Building Your Path — On Distance in Writing

One of my favourite piece of writing advice is the common wisdom that says to hide your manuscript away when you finish, and let it rest in the dark before you revise.

For a long time, I thought this was necessary for the technical aspects. That with time, I’d remember my sentences less, and see better when I was unclear, when the structure failed, when I needed to rewrite a paragraph. The point, I told myself, was to make the writing better.

I extended this to large scale technical skills, too. With time, it’d be easier to spot pacing issues. I’d pick up on wavering character arcs, on threads badly woven together, on gigantic logic holes.

I wasn’t wrong. Distance and time lets you see these things, at least in part. But there is a trap there, one I think fast writers like myself can easily fall into. Because can’t these things be spotted by a good editor? By astute betas? Yes. They definitely can. But distance… it is so much more.

Two weeks ago, I started rereading Isandor2. It had been a month since I had finished Isandor1, and a year since I’d put the final period at the end of book 2’s first draft. And certainly, when I shoved my draft on Kindle to reread (without the ability to fiddle with sentences, you’ll note), I winced a little at the writing. I frowned at myself for the sometimes brutal switch between storylines. I sighed at holes in both character arcs and logical sequence of events. [I also, as a side note, got really into the story, and excited by my own work, and it dragged me out of the writing ditch I was in.]

I found something I didn’t expect, however. I found the heart of my story. Its focus. The unseen thread linking all these darn plotlines and character arcs together. The one I wanted it to have, at any rate. All of a sudden, I knew what I wanted to tell. And once you have that? It’s so much easier to see where the story fails your goal, and how to fix it.

The thing is, good editors and even good betas … they can find a theme for you. Sometimes they see links in your story you weren’t aware of. What they can’t tell you, however, is what you want the novel to be about.

Taking months of a story and binge reading it can give you a sweeping view of it. It’s the forest and the trees, really. Never stepping back is like building your path through a forest without knowing what grows in it, where the slopes and nice clearings and rivers are. So make sure you take that break. The walk through your universe will only become fuller, more beautiful.

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The Ace of Shifters Craves Strong Friendships

I’m currently in the middle of finishing up a draft of my fifth novel and I’m ridiculously behind schedule, which is actually par for the course with me. Oh well.

My best friend and I are currently reading The Silmarillion together. We’re both complete Tolkien nerds and I had never read The Silmarillion before (though I thought I had, but I soon realized I had never finished it). I noticed that she and I have a habit of shipping characters as being friends. Beleg Strongbow and Mablung, they’re totally besties. It’s incredibly fun and it makes reading the book even more fun.

It has made me think about how I’ve done something similar whenever reading a book or watching a movie. While other people would be obsessing over the sexual tension between characters, I would tend to focus on a character in the background and think up a story for them, focusing mostly on their friendships. I almost never picked up on sexual tension and to this day, it’s still quite difficult for me to understand what that is or what it looks like. Romance is not my thing.

I honestly never understood why, in epics, a lot of conflict or quests started because of romantic love. I could kind of understand the love of the world, as seen in Lord of the Rings for example. What I didn’t understand was the whole “romantic love changes the entire freaking world.”

This is one of the more insidious ways that the love hierarchy sneaks into our society and culture: the idea that romantic love is by far the most powerful force in the universe, something that can push people to be great. If friends are mentioned, it’s only to help the protagonist on their quest.

What about friendship? Why can’t friendship be just as freaking powerful and earth-changing as romantic bonds? Why can’t heroes be driven to fight for friendship? My friendships have changed me for the better, made me a better person, and continue to drive me in many ways. So why do I so rarely see this reflected in the stories we consume?

When I started writing my series, I knew one of the main backstories (one thing that caused all the events in the series) was about friendship: one friend avenging another. What I didn’t expect was to write the healing power of friendship. There are a number of characters who have spent a long time isolated in some way for different reasons, plenty of them are scarred. Yet contact with others, forming platonic friendships, shows them that there is still good in the world.

Seeing platonic friendships between characters is something that I love. The complexities of friendship, how it can heal, is something more writers should be invested in. There is such a depth and love between friends. It’s a bond that’s not explored as much as it should be. Spare me the boring romantic bullshit. Give me platonic friends who are equals, who fight side-by-side, go on adventures, ride off into the sunset, and save the world together.

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The Ace of Horror has Fiction Cravings, Too!

Welcome to the Ides of July! This month, we’re chatting about FICTION CRAVINGS! Mine is related to a, er, very common interaction in fiction.

Let me set the stage.

Scene: anywhere, anytime.

Character A, B, C, and D are chillin’ together.

Character B: “Ignorant/inappropriate comment/joke about a racial/sexual/religious/etc marginalized population.”

Character D: “AHEM!”

Ohsnap! Character D BELONGS TO THE MARGINALIZED POPULATION! They have just been insulted! How embarrassing! ALL CHARACTERS CRINGE. We’ve learned an important lesson! Not sure what it is, but it’s *important.*

Also, now the readers can laugh about this racist/sexist/etc joke without feeling guilty ohohoho. Thanks, writer.

END SCENE.

Look, it’s okay to acknowledge that certain groups have it rough. However, as an ace Apache reader, I loooove stories that don’t rub in how prejudiced people can be about my culture. Trust me. I get it. Stop soiling my escapism.

So, here’s what I crave: more stories about characters like me that don’t emphasize that I’m a harassed “other.” Believe it or not, marginalized people can have rich lives outside of the ignorance of goobers.

It was great to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading.

Now time to finish my PhD. Next month, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be Dr. Ace of Horror!

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Fiction Cravings: New Adult

Following Claudie’s lead about what she’d like to see in fiction, I have a wishlist item of my own—and it’s not even limited to speculative fiction (though I certainly would not complain about spec fic in this vein)!

I write YA, which in traditional publishing terms is limited to high school-age, both for characters and readership. And it’s awesome! I love telling stories about teens kicking butt and finding themselves.

But for me, high school was not that time. High school was, in fact, basically hell. It was so bad that I can’t even really go into details without getting sick about it. I suffered with PTSD for years afterward without even realizing it. I lived with trauma for so long that I had no clue, even in my wildest dreams, that there was any other way to live. I was numb to it.

What helped me recover was college.

It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, my first semester was just about as terrible as high school had been, because I didn’t know how to function without being around abusive people, which made me a perfect target for my abusive roommate. But my second semester, I went out on a limb and joined a sorority. That was the first step to helping me heal. In that sorority, I was surrounded by a group of people who actually cared about me and wanted the best for me. They helped me recognize the toxic people who had been in my life from middle school on, and over the next few years I was able to gradually cut those people out and make room for more actually awesome friends.

Because of that, I can look back on college as one of the favorite times in my life. I did so much growing, made so many awesome friends, came out of my shell and learned how to be the person I wanted to be as an adult.

So what I really want in fiction, more than anything, is to live adventures in those years. Discovering your independence, making friends that aren’t limited to the often-lackluster ones from your hometown.

For a long time, this niche was not one filled in modern fiction. Adult fiction tended to focus on the 25-and-up crowd. Young adult fiction ended with high school graduation. There wasn’t much of a space for the years in between. Then the New Adult genre emerged a few years ago, and I was stoked. At last, books about the college years!

Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly predominant trend in New Adult up until now has been a heavy focus on not just romantic relationships, but, most importantly, sexual relationships. One of the defining characteristics of the genre has been that  it’s “like YA but sexier,” and increasingly-explicit sexual content is basically a requirement.

As a sex-repulsed ace, you can imagine how excited I am about that.

Recently, I’ve seen some pushback to the Must Have Sex requirement for NA, and my wishlist item for today would be to see New Adult grow to be a big, highly-varied genre like YA, where sexual content is welcome but not required. I’m craving college stories, but sex was not part of my college experience, and that goes for many others as well. I want to see stories that reflect my experiences as well—stories about growing up, making friends, living on your own for the first time. I want to see fun stories about sorority dance-offs and Res Life cookouts and changing your major 43 times, and no one caring if you’re not interested in hookups.

For my part, I’m trying to help the cause. In between finishing the Iamos Trilogy, I’ve been working on a fun NA sci-fi novel of my own, about an ordinary sorority girl named Laura who finds herself caught up in an alien invasion—and with a beautiful but standoffish cheerleader who seems to have a mysterious connection to Laura’s past. The story has romance, but its main focus is fun, friendship and a healthy dose of sci-fi action. My aceness informs my writing, and I have no intention of changing that. 🙂

So, that’s my wishlist! Have any recommendations for sex-free or sex-minimal NA titles for the Ace of Stars? If so, send them my way in the comments!

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Fiction Cravings: The Crew

As far as I can remember, I have always had a marked disinterest for romantic (and later on, sexual) relationships. My fascination would go to complex sibling relationships, the growing friendship between two characters, the unbalanced closeness of master/servants. [Incidentally, this meant I always preferred male characters, because women were rarely allowed to develop such intricate relationships, but that’d be a post for another day.] Romance often felt stale, unreal, exaggerated—and really, sometimes it was, but sometimes that was also the ace-n-aro-ness speaking up.

So it’s no surprise that one of my favourite tropes became The Crew. Whether traversing unknown galaxies aboard a spaceship or striking out to new adventures in fantasy-land, the crew gathered a melting pot of characters often destined to form solid friendships over the course of their adventures, or to work together despite their differences (moral or otherwise). The Crew, though it often featured the One Female Character Destined to Male Lead, was by definition an arrangement of friendships and rivalries, and on the lucky occasion siblings striking out together. It’s a breeding ground for interesting relationships and intimate closeness that leave the trappings of romantic and sexual relationships far behind.

And I’m talking about it today because I’ve come across yet another instance of “why would a character with no interest in sex be interesting? Why would you write that?” And like. Can we not. Sex and love are not the hallmarks of relationships depth. They do not make or break someone’s humanity. Literature is full of amazing relationships andcharacters that have nothing to do witringfellowshiparth either of these things. Just take a look at Lord of the Rings and the fellowship—at Boromir and the halflings, at Merry and Pippin, at Legolas and Gimli, at how Gandalf hovers between guide, protector, and friend, sometimes struggling to reconcile the three.

For the record, this is not a post about how queer romance should take a backseat. We always need more of those. And yes, it’s not a romance OR friendship choice. They’re not mutually exclusive. But narratives that center friendship are rare and precious things, and in SFF? They very often feature The Crew.

So. Here is to this wonderful trope of companionship, this bringer of strange people together. May my undying craving for more always find its goal, and may it never be quite satisfied either.

With all of that said, who are your favourite crews?

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Dyslexia and Depression: An author’s tale

For as long as I can remember I have always loved telling stories, inventing characters, building a history for them as well as a future. I have a great love for reading stories, too, and often can’t get enough of a good long epic. However, as you’ll have gathered from the title of this article, I am dyslexic.

Sea Stone Sword FINAL COVERTwo years ago my first novel, The Sea-Stone Sword was published by Grimbold Books, and since then I have gone on to start working for The Sci-Fi Fantasy Network, WhatCulture, and, of course, this lovely blog here. So I beat it, right? I got past my dyslexia and triumphed over adversity, right? Well, obviously I wouldn’t be posing that as a question if the answer wasn’t something along the lines of ‘not quite’.

This past week I was finalising the last checks on my latest book, The Sky Slayer (due out in September this year). It was a book I had a lot of fun writing, I adored the characters and situations. But, during this final check, I had a panic attack that made me completely unable to fully focus on what I was doing. I couldn’t bear to look at it all of a sudden, and my head would throb with pain every time I tried to read.

There are a handful of articles out there, both academic and otherwise, looking into the issue of dyslexia and how it feeds depression and anxiety. One study by Neil Alexander-Passe states; “it is not an easy area to investigate, partly as most qualitative studies have looked only at coping strategies of specific dyslexics. These are individual and are unsuitable for generalizations to larger populations.” So it becomes hard to talk about ones own experiences with dyslexia without that caveat.

According to The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), anxiety is the most frequent emotional symptom reported by dyslexic adults. (source) Tied up with this is a generally negative self image and low self esteem. For me, it is like a living, bubbling lump of self-hate brooding in the shadows in the corners of my thought processes. Some of this developed during school where I had some altogether unhelpful teachers, one of whom openly told me she didn’t bother marking my work because she couldn’t read half the words I wrote. That kind of thing stays with you, especially when you’re young.

Sky Slayer Full CoverIn high school there were attempts to accommodate my dyslexia, but all too often these felt like a disruption. On the one hand, there were special needs classes where everyone with every kind of learning difficulties were dumped in one room away from the rest of the school. We were left feeling like we were being put out of sight and out of mind. I hasten to add that this was in the early 2000s, not, say, the 1960s or earlier. Later, I had an assistant who came in to help with my reading and writing within classes, but again, I was often led to feel like this was becoming a burden on the other students, and the teacher.

Looking back now, I feel annoyed that I was made to feel this way. These were not adequate provisions conducive to learning, and yet still I was made to feel as if I were asking too much, just to be given the opportunity to succeed. This was all part of an underlying sea of ableism that ran through the education system and was born out in the attitudes not only of the teachers and students, but so often became part of the disabled person’s mindset as a result. That’s what happened to me.

I spent so long hating myself for being dyslexic, for being a burden and an inconvenience. Is this the society we have built, where we make children feel like this about themselves? What’s more, it was so arbitrary. A child who fails due to learning difficulties should be a reflection on how bad the school is for abandoning someone in need, rather than the child themselves being treated as a failure. It has taken me a long time to try and come to terms with things like this, and it is still remarkably difficult to try and stand up and say that no, what was done was wrong. Dyslexic people deserve respect.

However, depression doesn’t just go away because we think differently about things. Rarely does it go away at all. You can try all the positive thinking in the world, and it will still find a way to come back in – depression doesn’t care about how you see the world, or how you think, it’ll always twist it back. The deep rooted issues that my experiences with dyslexia remain to this day, and I am still coming to terms with the idea that they may never fully go away.

But, for as long as I can, I will keep writing.

I write stories because I want to, because I enjoy it, and because I enjoy the process. I guess where I am trying to free myself is in the question of the rigid rules of spelling and grammar being some sort of all-powerful behemoth that must be treated with reverence and all failures to obey must be punished. While a publisher will, for understandable reasons, want you to follow these rules, it is quite another take failure to abide by them as a personal failing.

As I said before, I still struggle with this, and there are times where it is hard not to feel like being unable to read or write to a ‘normal’ standard is a reflection on my worth as a human being. But…

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If you are interested, by first novel, The Sea-Stone Sword, is available from these places;

Amazon UK
Smashwords
Barnes and Noble
Book Depository (FREE worldwide shipping!)
HIVE (supports local and independent bookstores)
Waterstones

My novellas, The Spire of Frozen Fire, and The Silent Helm, are both on Amazon.

And my new book, The Sky Slayer, is available for Pre-Order on Amazon.

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The Ace of Shifters: ADD and Me

I’ve started this blog entry about a hundred different times (or at least that’s what it feels like). To say it’s difficult is not even close to describing what I’m feeling right now as I type this out. My hands are shaking like you wouldn’t believe and it’s kind of ridiculous. Yet, I can’t think of anything else to write because I feel this is important. So, here goes nothing.

Ace of Shifters here. Also known as the Badass Aro-Ace Feminist Avenger. I attend conventions, occasionally speak on panels, I’m the author of four (soon to be five, eek!) novels in my ongoing series. I’ll be teaching a seminar online at some point this summer.

I also happen to have Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD (it’s more officially known as ADHD 1 or 2, but I can never keep straight exactly which one. I also really resent that ADD has been crammed into ADHD seemingly to make things easier mostly for people who don’t have it). ADD was what it was known as when I was diagnosed and it’s what I feel most comfortable calling it. I was diagnosed with it way back when I was in 8th grade, at a time when it wasn’t as understood, and I have been taking medication for it ever since.

While there is a part of me that is kind of nervous about how people who I know finding out about this (if they don’t know already and those that do know have been overwhelmingly supportive and understanding, which is why I have the courage to write this), I am not at all ashamed of having ADD. I want to repeat that for anyone out there reading this: There is no shame in having ADD! And people who treat those with ADD as if it’s shameful are just complete fucking assholes.

Now I should mention that ADD/ADHD can manifest in different ways and no two people will have the exact same symptoms or experiences. For me, I’m an incredibly slow reader, especially when it comes to gigantic blocks of text. I also tend to need more complex or complicated ideas and theories explained two or more times just to give my brain time to process it. During my school years, I frequently needed extra time on tests (something that is a legal right for people with ADD/ADHD). In my own personal experience, I can’t multitask to save my life. I can’t read multiple books at once and I generally have to focus on one task at a time. One of my character flaws is that I tend to be a little more sensitive to criticism than I should be, which I feel is probably connected to the years of being made to feel as though I wasn’t good enough (a common experience among people with ADD/ADHD). It’s something I’m continually working on and I feel I’m definitely improving.

Perhaps the most humiliating aspect of ADD is something called “shutting down”: if I’m not receiving any kind of feedback, or worse if I receive solely negative feedback, my brain basically slams shut. What this means is I’ll still understand what’s being said, but I won’t be able to engage with it or probably even remember it. During a shut down, learning becomes impossible.

But you know what? I’m still incredibly smart. I read constantly, I engage with complicated material, I write novel after novel after novel. I’m learning a whole new language in my 30s (ASL). Granted, it’s not easy and I’m finding my ADD is frequently an obstacle I have to deal with it. But I’m one of those people who if I’m told I can’t do something, I’ll generally do it while flipping the naysayers off.

*****************

Recently, a friend posted an article on gifted students on social media. I mentioned how uncomfortable the term “gifted” makes me because it is frequently accompanied by incredibly abelist language and it really gives people an excuse to be abelist. It’s also a way to make students with learning disabilities someone else’s problem. This hierarchy of learning is incredibly damaging to people who have disorders like ADD, ADHD, and even dyslexia.*

*The more common learning disorders and the ones people often don’t know much about. Students who are often pawned off on someone else or labeled as slow and made to feel stupid. We’re the group who is usually underestimated, othered, and frequently infantalized.

After my comment, another person commented and I think they were agreeing with me but one of the first things they wrote was “Even though I was labeled gifted” and I just kind of massaged my temples in frustration. I have a few problems with how ADD/ADHD is discussed today, the main one being is that everyone has an opinion on ADD/ADHD but rarely are the people who actually live with it listened to. We’re talked over, pushed aside, and ignored in favor of people who are more learned, people who don’t have the disorder and therefore have no firsthand experience with it. When ADD/ADHD is discussed, it is frequently discussed with language that is inaccessible to people who have it. We’re suddenly made a problem that normal people have the answer to.

Um, no.

In fact, here are some things I never want to fucking hear again for as long as I live.

–“ADD/ADHD is overdiagnosed.” No, it really fucking isn’t. We happen to know more about the disorder now and that’s a good thing. It means more people get diagnosed earlier and maybe have to struggle a little less in life. Stay in your own fucking lane. Also, stop being so flippant about ADD/ADHD. You don’t have an “ADD/ADHD moment,” there’s no such thing. You may have a moment of inattention or distraction, but it is not the same thing. Please stop making light of something actual people deal with.

–“It’s just another excuse to medicate people/children. The medication doesn’t even really work.” (massaging temples intensifies) Why is it when it comes to learning disorders suddenly everyone and their Aunt Molly is a goddamn expert? No, I really don’t give a shit about your opinion on the medication I take. I don’t care that it never helped you or that you have this wild notion that it’s ineffective. Some people actually fucking need it. If I didn’t take it, I wouldn’t be able to work because I would be distracted by everything. My brain would be completely unable to focus. Also, it’s really fascinating how no one shames people who have physical ailments/conditions that require medication. It’s only the disorders you can’t see that apparently don’t need any sort of medication.**

**This is kind of a random aside: finals week tends to suck for people with ADD/ADHD because Adderall/Ritalin also happens to be the most abused medication. If you go about getting it the legal way, it is heavily regulated. I have to go in for 6 month checkups to make sure there’s no noticeable change in weight or diet (Adderall is a known appetite suppressant).

–“God, these spoiled white kids and their learning disorders. Just admit you’re lazy and put some effort in.” If I had a nickel for every time a teacher called me lazy, stupid, dumb, or any other number of belittling names. I had two different music teachers ask if I had been dropped on my head as an infant because I couldn’t read sheet music (and that’s part of the reason I don’t know jackshit about music: I gave up on it because I was continually made to feel like a burden when it came to music). Also, in regards to the first part of the sentence: POC who have ADD/ADHD have it the worst and are continually silenced and overlooked by the pervasive idea that it’s a “privileged white kid disorder.” Once again, people’s ignorance continues to harm marginalized communities.

— “What’s wrong with your face?” I have often been made fun of while speaking in public because I have . . . well, it’s basically resting bitch face. It often appears as though I’m bored or uninterested, when in fact it’s quite the opposite: as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to complex topics, I often need to take some time to engage with the material. So when someone’s speaking, I’m listening and not focusing on my face. I’m turning the information over in my mind and figuring out how I can engage with it. It’s the same thing when I’m speaking with a person just one-on-one: my face might be blank but trust me, the wheels in my mind are spinning and I’m hanging on your every word.

— People who find out someone they know has ADD/ADHD and immediately start treating them differently (either by speaking slower or by not sharing things they find interesting because they assume it’s too complicated). Most people who have ADD/ADHD live in fear of the day people find out about their disorder. Our culture has a very specific idea of what a learning disorder looks like and how those with such a disorder interact with the world. It would shock many people to learn that I was reading Poe in the third grade because that’s not something they think a person with a learning disorder would be capable of. Same with my being an author: I have met people who don’t understand how that’s possible for someone with ADD/ADHD.

In fact, there are a lot of people who just flat out won’t interact with someone who they know has ADD/ADHD. It’s just too much work in their opinion. Can you imagine how this feels? To be shunned because of something you have literally no control over? Look, we all need a break from people every now and again, but to outright reject someone because their mind functions differently?

Let me give a little anecdote from my ASL class, which consisted mostly of people who were quite a bit younger than me (mostly in the 18 – 21 age range). Learning a second language is almost guaranteed to reveal who has ADD/ADHD and it was pretty apparent  after the 3rd or 4th class that I had it. Now, most of this class planned to go into the special education fields. The ASL class required a ton of group and partner work. Once it became apparent I had ADD/ADHD, or at least didn’t pick things up as quickly as most of the class, guess who no one wanted to partner with? That’s right, the “dumb” student. Let me repeat this: most of these students were going into special education! And they couldn’t bring themselves to work with someone who had a mild learning disability.

That folks, is how the world views and treats people with ADD/ADHD. And I guarantee you, if you don’t have it, most of you have probably treated someone with it in a similar manner. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means that this world is severely lacking in compassion.

****************

So, why did I write this blog? Because while living with ADD continues to be a challenge, it has also made me a more compassionate and empathetic person. It’s one of the many reasons I created Asexual Artists: because when I think of people who may be experiencing similar pain, similar struggles, it hurts me. I can’t not do anything. Even if I can’t do much, I can at least do something. I can at least show someone in the world that they’re not alone.

I will interview thousands of artists, hundreds of thousands, if it means saving someone out there from pain. If it means giving one ace artist a much-needed confidence boost or the will to keep going, I will run myself into the ground interviewing a million other artists.

So it is with this blog post: if I can help one person who has ADD/ADHD, if I can show them there is nothing to be ashamed of, than I will do so.

If you have ADD/ADHD, it’s not your fault. It doesn’t define you, it won’t hold you back, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or slow. Your mind just functions a little differently than most people. Don’t ever be ashamed of that. Don’t be ashamed if you need to take medication. Don’t let others make you feel substandard or worthless. They’re not worth it.

You’re smart and amazing and so, so strong (chances are you deal with way more bullshit than most people). You can do whatever you put your mind to, even if it might take a little more time and/or effort, you can achieve anything.

I have ADD and I am unashamed! 🙂

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Cover Reveal: DAYBREAK RISING by Kiran Oliver

We may be a little late to this party, but boy do we have a treat for everyone here today!

On September 21, 2016, the F/F fantasy DAYBREAK RISING will be arriving to an e-readers near you from Torquere Press! Today, we get a first look at the amazing cover, designed by the amazing artist Kris Norris over at Torquere.

We interviewed Kiran last March during the Ace Spotlights, and he had a lot to say about the novel and the characters. One of the two ladies in this, Ianthe, is panromantic demisexual (and she’s awesome, I got my greedy hands on an e-ARC and can promise that).

So? Ready? Because here it is!

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I am SO here for Ianthe on the front of it <3. She’s gorgeous. Also, Embers of Redemption as a series name is A+, and I am jealous.

So everyone, go check out the book on Goodreads for the blurb, and add it to your shelves! Preorders should be coming along shortly!

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The Ace of Horror Announces a Lighthearted Fantasy!

Welcome back to Little Badger Manor. Wowie – it’s been a while! Pardon the mess. As you can see, I’m neck-deep in scientific dissertation writing. Lately, I’ve barely had time for anything else! Even chores like gardening and laundry have gone neglected. Just look at this pile of dirty linens. The poor ghosts don’t have any bed sheets to wear. ;-; My house is filled with naked ghosts!!!

Wait! Don’t leave! I’d like to share a writing-related announcement! My short story, “Skinwalker, Fast-Talker,” will appear in No Sh!t, There I Was, an anthology with a scaaandalous name and one of my favorite covers ever. The editor, Rachael Acks, had some lovely words to say about “Skinwalker.” Check it out: http://katsudon.net/?p=4881! Plus, I wrote a little about my inspiration here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stevensaus/no-sht-there-i-was-an-anthology-of-improbable-tale/posts/1572625. I hope you’re amused and horrified by my run-in with a pickup artist. 😉 The poor soul.

NSTIW_Cover

Don’t worry – I’m sure the dinosaur was evil!

Well, thanks for visiting. However brief our time together, it has been a pleasure. I must get back to work, however. It’s drafty in the manor, so my ghosts need their freshly starched blankies.

See you in July.

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Observations About Publishing

And now for something completely different: Let’s talk about publishing. Because this month we’re catching up on the stuff that we in the Pack have been up to over the hiatus, and I have been up to my elbows in publishing.

There have been a lot of think pieces going around recently due to the collapse of one small publisher and severe cutbacks at another, and this has also been an opportunity for the typical industry gatekeepers to get up on their soapboxes and give their usual speeches about the dangers of going outside the tried and true Old-Fashioned Way of Publishing.

A lot of the discussion has been useful, but something that always manages to get right up my nose is when people say things like, “This is why you must always have an agent; and if you can’t find an agent, then your manuscript is not good enough/should be shelved,” as if this is a universal truth.

There are a lot of problems there.

1. A lot of the authors who got royally screwed over in the span of the last month were agented. The response here generally seems to be that “any agent who would have signed you with that press is a bad agent” (also known colloquially as a “shmagent”*) and the author should never have signed with them because “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

BUT. Refer back to: “This is why you must always have an agent; and if you can’t find an agent, then your manuscript is not good enough/should be shelved.” Statements like that indicate to new authors that the sole basis of their worth is their ability to acquire an agent. No matter how many life-affirming tweets you RT about “you’re still a real writer even if you see nothing but rejection,” or “your time will come,” or “fill in appropriately Chicken Soup-esque sentiment here,” at the end of the day, the overwhelming concern in these aspiring writers’ minds is, “If I don’t have an agent, I’m a failure.” Because that’s what you’ve told them, time and time again. And then you tell them after the fact that the agent they did find isn’t good enough.

It’s like that Eleanor Roosevelt quote about “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Well, yeah, sure. But how much better does that make someone who is severely bullied feel? How practical is that advice for anyone on an individual level? It’s hard to tell someone who is desperate to be an author, who is very likely incredibly new to the industry and hasn’t been keeping up on publishing news for years like you have, who fears that they will never be anything but a failure, and who is basing the worth on their ability to find an agent that “they should have known better” than to have signed with a certain agent or a certain publisher.

2. This whole “If you don’t have XYZ then your manuscript is not good enough/should be shelved” argument makes me extremely uncomfortable. Because it’s assigning a lot more objectivity to this extremely subjective industry than there actually is. Working as an author/editor/slush puppy and observing the industry with somewhat obsessive closeness over the last several years, I’ve seen firsthand that what makes a “great” manuscript and what makes a “terrible” manuscript is almost entirely a combination of

  • luck
  • personal taste
  • the mood of the person doing the acquisitions that day

And before you say “but there are things that always help, like good grammar or compelling storytelling,” let me stop you right there, because no. I have personally seen agented, traditionally published manuscripts that have been nightmares of terrible pacing and hideous grammar**. I’ve seen shorts that need complete and total rewrites just to meet minimum magazine/anthology criteria get happily accepted for inexplicable reasons. And then I’ve read stories that have been so beautiful that they’ve moved me to tears, that have been 100% publish-ready quality with fantastic pacing, a great story and impeccable grammar, only to pass them to the acquisitions editor who says, “Ugh, boring,” and turns them down with a bottom-tier form letter.

What’s the logic here?

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There is none. These people aren’t super-geniuses, they’re not omniscient, they’re just ordinary people working an ordinary job. In a perfect world, they would open each query feeling fresh and rosy and give each manuscript the time and attention it deserves, but that would involve being robots or Stepford wives (I know, redundant). It’s not possible. Which means that perfectly good manuscripts get passed over, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of the manuscript’s quality.

Getting published traditionally is entirely about happening to find the right person to send your manuscript to at the right time on a day when they’re in the mood for a story like yours at a time when your genre is looking like it will probably be hot when it’s published three years in the future.

So, with that in mind?

3. The folks who are giving this advice are coming from a position of privilege. They were lucky enough to have all the cards fall their way. Obviously not right away—everyone’s been rejected, and I’m not denying that. But at some point it worked out for them, or they wouldn’t be here handing down advice. It’s easy to tell someone at the bottom that their time will come after you’ve already won the lotto. It doesn’t make you a jerk (inherently). It doesn’t erase the fact that you struggled before you got there. But it doesn’t change the fact that you did win the lotto. 

And if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I had [9] [17] [734] [insert number here] manuscripts turned down, and I shelved them because they weren’t good enough,” I’d be able to afford my medical bills a millionaire (same thing). The people who say these things believe it, but I can’t help but wonder…

Were their shelved manuscripts really not good enough? Or do they just believe it because publishing gatekeepers told them so?

After seeing so much crap get accepted and so many beautiful stories get turned down, I get a really bad taste in my mouth hearing people passing judgments on other people’s manuscripts, especially if they haven’t read them themselves. Maybe it’s just that anarchist side of me that doesn’t want to accept authority in basically any shape or form, but publishing is a really needlessly elitist industry and that pisses me off a lot. I don’t like the way gatekeepers have a tendency to hold good stories down, justified on the merits of their entirely-subjective “authority”. And I don’t like the way that the legacy of traditional publishing has cast a stigma on those who have decided to bypass the gatekeepers, whether via indie publishing or small presses.

Despite the fact that it’s been proven time and time again that big publishers are not willing to take a chance on great titles that are “too diverse.”

Despite the fact that there are some fantastic, award-winning #OwnVoices books out there published indie or small press, and most of them are never making it into the hands of the readers that need them because everything from reading lists to charity book boxes are curated by Big 5 gatekeepers.

Despite the fact that more and more traditionally published authors are choosing to diversify their gameplan by hybrid publishing, there’s still a noticeable caste system in place, where those authors get more street cred even as they self-publish more and more of their titles simply because they “did it the right way first.”

With all that in mind, I don’t see a reason to believe that a manuscript is objectively unpublishable simply because it hasn’t managed to hit the jackpot on the slot machine.

Is this to diss traditional publishing? Absolutely not. It has its advantages and disadvantages, just like every other aspect of this business, and there’s no reason you should not stick with it if that’s the part of the industry you want to be involved with. There’s room for everything in this world.

But there shouldn’t be judgment attached on any level. People should not be so invested in advocating one single method of publication as the One True Path that they disparage those who take a different path***. Because that attitude is what led to the current fiasco in the first place. Writers who are desperate to fit in with the Real Author clique—i.e., agented and traditionally published—are prime targets for predators disguised as professionals. To act like elitism didn’t cause this problem would be criminally negligent. So instead of victim-blaming or announcing on Twitter that “you saw this coming,” why not hold the judgment and simply offer your help and support?

Working with agents and/or publishers is a business decision, not the be-all and end-all of your worth as an author. This is a diverse industry, vastly different than it was 5 or 10 years ago, let alone 20. There’s not a “right” or “wrong” way to do it anymore, and those who try to convince you otherwise are gatekeeping, plain and simple. Only you can choose the route that fits your needs and gets your story to the audience that deserves it.


* This is another thing that makes me uncomfortable. Many of the authors who were caught up in this fiasco are very happy with their agents and feel that their agents are the only ones advocating for them right now. Throwing “schmagent” around at people you don’t know simply because they worked with X Person or Y Press feels like the publishing equivalent of the Internet Gorilla Debate.
** This is not to say that you shouldn’t make your manuscripts as polished as possible! Please, for the love of books, do everything in your power to make your manuscripts as well-written and grammatical as you can!! Your readers will thank you! This is only to say that, based on my experiences dealing with authors, agents and editors, this is not as critical of a factor as you would assume, or as it probably should be. Publishing is far less objective than that.
*** This also goes for indie authors who are rude to traditionally published authors, but that is a topic for another time.
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