Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for January, 2012

The Cloud Roads and The Serpent Sea

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

There is endless debate on what makes a story science fiction and what makes it fantasy, and I have no intention of entering those dangerous waters, but I am going to dabble my toes in a sheltered inlet and make a few observations about Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura, represented so far by last year’s The Cloud Roads and the just-released sequel The Serpent Sea. Both are wonderful books, and I’ll be scooping up the third volume when that comes out.

The protagonist in these books is Moon, a being who can shift between groundling form (basically human) and a rather fierce and dangerous winged being. Moon is an outsider, belonging nowhere, but desperately wanting to belong, though unwilling to admit it. His story unfolds within a fascinating, and incredibly diverse and detailed story world, and his adventures therein are enthralling.

But aside from the great story telling, one aspect of these books that I find very appealing is the way that magic is “built in” to the story elements. For the most part, magic is not something to be learned and mastered, it just is. Magic allows Moon to shape-shift, but not because he’s particularly clever. The magic he uses is simply a biological trait of his species, the Raksura. Just as you and I learned to walk upright at an early age, the Raksura learn to walk upright and also to shape-shift. Almost everything else about them is due to biology, not magic, and Martha has soundly developed that biology—along with the biology and societies of several other species and cultures along the way.

As another example of built-in magic, there are “flying islands.” Yes, literally. And how utterly logical that a chunk of rock from a flying island could be used to levitate other things.

Which is a long way of saying I admire the logic of these books. In both science fiction and fantasy we’re asked to suspend our disbelief about the plausibility of one or more elements. The Books of the Raksura introduce those elements without the arm-waving and explanation that would be required in a science fiction novel, but the implications of those elements are worked out with great rigor. Having spent the first part of my career writing “hard” science fiction, I truly admire that. In thinking about these books I keep remembering Arthur C. Clarke’s very famous quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”—and I can’t help wondering if maybe the magic in these books is some highly advanced technology after all.

Decisions, Decisions…

Monday, January 30th, 2012

In the last stages of pulling a book together for publication there comes a point when final decisions must be made for each step. In my case, having revisited decisions I made nine months ago, I’m preparing The Dread Hammer for re-publication, and its sequel Hepen the Watcher for original publication. So the process seems doubly complex, with each step full of commitment. And if I make the wrong decision? If I approve something that I later regret? Well, some things, especially with the ebook, might be easily “fixable,” but others, not so much.

Will anybody besides me give a damn?

Probably not, but that knowledge doesn’t stop me from tying myself into knots. That’s just my personality.

At any rate, I’m trying to be methodical, dealing first with The Dread Hammer’s checklist:

• The manuscript: any more changes? No?

• The cover art and title fonts: okay? Yes?

Then there is the back cover description and the layout of the book’s interior, which I’m carrying over from the first edition. The copyright page gets updated though, since this will be a second edition. And for the ebook, I need to add sample chapters from Hepen the Watcher, and since I’m adding sample chapters, I also need to include the back cover description for Hepen the Watcher

…which is the point I’ve reached. I wrote a back cover description and then bothered various people with it. I’ve received feedback, though not quite what I expected, and the implications aren’t limited to the back cover copy.

For example, one suggestion was to change the tagline from “A fairytale of…” to “A tale of…” I liked this suggestion, I had even considered doing this before and indeed, I decided to do it. But that meant I had to go back and revise the cover art for The Dread Hammer, which was supposedly final, changing the tagline there to read “tale” instead of “fairytale.” Fortunately I could still do this because I hadn’t yet uploaded the new cover art to the printer, but then I also had to update the book description and all the web-ready cover images of different sizes that I’d already prepared.

So is the cover art for The Dread Hammer now done for real? Dare I move on? Shrug. I don’t know. Sometimes I think it would be very nice to have a dedicated cheering committee to say, “Yes, that looks good! Yes, that sounds good! Go for it!” But I only have me, with my palms pressed to my cheeks as I desperately contemplate what I might have forgotten.

Yes, I am very good at stressing myself out. Oh yes, very good indeed.

Cover Art Reveal — The Dread Hammer

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Back in late November I wrote a post titled Re-Thinking Cover Art: The Dread Hammer with the subtitle:

The option to change your mind is one of the great advantages of indie publishing.

I had changed my mind about both the cover style that I wanted for the book, and the use of a pen name. See the earlier post for my reasoning, but in the meantime, take a look at the new cover, with art by Sarah Adams:

I’m pleased.

The last question remaining before I re-issue the book goes to copyright. Since I originally published under an open pseudonym, I’m trying to understand what to put on the copyright page. I haven’t been able to find any resources on the web or in The Copyright Handbook. The writers I’ve seen who have re-published under a different name tend to do it as “Author Name 1 publishing as Author Name 2,” which I don’t want to do. I have a query in to the US copyright office, and will try again today to call them. But if anyone out there has experienced this or can point me toward a useful resource, I’d appreciate it.

David Brin’s SF & Fantasy List

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

David Brin has posted a long list of his favored science fiction and fantasy, divided into categories. I’m proud to say I get a mention under “The Hard Stuff.” Check the whole list out here.

Thanks to @keith_johnston on twitter for pointing out the list!

Guest Post: Joshua Palmatier
(aka Benjamin Tate)

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Please welcome Joshua Palmatier, who has written a guest post on the nature and necessity of dark, gritty fantasy — a subject especially relevant and interesting to me as I get ready to publish my own gritty tale. Joshua is the author of, most recently, Well of Sorrows and its just-released sequel Leaves of Flame both written under the pen name Benjamin Tate.

First off, thanks, Linda, for inviting me to guest blog today. I really appreciate it.

I recently attended Arisia, an SF&F con in Boston, and while there I participated in a panel called “Mud and Blood: The Grittier Side of Fantasy.” This was not a surprise, since the most common adjective used to describe my book is “gritty.” But the basic idea behind the panel was to talk about dark fantasy. I thought it would be a good topic for my guest post.

The main question is, what is it about dark fantasy that intrigues me as a writer, and do I really need to include all of the mud and blood, the dirt and grit? The answer is yes. *grin*

I have to admit that I don’t sit down and intentionally write “dark fantasy.” I never thought of my books as dark, I simply wrote them, the way they wanted to be written. (I’m an organic writer, which means I just sit down and write to see what happens; very little planning ahead of time.) And for me, a book and the characters in it aren’t realistic unless they have to deal with the mud and blood, dirt and grit. Those are the elements that make the world real for me, and so I include them naturally. They’re a part of life.

I also feel that people don’t change unless they’re forced into it. We’d all rather stay the way we are, so in order for a character to have a believable character arc in a book, some rather serious and significant emotional pain needs to be inflicted. We often joke that writers like to torture their characters, but it isn’t really a joke. If we expect the character to change, SOMETHING has to happen. Often, that “something” isn’t nice. And in the end, this is what makes characters interesting and gets the reader involved. Being forced to deal with the gritty reality of life is what draws the reader in and makes them sympathetic to the character.

That doesn’t mean that, as a writer, you can’t take it too far. There is a line that has to be drawn by every writer and every book, a line that the mud and blood, dirt and grit, shouldn’t cross. It differs from book to book, but a reader can only take so much grime and so much character torturing before they lose their sympathy and simply start thinking the writer is cruel. Writers need to balance the “dark” with some hope. In my first book, THE SKEWED THRONE, my character, Varis, starts out in the slums called the Dredge. I spent a lot of time trying to make the Dredge as real and believable as possible. Varis is struggling to merely survive, and for a while it feels as if she may not succeed. I couldn’t possibly write an entire book where this was the dominant feeling. At some point, you have to introduce something to counter the grit and give the reader hope that things will change. In my book, Varis meets a Seeker named Erick, who begins training her to be an assassin. That doesn’t mean there aren’t painful experiences yet to come, even after she escapes the Dredge, but at every stage there is hope that, sometime soon, good things will come. And eventually, they do.

So, in my opinion, you need some mud and blood, some dirt and grit, in order to make the world feel more real, and in order to make the character arc believable. Making the world believable in a fantasy novel is even more important than in other novels. But you have to be careful that you don’t take it too far and alienate the reader from not only your world, but the sympathy they have with your characters as well.

Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy—The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne — under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series — Well of Sorrows and the just released Leaves of Flame — by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies Close Encounters of the Urban Kind (edited by Jennifer Brozek), Beauty Has Her Way (Jennifer Brozek), and River (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and the upcoming The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). Find out more about both names at and, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).

Blood Orchids and Hawaii Bookstores

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Cover of BLOOD ORCHIDS by Toby NealHawaii is big on regional books. Books about Hawaii are generally stocked at bookstores and convenience stores, and they’re given a big section on the book tables at Costco. I was never able to take advantage of this because — despite that I am a Hawaii author — my books aren’t about Hawaii, and besides they’re that weird science fiction and fantasy stuff…

(Exception: the staff at the former Borders Superstore in Honolulu used to be terrific about stocking my books. If y’all ever read this, thank you!)

But what about Toby Neal’s Blood Orchids? (Full disclosure: Toby’s a friend of mine, and I created the ebook and did the interior layout for the print version.)

Blood Orchids is a first novel that came out at the end of November and has been doing quite well on Amazon with twenty-six customer reviews so far. The story is a police procedural set in the city of Hilo on the Big Island, and it’s loaded with local culture — which should make the paper version an ideal candidate for stocking on the rack of “Hawaii books” found at brick & mortar stores here. Not only would local people see it, but visitors on vacation could pick it up for a Hawaii read.

But you aren’t going to see the paper version of Blood Orchids if you’re on vacation in Hawaii. Here’s why:

A traditionally published book is sold as “returnable,” meaning that if the store that stocks it can’t sell the book, the book is sent back to the publisher. This is a huge liability for a publisher. The book must be printed, and the printing must be paid for, and then most publishers make the assumption that only one in two books will sell anyway.

Blood Orchids is an indie-published book, and print-on-demand — meaning that copies are only printed when they are ordered. This in itself isn’t a problem. Toby called up a rep from our only remaining bookstore chain and asked about getting the book stocked. The rep was helpful and enthusiastic, but when she looked up the book, she advised Toby that the store could only carry returnable books.

Right now the print version of Blood Orchids has a very affordable list price of $11.99 and is being sold at Amazon discounted slightly to $11.58. To make the book work in a brick & mortar store the price would have to be raised considerably, both to provide a fair return to the bookstore that sells it, and to cover the “loss” involved in selling only one of two books that are printed. This is why traditionally published trade paperbacks are generally far more expensive than indie-published books intended for online sale. It also points out the difficulty and risk of getting those indie-published books into stores. With print-on-demand books that don’t allow returns — which is the way I handle my print versions — potential losses are limited to the set-up cost of the book, a fixed amount that’s pre-invested.

But once returns are allowed, potential losses are completely unknowable. Not only are you at-risk for the printing cost, but also for the shipping on returns. For most of us with indie books, the loss risk combined with an expectation of reduced sales online when the cost of the book goes up by 30% or more, makes the struggle to break into the bookstore chains a struggle not worth having.

This all feels a little unfair, but in all honesty, it’s not. Publishing is a business, and someone has to take the risk. The story might be different if we had independent bookstores here in Hawaii, with an owner willing to try a few copies on spec, but that’s not the case. I sincerely hope this changes. Here on Maui we have one remaining bookstore, and that’s on the opposite side of the island from our primary population center, and an hour’s drive for me.

But for the immediate future, you won’t be seeing Blood Orchids in any Hawaii stores, even though it’s an ideal fit for the usual rack of Hawaii books and deserves to be there. And that’s a shame for both readers and writers.

Short Fiction Sale!

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

The first short fiction I’ve written in years has sold to Analog Science Fiction & Fact! (Yes, there is a big grin on my face.)

I wrote the story last September. This was a milestone for me, because the last original story of less-than-novel length that I ever wrote was published in 2000–so it had been a while.

The new story was a little bit too long to be called a short story–at 8,900 words it’s technically a novelette, but fortunately, Analog is okay with that length, and Analog was also the home of my first four pro sales, way back when, so I decided to send it there first. Just after New Year’s the very welcome news arrived that editor Stanley Schmidt is buying the story.

No publication date yet, but I’ll post when I know.

If you’d like to read more about the story and the process of writing it, check out this blog post.

Martha Wells’ The Serpent Sea is Out

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Back in May I blogged about Martha Well’s novel The Cloud Roads, a book that I enjoyed immensely. The sequel is now out, titled The Serpent Sea. But there’s a problem: In the world of traditional publishing the success of a book is usually determined by how well that book sells in its first month of release, and how well a book sells is strongly dependent on how many copies are sitting on bookstore shelves. The word is that Barnes & Noble, the last big chain bookstore, is carrying The Serpent Sea in only a limited number of stores. This is an utter shame, when the work of a great author is no longer out in public view. So some of us are getting the word out to let fans of The Cloud Roads know that the sequel is live! If you still read paper books, consider ordering The Serpent Sea from your local B&N. That way, the store’s book buyers will know they ought to have some copies on their shelves. It really does make a difference. I just started reading my copy (ebook). More soon.


Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Over on twitter, Alma Alexander asks “What are the words that you’d banish from the Oxford English Dictionary?” The links lead on to an article on words that people would like to see dropped from English.

Personally though, I want more words, not less.

Every now and then when I’m writing I come to a point where I need a particular word. I know exactly the definition of that word. The only problem is, that word, so far as I know, doesn’t exist. So I have to write my way around it.

I think I’ll start keeping a list of those definitions. It will be like Jeopardy for dictionaries. I provide the definition, the dictionary produces for me a shiny new word, known to everyone, that perfectly communicates the nuance I’m striving for.

If only.

Cross-Blogging At Book View Café

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Book View Café has a very active blog, with contributions from many members of the co-op. Back in November I agreed to take on a weekly slot, posting something every Wednesday. The idea was that I would get to recycle things from this blog, and at the same time get my name out there at least a little more prominently on a busy website. At that point I was blogging fairly often anyway, so I thought, Why not?

Things went smoothly at first. I had some posts that worked out well enough for BVC’s very diverse blog, but it wasn’t all that long before those ripe and ready posts were used up. I realized that a lot of what I have here is an exploration of indie publishing seen through my own direct experience, and most of it doesn’t feel general enough for BVC’s blog.

Now, around Friday every week, I start thinking, I need to come up with something for BVC. Then on Sunday, Google Calendar emails me a warning, Do BVC blog post.

By Monday morning I’m either desperately combing through past posts here or, more and more often, trying to come up with some topic of “general interest.”

I write down potential blog topics all the time, but when I really consider them, a lot don’t hold up. Either I don’t have any coherent thoughts on the subject, or it would entail research that I don’t have time to do, or it winds up being a little too personal, or to do the topic justice, I would have to include spoilers to books and movies that I like.

On the other hand, having to meet a weekly deadline for the first time in my life is leading me to exercise a level of creativity I never would have otherwise. So if you start seeing odd little posts like the preceding one “Born to Wander,” the reason for it is that I need something up in my slot at Book View Café, and if I’m going to the trouble of writing it, I might as well post it here too.

If you’ve got suggestions on blog topics you’d like to see me try, please do let me know.