Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

In The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson enables the reader to journey the world of Lovecraft through the eyes of a sensible and accomplished woman of a certain age. Beautiful stylized prose escorts Vellitt to increasingly fantastic destinations at a determined but contemplative pace fittingly evocative of precisely what one might imagine a dream-quest should be. For me, the allure of fantasy as a genre lies in its potential for breaking molds—my preferences run to well-crafted stories that take me places I haven’t been before. With Dream-Quest, Kij delivers. Very nicely done.

Progress!

Practical Phrendonics, Book Two of the Dreamweaver Chronicles, is back from the editor. It will be the first book of a trilogy (with DoHD serving as a Prelude). I’m in the process of addressing the various editorial issues and hope to have a finished product in the not-too-distant future. Stay tuned!

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Wisdom

My grandmother passed in 1984, while I was still in college. Typical of most good Catholic families of the time, ours boasted a man of the cloth who, on such occasions, could be depended upon to do the honors. I recall sitting next to my mother at the church-basement dinner following the services. Although I had never met him, Father Martin and my mother were first cousins and had been childhood friends. Gentle and soft-spoken, he headed the table, regaling his extended family, which included a number of formidable women, with quaint stories about his flock. One such tale involved the doings of the “old women of the Church.” Now, I confess to having inherited my mother’s somewhat unconventional sense of humor, from which no occasion, regardless of its solemnity, is entirely safe.

Assuming my most earnest expression, I raised my hand and interrupted the good Father mid-anecdote. “Father Martin,” I asked. “I’m curious. At what age does a woman become ‘old?'”

He paused, blinking. Silence fell. The table, populated primarily by female relatives, became palpably attentive.

With a gulp, he looked to my mother. Perhaps he was hoping to be rescued. If so, he’d appealed to the wrong savior.

My mother folded her arms. “Actually,” she said. “I’m sort of interested in hearing your answer.”

“Very well,” he said. He spoke slowly, as though choosing his words with infinite care. “In my experience, a woman becomes old at that point at which she becomes proud of her age.”

Greeted by a round of satisfied nods, Father Martin heaved a relieved sigh and quickly resumed his tale.

All these years later, I’m still convinced it’s the right answer.

Childish Naiveté

Licensed under creative commons attribution

Holocaust Memorial: David Williss–Licensed under creative commons attribution.

I remember as a child learning about the Holocaust, I was stupefied that such atrocities could have been committed in my parents’ lifetimes. I recall my childish relief at having been born in a “more enlightened” time–a time when such despicable acts would be unthinkable. People were better now, weren’t they?

Later, when my graduate training made it clear that the genetic composition of a population is unlikely to change significantly in a single generation, my childish perception developed cracks, but I was thankful that at least the culture had advanced–the brutal societal conditions that had produced such deep-seated angst were surely behind us, weren’t they?

Then, as I witnessed the rise of Fox News, and on its heels the soaring popularity of Donald Trump, I realized it’s not the actual conditions–it’s people’s perceptions that matter.

As a child, I used to sympathize with those who’d argued they were “only following orders.”  Oppose such a brutal regime? At what personal cost?

That was before I appreciated that to empower such a regime, many must be complicit. In The Demon of Histlewick Downs, Flinch would have understood this principle all too well, though he might argue that without benefit of hindsight, most couldn’t have foreseen the horrors their hatred would spawn.

We cannot say the same. History has taught us the risks of power acquired by exploiting hate. Ignorance is no excuse.

 

It’s Alive!

I’m delighted to report that after a grueling hiatus (that involved moving halfway across the country), I’m finally able to devote some love to the second book in the Dreamweaver Chronicles. The manuscript, which is envisioned as the first in a trilogy (to which the Demon of Histlewick Downs will serve as a prequel) will be heading off to the editor on Thursday (8/20). Wish me luck!

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What I’ll miss most…

What I’ll miss most is that moment when people visit the house for the first time–the moment when they step inside and their eyes light up at the living room’s glow. How they marvel at the unconventional choices that came together to feel so inviting. I’ll miss remembering the risks I took, many unwittingly–the six coats of paint that made the midnight blue walls possible, the look on my mother-in-law’s face when we chose the burgundy curtains and her relief when she saw them in context. I’ll miss the way all the colors come together in that pleasing little hodge-podge entryway, with its rust-colored medallion, offered as a gift. I’ll miss the feel of the clear-pine woodwork that I insisted on sanding and finishing, the guilty indulgence that is an easy-close drawer, the absurdity of gobbling warm angel food off of freshly minted uba-tuba granite. I’ll miss how we fought for our color choices, and the joy I got from seeing the result turn out far better than either of us would ever have imagined. Though I’d never want to go through it again, I’ll savor the bittersweet memory of once upon a time when together we wrought something truly special.

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http://www.zillow.com/homes/6281-santa-rita-avenue-garden-grove-ca_rb/

DoHD after Christmas sale.

I’ve tried closing my eyes and tapping my heels together, but it looks like our move to Kansas is going to be a little more involved. If, like me, you long for a little after-Christmas escapism, the Demon of Histlewick Downs is currently on sale for 99 cents. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M1J2U8I/ In the meantime, anyone know where I can rent a balloon?

Presenting...

Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

Bravery and wisdom–Mr. Rothfuss has displayed both here. And talent–let’s not forget that. Brave, because he dared to risk making public a story so non-standard that he couldn’t help but risk offending a significant percentage of his fan base. Wise, because he took the extra step of describing up-front his intended audience–warning them in no uncertain terms this creation would not be for everyone. As a result, I knew exactly what to expect before it arrived.

It exceeded those expectations brilliantly.

I’ve been a consumer of Fantasy for over thirty-five years. What has always drawn me to the genre was the freedom it afforded the author to play with convention. Though I find them less commonly than I used to, fantasy still offers the slender hope of a story that is truly unique. When I find such a story–that is when I’m most delighted. That is what the Slow Regard of Silent Things delivers, and it does so using beautiful prose and an exquisitely gentle touch. It demonstrates that a quiet, contemplative story, when written well, can keep me turning pages, and that a subtle, understated implication can form the basis for an unexpected and satisfying ending. As a reader, I was more riveted by the action, pacing and cleverness of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, but as a writer, I’ve learned far more from this comparatively tiny vignette.

If you read fantasy only for unrelenting action, swords, sorcery and gore, be sure you read the Author’s foreword before you buy. If you revel in something that’s well-crafted, subtle, and heartwarming, though you’ll still want to read the Author’s foreword first, likely Auri’s tale will win you over. It did me.

Review of “With Mercy,” the latest in “The Nephilim Chronicles” by Jeremy Lee James

A taut, superbly crafted thrill ride. (Five Stars!)

“With Mercy” is the second installment of Jeremy James’ urban fantasy thriller series “The Nephilim Chronicles.” Half-angel Jequon struggles to survive and to discover the identities of his mortal enemies, the Sons of Jared. He’s accompanied by Mercy, a woman raised from an early age specifically to kill him, but who has incentive to cooperate instead since she views his aid as vital for rescuing her best friend. The action takes place in the context of an ambitious and fascinating back story that integrates vampires, the Dead Sea scrolls and the seven signs of the apocalypse. I was sucked in from page one. The pace is relentless, the characters compelling, the writing bold and gritty, and the craftsmanship, superb. Can’t wait for the next installment. Highly, highly recommend!

Blog Hop: Importance

Many thanks to Mary Vensel White, author of The Qualities of Woodfor tagging me in this Blog Hop and thereby forcing me to consider my work in a more societal context. Always appreciate a nudge to view things from a fresh perspective. Mary’s been a guiding light through many aspects of the publishing process, not to mention an incredibly gifted storyteller. You can find evidence of her latest exploits here.

THE QUESTION:

Why are you working on the project you are writing now? Why is it important? (to you, or to the world, or…)

My next project, tentatively titled Practical Phrendonics continues The Dreamweaver Chronicles, begun in The Demon of Histlewick Downs. These stories loosely follow the ripple effects through history of a brilliant but controversial woman on a pseudo-Victorian society—a refined culture only belatedly realizing that magic is a force to be reckoned with. Their responses reflect some of the usual reactions that accompany the emergence of a disruptive force on an otherwise comfortable status quo. The folks who get caught in the crosshairs learn lessons that will no doubt resonate with anyone living in times of rapid technological advancement.

The work is also important on a more personal level: my characters are holding me hostage in a small windowless room at knifepoint, demanding to be published.

And now, I’m delighted to pass the torch to two captivating and accomplished novelists who will be answering the same question with respect to their own works-in-progress:

Claudia Whitsitt is the author of The Samantha Series (Identity Issues, Intimacy Issues and Internal Issues) and The Wrong Guy. Samantha, Claudia’s amateur sleuth, is a school teacher unwittingly caught up in a fascinating case of stolen identity. Identity Issues was one of my first kindle app downloads, and despite having to sit at a computer desk to do it, I devoured it in no time. Her take on the importance of her current work-in-progress should be appearing here shortly.

Matthew Pallamary, an inspirational publishing powerhouse, whose accomplishments include historical fiction-turned Cirque-du-Soleil-style performance (Land Without Evil), to memoir (Spirit Matters), to Science Fiction (Dreamland) to self-help (The Infinity Zone) and several short story collections. He still somehow finds time to mentor new authors at numerous writers’ conferences (Including the upcoming Southern California Writers’ Conference) where his late-night Rogue Read-and-Critique sessions are always a special treat. How do you do it, Matt? I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a word or two about your upcoming novel, Eye of the Predator in your reply.

CreateSpace for the win!

So far mad props to CreateSpace for making the process of generating a print edition of The Demon of Histlewick Downs efficient and relatively painless. Learned enough InDesign to format the interior with styles, drop caps, running headers and an auto-generated TOC (using some gorgeous free-for-commercial-use fonts). Submitted proof PDFs two nights ago, and passed their review process yesterday. After inspecting their online proofs, I ordered the hard copy proof late last night. I received an email that my proof was in the mail early this morning. Do they not sleep? One glitch so far, and it wasn’t their fault: I also initially designed the cover in InDesign, but the pdf output dulled the eye’s iris color from brilliant blue to cornflower. Redesigned the cover using Photoshop, and digitally, at least, all the colors looked great. The 3D online rotating proof gave me goosebumps. Here’s hoping the print version measures up!

Two other things I learned. One site I happened across complained that once you enter a title and an ISBN, you can’t change them, even if the book hasn’t been printed yet. I didn’t try, so I can’t confirm. The other is that if you use your own ISBN instead of theirs, CreateSpace won’t distribute your book to academic institutions or libraries as part of their expanded distribution program, so be careful if that’s important to you.

Flinch Lives!

 

So proud to report that my debut novel, The Demon of Histlewick Downs, first volume in The Dreamweaver Chronicles is now available as an ebook on Amazon.com. ISBN 978-0-9906281-0-1. ASIN B00M1J2U8I. Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22888765-the-demon-of-histlewick-downsDoHD cover

For newer visitors, here’s the premise:

When the Church declared all spell-casting to be heresy, young Thoren Theratigan wasn’t worried. After all, despite a deep academic knowledge of magic theory, his father couldn’t work an actual spell if his life depended on it. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the Inquisitors from breaking down their door and dragging his parents away as heretics. When Thoren learns the Inquisitor General is staying in Histlewick Downs, he resolves to travel there to rescue his parents and set the record straight. Little does he know the Inquisitor General has powerful enemies—genuine magic-wielding heretics who will stop at nothing to oppose him. Armed only with his determination, a relative’s peculiar pocket watch, and a fraction of his father’s useless knowledge, can Thoren stave off the Inquisitor General’s enemies long enough to convince him he’s made a mistake?

Up next–the paperback edition of DoHD through CreateSpace, and work on the next three volumes in The Dreamweaver Chronicles, a trilogy with the working title Practical Phrendonics.The trilogy is already written, and I’ll now be turning my attention to editing. I’ll keep you posted on any new developments.

Enjoy!

Amazon vs. Hachette: Where’s the Beef?

The Battle.

To hear the pundits tell it, a battle between good and evil is raging across cyberspace as Hachette faces off against Amazon in a crusade to protect all things literary from the evils of market-driven pricing. Since I’m not an industry insider, I initially found it difficult to comprehend how something as pedestrian as a pricing structure could evoke such passion. As I understand it, Hachette wants Amazon to agree to an agency pricing scheme. Under this scheme, Hachette would set the prices the consumer pays Amazon for Hachette books sold through the Amazon site.  Amazon, by contrast, would prefer to buy those books wholesale and set the retail prices themselves. Big yawn, right? So why do they really care? In general, when it looks like a corporation is motivated to take a controversial stand out of altruism for anyone other than its shareholders, two things are probably true. First, the propaganda is working, and, second, if you want the truth, you’ll need to dig deeper.

Where’s the Beef?

Amazon supporters argue that if Amazon loses, Hachette would keep ebook prices abnormally high.  But that contravenes common sense, right?  Ebooks are cheaper to produce than paperbacks, and therefore bring higher profit per unit. If Hachette makes more profit on ebooks, why make them sell less well?

Long-Term Repercussions of an Amazon Win.

Looking deeper, if Amazon wins, like any retailer, they’ll want to optimize their profits by taking costs and sales volume into account.  For example, if Amazon buys a paperback book wholesale from Hachette for $3.00 and it costs a $1.00 for Amazon to ship it, Amazon may decide to sell it for $5.00. That leaves them $1.00 profit.  What about an ebook? If Hachette wholesales the ebook to Amazon for the same price ($3.00), Hachette gets a windfall compared to the print book, since it was cheaper to produce and required no warehousing. From Amazon’s perspective, they can make the exact same profit as the print book ($1.00) by selling that ebook for $4.00 instead of $5.00. They can do even better by selling the ebook for $4.25. The ebook costs them less to deliver so they can afford to pass at least a fraction of that savings along to the consumer, thereby driving increased sales volume and thereby earning potentially greater profits.

The net effect: Under the Amazon model, ebook editions are likely to sell for substantially less than the paperback version, though they may also earn greater net profits from increased volume.  Why would Hachette oppose that?

The Current Hachette System: Lower Production Costs, Higher Prices—Huh?

And yet, oppose it they do! For example, check out this Hachette listing from Amazon (on which Douglas Preston is an author).

http://www.amazon.com/Two-Graves-Pendergast-Douglas-Preston/dp/0446555002

At the time of this writing, the Kindle edition is actually selling for $8.99 while the paperback goes for $8.50. That doesn’t seem to make sense under either model—until one considers what else happens to consumer behavior if the Amazon model prevails. Judging by my own buying habits, if I get free shipping (e.g. Amazon Prime) and if the ebook costs the same or nearly the same as the paperback, I’ll opt to buy the paperback almost every time. For the same price, it feels like a better deal to get paper over pixels.  If, on the other hand, the ebook is always substantially cheaper, even if I tend to prefer paperbacks, eventually I’d probably give in and get a Kindle to start taking advantage of all those savings.  And that, I suspect, is the disaster Hachette is scrambling to avoid.

Trickledown Distribution?

Traditional publishers have been able to negotiate such favorable terms from authors for one simple reason—they have a stranglehold on brick-and-mortar print distribution. Even Amazon can’t compete with them there. However, as sales of Hachette’s print books dwindle in favor of cheaper ebooks, so does their leverage over authors.  Once ebook sales substantially exceed print sales, what author wouldn’t wonder whether the value Hachette was providing was truly worth 85 percent of the take? So when Hachette supporters say they are defending literature, what I think they really mean is they are protecting what’s left of the big five’s print distribution monopoly power, and by extension, their leverage over authors.

Incentive Management

Assuming this is the real reason for promoting the Agency model, it suddenly makes sense that publishers don’t share the production and distribution savings from ebooks with their authors. First, legacy authors are now expected to do quite a bit of their own marketing. If you’re Hachette, and monopoly protection is your real goal, you’ll be very careful to eliminate any incentives for authors to favor selling ebooks over print. Also, because Hachette’s authors aren’t currently making more from ebooks, they’re unlikely to expect much difference in the bottom line regardless of who wins this fight. Think of it this way—if higher-volume ebook sales meant more money for authors than higher-volume print sales, Hachette authors probably wouldn’t be lining up to express their preference for an Agency model that artificially suppresses ebook sales.

Higher ebook Wholesale Prices?

But wait, couldn’t Hachette fix the whole problem simply by adopting Amazon’s model and charging considerably more for the ebook?  Maybe, but most consumers are aware ebooks are cheaper to produce than paperbacks, and they expect cheaper prices as a result. Keeping them the same price is already deeply unpopular with many readers. Authors might take issue with that as well. Assigning a substantially higher wholesale price would likely be a public relations nightmare.

The Color of Amazon’s Hat…

Before deciding whether Amazon is hero, villain, or merely a corporation seeking to maximize value to shareholders, consider this: with respect to market share, Hachette’s loss is likely Amazon’s gain. One need invoke neither a burning desire protect hapless consumers from overinflated prices nor a crusade to defend literature from the perils of unmitigated slush to explain why these corporations can’t come to terms. Just follow the money.