Wednesday, April 25, 2012

All my life's a rejection

That mantra seems to be the life of a writer, or at least of this writer. My most recent addition to this remarkable collection of rejections is for a humourous little story I wrote, ostensibly for Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound, called Occupational Hazards, a tale about drinking inappropriate quantities of tea at inappropriate times while trying to meet deadlines.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, good egg and hugely knowledgeable fellow, wrote, among other things:
While, traditionally, this is a "rejection" you should know that your story stood above hundreds of others that were sent in and is something you should be proud of. I am honoured to have been able to seriously consider it and look forward to seeing where it ends up being published.
So, taking that encouragement to heart, I've sent it out to a large American magazine, submitted through their online form, and will wait the few days it's allegedly going to take to hear that 'no, sorry, not quite right for us.'

Positive attitude, eh?

Well, one thing good about having written a pack of short stories this past few months is that, if nothing else, I'll have another bunch to put together into a collection. And then I can have reviewers on Goodreads make comments like they did for And the Angels Sang:
  • needlessly densely written.
  • Stephens’ creations pool into a cooling diversion while being highly meromictic. (What the blazes does that mean?)
  • The short, sci-fi stories contained in this book shuffled between really interesting and engrossing to boring and difficult to follow.
  • dealt with some potentially controversial religious themes.
Yeah, definitely not feeling the love. My daughter says I need to dumb down my writing. I shake my head and think that sounds dumb.

Whatever. I keep writing in the closet and stuffing the pages out under the door.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Pyramids

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Must say I'm enjoying the journey through Terry Pratchett's witty, weird mind. An almost entirely new cast of characters in this installment of Discworld, very human, ordinary folk who are thrown into extraordinary situations. The result is a funny, madcap spoof of ancient Egypt, legendary assassins, new age occult beliefs and pseudo-sciences, and, well, pyramid power. I swear I heard Baldric (Tony Robertson of Black Adder fame)in there from time to time.

Despite the madcap, unpredictable quality of Pratchett's books, there is a sharply intelligent mind there and if you're not paying attention whole strings of references zoom by, never to be caught.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thoughts on Amazon's KDP Select

When Amazon first announced its Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in carrots dangling, unlike a lot of small publishers and authors I hung back. There's an old saying: if a thing seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In this case, there's the caveat Amazon clearly states:
When you choose KDP Select for a book, you're committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP.
Grant Amazon exclusivity? Anyone that can't see the huge hook in those Amazonian carrots is blind or delusional. Eventually that exclusivity is going to hang you, in fact, slit your throat and truss you up like a pig for slaughter.

Exaggeration, you say?

Come listen, grasshopper. one of the clauses in Amazon's exclusivity contract states if you sell your work anywhere else, including your own website, you risk forfeited earnings, delayed payments, a lien on future earnings, or you may get kicked out of the Kindle Direct Publishing program altogether.

I've observed a great deal of backroom discussion through various indie publishing lists to which I subscribe. Some of the participants are considered gurus of the new publishing age, having engaged in deep sea diving of the print on demand sort, and now of the digital sort. To many of these swamis there is no market but Amazon. Amazon rules the world. And so all marketing strategies are targeted to maximize Amazon sales.

Funny, you know, because there's another saying about narrow-focused strategies: you need more than one basket for your eggs. Why? Because if you drop the basket that contains all your eggs, then you have no eggs. Many baskets. Many eggs. Lots of insurance.

So it's now interesting to read comments from some of those proponents of the Amazon strategy. Seems there's wailing rising through the ranks. Even gnashing of teeth. Why? Because, Amazon, like Sauron's Great Eye, has swept the multiverse and found teeny-tiny publishers and authors daring to contravene the exclusivity clause. They're selling their wares through their own websites, through Smashwords, through other retailers, aggregators and distributors. In other words, these Amazon-loving strategists have opted for many baskets, but also broken some of the rules regarding ownership of those baskets, all the while thinking they're much too small to be of notice.

Ever seen what an elephant does in proximity to a mouse? You really don't want to be in that traffic armegeddon. Which is exactly what's happening to many of the rule-breakers in the KDP Select program: they're being stomped. Publisher-pancakes.

Then you're going to ask, well, why not give Amazon exclusivity? Reasonable question. The answer should be quite obvious: before entering a business arrangement you research your potential partner. It's called due diligence. Given Amazon's history of predatory practices, why would you think it safe to swim the same waters? On the publishing map, they're that wee beastie with sharp, pointy teeth. Amazon has attempted to bully the Big Six publishers. What makes an indie publisher or author think they stand a chance against any predatory practice Amazon might consider, or that because they're now part of the Amazon nation they'll be exempt and safe?

Granting any individual, institution or enterprise complete control of your well-being is to invite abuse.

Don't do it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: The Steel Seraglio

The Steel Seraglio
The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would have to preface this review by stating The Steel Seraglio, by Carey, Carey and Carey, is an ambitious work, a literary etude or variation on the legendary collection of Islamic tales we’ve come to know as One Thousand and One Nights. Like its historical counterpart, it is a tale within many tales, complete with unreliable narrator, and with an oblique homage to some of the original characters (al-Rashid and Jafar among them).

The overarching story, that of a discarded seraglio of some 365 concubines, is one that has a very modern, very feminine resonance, and is written with such elegance it is as incisive and horribly fascinating as Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.

To summarize, a fundamentalist zealot overthrows the sultan of the city of Bessa, slaughters the royal wives and children, and turns off the seraglio to a neighbouring grandee. As the seraglio crosses the desert, harbouring one male, royal survivor, the usurping zealot, Hakkim Mehdad discovers the treachery of the seraglio and sends out troops to annihilate them.

What ensues is a cunning escape, a temporary reprieve among desert thieves, and a triumphant recapture of Bessa. The seraglio of perfume and delicacy has become one of steel, and together the women create an economic and political power that becomes legend throughout the lands.

But as with every paradise, there is doom, in this case in the form of the disinherited royal prince, Jafar. This second tale is one of faceted tragedies.

The main story is beautifully realized, intelligent, witty, evocative of the parched heat of the desert and the olfactory indulgence of the spice markets. It lives and breathes.

However—and yes there is an however—some of the supplemental stories, woven throughout, are told with a very modern voice, almost flippant in delivery and so completely foreign to the elegance of the main body of work, that I found these passages intrusive. Indeed, they entirely arrested the flow of the work and the pacing of action. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, I couldn’t give The Steel Seraglio the five stars it would have otherwise merited.

Even so, that one criticism aside, The Steel Seraglio is one of the fine literary novels of 2012.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We return to Granny Weatherwax in this installment from Discworld, and a hilarious parody of Shakespeare's MacBeth, of princes threatened and exiled, lost and then found, only to discover the play is the thing.

As always, imaginative, witty, often downright silly. Truly wonderful escapism.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing Progress

The headline is perhaps a bit misleading. I've made little progress on any new writing, which means The Rose Guardian is stuck in stall. There's just been too much time required of me as a publisher to steal any time for the creative depth the novel requires.

All, however, is not lost. Barb Geiger, Five Rivers' editor, now has Caliban and is leaving blue pencil all over it for me. I was a little heartened when her first comment back to me, after reading the prologue, was "I'm mightily impressed."

Maybe the old girl (meaning me) has a touch after all.

The way my schedule looks I should have a small open space around the end of May when I can hunker down and revise the novella (Caliban). Maybe even see it published this year.

I also rootled around in my computer archives this past weekend and found the beginning of the transcription of another speculative novel I'd written back in the '80s, which we're going to call Brogan's Folly. You know, it wasn't half-bad. I didn't have to hold my nose or blush. Hopeful, at least. I figured in moments when I'm too boggled to continue editing or doing layout I could mindlessly continue to input the novel with the view to being able to revise it late this year. If I can't actually find time to write something new, then I can at least make use of what's laying about in drawers.

In the meantime, I'm deep into the edit of Ann Marston's novel, Kingmaker's Sword. To call what I'm doing an edit is perhaps a misnomer, more like a good scrutiny. Hoping to have that back to Ann by the middle of the month so she can do the small revisions required.

After that I'll be drowning in final layouts for Things Falling Apart, by J.W. Schnarr, Immunity to Strange Tales, by Susan J. Forest, and Downshift, by Matt Hughes.

Busy little bee am I.