A reading from Tinder Stricken (and some updates)

First thing: Tinder Stricken is now available in print-on-demand paperback form. The books are 6 inches wide by 9 inches high, a wide, thin book that’s easier to hold open than the pocket-sized bricks Stories of Aligare novels. You can buy a copy from my Createspace storefront or from Amazon proper.

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Not sure I’ll ever get tired of sticking this cover art into my blog posts.

 

Second thing: All of my works are now available from Openbooks.com. It’s a new ebook site that features pay-what-you-want pricing, not necessarily paid up front — so you can read an book before deciding how much to pay for it. It’s a model I like for its inclusivity. Don’t have a lot of money and don’t want to waste it on a book you might hate? No problem!

Openbooks also allows sharing ebook files — so that you can share with your friends the same way you’d lend them your purchased paper books. I encourage sharing! Piracy worries are, if you ask me, an excessively neurotic fear of the inevitable.

 

The titular thing: I’ve recorded myself reading an excerpt of Tinder Stricken! Sort of like a casual book-reading event that everyone in the world can attend. Here’s Chapter 1 (and I hope to do some more chapters later):

Got thoughts on any of the above things? Share in the comments!


Links of possible interest!

Hmm, I don’t really have anything to say this week. How about I share some links to things that caught my eye?


Serpents of Sky now available! Plus an interview with Self Publisher’s Showcase

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Today is the day! You can buy Serpents of Sky from Amazon for $1.99 US.

This 34 000-word collection explores the many roles of dragons. Contains 9 short stories of fantasy and science fiction, including:

  • With Less Lament. During a dragon attack on her city, an elderly woman meets unexpected guardians in her own garden.
  • Cardiology. Trapped in his laboratory and running out of supplies, a scientist bioengineers reptilian creatures based on the dragons he grew up reading about. These flawed beings are his only hope for survival in the ruined outside world.
  • Clearsight. Two dragons perform magical biology experiments with prehistoric Earth animals. They hope to aid the evolution of more dragons — a rare event in all the universe — but an oncoming extinction event threatens all their efforts.
  • Iron Workings. A boy stands on a cliff edge, his flightsuit wings spread. His dragon captains use electric magic to force his compliance and enable him to fly — but then one of the dragons whispers in his ear about mutiny.
  • In Lifetimes Spared. Once a princess kidnapped by a terrible dragon, she is now a wise queen who calls that dragon her friend. Her dream is for humans and dragons to share peace, but the process is not proving simple.
  • Raise (A story of Aligare). A novelette set in the magical, human-free society of Aligare. Tenver, a weasel-like ferrin, accidentally trades away the eggshells his adoptive mother Constezza hatched from. Those eggshells are any korvi’s most precious possession. Determined to fix his mistake, Tenver enlists the help of Judellie, a korvi just finding the courage to leave home on her own wings.

Also of note, I recently did an interview with Self Publisher’s Showcase!

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They asked me some great questions about the Stories of Aligare characters, as well as my own path to self-publishing and why I write fantasy fiction. Check out the interview here!


Serpents of Sky cover reveal

Well, folks, here’s that cover art I’ve been working on! That paper maché dragon got a few coats of paint, then I enlisted my dad’s help to set up lights and take photos. I’ve been slaving away over a hot image editing program and now I bring you the Serpents of Sky cover:

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Because dragons are fictional, yet such a deeply-rooted part of human culture and lore, they’re unreal even when they’re “realistic”. So I was going for a semi-realistic look to this cover. This art project has been a learning experience!

And when will you be able to read the short stories underneath the cover? February 17th! Serpents of Sky is going to be an Amazon exclusive when it first launches. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can use Amazon’s free Kindle app, or convert the .mobi file to another ebook format using Calibre or a similar service. Paperbacks should be available by the end of February. After a few months, I’ll consider bringing Serpents of Sky to Smashwords and other ebook retailers.

Like any of my writing, I’m really excited to show this to the world. Serpents of Sky touches on a wide variety of genres, from sword and sorcery to dystopian sci-fi. The crown jewel of the collection is Raise (A story of Aligare), a novelette of adventure and family drama — which I hope will welcome new readers into my land of Aligare. Judellie of Cherez, one of the dragon-like korvi from Render, makes another appearance in Raise. (Syril of Reyardine returns, too, but it just wouldn’t be a Story of Aligare without some mention of that guy.)

That’s enough blogging for me. Back to editing!

Related articles:

Once again, it’s paper mache season heidicvlach.com)

What do dragons represent to us? (heidicvlach.com)

What’s on tap, Heidi C. Vlach? My plans for 2014 (heidicvlach.com)


What’s on tap, Heidi C. Vlach? My plans for 2014

Hey, readers! Whether you just stumbled across me in some Google result today, or you’ve been reading my fiction for years, I’m glad you’re here. Let me tell you what I’m working on for the coming year.

—That short story collection I’ve been talking about. Tentatively titled Serpents of Sky, it’ll have many different spins on dragon mythology.  One of these shorts will be a new Story of Aligare about the motherly korvi, Constezza. I predict a February 2014 release, but we’ll see how it goes.

I'm still designing the cover, so have a stock dragon from Openclipart.org.

I’m still working on original cover art, so in the meantime, have this stock dragon from Openclipart.org.

—A tabletop game called Omens of Aligare. My roommate/best friend is a tabletop game enthusiast. He’s been tinkering with the idea of a cards-and-tokens game that’s faithful to the Aligare books — because multi-racial fantasy societies can make for really interesting roleplay games. The Aligare tabletop project picked up steam when some of our other writer friends got involved, and I’ve been offering up ideas and lore that might make the game more fun. All the effort is beginning to pay off!

Playable for 2-6 players (probably), Omens of Aligare is a resource-management game where the players work together against Aligare’s “demons” of natural disaster and illness. The game is in a playable state right now but it still needs adjustments and balancing. We don’t have concrete release plans yet; crowdfunding will likely be involved. I’ll keep you posted if anything happens.

—Two convention stops this year. I’ll be attending Furnal Equinox in Toronto, Ontario for my first time. As well, I’ll be at What The Fur? in Montreal, Quebec for my fourth year running. I’ll have dealer’s tables at both events and I hope to schedule readings, so folks can hear me perform a sample of Render (A story of Aligare). With character voices, of course. You gotta do character voices.

And since we’re very near the end of 2013, I’d also like to mention that Render (A story of Aligare) is eligible for the 2013 Ursa Major Awards.

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The Ursa Majors recognise excellence in anthropomorphic art and literature — that’s anything where non-human character(s) plays a significant role. If you’re voting, please keep Render in mind for the Anthropomorphic Novel category! If you’re not voting, then I’d still recommend browsing the Ursa Majors’ recommended list for 2013, as well as previous years’ listings. They’re a helpful compendium of books, artwork and other media featuring non-human characters, with many works coming from independent artists and small presses.

That’s all I have planned for 2014 so far. I’m not sure what I’ll write after Serpents of Sky — maybe another novel in the Stories of Aligare series, or maybe something from a new world. I’ll chew what I’ve got on my plate first.

Hoping to see anything in particular from me in 2014? Doing anything special yourself? Share in the comments!


The Unfinished Song (Book 1): Initiate by Tara Maya

Note from Heidi: Today, we’re doing something a bit different! I’m turning the floor over to Tara Maya, a fellow independent author I’ve seen her around the blogosphere since before I started my own self-publishing adventure. She’s been working hard on her Unfinished Song series — a fantasy adventure with lots of faeries, pixies and other magical beings in it.

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DEADLY INITIATION

A DETERMINED GIRL…

Dindi can’t do anything right, maybe because she spends more time dancing with pixies than doing her chores. Her clan hopes to marry her off and settle her down, but she dreams of becoming a Tavaedi, one of the powerful warrior-dancers whose secret magics are revealed only to those who pass a mysterious Test during the Initiation ceremony. The problem? No-one in Dindi’s clan has ever passed the Test. Her grandmother died trying. But Dindi has a plan.

AN EXILED WARRIOR…

Kavio is the most powerful warrior-dancer in Faearth, but when he is exiled from the tribehold for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to shed his old life. If roving cannibals and hexers don’t kill him first, this is his chance to escape the shadow of his father’s wars and his mother’s curse. But when he rescues a young Initiate girl, he finds himself drawn into as deadly a plot as any he left behind. He must decide whether to walk away or fight for her… assuming she would even accept the help of an exile.

An excerpt from Initiate:

Blue-skinned rusalki grappled Dindi under the churning surface of the river. She could feel their claws dig into her arms. Their riverweed-like hair entangled her legs when she tried to kick back to the surface. She only managed to gulp a few breaths of air before they pulled her under again.

She hadn’t appreciated how fast and deep the river was. On her second gasp for air, she saw that the current was already dragging her out of sight of the screaming girls on the bank. A whirlpool of froth and fae roiled between two large rocks in the middle of the river. The rusalka and her sisters tugged Dindi toward it. Other water fae joined the rusalki. Long snouted pookas, turtle-like kappas and hairy-armed gwyllions all swam around her, leading her to the whirlpool, where even more fae swirled in the whitewater.

“Join our circle, Dindi!” the fae voices gurgled under the water. “Dance with us forever!”

“No!” She kicked and swam and stole another gasp for air before they snagged her again. There were so many of them now, all pulling her down, all singing to the tune of the rushing river. She tried to shout, “Dispel!” but swallowed water instead. Her head hit a rock, disorienting her. She sank, this time sure she wouldn’t be coming up again.

“Dispel!” It was a man’s voice.

Strong arms encircled her and lifted her until her arms and head broke the surface. Her rescuer swam with her toward the shore. He overpowered the current, he shrugged aside the hands of the water faeries stroking his hair and arms. When he reached the shallows, he scooped Dindi into his arms and carried her the rest of the way to the grassy bank. He set her down gently.

She coughed out some water while he supported her back.

“Better?” he asked.

She nodded. He was young–only a few years older than she. The aura of confidence and competence he radiated made him seem older. Without knowing quite why, she was certain he was a Tavaedi.

“Good.” He had a gorgeous smile. A wisp of his dark bangs dangled over one eye. He brushed his dripping hair back over his head.

Dindi’s hand touched skin–he was not wearing any shirt. Both of them were sopping wet. On him, that meant trickles of water coursed over a bedrock of muscle. As for her, the thin white wrap clung transparently to her body like a wet leaf. She blushed.

“It might have been easier to swim if you had let go of that,” he teased. He touched her hand, which was closed around something. “What were you holding onto so tightly that it mattered more than drowning?”

Where to download The Unfinished Song (Book 1): Initiate:

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes or Smashwords.

Initiate is free everywhere except on Barnes and Noble (where it’s $0.99). You can download a free .epub version via Smashwords.

Where to find Tara Maya online:

Her blog, her Twitter, or The Unfinished Song on Facebook.


Special formatting in ebooks

Once in a while, I get people asking about the formatting in their Stories of Aligare ebooks. A visitor to my What The Fur? table actually asked about it! There are these highly noticeable sections of underlined text — sometimes half-page chunks, in Remedy‘s case. And readers often wonder if this is a file conversion error of some kind. Because the underlines seem to show emphasis, but italics are normally used for that, right …?

Yes, italics are standard. And no, the underlines in my books aren’t errors. I chose to format my ebooks in this odd way and the choice didn’t happen quickly. While I was developing Remedy, every draft and rewrite had a different formatting pattern depending on the age of the writing guidelines I was working from (and believe me, some of these guidelines were old enough to be my parents). One custom I adopted was to use underlines in a manuscript instead of italics. If you mail off your submission to some overworked slushpile reader, the underlines will be easy to discern and less taxing on the eyes.

That made sense to me. I mean, depending on the font, italics can be a very subtle change. Arial font is a good example:

If I were tired or distracted while reading a dense page of text, I bet those italics would difficult to pick out. And Arial is a commonly used font! There must be plenty of other fonts where the italics are too subtle to be an effective form of emphasis.

When I began looking at Remedy with the eye of a self-publisher, I considered the effect of my underlined text. I was using the special formatting to indicate that hearing-impaired Peregrine was reading lips, which I felt was an important detail to imagine. Hearing spoken sounds is much different from watching mouth motions and piecing together the words. So I kept the visually punchy underlines to match the visual nature of Peregrine’s conversations.

And since I would be self-publishing an ebook, those striking underlines only made more arguments for themselves. If I bother to emphasize a word, I’d rather make that emphasis clear and distinct. And with an ebook, the reader can choose to read my books on a tiny cell phone screen, with their own choice of font. Better to stick with the clarity of underlines, I say. Paperback versions of the Stories of Aligare, on the other hand, use conventional italics because they have a set font and layout. And because the underline is so bold in print, it actually looks sort of unsettling. I’ll consider using underlines in print if I’m ever writing, say, the voice of a god speaking into a mortal’s mind.

In this growing ebook revolution, formatting can be an enormous stumbling block for everyone involved. Ebook files come in a wide variety of formats, and those files need to be legible on more devices than you can shake a tech support employee at. And while the conventional aesthetics of written words are important, I think the function of the written piece is equally vital. The whole point of ebooks is to adapt books to our changing needs. Not to cling stubbornly to old ways just for the sake of them.

And that’s why the ebook versions of Remedy, Ravel and Render look, at first glance, like the file conversion process mauled them. Particularly Remedy, because the emphasis formatting has such a sense of purpose in Peregrine’s scenes. My choices might not fit the standard but hey, I’ve never had a problem with that.


Summarizing a novel

I have a text file I’ve been opening occasionally. Every few days for the last 3 months. Each time, I write a new sentence, pick at the wording of a different sentence, and stare at the screen for a bit. Then I close the file.

This fussed-over file contains summaries of Render. Different paragraphs that attempt to encompass the story and cover its significant points.

This is something I joke about with other writers. Summary? Summary? If I could sum up this damn thing up in 300 words, I wouldn’t have written 94 000 words of novel to begin with! But when a stranger is browsing through the endless sea of ebooks, and they pause over my summary, there’s nothing to joke about. I have a tiny window of opportunity in which to make that reader curious, to make them begin to care. It’s fine if anthropomorphic characters searching for identity just isn’t that reader’s cup of tea. But I do need to try.

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It’s a matter of seeing potential.

Even if you’re talking about a movie you saw or a story you heard, summaries can be pretty hard. Unless they’re high-concept, of course. “High-concept” sounds deceivingly classy, but it just means that a story can be very neatly summarized. Cop saves his wife from terrorists. Boy has adventures at wizard school. Two teenagers are in love but their families hate each other. When the core conflict fits into one tight sentence, summaries are nowhere near as troublesome.

But for every one of those, there’s a story where you love the shape and structure and emotions of it, but describing it succinctly? Uh. Hmm. That’s been my struggle with the Stories of Aligare. The books are about these fantasy people but they’re … finding out who they are and stuff? But they’re peaceful. But things happen, I promise!

Crickets chirp in the distance. Crickets who are fans of literary existentialism.

Crickets chirp in the distance. Crickets who are fans of literary existentialism.

For all we talk about not judging books by their metaphorical covers, we really do. And that judgement is often justified — particularly for self-publishers. When a job applicant shows up in dirty, ripped jeans and calls the prospective boss “bro”, you know all you need to about their attitude. In that sense, a book’s summary is its job interview with the reader. A boring or confusing summary often shows that the author/promoter doesn’t grasp writing principles very well — or doesn’t care enough to try. If you can’t write one efficient, interesting paragraph, the issue certainly won’t get better if you blather on longer.

So all my writing concerns are magnified when I write a summary. Those 300 words need to be a finely-crafted poem in honour of this novel I wrote. Gotta use my invented vocabulary carefully so it’s not confusing, but use it frequently enough that my book doesn’t seem generic. Highlight situations the reader might relate to, like parenthood, or moral struggles or, a desire to travel.  Get to the heart of why the characters care about anything.

All I can hope is that I find a great way to encapsulate my work. I needed some outside help in Remedy‘s case. My friend Aura Roy seemed to really connect with the story and she described it as “explor[ing] what it means to be family“. I thought, oh wow, that’s so perfect! Maybe I was too close to that story at the time to really see its core. Who knows whether I’ll find that core of Render in the next few weeks. We’ll see. I’ll keep thinking, and rewriting single sentences.


Reading a mediocre novel: finish it or fling it?

In the highly subjective world of fiction, there are many ways to navigate. Some people always finish the books they start reading. They’ll chew through just about anything, refraining from judgement until they’re read the entire thing. Whereas some readers are quick to abandon a book they’re not thrilled about. Life is too short to spend their leisure time doing something they’re not enjoying.

I fall into the second group. I don’t mind being confused by a story; I’d rather deduce what’s going on from the subtle context cues, instead of sitting through a paragraph of dry, patronizing explanation. But if the prose seems cliched or stiff or bloated, or the characters aren’t interesting, complex people, I’m quick to drop the book and consider myself done. Sure, an author worked hard to write each and every story in existence. But my time is valuable, too. I’ve never found the completion goal to be worth it. Slogging through a book I’m not enjoying just makes me think of all the things I’d rather be doing.

"I have a sudden wish to go clean the bathroom."

“Yep, I sure could be scrubbing the toilet right now. That’d be productive.”

I think I’m comfortable abandoning books for two main reasons:

1) I don’t mind disagreeing with popular opinion. Just because a book is a bestseller or an alleged classic doesn’t mean I feel obligated to like it myself. I do try to objectify why I don’t like it, though. Dune, for example, is a book I hated and couldn’t force myself to keep reading. That’s because it’s a very political story. It bothered me that the neat invented world wasn’t front and center: it seemed more like a thin excuse for the privileged rich people to betray each other, which I could watch on modern Earth news if I cared. But hundreds of thousands of people like Dune‘s political intrigue and found it a revelation. That’s okay. I’m just not one of them — and I don’t need to inflict all 800-ish pages on myself to prove that.

2) I read a lot of amateur fiction online. Fanfiction, original stories, artists writing backstory material for their drawings, quietly self-published experiments — all sorts of stuff. Little bites of randomness. More of my time goes to that than to reading Actual Published Novels. Sturgeon’s Revelation says that 90% of everything is crap, so everything logically has a 10% margin of goodness. Reading rough amateur work means sifting though a lot of the 90%, which has taught me to quickly ascertain whether a thing I’ve found is worth my time. Whereas if you’re used to buying books from big publishers, you might be more optimistic, assuming that this thing must be worth reading if someone went to the effort to publish a half a million copies. If you dropped $20 or $30 on the book or made a trip all the way to the library for it, you’re more invested in the story, literally and figuratively.

Ultimately, I think finishing vs. flinging is mostly a matter of taste. It’s as individual as your genre preference, or whether you like the feel of paperbacks better than ereaders. There’s no quantifying any of it, really. Sometimes we can’t even say for sure what we like or dislike — we just know it when it’s in our hands.


Ebook piracy and why I’m okay with it

I’m a content-producing novelist trying to make a living. Despite this, I don’t think piracy is evil.

No, really. One time, a convention attendee joked about pirating my book to his friends (then quickly insisted he wouldn’t do that) — and I laughed and gave him permission. Seriously, I wouldn’t mind if that attendee copied the Remedy ebook and emailed it to 500 of his friends and acquaintances. I might make thousands of dollars if every one of those 500 people purchased Remedy, but I don’t think the issue is as simple as that.

There are some existing cautionary tales, like Napster and the anime industry.  Historically, people sold art, music and stories in a scarcity-based model. The only way to get these things was to purchase them through legitimate venues, which were sometimes hard to find and often priced steeply. When the Internet came along, people began downloading the things they were interested in but couldn’t buy legitimately. There was suddenly a way to circumvent the gatekeepers. Is that wrong? Well, the free market is clearly expressing its desires, and I think the onus is on businesses to keep up with demand. No one gets to order the world to stop changing. But is it just a matter of stealing things you haven’t paid for?

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Physical ownership is clear and easy to enforce. A car is a three-dimensional object and we treat it as such. This object is valuable because it performs an action, and it’s made of materials with a calculable worth. You could sell a car for its parts or its metal content, but that car has greater value when it still works as a car. We know how fast a make of car can drive, and we can predict how many years it’ll be useful for. It might have social connotations (ie. driving a car as a mark of adulthood), but that’s not the primary reason a car is a valuable object. Forcibly taking that car away from its owner — so you can drive it or sell it instead of them — is therefore wrong.

Information, though? It’s trickier to control, and I don’t even think it should be held hostage for money. Information is a basic right. Everyone gets to learn skills, hear stories and experience art. That’s because we are enriched by ideas in ways we can’t always fathom. You can charge for your time and effort in distributing information — that’s reasonable. You can ask people to support you so they’ll get more information in the future. But I don’t think written stories are comparable to an object, be it a luxury car or a stick of gum. Stories have a word count but they’re not truly measurable. You can’t look at a novel and know that you’ll get so many grams or ounces of joy from it.

Why is a paperback book valuable? We know that paper, glue and ink are physical resources, and that someone needed to print and transport the book. Those books originally sold for a price the publisher needed to keep their New York rent paid up. If you resell old pulp paperbacks you found moldering away in your basement, you might get a few cents each for them if you’re lucky. What about the purpose of the book, though — the story? There’s no telling how valuable that story will be to any given person. I’ve read plenty of classics and bestsellers that I thought were boring and terrible, which meant they had very little value for me. Those old basement books might contain a story you end up loving. And people might read Remedy and think it’s a waste of their time: that’s a risk I take as a writer. I hope people will find value in the characters and ideas I present, but I can’t force them and nor should I.

If people read a pirated copy of Remedy, they’re trying out what I do. Taking my writing for a test drive, to get back to the car example. Determining if my work is worth their money. And I’m okay with that — because as an independant author, awareness of my work is more valuable than a payment of pocket change. I do charge dollars and cents for my books, but that’s basically just an assurance that I’ve worked hard to make a product I believe is worth money. It’s a request for token support of what I do. I understand Internet culture and I’m not stupid enough to put myself in a position where piracy will ruin me financially.

CanadianCoins

Poor self-publisher. Deprived of, um, some coffee and maybe a donut or something.

Old perspectives tell us that everything must be policed, enforced, and sold for money. That’s a system that takes failure hard and doesn’t acknowledge its own flaws — especially when trying to sell something as mercurial as ideas. It also makes people overly obsessed with money and ownership, in such distasteful examples as jacking up ebook prices when public libraries are looking to buy. I’d rather operate on a system where people enjoy my work and support me when they think I deserve their token support. Maybe they pay me in the form of reading my work for free, then telling their friends to check me out. That’s cool. I think we can all live with that.