Heading into 2020

Heading into 2020

Heading into 2020

There’s a terrible, terrible joke that can be trotted out for the next little while when people ask me what my plans are for 2020 – the answer being that I don’t know, I don’t have 20/20 vision. (Groan.)

All right, anyone who’s still reading after that one…2019 was a year in which I changed almost everything about my life it’s possible to change. New day job, separation, getting my own place…2019 pretty much destruct-tested the saying that ‘the magic starts outside your comfort zone’. I’m happy to say that sitting here on the cusp of 2020, I’m healthier, happier, and more relaxed than I’ve been in a decade or more. I spent a lot of time thinking before, after, and during about the Benjamin Franklin quote that ‘Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ I’m not about to get it tattooed on my ass (well, get back to me on that after New Year’s Eve…), but I gave up being miserable in a familiar rut, took a leap, and so far I have got to say the water’s been warm.

Partly because of all the upheaval, I got precisely one novella published, and because I’m honest, I’ll admit I had no plans to write or publish a novella in the Cortii Mercenaries series, in 2019 or any other time. Irin Seviki, who shows up as a secondary character in Fighting Shadows, had other ideas. One of the dubious joys of being a complete pantser is that sometimes, shit just happens. That said, I’m working my way through edits on Cortii #5, which was the book I actually did plan to publish in 2019. That probably is going to happen closer to Midsummer 2020. It’s currently confessed to the title of Rebel’s Bargain, which may or may not be what it goes to print under. 

Numbers 6, 7, and part of 8 in the Cortii series are in various stages between my diseased brain and publication as well, and in case that wasn’t enough, I’m also getting intermittently hi-jacked by a half-siren, half-asshole (her description, not mine) acquisitions specialist on the trail of the Peaches of Immortality. It is almost certainly not going to publish under its current working title of ‘Peaches’, not least because the characters give me snark about it every time I open the file. If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you’ve seen a snippet from her already – if you aren’t, go sign up, I tell people where to find free books in pretty much every newsletter. There’s no way to go wrong with free books.

In part due to getting my own place, I’ve also been reading to the point where Goodreads whines pitifully every time I make it show me all the books I read this year (as opposed to, say, those I read in the past two weeks). Particular favourites, old and new, included When Demons Walk, by Patricia Briggs; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein; Missee Lee, by Arthur Ransome; Warrior, by Marie Brennan; and The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. I have every intention of making GR beg for mercy next year, too. Among other things, I live with a pair of domineering Siamese cats, who approve of reading because it involves me sitting still and providing heat to my feline overlords.

As my local liquor store stocks a favourite treat I’m rarely able to get my claws on here, I’m going to be celebrating the incoming year with ginger wine. Yes, it’s a grannie drink. No, I really don’t care. More for me. Mmmm, ginger.

What’s your 2020 looking like? 

Wishing you all good things and many good books!

Indie author: it means we do all the hard shit as well

Indie author: it means we do all the hard shit as well

Indie author versus traditional publishing

I’m honestly not certain which annoys me more some days: the traditional publishing industry, busily running down indie authors and anything they produce and making noise about how they’re the gatekeepers of publishing (otherwise pronounced those that ensure that very little that’s actually new gets published), or on the other side of the coin the (fortunately rare) indie author stating loudly that just because they can’t edit and drew their cover art in MS Paint, it’s still, to nick a Pinocchio line, ‘a real book!’

Yes, I annoy really easily. 

So here’s the thing, publishing princesses and buttercups: suck it right the duck up. (Dear auto-correct: it really never is ‘duck’.)

Trad publishing is a great way to go if you have the time and stamina to send out fifty to hundreds of letters, teasers, synopses, and pitches to agents, publishers, and every stripe in between, and then let someone tell you how to write your story and all future stories (and when to stop writing them) for what adds up to about 5% of the actual profits on the book while you still mostly end up doing your own marketing.

Indie publishing is a great way to go if you happen to be able to write a story, edit the shit out of it (and please, get that part right, or pay someone competent to), figure out either how to make a professional-looking cover or research how to get a reliable and affordable professional to do it for you, and then figure out how to get the whole written, edited, and covered shebang out in front of the public – because you are still going to have to market that shit. Oh yes.

The hard truths

Trad publishing is not a free ride once you sign on the dotted line. A lot more regimented and much better connections, but at the same time your agency in your own book goes way down, and what’s more, if your Precious doesn’t sell sufficiently well, your publisher can choose to yeet that thing off shelves so fast your head will spin.

Indie publishing, and once more REALLY LOUDLY for those in the back – indie publishing is not a great excuse for putting a shit product out there because you didn’t pay attention to where the commas went in school. Indie publishing is where you get all the agency in your own book – and that means if you put a shoddily-edited, badly-covered, indifferently-paced compost heap up on Amazon, you have no one else to point the finger at. That brown smear down your ass was all, completely, start to finish, you.

So, trad people – congratulations, I look forwards to seeing your stuff when I get time to do something I enjoy and browse through a bookstore. If it’s badly paced, the tenth take on the same story I’ve read this year, or there are still editing mistakes in there, after pro dev, copy, and line editing, I am going to call that out come review time.

Indies, being an indie author is not a free ride. Independence, which is what the ‘indie’ in our name comes from, doesn’t mean you get to put a stinking pile out there and then stand on your soapbox and wail about how editing is hard and your book is still just as good as those where people put the actual brain sweat in. Independence means that your end product will reflect exactly how much effort you, and only you, were willing to put into it.

I’ve read some excellent trad books. But, and here’s the but, folks of both stripes – I have read equally well-written, equally well-edited, equally well-presented indie books. It’s possible. And from me, at least, the latter case gets more respect, because that indie author didn’t have a full publishing company corralling their plot holes, trimming their dialogue tags, and making sure they had a cover that might attract eyes-on. That indie author had to do all the legwork themselves, and either learn how to do everything themselves or do research and hoard money to pay other people to do that good a job on their work.

Do I think I’m perfect? Hell no, I do not. I read stuff I think is better than mine from both indie and trad folks on a regular basis. However, I also read much worse from both. I don’t think I’m some kind of ‘artiste, darling!’ because I didn’t jump on the trad wagon when I had the chance. I don’t think choosing to go indie gives me a good excuse not to hold my books to the highest standard I can. 

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

All right, I’ve been scarily (ah-hah) bad about blogging recently. However, no way was I going to miss out on Hallowe’en, which is a feast that appeals to my sweet tooth and gives me costumes to look at (and photos for future blackmail to take). 

Of witches, werewolves, and vampires, dare I say, I don’t have a firm favourite when it comes to reading (or movies). (Yes, all right, calm down, there’s still plenty of Hallowe’en left to find me and feed me to a wandering hungry spirit…)

Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are pretty much unequaled for me when it comes to witches. They’re the traditional pointy-hatted type, but like almost anything the late Sir Terry had a quill in, they take the stereotypes and twist them into a pretzel, and provide a lot of awesome one-liners while they do it. 

Werewolves (and most other types of were-creature) are a fantasy and urban fantasy staple, and there are a lot of stories out there to pick from. I do rather regret the over-muscled “Alpha” stereotype, which always feels to me like the human author projecting pretty much the downside of a human mentality onto a character and using the “animal instincts” as the excuse, but I do have about three-quarters of my own were story saved on a thumb drive somewhere. The werewolf Alpha continually gets his come-uppance from a were-cat, in case you were wondering.

As someone’s about to point out, I do actually have a vampire novel out, Death is for the Living. It’s true. It also does bad, bad things to the traditional vampire tropes (vampire hunters on a yacht, in the Caribbean, anyone?), but I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m personally in favour of the slightly nastier vampire type – the type that has all the strength and magical or other abilities and lost any moral compass they started out with in a bar centuries ago.

So, without further ado, which mythical creature are you?

Available for pre-order: The Gaia Solution

Available for pre-order: The Gaia Solution

The Gaia Solution releases 8th November!

I’m always happy to have a friend’s book to boost, and today I’m excited to find out more about the next and final book in Claire Buss’s dystopian trilogy, The Gaia Solution, which is coming out as e-book and paperback on Amazon next month. This series has already proven to be solidly popular with readers, up to and including a Raven Award for the first book, The Gaia Effect, in 2017, and The Gaia Solution looks set to continue the trend.

So, without further ado…

The Blurb

Kira, Jed and their friends have fled New Corporation and joined the Resistance, but their relief is short-lived as they discover how decimated the human race has become and learn of an environmental crisis that threatens to destroy their existence. Kira and Jed must travel up the mountain to the New Corporation stronghold, City 50, to bargain for sanctuary while Martha and Dina risk everything to return to City 42 and save those who are left. With the last of her reserves Gaia, the fading spirit of the Earth, uses her remaining influence to guide Kira and her friends but ultimately, it’s up to humanity to make the right choice.

More about The Gaia Collection series

The Gaia Collection is Claire’s hopeful dystopian trilogy, set 200 years in the future after much of the planet and the human race have been decimated during The Event, when the world went to war with high-energy radiation weapons. In The Gaia Effect, Kira and Jed Jenkins – a young couple who were recently allocated a child – together with their closest friends, discover Corporation have been deliberately lying to them and forcing them to remain sterile. With help from Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, the group of friends begin to fight back against Corporation eventually winning and taking over the governance of City 42.

In The Gaia Project, Corporation fight back under a new, more terrifying organization called New Corp and Kira, Jed and their friends end up fleeing for their lives trying to find a safe place to live. They travel to City 36 and City 9 in vain and must go further afield.

In the final book, The Gaia Solution, the main characters have ended up with the Resistance and not only do they have to deal with surviving against New Corp but an extinction environmental event is looming on the horizon and they’re running out of time to save what’s left of the human race.

About the Author

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

I was also lucky enough to have Claire over for an interview a little while ago, and she confessed to me that she usually has multiple writing projects on the go, so fans shouldn’t be concerned about the series finale: I’m pretty sure there’s lots more coming soon from this author.

You can confirm that with Claire in person wherever you like to hang out online:

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

‘Neither heads nor tails of it’, or, in the UK, ‘neither head nor tail of it’ refers to confusion, a state of puzzlement akin to staring at something so strange that you can’t decipher even which end of the matter you’re looking at. My favourite etymology theory for this phrase involves Cicero and confusion, nothing to do with currency at all.

I decided to look into this phrase after a copy-editor at ROC Fantasy left me staring at ‘heads nor tales’ (a bigger team doesn’t always mean better editing, class), and it turned out to be pretty interesting. 

There’s also some required disambiguation on ‘heads or tails’, the traditional ask when flipping a coin. A few of the etymology sites hold the opinion that the two phrases have the same origin, which I’m not entirely in agreement with, although I can completely understand why that theory looks tempting. 

Confusion doesn’t equal gambling, although it can lead to it

I’m not in agreement that you can draw an equals sign between ‘neither heads nor tails of it’ and ‘heads or tails’ because it smacks of sloppy thinking to me. ‘Heads or tails’, variously ‘navia aut caput‘, ‘heads or crosses’, etc., depending on your era and location is an ‘or’ phrase, a pretty simple ‘if this, then that’ outcome. Flip a coin to decide, because there are two outcomes are so equal it’s impossible to decide between them; let’s leave it to chance.

‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, indicates confusion at encountering something hitherto unknown or impossible to understand. Although it implies that there are two options to the confusion, you might also be looking at neither head nor tail, but the third generation of conjoined offspring. While you may certainly flip a coin to attempt to decide which end of the issue you’re looking at, or even if it is an end, I put it to you that this phrase is a lot less digital than the ‘heads or tails’, above. 

Neither heads nor tails

So if I’m so smart, what is the true etymology and meaning behind ‘neither heads nor tails’? 

Well, meaning’s easy. The Cambridge Dictionary, with its usual conciseness, boils it down to an inability to understand something.

The etymology seems to have got badly tangled in the ‘heads or tails’ debate. ‘Heads or tails’, after all, has a nice, clear, contemporary explanation, and flipping a coin goes back about as far as there were coins. Simple, and therefore popularly accepted. ‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, isn’t quite as simple, and, especially in the US, is assumed to relate to gambling, or possibly to a cute UK tradition, probably to do with sheep and isolated rural areas. 

However, if you look at French, for example, there’s an expression ‘sans queue ni tete‘, which translates to ‘without a head or a tail’ and means something confusing, which is anecdotal evidence that the Cicero explanation may have some truth to it. Why? Because French is a Latinate language (mostly); English is a part-Latin, part-Germanic hybrid with a vocabulary on Viagra and a bad habit of mugging other languages for new words. 

Cicero, for those who don’t know, was a Roman orator (calm down, it means a public speaker), and allegedly he used the phrase ‘ne caput nec pedes’ (neither head nor feet) to express a state of confusion. I like this theory because to me, it explains the slight difference in use and grammar between ‘or’ and ‘neither…nor’, and because there is an equivalent phrase in both French and English with the meaning of confusion.

Use in fiction

This phrase could be adapted very nicely to a variety of fictional settings. You’ve already seen three different variants in this one post, so if you toss in fantasy or sci-fi worldbuilding, the possibilities are nearly endless. Take a hydra, for example, or Cerberus, which are two examples I can think of to support the US version of the saying with the plurals.

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).

Chrysalides, cusps, and changes

Chrysalides, cusps, and changes

And just what the hell do chrysalides, cusps, and changes have to do with one another, or indeed the next book in the Cortii series?

All right, but they’ve got lovely alliteration. Which is author-y stuff in its own fashion. And they’re sorta-kinda relevant. Read on if you want to gather your arguments with that statement.

So, the chrysalis

I’ve been living in a bit of a chrysalis the last few years, and although one of my pet hates is fluttery things dive-bombing my head, which are on the whole what tend to emerge from chrysalides, I have hopes that I’m on the way to breaking out of mine. 

Maybe to dive-bomb someone’s head. Probably not, though, because although lost idiots who can’t work their cell phones seem to find me utterly irresistible, I prefer to avoid my own species for the most part.

I’d been steadily withdrawing into my chrysalis for most of the past decade. I had stuff to deal with at home, and it was eating increasing amounts of my energy. Add to that a demanding job in less-than-optimal conditions, and my energy dropped through the orange right into the red and started drilling through the bottom of the tank. The idea of going out with friends was enough to make me want to pull a cushion over my head, lock the door, and hide. Going for a walk, with the inevitable human contact, and then having to drag myself back again, wasn’t a relaxing prospect. Doing the groceries was a marathon that I gritted my teeth and got through. Writing was about the only thing I really still found fun, and even that was pulling down resources that were basically dry.

Mix in that I’d been sleeping on a sofabed for the last four – five years, and I wasn’t even doing much for the purely physical side of my exhaustion.

The cusp

Side order of glitterIt became increasingly clear over a period of years that, like so many things in life, no one was going to swan in and wave a wand and make everything better (with a possible side-order of gratuitous glitter, for reasons). If I wanted to not spend the rest of my existence trying to parse out dribbles of energy to deal with the absolute bare minimum of shit that had to get dealt with while being permanently stressed and irritated, I was going to have to bloody well find  some energy, get off my ass, and change something myself.

As most people don’t get a Classical education, some of you may not be familiar with the Greek myth of the fate of Sisyphus. Basically, he was a bastard in life who spent his afterlife doomed to push a big bloody rock up a steep hill – except when he almost had it to the top, it would roll all the way back down again. The Wikipedia version’s a bit less abbreviated.

I had a very visceral understanding of how Sisyphus felt.  Day to day shit was bottoming me out until all I wanted was to find a nice deep pit and pull the top in after me, and I had to come up with enough energy and motivation to make major life changes?

I’ve never had a lot of patience for weeping or screaming as a response to situations. Like thoughts and prayers, it may make you feel briefly better, but it’ll do absolutely bugger-all in any practical terms.

The changes

I therefore got off my ass, put my game face on, or what passes for it, and found a new job. With a boss I like, in a nice office, doing something I actually quite enjoy. That was April. I’d been planning to up sticks and leave town altogether, but was foiled by the fact that unless I wanted to move to Toronto or Montreal, there was basically very little going in terms of jobs I could do that I wanted to do outside Vancouver.

However, that still left my home situation. I was less stressed at work (and given the stress levels in the first three months of any new job, feel free to draw conclusions), but I pretty clearly wasn’t done. I was still hemorrhaging energy, because coming home was not, as it is for most people, relaxing. I was going from my employment, to more stress and no small amount of frustration, to sleep on a sofa, and then going back around again the next day.

In May, I started looking for a pet-friendly rental, in Vancouver, that I could afford. Anyone who’s spent time in Vancouver will be laughing hysterically at this one.

However, at this point I got lucky. There was in fact somewhere available, that had no issue with a pair of cats, it was in an area I wanted to live in, it was possible to get to work from there without spending three hours stuck in traffic each way, and I could even afford it, if I sucked in my spending a bit. It wasn’t available until July, but given Vancouver, hell, I jumped all over it.

What I hadn’t factored in was my complete lack of ability to hurry up and wait. I’d’ve made a very poor soldier. I wanted a change; in fact, given an increasing number of stress-related side-effects that, among other things, put me on steroid inhalers, I needed a change – but it was a tough change to make. I was going to leave a situation that was familiar and take a leap into the unknown. But I couldn’t even take that leap for another two months.

I spent a lot of time the past few months staring that that old line about those who give up freedom for safety deserve neither. I spent even more time staring at the fact that much as I couldn’t go on the way I was, getting somewhere I could cope with was going to involve a lot of upheaval, and not just for me. 

The kicker was that I was also leaving my 18-year relationship, which as anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to have to will tell you, is tough on everyone involved.

I sucked it up, carefully didn’t hit the liquor cabinet, compartmentalised busily, and finally made my move. I’m now, for the first time since I was nineteen, in my own place, on my own (well, with a pair of Siamese cats, who actually own the place and let me pay for it), only cleaning up after and shopping for myself, only organising my own life, and my Fitbit tells me that month over month, my resting heart rate has dropped ten bpm.

It’s going to take a while to build my energy back up, and probably just as long to figure out what I want to do with the freedom I scraped rock bottom and fought to find. The point to the mammoth post is, I guess, that I’m damned lucky. I have that freedom. I have choices. I’ll fight to keep them, and now I know that what looked impossible in the beginning is perfectly doable if I really have to.

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