Thursday, December 29, 2011

Two books

So, I started the elf book tonight.  It's been in my head mulling around for a month and a half, and it's been on several pieces of paper for nearly the same amount of time.  I love the first chapter, and I love the way the story unfolds in my head.  I'm really going to have fun writing this. 

Only problem is I'm three chapters into my other book.  Even at my longest periods of writing, I didn't mix the first two books I wrote.  I'm told that it can be dangerous, mixing both story lines and voices. 

Ah, well--it's a learning process, no?  I still haven't completed the first million words that I'm supposed to throw away, anyway. 

That said, I'm going to start my word count entries at the bottom of the blog again.  I doubt any of my readers really care what the word counts are, but it serves as a great source of accountability for me. 

2012 should be a great year for writing! 


Word Count:
Atlantis: 2294
Elf:  531

Monday, December 26, 2011

The winner

*cue announcer voice*


Um, before I make the grand announcement, how many of you recall what winner I'm talking about?

Maybe I should refresh the topic.  When Cataclysm first came out, I ran a contest: for every mention on Facebook or Twitter that I heard about, I put that person's name into a hat in a drawing for the honor of naming a character (most likely after themselves, but I'm leaving the option open) in a future book.  Specifically, the elf book; if you're not sure what I'm talking about there, check back a few blog posts to the one where I mentioned what I have in store for next year. 

Of course, "into a hat" is a bit relative, me being the techno geek I am.  Instead, I took the number of entries I had and listed them in Excel.  Then I kinda randomized them a bit by shuffling some of the higher-character names down the list and vice versa.  For those in multiple times, I moved their entries around so that they weren't right by each other; I don't know why I felt like doing that, since it made absolutely no difference on the odds of winning, but I felt like it. Then I told Excel to pull a number out of its RNG (Random Number Generator) and....

*cue announcer voice again*


Sue Darby! 

Congrats, Sue!  I'll be in contact with you in person on Facebook. 


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, all

Rachelle Gardner, an agent whose blog I read religiously, posted this a couple of days ago.  It's definitely good enough to copycat.  It's a video of a flash mob that happened December 18 at a mall in Redondo Beach, CA.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, all!  That, or Happy Yule, or Happy Hanukkah, or Merry Festivus, or whatever greeting brings you the most happiness.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A (sorta, kinda different) Christmas Story part 3

Christmas morning brought two teenage girls leaping onto Matt and Crystal's bed; the twins had made their ritual of excitability a Christmas Day tradition since they were very young.  Crystal was glad to see that Matt, who was up every other morning well before dawn, was still in bed and had even feigned sleep for the girls' benefit.

"Mmm, good morning, girls," he said, sitting up.  "Why so excited?"

"It's Christmas Day, Dad!" Heidi said, completing the ritual.  "This is going to be the best Christmas ever."

"Is it?  Did you guys fly the thrakkoni to raid a shopping center when I wasn't watching?"

"Dad, that's not what Christmas is about," Linda chimed in, disapproval plain on her face.  "I mean, we did, but it was only for wrapping supplies.  You had nothing for wrapping gifts here.  Some of the committee wanted to raid the library for paper, but Natalia stopped them."

"Good for Natalia.  So, if you didn't fly away to get gifts, what did you use?"

"You'll see.  C'mon, get dressed!  Let's get downstairs!"  Linda scampered out, followed closely by Heidi, leaving the adults in peace to get dressed.

The family arrived in the grand hall to find all of the humans milling around the huge tree that RJ's group had brought in.  The Crystal-angel's head nearly brushed the projection of the sky, and from the top down hung dozens of yards of garland made from popcorn and berries.  Ribbons and painted balls were wired to the branches, and Crystal was proud of her experimental magical efforts that had paid off with hundreds of tiny flickering lights set in the boughs.  Under the tree were piled colorfully-wrapped boxes, all the same shape and size. 

"Not bad," Matt said, nodding his head in approval.

Krista looked up from the ground floor to see the family standing at the railing above.  She clapped her hands twice, quieting the crowd.  As people turned to face the tree, she began to sing, "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful."  Other voices joined.  Soon the entire population was meshed in song, and Crystal was glad to hear Matt's baritone enter the mix. 

Singing done, the girls skipped down to join the rest of the people in searching through the boxes under the tree.  Crystal and Matt followed and stood near the group of mages, watching the sorting process.  Soon everyone had a box labeled with his or her name, and on cue they opened them.

"Pine cones?" Matt asked Krista.

"We gathered them," Krista said.  "Each of us picked one person to exchange a gift with, and then we found a pine cone in the woods, decorated it with paint and glitter, and wrote one special wish for the coming year on the bottom.  It's better than a bauble bought at Walmart, don't you think?"

"Absolutely, I do.  It's quite a bit better.  But where did you get all the glitter?"

"We caught a pixie in the Forbidden Forest and shook her upside down till we got enough."

"Huh," Matt chortled, his mirth building into a full belly laugh.  "Well played, dear."

"Sorscha and Breenda helped us go liberate some decorating stuff from the remains of a couple of stores back home.  The survivors had already ransacked the food supplies, but I guess we were the only ones to see the usefulness of glitter and shiny paper."

Matt gazed around at the joyful conversations  filling the main hall as people showed off their gifts.  "Impressive.  Very well done, in fact," he said.  "And now, I have a surprise."

The huge oak doors leading in to the grand hall opened suddenly, and a mountain of a man dressed as Santa Claus walked in. "Ho ho ho!" he said, his magically-enhanced voice booming.

"Santa?" Krista and Phoenix both looked sideways at Matt, voices sardonic.

Matt shrugged.  "What's Christmas without Santa Claus?  We've gained a few smaller children this year as we've rescued survivors of the cataclysm, so it seemed important.  Besides, he wanted to join us."

Crystal recognized the figure and chuckled.  "Wasn't the Norse version called Sinterklaas, or something like that?"  She strode over to the man and hugged him.

"I take it Crystal knows who that is," Phoenix said.

"Correct.  That's actually Thor under the red suit and beard," Matt said.  Birch, the Norse mythology expert, gasped.

"And here come Thor's--or, more accurately, Valhalla's--thrakkoni.  Aren't they more attractive than standard reindeer?" Matt continued, pointing outside to where creatures with the bodies of winged horses and the chest and heads of women were landing.  Off each one's back leaped a fur-clad human warrior, and then the thrakkoni transformed into humanoid shapes.

"Those--those are Valkyrie, aren't they?" Birch breathed.  He looked at Matt, eyes wide. When Matt nodded, Birch said, "They're gorgeous."

"Indeed," Thor said, smiling as he walked up.  "Under normal conditions they're as dangerous as they are beautiful, but there'll be no fighting today.  I've brought my crew over from Valhalla to share the day.  Matt, didn't you say something about a feast?  I'm starved."

Matt, the god of war, jovially made a show of sizing Thor up.  "Well," he said, "there goes one cow.  I hope my thrakkoni have made enough food."

"When have they not?"

"Good point.  Let's go eat."

The two gods led the crowd into the dining hall for a holiday feast.


Hope you enjoyed this hastily-put-together story.  Also, I hope you all have a joyous and merry holiday season, no matter what you call it, and no matter how many or how few Walmart baubles you receive.  A well-done gift of love, hope, and joy is, to my opinion, worth more than all of the NinjaKitchen 1000's that will fit under a tree. 


Thursday, December 22, 2011

A (sorta, kinda different) Christmas Story part 2


Matt leveled his gaze at Krista. He said, "Yes?" and his voice drew the word out from a growl to a hiss.

"Weren't you also the Norse God of Justice?" she asked.

"Well, yeah. So? War to the Greeks or justice to the Norse--pretty much the same thing. What's your point?"

"Well, I'm wondering if we'd asked to celebrate Yule or Saturnalia, whether you'd have approved that."

"Yule, sure. At least that holiday wasn't named after someone else."

Krista shrugged. "But you get the whole first month of spring named after you, in addition to one of the days of the week. Why are you getting so pissy over one day named after someone else?"

Matt sighed. "Okay, point taken. Go ahead and celebrate the day. Call it Christmas, or Yule, or Saturnalia, or Hanukkah, or Festivus, or whatever you wish. RJ, you're in charge of the tree. Go find a good tall pine for the great hall, but don't go near the Forbidden Forest."

"Forbidden Forest?" Krista asked. "Are you being serious, Matt?"

"Of course not. This isn't Hogwarts."

The timid mood broke with Matt's joke and turned celebratory. RJ spun on his heels and left to gather a tree-cutting detail. Krista called Phoenix, Birch, and the other mages to her to plan decorations. Matt, meanwhile, pulled several strands of energies to him and began knitting them together close to his chest. He thrust his hands out toward the knot of humans, opening them with a flourish. Krista and Crystal both gasped.

"That's--beautiful!" Krista said, reaching for the tree topper that Matt had created. Crystal smiled, trying to hide a blush, as she realized that the little angel was actually a replica of herself, with a glowing aura surrounding the flowing white dress.

"Thank you," Matt said. "I'm sure you can find enough supplies around the estate to decorate adequately. There's only one problem remaining, and unfortunately it will likely completely ruin your celebration."

"What is it?" Krista asked.

"There's no WalMart available."

Krista's smile lit up her face as she winked conspiratorially at Matt and said, "Oh, I think we can manage."

(To be continued)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Guest Post: Victoria Watson

TOSK says: I'm pleased to welcome fellow Trestle Press author Vic Watson to the blog today:

Vic says:  First of all, I’d like to thank Stephen for having me on his blog today.

So, you like to write, huh? You think your stories are good and the select few you’ve shown them to agree. So where do you go next?

I personally started a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Northumbria University (UK) in 2008. I decided to do this so that I could hone my craft and be given some rigid deadlines. One thing I struggle with as a writer is keeping focused and I find a deadline helps me to keep my eye on the ball/prize etc. During the two-year part-time course, I made some great contacts (including agents and publishers that did guest lectures), learnt to share my work with a large group and accept their criticism and praise and I feel I also became braver as a writer. I no longer wanted to write chick-lit, I wanted to write serious, intelligent pieces. The course also gave me the opportunity to experiment and try lots of different styles in order to find the right one for me.

I’m not saying a degree is for everyone – it’s expensive and time consuming – but it really helped me. There may be colleges near you that do shorter, less expensive courses to get you in the writing frame of mind. There are other ways though. You could set up and blog, like Stephen’s wonderful page, and preview your work on there and ask for feedback. You could look for writers groups in your area. If there aren’t any, set one up and put adverts on Twitter, Facebook, in your local supermarket, post office etc. Or you could even go to a reading group as you may find a lot of aspiring writers there.

I finished working on the Masters in September 2010 and sadly have not spent a lot of time on my novel since. However, I still meet up with former classmates to jolly each other along and share work. It is important to have a support network. I have been working on flash fiction and short stories mainly this year had a piece of work published in an anthology and in October 2011, I had my first e-book ‘I Should Have Seen it Coming’ published by Trestle Press.

“How?” I hear you ask!

Social networking played a massive part in my getting published with Trestle. In March this year, bored stupid due to illness, I started using Twitter. I have to admit, initially it was for celebrity tidbits but I soon realised there are far more interesting people out there! After a couple of months on Twitter, I decided to start blogging. Because I have a background in reviewing, I used my blog ( to do book reviews and social comment. Through this, and Twitter, I built up a network of new writer friends including Darren Sant (another of Trestle’s great authors). Darren liked my blogging and asked me to do a couple of guest posts on Close to the Bone ( After featuring a few of my articles, the guys behind the site: Darren, Craig and Lewt asked me to become a permanent member of the team which I was thrilled about.

During my Twitter time, I added a lot of people who I was interested in: writers, agents, publishers and journalists. I find Twitter to be a great source of entertainment as well as a great professional tool. I added Giovanni Gelati, a friend of Darren’s, who also happened to be head honcho at Trestle Press. This is how I got published. I now have two e-books available through Amazon – ‘I Should Have Seen it Coming’ about a woman who loses her job due to outsourcing and then pretends to be psychic in order to make money and ‘Keeping Quiet’ the story of an elderly woman looking back on her life of keeping the peace and the choices she’s made. Both stories have twists at the end.

When (yes, when, not if) you get published, unless you’ve signed a multi-million dollar deal with an international publishing house (and if you have, congratulations!), you will need to do a lot of self-marketing. Again social networks like Google+, Facebook and Twitter are really important. You can make friends with people and, if you have a blog, offer to do interviews or reviews of their work in exchange for them reviewing yours. You could offer friends free copies to write Amazon reviews for you. There’s also which is a great site for readers and writers. The aim is to publicise your book to as many people as possible. Promotions like free books or competitions are also very helpful.

You need to be proactive throughout the whole of this process. This is something I had difficulty with as I often felt I was being cheeky by asking people to do me favours. But most people are happy to help out. No-one is going to critique your draft if you don’t ask them. You need to approach an agent – they are so busy they will never know you exist unless you contact them. Likewise, no publisher is going to knock your door down and beg to publish your work.

You need to have faith in your work. Remember, though, with the advent of e-books, there are opportunities to self-publish and it is regarded as a legitimate way of getting yourself noticed, not derided the way it used to be.

As a starting point, please feel free to have a look at my blog as I have branched out and am also publishing flash fiction and featuring up-and-coming authors so feel free to submit something to me. My email address is You can find me on Twitter @vpeanuts and I’m on Facebook as Vic Watson. I’m also on Goodreads.

Happy writing!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A (sorta, kinda different) Christmas Story

"The approach of Christmas brings harrassment and dread to many excellent people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a year." - Mark Twain

Commercial break!  My publisher, Trestle Press, is running a special deal between now and Christmas Eve.  Buy any Trestle book during that time, and you get another one of your choice (and same price) for free.  If you haven't already purchased Cataclysm, then, now's a great time to do so.  Once you do, let me know and I'll put you in touch with the guy who can provide you with the freebie of your choice. 
Buy it at!
Buy it at!

Buy one get one FREE!

And now--on to the story

Crystal stood in the throne room shifting her weight back and forth.  Rellgll's reports were always  interminable.

Outside, Matt's magic had created a winter wonderland that beckoned to her.  Land that was normally green was now carpeted in the fluffiest, cleanest snow Crystal had ever seen.  As much as she enjoyed riding across the glades on Lady in the summer environment Matt's shell normally maintained, there was something about trotting through the white fields with the fog of cold breath trailing both horse and rider that Crystal found intoxicating. 

She wanted to be outside, but the business to come was too important.

A few moments of silence brought her attention back from fantasies of rides across snowy fields to the end of Rellgll's report.  She looked up at Matt in time to see him nod permission to speak toward RJ, who stepped forward nervously.  Crystal glanced around the room at her fellow humans; they were all as tense as their chosen leader. 

"Yes?" Matt asked, his voice making it clear that he sensed RJ's unease.

RJ cleared his throat and dove in.  "Matt--Mars--Sir--um, we've--the humans, that is, have all conferenced together and discussed the period of year, and we believe that it would be in the best interest of everyone involved to hold a morale-raising celebratory event on...."

Matt cut him off, his face stern, "Cut the crap, RJ.  What do you want?"

RJ glanced around for support, panicking over being bumped out of his planned speech.  Ah, well, Crystal thought, careful to hold her thoughts away from the telepathic link to her husband, you can take the president out of the college, but not the college out of the president.

Clearing his throat, RJ plunged ahead bravely.  "We want to celebrate Christmas."

"I'm sorry," Matt said, a wicked smile playing across his face.  "I couldn't hear you."

This from the god who can hear a gnat fall on the other side of his estate, Crystal thought drily, still holding her thoughts closely to herself.

"Christmas.  The holiday.  We would like your permission to celebrate Christmas."

"You want to celebrate--Christmas?" Matt asked.  He was playing with RJ the same way Crystal had watched cats playing with mice before making the kill.

"Yes.  Is that a problem?"

"What do you think?  You want to celebrate Christmas?  As in Christmas?  YOU'VE COME TO THE GRECO-ROMAN GOD OF WAR TO ASK TO CELEBRATE CHRIST MAS?"

At the end of the chamber, the bell other deities used to signal their approach chimed softly into the silence, its vibrations apparently caused by the explosive power of Matt's last sentence.  Everyone but Sorscha had shrunk away from the angry god; Crystal, meanwhile, recovered quickly and barely managed to keep from chuckling at the oddly ironic bell-ringing. 

Krista stepped around her cowering husband and cleared her throat to speak.

(to be continued)

Writing about religion is hard.  Hell, any communication about religion is hard.  I've spent a decade and a half managing classrooms, and I can tell you from personal experience that I can't even say the word "religion" in a group of people without offending somebody. 

Well, all right, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but still....

A good friend of mine on Facebook wrote a book that's sorta-similar to Cataclysm.  She then had a good friend who's Christian get on to her about her book because it talks about other gods.  I had something similar happen with Cataclysm, too.  In fact, the expositional chapter (the talk over dinner) almost got yanked because a) it didn't contain any action, and b) it veers off into sacrilege if you're sensitive to that.  In fact, that chapter pokes fun at nearly every religion or pantheon out there.  Oh, and c) exposition tends to be a very bad thing to have in prose; it's hard to maintain suspension of disbelief when one guy's just standing there lecturing.  Anyway, I went back and forth on it and revised it several times, and ended up--well, it's there.  Flip past it if you don't like it.  It's fiction, anyway, as in not-intended-to-be-considered-true.  Or as in suspend your disbelief, but don't really believe.  Say after me: there is no Hogwarts, and Frodo doesn't really exist.  And TOSK doesn't really hate Christmas. 

So all that said, this story I'm telling (in three parts) is less about Return of the Gods and more about my own thoughts on Christmas and its meaning.  I hope you'll all enjoy it.

Oh, and buy my book.

Buy my book.

Buy my book.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

In 2012....

"Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well." - Mark Twain

Another of Cricket's blogging challenges coming.
Mini Blogging Challenge: In 2012, come heck or high water, I am going to ___________.

Problem is, I have a few things to go in the blank.  Right now, I just wanna fill it in with "get over this damned pneumonia."  I don't recall ever being this vexed by an illness, but this one has been sucking the life out of me for the past couple of weeks.  I've only done a relatively few blog posts, and I've shown no love to The Grumpy Dean's Twitter account, and worse--I've not written much at all.  Before the Z-Pac started working and I felt like writing this weekend, in fact, I'd only done about 2K words all month.  I know, I complained once about the environment and a certain piece of electronics it contains, and that has something to do with it, but fact is I've been too wiped to really do much.

Luckily, there's a light.  It's at the end of the tunnel, hopefully, or perhaps it's the train bearing down on me.  Whatever.  But I'm feeling better, for the time being, and proof of that is that I finally finished a short story I was working on and submitted it for an anthology that Trestle Press is coming out with.  It might even, in fact, get published separately; we'll see what the publisher thinks. 

Okay, so where was I?  Oh, right.  In 2012, come hell or high water, I'm'a gonna finish my dissertation.  I used to (mostly jokingly) blame my friend Hillary for the delays, since she had (also mostly jokingly) threatened me with the wrath of doom if I finished mine before she finished hers.  Fact is, I got mired down in what wouldn't work and didn't realize there was a fairly simple solution out there.  Ain't it funny how that happens?  Granted, funny isn't the right word in this case; more appropriate is stupid-expensive, but funny works regardless.  Anyway, I sent out a message to some friends asking for help, and one of them sent back exactly the term I needed to look up to get the study rolling again.  It's been approved, and I'm collecting data as I speak--um, type. Besides, Hillary graduated this past fall, so I'm somewhat out of excuses now.  Time to diss, man! 

In 2012, come hell or high water, I'm'a also gonna publish more novels.  The Crystal and Matt story has a couple of more novels already planned in it, and it's such a solid world that there's plenty of story remaining there.  It's kind of like Darkover; once you build a world that's interesting enough, the stories can just keep coming. 

But I also have a great idea that I'm currently plotting and building the family lineage and back story for.  I'll not say much yet, except that I'm excited about it.  Elves!  I like elves, but don't expect this to be the standard "they live forever in trees, have long ears, and disdain contact with man" story.  There's enough of those that it bores me, and a bored author makes for a mega-boring story.  But anyway, yeah, it's about elves, as well as one strong Southern girl with a temper and a prophecy. 

So--multiple projects at once should surprise no one.  I'm well into the writing of Book 3 of Return of the Gods, and hope to have that done by early February.  It's called Atlantis, which gives a clue as to where it's set, and involves two rather unlikely characters working together (you've all read standard mythology, yes?  I kinda twist it a bit, if you haven't noticed already) to save all of mankind and nagakind as well.  In, like, 80,000 words or less.

In 2012, come hell or high water, I'm, or rather we're, gonna get out of this apartment.  After I sold my house in Wasilla back in 2006, I rented because I was watching the bottom drop out of the market and wanted no part of the droppings.  I rented when I moved to Mississippi, and again to Virginia, because I refuse to buy a home without first learning something about the area the home is in.  I've now rented for two years here because--well, because I promised that we would, because Heide and Jessa are dang-nabbit tired of living out of boxes, and I don't blame them.  We picked a nice apartment, really; it's expensive, but there's very little neighbor interaction other than what we choose, and there's plenty of parking, and other than the itty-bitty kitchen it's a spacious place.  That, and daddy doesn't have to mow any damn grass.  But it's time. 

How's that for some lofty goals?


Friday, December 16, 2011

Another sidebar

Here's another scene I wrote just for the fun of it.  It doesn't appear in Book 2, but it could....

Crystal sat on the edge of her large bathtub, legs dangling in the steaming water.  Her feet tingled from the warmth as her energy slowly returned.  It had been a long day.  She’d survived the efforts to build her body up; she chuckled drily thinking of all the exercises over the past several weeks.  Matt had built her a special workout room to use after she’d returned to the estate, and she’d been throwing her body at it every day in the name of gaining just a little more strength, just a little more balance, and just a little more quickness before her final battle.  It was as exhausting as it was exhilarating, but it was also working.
She jumped slightly as hands folded over her shoulders and began caressing the knots from the muscles.  Crystal thought of spinning around to confront her attacker, but she was too relaxed already.  What attacker started the assault by massaging knots out of shoulder muscles, anyway?  Besides, she was in the heart of her husband’s estate; an attacker would spring a hundred wards before he could get to her in her own bath. 
Speaking of her husband—they weren’t Matt’s hands; she would have known his touch in an instant.  A little cold, the hands were, which meant they were likely attached to the arms of a member of the cold-blooded race of thrakkoni. 
She relaxed into the massage as palms pressed her shoulder blades around and thumbs attacked the knots underneath. 
“Thank you, Sorscha,” Crystal breathed.
A gentle huff, the thrakkoni version of a chuckle, sounded from behind.  No, not Sorscha’s huff, she realized, but a voice followed the chuckle before Crystal had time to ask. 
“Not Sorscha, ma’am.  I am Breenda.”
Crystal craned her head as far around as it would go, and the thrakkon responded by leaning around to meet Crystal’s gaze with a smile.  She was pretty, and she seemed—young.  Crystal couldn’t figure out what it was about the thrakkon that made her think of youth, since all members of that race bore a timeless porcelain-esque visage.  Breenda’s vibrant metallic red hair made Crystal think of some of the rock bands she had followed in her youth.
Breenda went back to the massage efforts and said, “Is my massage pleasing to you, ma’am?”
“Sure, but where’s Sorscha?  And why do you keep calling me ma’am?”
“Well—but—you’re the lady of the estate.  I was taught that it is important to be polite and proper with you.”
Crystal sighed as much as she could without moving her shoulders out of the massage.  “Sorscha and I have already been through the ‘ma’am’ stuff.”
“Yes, but Sorscha is the master’s servant.”
Oh.  “So this massage, then, is an audition?”
“Well, I did want to get to know you, and vice-versa, ma…  Crystal.  Sorscha speaks very highly of you, and once you become a goddess, you know that you’ll want someone of your own to look after you.”
A thrakkon of her own—it sounded nice, Crystal thought.  She’d never really considered that far into the future, though.  Odds were stacked heavily against her in the upcoming trials, whatever they might be. 
Still, the massage was awfully good, and the more Crystal thought about it, the better the idea of having a servant of her own sounded. 
“Well,” Crystal said, relaxing once again, “keep this up, Breenda, and I’ll put in a good word for you with the goddess if she happens to appear.”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Slogging on....and counting entries

"The report of my death was an exaggeration." - Mark Twain

Hell, anytime you can quote Mark Twain, you should do it.  When it's applicable, even better.  Those of you who know me personally know that I've been sick and getting sicker for the past couple of weeks.  I'm too tough/stubborn/arrogant/whatever to call in sick, so I've been going in to work and sitting there doing the bare minimum to still be considered functionally alive.  I finally went in to the doctor yesterday, and he claimed I have pneumonia--hence, the rumors of my poor bed-ridden state thanks to the wonders of Facebook friends.

So, yeah, he was wrong, and I'm certain of it.  For one thing, he started by dismissing the fact that my blood counts were normal.  Elevated white blood cell count is one of the hallmark differences between pneumonia and bronchitis.  Instead, he focused on the X-ray which showed a lightness in one spot, but I also forgot to tell him about a previous case of Valley Fever that was the main reason I left Phoenix in '95 (and often leaves scars behind in the lungs).  So--yeah, I have bronchitis, but it was amusing to walk in to greet the receptionist who looked like she'd seen a ghost.

Doesn't really matter.  The treatment for bronchitis is antibiotics and rest.  The treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics and rest.  I went home with antibiotics, so all is well.  

Anyway--speaking of ghosts--time to count up the entries for the contest I ran starting 11/22.  Remember that one, where I said that every mention of my book got you an entry in a drawing to name a future character?  Well, I'm in the final stages of planning that next book out, and so it's past time that I figure out what the names are going to be.  That said, it was a really tough thing to determine how many entries people get.  I'm copying the count below, alphabetized by first name.  A couple of you went to town mentioning me all over the place, and several people were wonderful and mentioned me once.  I can't claim perfection as a trait, though so I'll give everyone till Monday, December 19, to let me know if I've missed something. 

Here is what I have:

Akiotena – 4
Amanda Folk - 1
Amanda Little - 1
Birch Wood - 1
Corey King - 1
Cricket Walker - 1
Heather Andrews - 1
Hillary Hodges - 1
Jolinda Clapp - 1
JT Lewis - 1
Linna Drehmel – 8
Rebecca Hogg – 2
Sean Grande - 1
Sue Darby – 18
Tami Grande - 1

Let me know by 5 PM EST Monday and I'll hold the drawing Monday evening.
Good luck!


Monday, December 12, 2011

To kill a television

I'm going to kill the TV.

I guess "kill" isn't the right word; that verb implies that its object had a life to begin with.  Everyone knows that a television is an inanimate object, incapable of either life or death.

Still.  I'm gonna kill it.

Why has the TV become the subject of my wrath, you ask?  (granted, you may not be asking that, but for the sake of my ego I'm going to pretend you are) 

It's simple, really.  It's easier to be angry at an inanimate object than a person, especially when the person really isn't doing anything wrong. 

Our apartment seemed so large when we moved in.  There were just the three of us, and two of us claimed the same bedroom, so the extra space of our three-bedroom was nice.  Excessive, perhaps, and a bit of a splurge, but nice.  Add to that the fact that our daughter doesn't hang out in the living room much; she typically either entertains herself reading or working on her computer in her room or watching movies with strange Japanese-sounding titles with her mother in our room during the hours I sit at my desk in the living room pounding out prose. 

Then....  The son came to visit.  He's a great kid, really, and enjoyable to be around.  It's just that he likes to entertain himself by watching TV.  There's no real TV service in the third bedroom, so guess where he hangs out. 

I've tuned out the daughter's TV time when I've had to by covering my auditory canals with earphones full of Mozart.  It works great, but I've come to realize that's because her preferred shows contain some talk, some laughter, and occasionally some scenes where the guy and the girl aren't even talking to each other any more.  The shows our son watches, though, contain a lot of crashes and explosions.  He seems to get a kick out of watching crap get blown up.  Being a guy, myself, I have to admit that it makes for interesting entertainment, certainly, and if they'd just time the bangs and booms to the rhythm of the Mozart song I'm listening to it would be great.  Unfortunately, they don't, and it actually makes for more of a distraction than if I'd just gone without the music when I start whipping my head around looking for the well-armed zombie horde that's coming after me. 

Between February and November I wrote, revised, and published (well, soon to be pubbed for some of it) well over 200,000 words.  Since the start of November?  2,200 words.   *sigh*

At night, I've just given in to the inevitable and started enjoying family time every evening, which left me an hour or so in the morning to be creative.  It's not a huge block, but I've been able to do some revisioning during that time.  This morning, though, he was up when I got there, and the TV was already rolling.

Now, I know it's really my problem.  Were I a better communicator, I'd be able to discuss the conflicting needs evident in our situation and navigate us to a mutually pleasant resolution.  As I said, he's a great and reasonable kid.  Problem is, this was 30 minutes B.C. (Before Coffee).  Any attempt at reasonable communication on my part would've sounded like "Blurgy arf arf zroom rallim TV fissun."  I mean, there's just some things I've learned not to do.  I don't hold financial conversations with the wife after consuming alcohol, and I don't speak with students or the kids B.C. 

On the other hand, the TV is a 52" beauty that I love watching football on.  It would be a sin to kill that, no?

Ah, well--Starbucks, here I come.  At least I can order coffee reasonably well B.C.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Those silly booksellers

"With businesses, you go to the same places because you like the service, you like the people and they take care of you. They greet you with a smile. That's how people want to be treated, with respect. That's what I tell my employees.. customer service is very important." - Magic Johnson

"For us, our most important stakeholder is not our stockholders, it is our customers. We're in business to serve the needs and desires of our core customer base." - John Mackey

And here's the news:
"Now a survey has confirmed that the practice, known among booksellers as showrooming, is not a figment of their imaginations. According to the survey, conducted in October by the Codex Group, a book market research and consulting company, 24 percent of people who said they had bought books from an online retailer in the last month also said they had seen the book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore first."

You evil customers, you!!!  Researching at one competitor and then buying at another!  What are you thinking?

“The two forces combined are going to put even more pressure on bookstore sales in the new year, unless publishers can do more to support the book retailer just as movie studios have historically done to support the movie theater.”, which, if you read further into the issue, means that just as the movie studios don't release the DVD version till a movie has killed all the theater revenue it can (and till only the pirates have copies), they're thinking that publishers shouldn't release ebooks till the bookstores have made as much revenue as they can.

Sorry, Buddy.  That ship has sailed.  There are perfectly good publishers releasing perfectly good ebooks not just at the same time as the physical books--some even release before or even instead of physical books.  Certainly, there are customers who only read paper books, but sales stats are showing those people are comprising less and less of the total market of books purchased.  Maybe we should ask Borders what they--oh, no, never mind.  They didn't figure it out in time, did they?

Please, though, go ahead and whine more if it makes you feel better.  I saw a picture recently of a sign on the door to a Barnes & Noble that proclaimed customers who needed a public restroom should check with Amazon.  Yeah, the point--you missed it.

As my upbringing in the halcyon days of Reagan Republicanism convinced me--businesses that need "protection," other, anyway, than standard intellectual property protection that is so key to most business models, in order to sustain their business models simply have a bad business model.

Let's think about this.  First, I understand that I'm NOT representative of the entirety of the book-buying market.  Clearly, there are many who think as I do, or else we wouldn't have witnessed the demise of Borders or the current concern.  Want to assume I'm the outlier, though?  Fine.  Knock yourself out.

Here's the deal, though.  I grew up during a time when the tremendous options we have now weren't there.  If you wanted to buy a book, you actually had to go to a bookstore.  We didn't, though, growing up.  My parents were poor.  I mean, very poor--poverty-level.  Both my parents worked full-time as public school teachers, and the year I was born they made just over $4,000 a year.  That's total, both salaries put together.  We had plenty to eat, certainly, and a rather large if not entirely new home to live in.  We had plenty of clothes, too.  But some things were just plain unaffordable luxuries: shirts with alligators on them, jeans with fancy sewing on the pockets, and new books were in that category.

No, growing up, my bookstore was a library.  And, see, that's just fine.  The fact is that the intrinsic value of a book isn't in the pieces of paper glued together, though I confess to dreaming of some day being wealthy enough to line the walls of one room of a mansion with old smelly leather-bound tomes that I have no intention of reading.  But I also want a garage full of Porsches, so don't get too excited. 

Fact is, I've rarely gone into a bookstore, even as my disposable income has increased dramatically, to buy a book.  Oh, I've gone there frequently, and still do, but not to buy a book, strange though it may seem.

Books, though, represent something I want to be around.  It's not the glued-together paper that excites me, but rather the stories captured within.  Thus, my typical path through your pristine bookstore takes me along the main aisle, sardonically glancing at the mounds of books that you toss at my face to convince me that I should buy them, back to my favorite genre (fantasy and science fiction) followed by a loop around to glance at the new business books and perhaps the audio books before I land in my favorite section, the discount aisles.  Granted, I rarely buy anything there either, but it's fun to look.

There was once a bookstore where I spent over a hundred dollars a month--and that was back when I really couldn't afford it.  It was a place called Title Wave, in Anchorage, AK.  Perhaps its story will help me make my point.  At the time, it filled the three stories of an old house on Arctic Avenue with the smells of both used and new books.  Going there was an experience I loved repeating at least twice a month.  Every time we walked in, somebody at the front desk would say hi, and once they figured out who I was they'd say it by name.  Scattered through the bookcases--old, simple planks in many cases--were the most ancient, comfortable, armchairs you'd ever seen.  In the middle of the store they'd put a sink with an In-sink-erator hot water dispenser and a $15 coffee pot, and they kept both stocked with cheap coffee and standard and herbal tea bags.  I loved nothing more than grabbing a (small, 8-ounce) cup of coffee for myself and a cup of tea for my wife, and finding a place to sit and some books to look through.  And look through we did--we usually left with several.  As I said, well over $100 a month went from my bank account to theirs.

They grew, of course, and eventually they moved into a strip mall down the street.  There, nice shelves held the books.  The employees still greeted us, but it seemed less sincere, more like a Barnes & Noble greeting.  Worse, the coffee pot was disposed of in favor of--Starbucks. Now, there's nothing wrong with Starbucks coffee.  What was wrong was the big sign on the exit from there proclaiming "No food or drink past this point."  I'll give you one guess what was kept past the point--yeah, the one thing I was there to look at.  To experience, as it were.

I called the new place the "WalMart of Used Books."  And then I quit going.

Lookit--I don't want free books, or even cheap books, necessarily.  What I want from a bookstore is an experience.  If your store doesn't offer me anything I wouldn't get at Amazon, guess where I'm going to shop?


Friday, December 2, 2011

What to charge for a book?

"But SF is different.  Science Fiction attracts author-driven readers....  It means simply that certain readers are given to paying attention to who wrote the book they last read and (if they liked the book) make at least modest efforts to find something else by the same author.  (And here let me pause to say that throughout this essay, unless I distinguish between them, I think of science fiction, or SF, as embracing fantasy as well.  Thought it might actually be more accurate to claim that fantasy embraces SF)"

-John W. Silbersack, "Editing the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Novel" in the classic Editors on Editing


I've commented obliquely on Rachel Gardner's blog before.  I make a point of reading her posts every single day because--well, because they're good, and they're useful.  She's a literary agent who's quite smart, by all evidence I can see, and who pays attention to trends not only within her area of expertise but also throughout the publishing world.  If you're a writer, and you want to be serious about being an author, then you, too, should be reading her blog.  Ninety percent of the time, roughly, she blogs on a topic I'm interested in.  Yesterday was in that ninety, and I got involved in a debate there.

Now, I made it clear early on that I think both ebooks and "real" (or "dead tree") books belong in the world.  But the topic turned to pricing and quickly got interesting.

It started when I made the comment that "As an author, I really don’t care about the price point of the book. I care about how much royalty I receive from each copy sold, and if I can get the same amount from a $4.99 self-pubbed or small-pubbed book as I can through a $14.99 traditionally-pubbed book, what does it matter to me?"  It's a true statement, at least to me, but hoo, boy....  I quickly heard from a fellow blog-reader that people value things based on how much they pay for them (a generally true comment, I think, but wait for what comes next) and so by pricing our books higher, we would get "better readers."

What the hell is a better reader?

I posted that question in a Facebook readers' group I'm in, and they came to the consensus that the guy on Rachel's blog took it somewhere crazy.  After, that is, a bit of drama between someone from Hungary (the country) and someone from Georgia (not the country).  I think the two of them forgot that they were speaking the same language for a while.  Still, it was an interesting discussion, drama discounted.

Fact is, pricing a novel is hard.  I remember when it was easy.  Novels in hardback cost $20 for a while, and then they cost $25, each number plus or minus a few pennies.  Paperbacks cost $5 or $6.  My mom got past the high cost--and yes, for poor people like us, those were high costs--by getting us library cards and providing frequent trips there.

The world has changed, hasn't it?  Back then, it took a sci-fi or fantasy writer several years to write short stories in magazines and build credibility, and finally a publisher would take on the writer's work and put them in the store for whatever the publisher thought appropriate, the author making ten percent (ish) of whatever the publisher decided to price it at, payable to the author as soon as the book had "earned out" the advance. Now, on the other hand, you have Indies doing everything for themselves, and once they've created a book, a cover, a title, etc., they can put their book up for sale for anything from free to--well, to whatever.

Then there's us "small press" authors.  I wasn't given the choice; my small publisher has a three-rung pricing system in place already.  Fact is, I appreciate his price structure; he's done a good job with it.  If I haven't mentioned this before, I'm quite happy where I am.

Let's think about pricing a bit, though.  First, for an author, there are a few different levels of effort.  I didn't "get" that when I started, but I do now.  A novel, the only level of effort I really knew of, is a monumental undertaking that requires thousands of hours and months to finish, especially if you have a day job.  Short stories, though, take a weekend of work.  More, if you revise them as you should, but revision of a short story can be measured in a relatively small number of hours.  A novella, on the other hand, takes a couple of weeks if you're serious about it, but 15-20K words takes far less effort than a full novel.

Now, here's the deal.  This isn't a pay-by-the-hour job.  Readers care a little, but not a lot, about effort.  Yes, I think they understand the distinction between the sizes, but most readers (including me, before I did it myself) really have no concept how much effort it takes to put a good novel out there.

But here's the other part of the deal.  To an author, it doesn't matter how much effort it takes, if, that is, the author is a businessman, which all should try to be if they want to be successful.  Caveat--all novelists who aren't already involved in traditional (Big 6) publishing.  If you're Stephen King (the other one) then you'll do just fine on the advances you will receive.  The rest of us need to know how to determine pricing.

In many businesses, selling prices are a complicated thing; not so much in writing.  See, most businesses have cost equations.  If a widgets manufacturing firm creates their widgets cheaply, they get them for a certain amount each, based on an initial price plus a per-unit (or per-batch) price.  If they create them with better parts, they get them for the same initial price plus a bigger per-batch price  They can sell their cheaper units for a certain amount per the demand curve, and the more expensive ones for a different amount per a different demand curve.  How many, then, do they make, and at what price point?

Such a problem has haunted many an MBA student.

Writers, though, don't have a cost equation.  Yes, our hours are worth something.  Mine are worth a certain amount when I'm at work, and I presume they're worth the same when I'm not.  Yours are worth a different amount.  How much?  I don't know.  Really, you have to calculate that based not on what you make in your "day job" but instead based on opportunity cost, if there is any.  In other words, it's not what you make in your other hours, but what you would be making otherwise in the hours you're "investing" in writing.  But hey, relax.  It really doesn't matter, anyway.  Why?  Because all costs for the author are sunk.  Not fixed (regular) costs, nor variable costs, but sunk costs.  As in they're sunk in the project, done, neither to be increased nor decreased, merely (hopefully) to be earned against. 

Example:  My first novel has cost me $1500 editing, $200 printing (including a new printer), and probably $300 incidentals (including shopping agents and the conference).  I'm billing the writers' conference against the first novel because it was the primary recipient for everything I learned at the conference and--well, because I can, and it needs to be billed against something, and a loss this year is fine with me for tax purposes.  So, $2000, ish.  If I add the cost per hour for each hour I worked--no, I don't want to think about it.  Let's just stick with $2000.  If I sell one copy of the novel, then, that copy costs me $2000 minus the revenue I get from it.  If I sell ten copies of the novel, that novel costs me $2000 minus the revenue from ten copies.

If I'd been an Indie, add to the sunk cost the cost of hiring a professional cover designer, and possibly even hiring my way into a marketing team's heart.  The radio spot I got yesterday?  I couldn't have done that if I'd been on my own without some sort of promotional or marketing dude on my side.  And, hey, those are all figures that go against the bottom line.

See the point of sunk costs?  Once a cost is "sunk," it's gone.  It's different from fixed, where there's an ongoing cost, or variable, where there's a cost per unit.  It's just--well, it's just sunk.  You either recover it, or you don't.

There's no other costs for authors, currently.  You may think that your cost for bookmarks is a variable cost, but there's no clear relationship between bookmarks passed out and copies sold, so--sorry.  Sunk cost.  Wanna go on a book tour?  Okay, you may sell a few copies of your book on your tour, and you certainly generate awareness of your identity as an author, but--identity as an author isn't a billable item.  Sunk cost. The point of sunk costs, from a business perspective, is to recover them as quickly as possible.  THAT is the return on investment, and the lower the ratio there, the better it is.   

Bottom line: Get the money back.

So, the requirement to "get the money back" quickly leads to the question of maximizing revenues.  How do you do that?  That's the $64,000 question, honestly, or in J.K. Rowling's case, the billion dollar question.  It leads to a discussion, in business terms, of a demand function.  Specifically, how much demand is generated for each price point?  If you can sell, say, 10,000 units at $5 each, and 12,000 units at $4 each, and 6,000 units at $6 each, which price should you sell them at?  Clearly, $5 each, because that generates $50,000 versus $48,000 or $36,000.

Problem is, nobody knows the demand curve for novels.  People are experimenting now, and there's a certain amount of interest shown in the results of those experiments, but I'm not sure the interest is deserved.  For one thing, there are a lot of variables.  I've had a lot of people tell me that they would pay higher prices for novelists they know, but not over $5 for a novelist they didn't know.  Frankly, I'm kind of the same way; I happily download works at the $1, $2, and $3 price points, but I shy away from double-digit prices unless I really want the book, these days.  At the same time, Stephen King (the other one) successfully charged a dollar per chapter on a text download book he did back before we knew what a Kindle was.  Brandon Sanderson's demand curve, then, is very different from Stephen King's, which in turn is very different from Stephen H. King's.  

Then there's genre.  See, I'm a fantasy author. Per the quote at the beginning of the article, I'm in an author-driven genre.  What that means is that I could easily price my book below that of, say, Piers Anthony, and yet I wouldn't change his or my sales figures at all.  Once/if I have as big a following as he does, my demand curve will change quite substantially, but the ultimate meaning behind the quote at the beginning of this post is that fantasy authors have a fairly flat demand curve.  If you're a typical fantasy reader, then when a fantasy author you want to read puts a new work out, you are going to buy it at a wide range of prices. Thus, at some point, it's really not going to matter what I charge for my books (within reason). 

Bottom line, then, is that I really don't know yet what to charge for a book, other than the price my publisher is setting seems to be working.  And hey, that's good enough.