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. 

The real species behind the Matrix

The real species behind the Matrix

The concept behind the Matrix

If you’ve watched any films in the past 20 years, you’ve probably seen at least one of the Matrix trilogy. Essentially, to mis-appropriate a Jurassic Park quote, ‘God created man, man created A.I., A.I. enslaved man’.

The A.I. in the film created a convincingly imperfect human society in virtual reality, which humans are plugged into at birth and thereafter are kept as biological batteries, producing heat (power) for the A.I., and most are blissfully ignorant of it all due to being immersed in the Matrix. 

The first Matrix is a very good film, and at the time it was pretty ground-breaking. Unfortunately the second and third in the series are an exercise in ‘wow, the first one made us way more money than we thought, let’s cash in… plot? Who needs a plot?’, but the first one explores A.I., offers some excellent and disturbing metaphors for society, prods you to think about fate versus free will, etc., etc.

It’s not necessarily as original as it looks

My brain is fond of waking me up at oh-my-god in the morning and presenting me with things to think about rather than letting me go back to sleep, and one of the things it presented me with early one morning, as I lay immobilised under two cats, was that someone who participated in the writing of the Matrix was a genius, but not an original one. 

Humanity has yet to achieve A.I., being more than slightly hindered by its own lack of I.

However, lacking A.I., which always makes a convenient villain for anything sci-fi, there is nonetheless a species on the planet that’s been successfully cultivating humans for food and heat for millennia – felis silvestris catus, or the domesticating cat. Pardon me, my mistake – domestic cat.

Most of the population has either lived with a cat at some point in their lives, or knows someone who does. There’s a hairy old joke about dogs being pets for people who need to be worshipped as gods, whereas cats are more for those who can deal with their gods turning up on their chests at 0500 and demanding a sacrifice.

It is however interesting to note that where humanity domesticated wolves way back in the days when they were still hunting wild animals for food and sport and engaging in bloody conflicts (oh, hey, hang on…) as companions and burglar alarms, and dogs today have been bred into so many different directions that in some cases the common ancestor is hard to believe, cats moved in with humans pretty much as soon as human habitations were much better than caves. Domestic cats today, although a little gentler than their fully wild cousins, and in slightly more varied colours and coats, are completely recognisable at a glance as close relatives of the smaller wildcats. 

Essentially, cats moved in, and in exchange for warmth and a little care, handled the small and mid-size pest problems that plagued humanity’s moderately filthy communities. When the Catholic church declared them witches’ familiars, and thousands of cats were killed across Europe, the Black Plague followed.

The deal is still pretty much on today, except with better sanitation the workload is less, and cats can spend more of their time training their human heat sources. In fact, one of mine has just turned up on my desk to explain that this habit of staring at lit screens, when one could be making a fuss of a cat, is something that should be addressed.

Ancestry again

Ancestry again

Ancestry – again

About a year ago, I wrote a post about finally taking the plunge on an Ancestry DNA test, and my intermittent interest in unearthing my likely unholy family history.

Sadly, the family myth about Peruvian ancestry was emphatically debunked – I appear to be a Northern European achievement, largely Anglo-Scots with some Irish and Germanic-Central European mixed in. Oh, and 2% Norwegian, which I can only assume equates to ‘Viking plus slowest woman in her village’.

This past few weeks, owing to a dry spell in my ability to convince myself to get stuck into the editing for Book 5 in the Cortii series, I’ve found myself back in Ancestry, knocking around and tidying up loose ends. Among other things, my direct paternal line appears to have sprung, fully-formed, from the nearest public house sometime in the mid-1700s somewhere along the much-disputed line marking the England-Scotland border. (Still haven’t cracked that one.)

What I did turn up, much to my entertainment, was a bunch of job ads from the New Scientist magazine archives, from when my father founded Servomex Controls Limited in 1952. As I didn’t meet my father until several years after his retirement, the only thing I really knew about his company was that a. it existed, and b. his secretary was so bad at typing that Dad, at the time the Managing Director, used to type up all his own letters. I have that typewriter in my cupboard – it still works.

By the time I met my father, he’d sold his stake in Servomex and retired onto a one-off Mudie-built wooden ketch named Gub-Gub. Since I think I’m the first to dig into the family history, he may or may not have known that the family, in the 1800s, had a branch in merchant shipping out of Liverpool, but judging by the generous splash of Irish / Northern European in my genetic heritage from his side of the family, I strongly suspect that if I ever manage to put together the lineage past the 1700s, I’m going to find a few more merchants / soldiers / other stripe of travellers.

Probably this goes some way to explaining why I’m currently based out of Western Canada and my nearest relations are my half-brother, in the Caribbean, and a branch of the family descended from one of my great-uncles who never came back from South America, in Santiago.

Mainstream, much to my surprise…

Mainstream, much to my surprise…

Mainstream, me?

Well, based on the review round Death is for the Living just came out of, yes, maybe?

I put Through the Hostage through Hidden Gems last September, and got a majority of 4- and 5-star reviews with the expected smattering of ‘confused!’, which is pretty much business as usual across the series. Death is for the Living went through the same process last month, and came back with much more of a ‘Marmite’ reaction (love it or loathe it). The reviews could be largely summarised as ‘Not what I expected – WTF?’ and ‘Not what I expected – cool!’.

I’m not sure if that’s because the sci-fi community tends to be more aligned with the ‘expect the unexpected’, whereas vampire UF readers have more defined expectations. It’s possible. Vampire hunters, based on a yacht, in the Caribbean, isn’t a plot I’ve come across before, and I’ve been reading sci-fi and various types of fantasy since I was six or seven.

On the other hand, it seems that based on those review rounds that by comparison to my urban fantasy, my sci-fi series is, in fact, mainstream. One day soon I’m sure I’ll be able to stop chortling hysterically about that concept. Maybe. My sense of humour has been described as malign, and since I took that as a compliment, that probably provides all necessary explanation.

I have a feeling that that reaction’s liable to remain status quo, in any case, as although my sci-fi series is biting hard right now, and I’ll probably be working through the next couple of planned books in that before I take the path less travelled again, the next urban fantasy story I have rattling around in the ‘condemned’ areas of my brain is about a half-siren, half-asshole (her description) acquisitions specialist on a quest for the peaches of immortality.

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