ll take notice of the author – so that I can go and see what else they’ve written, and hang out in their metaphorical garden hedges watching to see when the next book may come out. Yes, I author-stalk. (Rabia Gale, I’m looking at you. W. Clark Boutwell, you too.)

From my unexpected vantage point on the floor (I was trying to clean – don’t judge), for the first time in my life, I counted fingers and realised that, having used that method of book selection most of my life, I really do have a lot of books by women authors. C J Cherryh, Lilith Saintcrow, Anne MCaffrey, Dorothy Dunnett, Patricia Briggs, Rob Thurman, Michelle Sagara, Ann Aguirre, Laura Anne Gilman… I could keep going. I was almost relieved to come across half a shelf of Jack Campbell, a complete shelf and a half of Terry Pratchett (all hail Sir Terry), a clump of Jack Higgins, the full Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series, some Jim Butcher, a bit of Simon Green, and… yeah, I read a lot.

Basically, I like good writing, by which I mean a writing style that doesn’t make me roll my eyes on page one, characters that aren’t two-dimensional, and a plot that actually, well, has a plot. I don’t select my books based on the shape of the author’s genitalia. The correlation between gender and genre that seems to be so popular with most of society seems like an even bigger steaming pile when viewed from my position (on my library floor).

Something that pisses me off no end is the sheer number of individuals (insert epithets of choice here, I’m a dirty-word intellectual trying hard to keep my blog mostly PG) going around claiming that ‘men can’t write fantasy’ or ‘women can’t write science-fiction’. I call bullshit. J R R Tolkien, for example. C S Lewis. C J Cherryh, Octavia E Butler, Anne McCaffrey. I suffer violent urges when I read that J K Rowling is J K because someone told her that she’d sell fewer books as Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

I think at heart I feel that the only criteria that a book should be judged by is the quality of the writing. A good cover and a good blurb may well help to attract the reader’s attention, but ultimately, you can have the best cover in the world, and unless that excerpt makes me want to read more, you’re going back on the shelf…

E-book publishing 101: Draft 2 Digital

E-book publishing 101: Draft 2 Digital

Draft 2 Digital, or D2D

Draft 2 Digital is one of the sites that helps you go from ‘I can haz wordz!’ to ‘I’m a published author.’ D2D is one of two major content aggregators in the publishing world; the other is Smashwords.

A content aggregator takes your manuscript and creates a customised file or files, which then allow it to push your book to its affiliate sites, e.g. iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo. Think of it as a centralised distribution for your book to multiple sales channels. Both Smashwords and D2D do also distribute to Amazon if you want them to, although Amazon makes it very easy to set your manuscript up with them directly.

Content aggregators are particularly important if you live in one of those areas outside the United States, where reputable currency is deemed to be non-existent and we barter with trade items. Various booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble, cannot make payments to certain areas (Canada was my personal example).

However, both Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital can and do pay to PayPal, among other options, and do have an affiliation with multiple booksellers. This is to say that not only can you format your manuscript once and it goes to ten or more distribution outlets, but you get your reports in one place, and your payments in one place.

Disclaimer: I publish with Draft 2 Digital, among others.

Draft 2 Digital: the bare essentials

  • Working Internet browser
  • Word processing software, ditto functional
  • Your manuscript, ideally in .docx or other D2D-accepted format
    • If you have already formatted for Amazon, you can use your Amazon manuscript file for D2D and it will need at most minor tweaks
  • Your book blurb (back jacket text)
  • E-book cover art
    • And for the love of all the little wriggly deities, if you’re going to spend money on any one part of the publishing process, do it here. Get a professional cover designer and a professional cover. Don’t photograph your baby cousin’s finger-painting and use PowerPoint to paste your title in on top of it. Your cover is the thing online book buyers see. If that doesn’t interest them enough to stop and read your blurb and open your book, nothing else about your book matters because the buyer will never see it.
  • Your PayPal email (or other bank account set-up details)
  • Your local tax identification information – the interview is relatively painless, but you’ll need to tell them where you pay tax.

Start here

You’ll need to go and set up your D2D account. You’ve done this before at some point; you’ll need your name, a sacrificial email address, your publishing company name (which is your pen name if you haven’t created a registered company), and a password. It takes a couple of minutes, and you’re in.

Head over to the ‘My Account’ area; you aren’t quite done. Go into ‘Payment Options’. This is where you’ll need that tax identification information I listed up top.

Tell the nice D2D folks where you live and how you want to get paid. I use PayPal because it’s convenient for me, but fill your boots with your option of choice. You’ll also need to take the tax interview to either set up your tax payment in the United States, or if like me you live somewhere where beaver skins are the preferred payment method, then you tell them your citizenship, country of residence, country where you pay tax, and your tax ID for that country, and they will generate the appropriate documentation for you in their system.

Book set-up

…because that’s what we’re really here for, after all.

Click ‘Add new book’. (Pretty self-explanatory, right?). It’ll ask you to upload your manuscript. They ask for .docx, but they also accept anything MS Word-readable, and if you have a pre-formatted .epub file, they’ll take that as well.

Enter your book details – title, blurb, ISBN if you have one, etc. Select your BISAC categories. Don’t panic about this; you’re really just telling the system where your book would be displayed in a brick and mortar store. Would it be under Comparative Religion, or Fiction / Thriller? Once you’re done with that, pick some keywords. If you’ve done a lot of research into keywords for your book, good for you, you know what to do. If you haven’t, and are staring at this next hurdle in blind panic, take a deep breath. If you were searching for your book in the search bar, what’s the first word or phrase you would type in to find it? Great. Put that in. Do it again. Shoot for at least six or seven keywords or phrases, don’t repeat words that are already in your title or your BISAC selections.

Check all your fields, take a deep breath, and click the ‘Save and Continue’ option.

Cover and layout

Upload your cover. Your professionally-designed cover, please God, unless you’re a whole lot better at graphic design than I am and know exactly what you’re doing.

While that’s crunching through upload, check your chapter layout. Unless you made a real dogs’ breakfast of your MS formatting, you should see a list of entries you recognise, and which match your Table of Contents in the file you uploaded. (Please note, if you opted to upload an epub, you won’t have to go through this section; D2D will siply accept your epub formatting.)

Once the cover’s uploaded, and once you’re happy that the chapters displayed are right, click ‘Save and continue’.

Now you’re in the preview section, and this is where D2D really shines. Depending on your genre, and how you want your book to end up, you can select from a variety of pre-programmed layouts. For those of us who don’t have an epub formatting program, and know next to nothing about it, this is great because you have some limited formatting options and, best of all, you don’t have to upload a .docx and pray the epub comes out legible: D2D shows you a preview.

Pricing and distribution

Basically, D2D lets you set up shop on their site for free. They make their money (as do you) when you sell a book. They take a small amount from your book price based on some alchemy around storing and transferring your book file to the reader. All the rest is yours. Not a bad deal, compared to the pittance a traditional publisher will give you when they sell a copy of your book.

Pick your book price. Oddly enough, cheaper isn’t always better. (Yes, I am going to stand this up with some sources – patience, grasshopper.) For an average novel length (75K – 150k words, let’s say), the recommended price point for sales versus being taken seriously tends to be about $2.99 – $3.99 USD for most genres.

Who died and made me God? Here’s some articles on book pricing you can check out.

Now…hit ‘Save and Publish’.

Congratulations, you’re a published author. Go and check out your masterpiece under ‘My Books’, admire the cover design, make sure it’s going out to all the right distribution channels, and spend a moment patting yourself on the back and enjoying the moment.

Extra – read all about it!

One other thing that D2D offers that Smashwords and Amazon don’t make quite so streamlined, if they offer it at all; audio books. D2D has a partnership with Findaway Voices, whereby you get a special offer on audiobook set-up (no fees until you actually settle on a narrator).

D2D will provide you with the set-up interview, where you give Findaway a bit of additional information on your book and select the ideal characteristics for your narrator, and then you hit ‘go’ and wait for them to send you the follow-up with potential narrators to your email.

While I was spoilt in terms of audiobooks as a child by the BBC version of The Hobbit, with a full cast of voices and full sound FX, and therefore almost never bother to pick up single-voice book narrations (because I’d rather read it to myself and get the full cinematic immersion in my head), a lot of folks do like narrated books, either because of vision difficulties, lifestyle, or whatever else.

I’m trialling the system with Death is for the Living, just to see if it’s feasible.

Guadeloupe – en route to the South

Guadeloupe – en route to the South

Guadeloupe – a really conveniently-placed island

In the case of the Artemis crew, it’s a convenient place to take on stores when you’ve sailed out of the Bahamas ass-backwards, with insufficient supplies of water, fuel, and food.

Guadeloupe mapWhat most people don’t know about Guadeloupe is that it is legally part of France; one of their overseas territories, or as the French refer to it, a département outre-mer. Given that, the fact that it speaks French with a liberal spattering of Creole is probably less of a surprise. It’s the southernmost of the Leeward Island chain, which stretches from St. Maarten (by Anguilla) in the North to Marie-Galante, a dependency of Guadeloupe, in the South.

Guadeloupe, before it got summarily re-named by Columbus, was known as Karukera, or the island of beautiful waters. As you can see from the header image, that’s not an inaccurate name for the place.

If you look at the curve of the island chain, then you’ll see that when sailing in from the North and seaward, Guadeloupe is a pretty logical spot to pick as a stopping point. In addition, the marina is large, and there’s various sections of anchorage, marina, and tourist beach speckled around, with a fair amount of traffic. Just the spot for a team of vampire hunters on the run to make a pit stop.

Guadeloupe monkeysMy only visit to Guadeloupe was in 1992; we began to head for Europe, sailing out of Martinique, and managed to blow out the leading edge of our jib. Since starting a four- to five-week sail with one of your primary sails frayed is considered contra-indicated at best and bloody stupid at worst, we made a left into Guadeloupe and spent a week there sorting it out. I can therefore personally attest to the fact that the marina’s a maze. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much more of the island than the marina (sails, supplies, water, go, is probably the executive summary of the visit).

I do still have a trio of hand-carved wooden monkeys that I picked up there, which hung over my bunk all the way to Gibraltar and are hanging from the curtain tie-back by my desk as I write. Because, if all goes well, there really isn’t a hell of a lot to do on a sailing yacht crossing the Atlantic, I spent a number of hours watching them swing back and forth as the boat rolled. These days, they only move when one of my cats goes on the rampage and uses my windowsill as a trampoline.

Why sci-fi?

Why sci-fi?

Why sci-fi?

I saw this in a post somewhere online today, and it made me blink.

It was quite literally a question I’d never asked myself – and as I’ve been writing at this point for about twenty years, you may well be asking yourself if I’m quite right in the head. (Good question, but let’s not go into that one here.)

I’m kind of feeling that it’s a positive thing that I never even stopped to ask why sci-fi, or even if sci-fi, given that I’ve got four sci-fi novels published and several more struggling through the drafting and editing process. That, or possibly evidence of a blind spot the size of the Bermuda Triangle. …Actually, I’m sticking with positive.

So, really, why sci-fi? Honestly, it never occurred to me not to.

The stories I started out telling myself, aged about five or so, weren’t recognisably sci-fi, although several of the characters in the Cortii Universe figured in them. However, sometime around age nine or ten, I ran into Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (like all the good books, my parents had inconsiderately stored them right at the top of the bookshelf, so when I say ‘ran into’ I mean I climbed a shelf and saw something new and interesting…). After that, my daydreams took a definite left into space and never came back.

If I really had to pin down a ‘why’, I suspect it has something to do with the chance to write a civilisation where there’s still space to explore, and where the people, the places, and the cultures are all for me to fill in on the map. Sci-fi is one of the best genres, in my completely biased opinion, to sit down and write ‘what if’.

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