Monday, April 29, 2013

Myadar's Flight is out!

Myadar's Flight, the third episode in The City Darkens, is now available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Like the other episodes, it is priced at $0.99.

Here's my description (SPOILERS if you haven't yet read Myadar's Snare--which you can download for free here--and Myadar's Betrayal):

Myadar has struck a blow against Reister, but she still hasn't found Bersi or figured out a way to escape Helésey. After the success of her first foray into the city disguised as Raud Gríma, she determines to don the costume of the legendary highway robber again. This time, however, things will not go as planned.

So far April has been great for sales. I've sold over three times as many books as in any prior month (although since that number was never very high, it's still not like I can quit my day job). It's super exciting, though. I love knowing that people are reading my books! I just hope they enjoy them, too.

What do you think of the cover? Do you have a favorite of the covers for the parts of The City Darkens, yet?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Veronica, Book 3 is Out!

I got so busy this week I haven't had a chance to do this post until now. My newest Veronica Barry novel, The Plane and the Parade, is out at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! This is the third book in the Veronica Barry series. The first, The River and the Roses, is available for free until the end of the month. I hope you'll download your preferred format and try the series out!

In The Plane and the Parade, French teacher and amateur psychic detective Veronica is off for the summer. It's not all fun and games, though, as Veronica begins to help SPD Detective Daniel Seong, her boyfriend, in his search for a murderer who may in fact be a terrorist. At least she and Daniel are going strong--but a visit from someone in Veronica's past may rock their solid foundation.

My bestest beta reader, Kathryn, interviewed me about The Plane and the Parade on her blog. That was loads of fun! It's always great to be invited to talk about my writing.

And as of this post, one copy of Plane has already been sold, so that's awesome.

This month has been great for sales, actually, after a somewhat disappointing March. And we're only halfway through, so I'm hoping this is the start of an ever increasing trend!

Releasing Plane brings up an interesting question for me, though. When you have a series, do you advertize the latest book a lot, or focus on the first? As a reader, I avoid jumping into the middle of a series. So it's irrelevant to me that book 7 of Song of Ice and Fire is out, for instance, because I would need to start at book 1 anyway. Then again, knowing that there are seven books does appeal to me, because I know when I start the series that I've got a ways to go before I run through the books that have been published. However, I also often hear complaints about book series that have "gone on too long" because the author "needs an editor" or has "lost passion for the story" or whatnot.

What do you think about book series? Do you like them better than stand alone books? Do you ever start a series in the middle? How would you approach marketing books in a series?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grimdark and Violence in Fantasy

Recently I was checking my stats on this blog and saw that someone came here after they did a search for "sophia grimdark martin." Which isn't quite as weird as it sounds, since about a month ago, I think, I went on a minor Twitter monologue about grimdark, and so it would seem that someone out there noticed.

What, you ask, is grimdark?

It's term, apparently originating from the description of a tabletop RPG, Warhammer 40K, set in a future which is "grim" and "dark," and in which everything is war.* I read a very interesting article discussing grimdark in fantasy here, but I wanted to go into a bit myself, because of my ambivalence about it.

As I understand it, grimdark has become a term for dark fantasy that takes violence to a really gruesome level. One of the articles I read about it (might be the one above, I'm not sure) talked about how the genre of horror basically died in the 90s, and was reborn as "dark fantasy." So what has become common, apparently, is for fantasy novels to show ever-more graphic depictions of violence, especially sexual assault and torture. This starts, more or less, with George R. R. Martin's series that I've only experienced as the TV show Game of Thrones (love it, am hooked, often can't take the violence). But from what I read, GRRM is a beginner compared to some of the grimdark stuff that's come out since. And it has also, apparently, become the expectation that fantasy authors write this sort of violence in their novels, and each one seeks to top the one before.

I actually don't know about this first hand, I'm just summarizing the articles I read.

I initially started reading about the grimdark trend because I was worried The City Darkens might be grimdark, and I'd just read about it briefly in an article on which made it sound like it was generally viewed as a bad thing. However, despite the fact that these articles were critical of it, the authors of these articles were reacting to the trend and its popularity. Apparently, a lot of people like grimdark fiction.

As an aside, The City Darkens isn't grimdark. Not by a longshot, from what I can tell. Yes, there's violence in it. Just not nearly that level of violence. To quote the same article I linked above, "Ringil [in Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains] remembers being gang-raped at a boys’ private school, where all the kids take turns gang-raping each other as part of being hazed." This sort of thing is never going to happen in my books. There's a couple of reasons for that, which I'll get into.

1) I don't read novels with this level of violence, and if a novel contains a sexual assault, it had better be essential to the plot. Even Mélusine, which I reviewed here, and gave five stars to on Goodreads, has a sexual assault scene early on that I could have happily done without. When I don't like reading something, the likelihood of my writing it is very, very low. I have a similar thing with harming animals in fiction. I don't like it as a plot device. I think it's manipulative, because as they've pointed out (here and even better, here) on TVtropes, people get way more upset about an animal or child getting hurt or killed than adult humans. I also cannot stand it if the harming of an animal is in any way supposed to be funny or entertaining. Animals are not here to amuse us with their suffering, folks. The world is hard enough on them already without that.

2) I have a really hard time writing violence of any kind, because ever since I became a mom, all my emotional armor has become swiss cheese. I kid you not. I was never a fan of violence, you understand. I totally freaked my students out the first year I taught American history when I had to ask one of them to take over reading a letter by Michele de Cuneo because I burst into tears (it, too, involves sexual assault). But having my son just destroyed any level of desensitization I formerly built up. I cannot watch suffering dispassionately, and when I write it... yeesh. It's like I'm pulling out my own nails. Which doesn't mean I won't do it. As I mentioned, The City Darkens has violence, and I believe it's important to convey the consequences of things like war, so the violence is, in my opinion at least, fairly realistic. The big difference is, I don't slather on the details.

In fact, I can't imagine writing a story without violence. This is where my ambivalence comes in. I've tried, folks. Remember the plot-bunnies I mentioned about an Edwardian romance? I thought writing romance might be a good idea for me, so I could avoid violence. Well, it doesn't work for me. I love reading Edwardian romance, but when it comes to writing, it seems I cannot escape violence. In Broken Ones, there's domestic violence. In my Veronica series, there are murders and arson and plane crashes and other violent situations. And in The City Darkens there's still more violence.

I like to say I write to preserve my sanity, and that is true. I do go through seasons where I don't write, and that's okay, but when I'm in a writing phase, not writing very quickly makes me antsy, irritable... it makes PMS and pregnancy hormones look like a joke, people. While I often enjoy writing most when it's acting as an escape for me, it's also a form of therapy, in reality. There's a part of Myadar's Snare that is incredibly painful for me to write and to reread. Whenever I revise it, I just hate that part. It's because I gave myself this challenge, to write one of my greatest fears. So rereading it means going through that fear again. Ultimately, I hope it makes the story more authentic, but man. So unfun.

It brings to mind two (very different) authors. Nalo Hopkinson used to participate on a feminist sci fi and fantasy listserv I belonged to for a while. We read Brown Girl in the Ring for a book of the month. There's a scene where a character gets flayed alive, and someone on the listserv talked about how awful it was to read. Nalo Hopskinson responded that it also had been incredibly hard to write, which surprised the woman who had posted originally. She said she had never thought about whether a scene had been hard for an author to write. That really stuck with me, because I was already writing back then, but I hadn't really ever written anything that was that hard for me. In fact, I'd say that the first time I truly did that was in Myadar's Snare. It happens again later in The City Darkens, too. But up until then, I did write scenes that were hard scenes, but they were almost always fueled by anger, not tapping into fear or pain so much. Certainly not recent, raw pain or the way I imagine I would feel if something I am currently very afraid of would come to pass. I'd be more likely to draw on old fears or old pain, if that makes sense.

The other author is Stephen King. I'm not sure where I read this; probably Danse Macabre because I'm pretty sure it predated On Writing. He said he didn't really have a choice about what he wrote. He used a metaphor, which I'll paraphrase, but just be aware I'm probably getting it wrong... He said writing is like a strainer in your mind. All this muck passes through it, and some stuff says in it, and that's what you write about. He said that if he had a choice, he'd write like Amy Tan.

So violence is part of the muck in my strainer, I guess. And as such, I can't out-and-out condemn grimdark, because it's just taking that same muck to a much more extreme level, after all. I think, and this was pointed out in some of the articles that I read, that the real problem with grimdark is that it's violence for violence's sake a lot of the time, and that just seems like someone needs a better editor. Violence in novels and any other fiction medium really needs to have a purpose. It's like my issues with animal harm in fiction. That can really be applied more broadly to all violence. Violence can be used in a really cheaply manipulative way, and if that's why it's there, it's no bueno. Violence should exist in stories only when its absence would make a story impossible to tell.

How about you, do you have "muck" in your "strainer" that you have ambivalent feelings about? Have you pushed yourself to write something that is unpleasant for you to reread?
How do you feel about violence in fiction?

*The hashtag #grimdark apparently has some sort of My Little Pony connection I find... disturbing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Is that just one of those phrases you've always wanted to scream at the top of your lungs? And isn't it just tragic that most of us will never get to do that?


Anyway, the title refers to my realization that I have to reorganize how I'm publishing the parts of The City Darkens. I will explain, and I will try to be concise. (I'm hearing Inigo Montoya in my head: "Let me 'splain. [pause] No, there is too much. Let me sum up.")

Twice now, people I do not know (one, a snarky employee at Smashwords, the other, a member of a book group I'm in on Goodreads) have pointed out that if people buy every installment of The City Darkens once all twelve are available, they will pay almost $12 for what is essentially one book.

I wouldn't pay $12 for a novel, even if it is 150K words. Which The City Darkens is, altogether.

So while I initially dismissed what the Smashwords guy said, because he was a condescending, unreasonable peon (harsh, perhaps--I'm a little bitter still), when this other very nice guy who was giving me feedback in general made the same comment, I realized I had a perception problem. Both these guys thought I was splitting my novel into 12 parts in order to make more money, I surmised.

Now, it's true that on Smashwords, that may have been the case (although to be perfectly honest it's been a long time since I read the SW rules on royalties). However, because of the way Amazon does royalties, I would make more on one book priced at $5.99 than twelve priced at $0.99. Amazon requires that you price between 2.99 and 9.99 to earn 70% royalties. Anything above or below earns 35%.

I intended (and still do) to offer a version with parts 2-12 and a version with all 12 parts for sale as well as the individual parts, for less than $12 (I was thinking in the neighborhood of $7), actually hoping that people would opt for one of those instead of buying all the parts, because ultimately, that's going to mean better royalties for me. The trouble is, I'm not ready to publish everything yet. It's all written, it's been revised a couple of times, but I just know I still have typos to catch, and my beta reader is still working through 5-12. And she's bound to have advice for how to improve things. So part of what happened here is that my impatience, which is epic, got the better of me.

Another thing that happened is that I originally projected 8 parts. This is what comes of being a pantser. I had no idea the story would take so many words, and parts, to come to fruition. So my original plan to publish the novel as a serial meant people would pay about $8 if they bought the parts separately, and $7 for the whole thing. I just failed to alter my plan when it came out to 12 parts instead.

I wrestled with what to do for a few hours today. I drove my husband up a wall fretting over the pros and cons of a few different possibilities. I won't go into them here, because I've decided to just group parts 1 and 2, then parts 3 and 4, and so on, into larger parts. So there will be 6 instead of 12.

This means that if you have downloaded part 1 on my free book page, you will need part 2 in order to have the complete part one in this new version.

I'll be posting the original part 2 to the free page soon. Download it!!!

In other words, the titles of parts 1 and 2 are currently:
Myadar's Snare
Myadar's Revelry

And they will now both be part of Myadar's Snare. Myadar's Revelry will no longer be separate.

This is good, because I was never comfortable with the title Myadar's Revelry, but I couldn't think of anything that worked better.

The current parts 3 and 4 are:
Myadar's Secret
Myadar's Betrayal

And I think I'll just call the two of them Myadar's Betrayal. Unless people tell me they like the title Myadar's Secret more.

And so on.

So this represents a chunk of work, since I've decided to edit and format the 3&4 combo before changing Myadar's Snare to include 2.

Does that make sense?

Do you like the title Myadar's Betrayal or Myadar's Secret better for part 2?

Would you have handled my dilemma differently?