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.
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!
Hmm, I don’t really have anything to say this week. How about I share some links to things that caught my eye?
- Till Human Voices Wake Us by Annie Bellet. I’m currently reading this collection of sci-fi/fantasy short stories. It’s got an interesting variety of speculative elements — and lots of non-white humans, who are always nice to see in sci-fi/fantasy.
- War Dog and Marginalized Populations by Malcom Cross. A pair of novelettes about genetically engineered dog supersoldiers, who have to find a way to fit into human society when there are no more battles to fight. Military fiction isn’t one of my stronger interests but the concept seems like a great way to use anthropomorphic characters.
- The Whacker Chronicles by Stan Grimes. Adult fantasy fiction about a society of pigeons, who deal with very relatable issues.
- To Journey in the Year of the Tiger by H. Leighton Dickson. First book in a saga of genetically altered tigers, lions, wolves and dragons, who picked up the torches of ancient China, India and Japan. Sounds pretty cool to me!
- And, for a non-book entry, the tile-matching game 2048. WARNING: highly addictive.
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.
- The meaning of book titles: how I named the Stories of Aligare (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Interview with Indie Author Land: Render (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Cover reveal: Render, a story of Aligare (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
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.
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!
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.
- Normal is relative: a look at Earth’s nudibranchs (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Aligare wildlife: the sylph (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Reading, Authors, Books and Fanfiction (saintorasinner.wordpress.com)
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 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.
- Torturing a favourite character (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Ebook piracy and why I’m okay with it (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Tea and tisanes: what’s in a name? (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
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?
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.
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.
- Why The Government Will Lose the War on Piracy (usahitman.com)
- The Middling circle, an aemet tradition (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- The value of sloppy work (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
I was inspired today by Cecelia Tan’s statement on fanfiction. I’ve added a fanfiction statement to my own About page.
Fanfiction has been in the news lately, what with the hot trend of modifying fanfiction into original novels. Fifty Shades of Grey used to be a Twilight fanfic with a non-vampire version of Edward. Now, it’s got publishers looking for more fanfiction to tweak and put covers on.
And now more than ever, people are discussing fanfiction and its ethics. Some feel that fanfic writers are shameless plagiarists who steal characters, defile works of art, and kick the metaphorical puppies of Real Authors’ hard work. They say that writers should just write an original novel of their own, because that’s the only way to write respectably. Boy, do I struggle to bite my tongue when I see stuff like that.
When someone fiddles with a boxed cake mix, adding extra ingredients just to see how the cake turns out, do we sneer that they should go to culinary school and become a real pastry chef? How about when a housewife has the audacity to bake a birthday cake using a celebrity chef’s cake recipe? She’s a cake recipe thief, isn’t she? Of course we don’t judge it that way. There are many reasons to use a cake mix or a recipe formula that someone else made. Those people aren’t trying to steal or debase anything. And although fiction is different from food, I think it’s just as ridiculous to jealously guard a fictional world and forbid fanworks of it.
Saying that I have a “stance” on fanfiction feels weird. I started writing fanfiction when I was 13 years old. It was Pokemon fanfiction, showing serious or silly scenes that might have happened in between the animated series episodes. And I had discovered the Internet subculture surrounding fanfiction — it felt like a secret club full of cool, creative people. We wrote just because we loved Pokemon’s characters and ideas, and we wanted to explore that world. I found other fandoms, and I worked at writing better, more skillful stories for them. Having a “stance” on that? Huh. The club has been found out.
There is such a thing as plagiarising fiction. I’ve heard stories of unscrupulous people taking the exact text of a novel, changing the author credit, and putting it up for sale as though they actually wrote the piece. That’s wrong. It takes credit for a specific quantity of work the plagiarist never did. Whereas a fanfiction author doesn’t claim to own the recognizable characters or settings. I doubt the average person is confused into thinking that the teenage author of My Awesome Adventures With Harry Potter is actually the rights holder of the Harry Potter novel series. It’s the same legal basis that allows a published novel to mention a character drinking a can of Coke, because no reasonable person will take that to mean that the author is an official spokesperson of The Coca-Cola Company.
Fanfic writers add “what if?”s to the ones we already think when we take in a book, game or TV show. They’re spinning ideas in different directions and posting the results for free. Just sticking their work up for the general public’s enjoyment. They’re trying to expand the experience of the source material, and trying to grow its influence. Fanfic writers are usually the ones so passionate about a book/game/show/whatever, they tell everyone they meet about it. Why should their efforts be treated as a travesty?
Personally, despite all the work and craft I put into my original works, I’m not claiming they’re perfect masterpieces to be put on pedestals and never touched. Stories are meant to engage the mind. All of human history is based on our existing surroundings, and the ideas of other humans. Heck, I adapted some ideas of elemental magic from the Pokemon games and TV show, the same ones I wrote fanfic about. I’ve strived to make the Aligare series distinctly mine, but if I didn’t want anyone else to get their grubby fingerprints on it, I wouldn’t have shared it. And if anyone finds enjoyment in the Aligare world, and wants to write a story set there? I say go ahead. Play in my sandbox as much as you’d like. Hang out with the characters for yourself. (Just don’t claim you invented the three peoplekinds and then charge money for your work.)
This is a pretty complicated issue, I have to admit. Not many clear-cut lines. But the way I see it, intent counts for a lot. Since most fanfic writers aren’t trying to knock off an existing franchise and make a quick buck, I’ll keep vouching for the entire subculture. I’ve been there, it was fun, it helped me develop my skills and I really doubt I hurt anyone. Quite simply, I wouldn’t be the original writer I am without it.
A few days ago, my books Remedy and Ravel became free on Amazon. I can’t fathom why the algorithms chose me — maybe they accidentally price-matched the sample chapters I’ve scattered all over the Internet? But when I noticed those $0.00 prices on Amazon, I was completely stoked. The thought of hundreds of strangers getting my ebooks for free is a happy thought for me. No, really! It is.
Not all authors feel this way. Some just don’t like Amazon changing the list price without their consent. Some rail at the thought of their intellectual property being given out for free at all — and that’s a justified response, because it’s a lot of work to write a novel and a lot more work to write a good one. Lots of characters and scenes to be built and it’s not like we earn an hourly wage for our trouble.
But what good is hard work if no one reads it? While browsing through thousands of ebooks, it’s easy to glance at a book’s blurb and think, “I’m kind of interested but I don’t want to pay that much.” Many authors don’t have enough reputation or name recognition to overcome the reader’s inertia. If potential readers are skeptical of a new author and the only barrier is three or four dollars, I say it makes sense to remove that barrier and invite those people into the author’s world. We’d all love to be financially successful and famous, but if we had to pick only one, which would it be? There are much easier ways to make a living than by writing fiction.
It’s related to my views on piracy — which are laissez-faire, to say the least — but I’m quite content to give my work away sometimes and raise the chances of it being read. I’m looking to build a niche, to draw people into my idea that fantasy non-humans aren’t just cutesy animals for kids. Strong though my beliefs are, I’ve only started to build my self-publishing career. I don’t have that name-brand power yet and I don’t think a hard stance on file sharing makes much sense for me, because I don’t want to disuade anyone who might otherwise become a fan of what I do.
I’m like this in my daily life, when I’m eating unusual food — I’ll often say to acquaintances, “Have you ever tried this? Here, have a bite of mine!” They might not order a whole plate of a weird new food, but they’ll usually accept a forkful offered for free. And with that shared bite, maybe the other person has tasted something delightful.
So for all the work I’m putting in, it delights me to log into Amazon and see the free download numbers ticking higher. If you haven’t already, please check out Remedy and Ravel, my stories of Aligare. Tell your friends and family, too! And if you like what you find, well, I’m currently building another story.