Tleilaxu Edition

I got into the paperback debate once again this week, in part because of an email exchange with a Reswyt reader, to whom I was able to send a concise one-word response as to why, exactly, I’m still not issuing paperback copies of Reswyt and Nekhet.

That word was Dune.

Dune is my all-time favorite book. I’ve read Dune, easily, five hundred times in this life. It’s my sneezing-on-the-couch book, nervous-the-night-before-a-presentation book; it’s my literary macaroni and cheese on shitty days, my dependable go-to to read by the pool. I think it is to me what the Harry Potter series is to many people; an endlessly readable work. I’ve read Dune when I was eight and eighteen and twenty-eight and thirty-eight. I’ve read Dune in a ski lodge with a fractured foot, and I’ve read Dune lying in an infinity pool in Cabo San Lucas, Negra Modelo falling readily to hand. I’ve read Dune in a house; I’ve read Dune with a mouse. I will read Dune here, and there, Sam-I-Am; I will read Dune everywhere.

(For haters who are tempted to click away now, and have vowed that if Dune is indeed my favorite book, they will never read anything by me again: note that Dune was Game of Thrones before there was Game of Thrones; it boldly eschewed pew-pew science fiction at a time when every secondary character was hosing coherent light around, electing instead to favor blade combat. Dune put feudalism and religion and philosophy into a sci-fi setting flawlessly, in a way that’s never been duplicated since; take it from someone who’s read every single ‘this is the next Dune’ book ever set forth by a book publicist. It’s an absolutely unique book (and series); you don’t read something and put it down and say, “That was like Dune – only more so.”)

But as much as I love Dune – and, in terms of the story, I do – I also hate Dune, the physical book. It’s five-hundred-ought pages of densely printed type, and no matter what edition I get, it’s always printed on the thinnest, most gossamer paper the printer could possibly coax into holding ink, the better to keep it from becoming a four-inch-thick paperback. But the same printing decisions that enable Dune to be held comfortably in one hand – while ordering a beer with the other, or stirring a piping hot bowl of pho – also make it an environmental nightmare. Dune, you see, is a book best read in a semiconductor manufacturing clean room; spill a drop of anything on its glassine pages, and you’ll see it go straight through an entire chapter, like xenomorph blood in Aliens, rendering whole paragraphs and pages entirely unreadable. Forget your copy of Dune in the beach bag, and drop a wet towel on it, and the next morning you’ll be the owner of a bizarre-looking creature, the offspring of a Japanese fan and a cuttlefish. I’ve dropped a copy of Dune in the snow (after the aforementioned fractured foot) and ten seconds later, it was an unreadable horror. Add in the fact that the pages religiously tear if not given a  pre-turn saikeirei and slowly moved over with a spotless white glove, and it’s a recipe for disaster. And this doesn’t even count the number of copies I’ve just flat-out lost, probably buried at the bottom of a U-Haul box somewhere in the basement. (In the afterlife, I’ll probably get back every ballpoint pen I’ve ever lost, along with every misplaced copy of Dune, and be subjected to a second, crushing death under their weight.)

As a result, I’ve probably purchased fifty copies of Dune in my lifetime, over three decades of reading. The spifftastic leather-bound copy sits up in my office bookshelf, but years of grudgingly forking over $8.95 to bookstore clerks for a new paperback copy have made me paranoid about that copy in the extreme, and there it sits for all time, a museum curation exercise more than a usable book. And so, almost on an annual basis, I’d look around for my copy of Dune to take on a business trip or an afternoon at the pool, and either not be able to put my hands on it, or find that the latest copy, too, has fallen prey to the ravages of some environmental factor or other.

Thus, my childlike satisfaction with the Kindle, where my copy of Dune now lives, permanently, ubiquitously, a wireless tablet click away from respawning on some device or another for an afternoon out on the deck with a cold beverage. I’ve downloaded Dune to my daughter’s Kindle and read it while she took placement tests; I’ve downloaded Dune to my phone while stuck in traffic. It’s all the same copy, it’s always in pristine condition, and I never have to pay for it again. Ever. Like Duncan Idaho’s ghola, I can simply warm up another Tleilaxu copy of Dune anytime I want – and, having achieved this particular level of book-curation Nirvana, I just can’t imagine the scenario under which you’d want a paperback. I’m not saying Reswyt or Nekhet is going to become the kind of book you’d want handy on this sort of basis – but you probably have such a book in mind, your own personal Dune, and you’d want the Kindle curation benefit for that book, I’m sure.

Still not sold? Quick, name the last album or track you bought. So – you got that as a CD, right? No? A cassingle? Eight-track? 45RPM? Wax cylinder? No? You bought it on iTunes, you say, and stuck it into iTunes Match, and now you can download and listen to it anywhere, on any device, anytime, and you, uh…never have to pay for it again? It’ll never melt on your dashboard, or cultivate a psychotically-placed vinyl skip, or be accidentally used as a coaster at a cocktail party? Because it’s digital content, you say.

Fascinating.

Kull wahad.

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The Trashcan Man Dies in the End

Really, World Book Night?

Really?

I’m staring at what amounts to a hand-slap FB message from one Carl Lennertz, Director of World Book Night, who’s telling me it’s a bad idea to give away books on World Book Night, even though…you know…that’s what World Book Night is about. Apparently, only WBN will be doing the free-book-giving that night, thank you very much, and it will only be the books on WBN’s list that will be given.

Well, sorry, Carl. I wasn’t aware that you owned the exclusive rights to give away books on April 23. I’ll now refer to the book promo as the Book Giveaway That Has Nothing At All To Do With World Book Night.

Happy now?

Apparently, the core confusion is whether any non-WBN book giveaway on WBN is sanctioned by WBN. But I didn’t say that, either; I just wished everyone a happy WBN and invited my Facebook fans to take part in a promotion offering free books and free T-shirts. I never once came out and said that the promotion was a WBN-sanctioned event; any cursory examination of the WBN website would render such a conclusion farcical, since WBN involves volunteers distributing free paper copies of books, whereas I don’t even offer a paper copy of my books. To be honest, I can’t really see the crossover. You’re out giving away paper copies of hoary literary standards, airport bookstore fare, and the occasional highly suspicious Book That Got Turned Into a Major Motion Picture and Wouldn’t We Like More Readers Before the Second Installment. I’m giving out e-book copies of an indie sequel. Your target audience is, so far as I can tell, people who will be genuinely surprised that such a thing as The Stand exists. My audience is largely voracious readers, mainly gifted girls, mostly reading on Kindles and Nooks. Where’s the confusion?

(Also, last I checked, I’ve got five thousand FB fans and change, and you’ve got eight thousand. Y’know what’s a fabulous concept in social media? Cross-promotion, where I make my followers aware of your thingamajig, and vice versa. And given our respective target audiences, I’m pretty sure you’re the net beneficiary of this one; I’m telling five thousand people about WBN, whereas I’m not sure there will be one sale I’ll get as a result of publicizing WBN for free. So there.)

But, moreover, although I’m a huge fan of the WBN’s core mission – everyone should read, and I applaud any effort to make that a reality in our time – my main objection is that every book WBN is giving away has had its day in the sun. (Or, ahem, is still very much in the sun.)  The Stand is a great book, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend anyone read, but if you’re a grown adult, you’re probably aware of the existence of The Stand, and you’ve made your decision to read or not to read it long ago. Offering you a free copy of it is unlikely to change your mind, just as offering you a free copy of virtually anything on the WBN list is unlikely to change your mind about that book, either.

Where’s the independent author and publisher presence in WBN? Short answer, it doesn’t exist, which means readers that have been turned off to reading have no chance to experience some of the great new indie fiction that’s beginning to take root in the bibliosphere. If someone’s going to get turned on to reading again, what are the odds it’s going to come as a result of being handed a free copy of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings?

At its core, the real question WBN needs to answer is why people get turned off from books, and how we can get them turned back on again.  If someone left off reading because they were dissatisfied with what was being offered, how in the world does offering them the same retread works get them excited again? And, in my own very small way, I wanted to be a part of that, by giving away some free books of my own. If I don’t have the right to join in an event like WBN, what’s the message for readers?

Enjoy The Stand. It was a bestseller once.

When I was in high school.

Junkie

If there is a rich, creamy center to the writing process, I’m in it right now.

I know, I know; I promised I was taking some time off, but…there was just something so juicy, so rewarding, about having a blank Scrivener document open in one window and the Nekhet sales report open in another. One’s finished and in consumption; the other’s blank – and under construction. Yin and yang; white and black. So I started sketching some ideas, and one thing led to another, and I looked up to find myself 3,000 words into the next book. I wasn’t even going to start until September? What gives?

Endorphins. That’s what. There’s no other explanation. And their potent cocktail is a-swirl in my grey matter thanks to the juxtaposition of two very pleasant parts of the writing process.

A little background. In descending order, I’d have to rank the bookwriting tasks as follows, from most pleasant to least:

  1. Ideation and scene sketching (where I am now)
  2. Finishing and publishing the book (more relief than anything else)
  3. Story outline assembled (this is a good feeling)
  4. Scene construction
  5. Gamma read (the most enjoyable of the three)
  6. Alpha read
  7. Beta read
  8. Final editing and production (painful and frustrating, respectively)

Now, we’re not talking about the difference between licking the beater and rising at dawn to go work on an asphalt crew here. Writing a book’s damn fun, but there are sections that involve running joyfully down flowering hills, and there are parts that are more like…well, work. Editing, in particular, is just a tripartite grind; you’re asking yourself to completely change perspectives and focus, three times, at three different levels, on a book you’ve already written. The first time (alpha), you’re looking to see if it’s a book. The second time (beta), you’re making sure continuity’s being respected. The third time (gamma), you’re making sure your participles aren’t dangling. (Oops! <zzzzzip>) Those reads aren’t nearly as much fun as coming up with the book concept in the beginning, or building scenes and dialogue, or watching the plot begin to mesh – or seeing your work up on Amazon.

But finishing one, and contemplating starting the next, puts me recently in completion of task (2) and in the throes of task (1), which has really led me to begin wondering whether authors don’t at some point become serial-publishing junkies based on that confluence of endorphins. Contrast April with February of 2012 (tasks 6 and 7) and March (5 and 8), and you can see the late stages of  a book add up to a pretty unpleasant load of tasks (both months’ task ranks, not surprisingly, sum to 13). But oh, the end of one and the beginning of another. It’s everything you first get into writing for – a sense of accomplishment and a wide-open vista of creative possibilities.  I haven’t been here before, so the giddy rush of pleasure that’s been circulating my cerebral cortex for the last week is an entirely new experience – and a really, really good one. I can certainly see how there’s a profound sense of loss once a series wraps up – and how authors can be tempted to do just one more, even if the story’s done.

It runs downhill, you see. It’s never better than it is right now; then you get going with the next one, and before you know it, you’ve got the story structure in place, you’re finishing scene construction, and then it’s down the long road to alpha, beta, and gamma readings. Then you’re making sure Microsoft Word points the fucking smart quotes the right way, and thenceforth into the hell that is KF8 formatting and the Nook publishing engine. And it’s never darker than the moment before you press the submit button on the Amazon and BN pages.

And once this one’s finished, I expect a blank Scrivener page will beckon once again. As Ministry famously warned…just one fix.

Mailbag

Why did Brummbar have to die? – Molly W.

Well, it’s fiction, first off; characters die. Eddard Stark in George R.R. Martin is my gold standard for ‘if this character can die, any character can die.’ I don’t think the reader senses reality in a series unless there is the very real possibility of loss. After Reswyt, I was fairly determined to make sure the rules got obeyed in the sequel, and the rules are very much as follows: there is a strong possibility of being physically injured or killed in the dreaming realm, and there’s more risk of true death for a dead mind such as Brummbar; the Balance can heal wounds that originate from entities that manifest in Reswyt (i.e. physical combat between animals); the Balance does not see or understand anything it did not personally manifest. That line of logic led to Brummbar being shot and, eventually, killed. But beyond the logical rationale for his death, it’s necessary, too; he tells her, at one point, that her knowing who he is will change her decision-making process in Reswyt, and that’s not a good thing.

Is Sabine ever going to choose between Dylan and Josh? – Kiersten M.

I get this one a lot. Yes, she will. But part of the theme of the book is that Reswyt is a unique environment in which you get to see, up close, the makeup and temperament of a human being’s soul. Wouldn’t you take the time to evaluate your options?

The scenes in which Taryn goes to find Dylan’s body and Ahriman interacts with the Queen for the last time – are those supposed to be Taryn and Briana sleeping on the flight home? – Emma R.

Yes! I was really hoping somebody got that. I go to a fair bit of trouble to make sure that I’m respecting the realities of human sleep – in other words, I don’t have anyone fall asleep when it’s completely unnatural for them to do so. Taryn is an exception, for obvious reasons. But yes, you’re correct – that’s them dozing off on their respective flights back to California. Although Taryn’s scene may be her falling asleep at the gate; that’s how Sabine finds her, after all.

I don’t remember Ahriman – the Sensate – ever touching Taryn in horse form. How did she know who Taryn was?  – Nilaya A.

She did touch her.  It happened in the scene in which Dylan, in the form of Levanter, serves in the rear guard of the horses – the first night he goes into the valley with them.

What’s the name of the next book? – Megan S.

It’s down to among three names, and to be honest, I just need to decide which of the three is most pertinent to the theme and substance of the book. I’m not keeping a secret here – it’s just that I actually haven’t decided which one it’s going to be.

Would it really have been possible to forge iron of the right grade in a coal-fired forge? What about reaching the Curie temperature for the magnetization process? – Sarah T.

I did my research on this! According to Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers , 10th Edition, coal gas burns at about 3,590°F (1,977°C) under 100% air-efficient conditions. More or less air will decrease the temperature. This means that the maximum temperature of a coal fire in a forge is about 3,500°F (1,927°C). The melting point of iron is 2,796.8°F; the Curie temperature of iron is 1,418°F. Matthew would have needed to build a very good, but by no means perfect, coal-fired forge to accomplish both tasks.

How is that Josh returned to Reswyt as Evynder? I thought that, once he was awakened in the dreaming world, he could never go back. – Mackenzie M.

Well, it would be an ill wind that blew no good from Josh’s injury. I’ll give you a hint – oneiric (dreaming) activity was shown to be markedly disrupted in patients with trauma to the parietal lobe of the brain.

Are you going to keep Sabine’s diary going on Twitter for the next book? – Kara R.

I haven’t decided yet, but my initial reaction is no. That was a really fun promotion to run, and I think a lot of people had fun finding and reading Sabine’s diary, but if I do another promotion for the third book, it will be something different.

What kind of mathematical sieve was Matthew coding? – Anandamayi G.

I didn’t pick a specific one, but the Sieve of Eratosthenes – a prime-finding sieve – is the most famous, and probably one of the most likely to be run in an operating-speed contest of the type he participated in.

Can whooping cough really cause narcolepsy? – Katie N.

I did a blog post on this, largely to allay reader concern. I won’t reset it here, since the full text is available on Subterraneum, but the short answer – for the overwhelming majority of human beings – is no. Taryn is something of a special case.

If the rest of the Ennead dies off, as is suggested in Reswyt, how did the Steersman survive? – Sati K.

The causative factor for the decline and death of the Ennead is the loss of human worship. That’s a pretty clear message in Reswyt – that Horus, as a hunting god, saw his worshipers decline once gunpowder was introduced to Egypt. I would imagine that other gods had the same experience as science, particularly the flourishing of advanced Islamic science during the period c.750 CE – c.1258 CE. The Steersman, however, is not a god in his own right; he’s a creation of a god, imbued with an aspect of Anubis (much like Ra created a separate aspect to serve as the Judge in Reswyt, if required).

Would Sabine really have died if her conscious form traveled through all Twelve Gates of Night? – Anna V.

I puzzled over that for a long time, even though it didn’t end up being a plot factor in this book. What I decided was that the weskhet-ra returns to Egypt each morning with no human souls on board. That would mean that the Steersman would at least have had to forcibly put her ashore in the Land of the Dead. Thank goodness it didn’t come to that.

YOU FICKLE, FICKLE MINX

Oh, book market. Must it be this way? All come-hither glances and faint, lingering traces of your maddening perfume? Did you mean to leave those corset hooks unfastened? Are you trying to drive me crazy?

So, a week after Nekhet’s release, it’s selling briskly, and I’m delighted. (Reviews are good, too; thank you!) But it’s being outsold, by a 3:2 margin, by Reswyt. And yes, I did drop Reswyt to $0.99 for a while to celebrate the launch of the next book, but that doesn’t explain the surge in sales that happened before Reswyt went on sale. So while I’m positively giddy about Nekhet’s sales, I’m left with more confusion than confidence in those of Reswyt. It was on sale before Nekhet was released, you know. I mean… (Checks watch, drums fingers. Awkward silence ensues.)

I love you, book market, but we have communication issues at times.

I’ve done a bit of informal polling of readers on the subject, especially newcomers to the books, and the consensus is this: you’re not a series until you’re a series. That is, for all the good intentions I might have had in writing Reswyt – and making it the first book in a planned trilogy – as a reading audience, you’re just far more comfortable with a second book next to the first on Amazon’s (virtual) shelves. And it’s not a vote of no confidence; it’s simply an acknowledgment that a solitary first book might go somewhere, or it might not, and there’s no point in investing in an unproven commodity. I can understand that; I’ve experienced the same sense of concern, I suppose, in starting new-author series in the past. (I wasn’t counting Tad Williams’ prior work before I took a deep breath and dove into Otherland with him in real-time.)

Also present in the informal conversations I’ve held is the idea that, anymore, you’d rather read a series from beginning to end in quick succession – in other words, while you’re waiting on the second book in a first-book series, you’d rather take note of its existence and read the first two books of a three-book series, or (preferentially) an entire series right now. There’s a certain awareness, or expectation, that the experience of gorging on a series is superior to that of being served courses one at a time. Again, I can see the logic here, because there’s few visceral thrills like leaping into a new series, loving the first few chapters, and knowing that there’s much, much more to come. But it’s also vaguely disturbing, because it seems to suggest a market that places a premium on completion over content, or worse (shudder), speed over substance. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be fantastic series, like Iain Banks’ Culture, brought to market with effortless speed. (And Banks dashes off eminent fiction works I’d labor to even mimic with depressing rapidity.) But I wonder how realistic a goal that would be for many authors. And I wonder what’s more truly entertaining – ‘series gorging’ in a month, or the delicious anticipation of waiting for one of my favorite authors’ new works to come out?

So let me guess: once the third one’s finished, the first two will sell even more? 

All right. I’ll take that. Maybe I’ll run a Facebook poll on the subject. In the meantime, I dub thee a conflicted tease.

You fickle, fickle minx.

Incitement to Riot

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Nekhet, at least partway through, the following post contains (mild) spoilers. So here’s a safe Internet alternative for you if you’ve not yet read the book.

It’s good to know that my readership has faith in my book research; what I write, apparently, rings true for you, and that’s a high compliment to an author. But in one particular case, I’ve perhaps merited maybe a bit too much credibility. My email account has blown up over the past few days with an influx of – sorry, I’m going to paint these with a broad brush – semi-hysterical emails from readers asking some variant of the following question: “My kid had whooping cough! Are you trying to tell me s/he is at risk for narcolepsy?”

Well, everyone’s at risk for everything, at one statistical confidence level or another. I’m at some vanishingly small, but mathematically demonstrable, risk of having a coyote drop an anvil on me when I leave the house. But the short answer is probably not. I definitely did not mean to yell FIRE in a crowded theater in writing Taryn Spencer; she’s a fictional character who suffers from a rare disease – that’s all. I wrote Reswyt from the perspective of someone who was sleep-deprived, because I’ve personally lived through that hell, and in this book, I felt strongly drawn to explore the opposite end of the spectrum – the deep end of the pool, as it were. And I was very surprised at (a) how little is known about the causation of narcolepsy; (b) how little can be done for it; and (c) how frighteningly common its trigger agents are.

Note that I’m terming them trigger agents, and not causative agents. I quote the University of Maryland Medical Library:

“Narcolepsy is associated with a specific type of human leukocyte antigen (HLA). HLAs are genetically determined proteins on the surface of white blood cells. They are a part of the body’s immune (defense) system. The finding of a very high HLA-association in narcolepsy led to the proposal that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disease, similar to other HLA-associated diseases such as multiple sclerosis and ankylosing spondylitis. It is theorized that an autoimmune reaction causes the loss of nerve cells in the brain in patients with narcolepsy. The environment (for example, infection or trauma) might trigger an autoimmune reaction where normal brain cells are attacked by the body’s own immune system.”

There’s an underlying condition in narcolepsy sufferers, in other words, that awaits a trigger factor; it’s not that whooping cough caused Taryn’s narcolepsy, it’s that she harbors an HLA-associated autoimmune condition just waiting to be set off by a stressor. Pertussis – whooping cough – is a known factor in HLA-related conditions like narcolepsy both because of its effects on hypocretin, the peptide that governs sleep activity in the brain, and because it is a physical stressor – disrupting the normal sleep cycle and weakening the body’s ability to manage its immune response.

The testing involved for narcolepsy also isn’t nearly as outlandishly costly as it’s painted as in the book. Most decent healthcare insurance would almost certainly cover it – but Taryn’s mom is an uninsured seasonal housekeeper in Dugway, UT, and from their little family’s perspective, the testing facility might as well be located on Neptune for how easy they’re going to find to get into it. If you’re concerned – and clearly some of you are! – go get tested. Drop me a line and let me know everything’s OK. I’ll feel better after having read all of this correspondence. And give yourselves a collective pat on the back for being good, watchful moms!

The IKR Nekhet Interview

Thanks for joining me this morning!

Thank you. I think IKR was the first interview I did for Reswyt, so I appreciate the invite to come back and talk about the next book.

…The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s got that vibe, yeah. (laughs)

There’s a lot going on in Nekhet. There are two new characters, a handful of new storylines, and a…am I spoilering to say a few high-profile…departures?

No, I hinted at that in the last interview we did, and I’ve been pretty up-front in the book trailers that change was happening. I think I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t change. It was a controlled burn, so to speak; new growth is happening in this book. It really had to happen that way.

I read it twice now – thank you for the prerelease copy –  and it was only on the second read, having had the full experience of part three, that the line in the prologue – “brothers and sisters; mothers and sons; fathers and daughters” – really jumped out at me. At its foundation, this strikes me as being a story about family.

That’s probably a function of my own kids growing up, and beginning to get better visibility on everything that’s required of us as parents. But yes, there’s a definite thread in here about making peace with the realities of our family lives.

I liked, too, how Sabine goes through a period of burning bridges – metaphorically – in her high-school life at the same time she’s burning bridges in the dreaming reality.

You’re the second person to say that, and I have to confess, I didn’t even really think about that until I got some beta-reader  commentary back saying, in essence, “that was really clever.” I suppose I’ll take credit for it (laughs).

It seems like you’re more comfortable this time around in writing for a smarter reading audience. I don’t think there’s another YA book out there with Curie temperatures and Ruby coding and binary data and…I have to look back at my notes, at when you sent me to the dictionary a few times. Orogeny. That was it.

The fun of writing a plot like this one is the research that goes into it. I started with Matthew being tasked with building the siege gun, and then that led into hours of researching what type of ore such a gun would require, and that led into thinking about how Matthew would find it. On and on it went. So, rest assured, if it happened in the story, I researched how it would have happened in real life. I hope that shows through to the reader. I got a lot of correspondence after I released Reswyt, from a pretty focused demographic, about their enjoyment of some of the complexities in the book.

So you feel like you’ve found your target audience?

I think so, yeah. I’d say seven out of every ten emails or messages I receive are from gifted girls, mostly high-school and junior-high aged, basically saying, “thank you for writing a series for us.”

It’s not easy – I can vouch for this, that when other women your age, of any age, probably, converge on a book, and that book becomes THE book, there’s a sense of not belonging if you don’t join in. For instance –

– and I get that, but I don’t want to bash works that are out there. It’s a big literary world, so to speak. Read what makes you happy. I’d like to think there’s literary works for everyone out there. But I did feel like this was an unserved, or at least underserved segment – and that began with my own daughter, who was reading YA and saying, “I don’t see myself in these books.”

And yet, there’s a lot of very fundamental, appealing plot lines to this book. How Sabine continues to deal with the loss of her father. The relationship between her and Josh, and between her and Dylan. Losing a good friend. Those are things everyone can relate to.

I think, for a lot of gifted kids, there’s this broad-brush belief that everything about their lives is easier or somehow detached from the realities of life. But that’s not true. Sabine certainly falls on that gifted spectrum somewhere, or at least, I work to write her that way. Josh does, too.

Matthew, obviously.

Yes. But, regardless of who you are, and how you’re wired, life holds a lot of the same challenges and heartbreaks and triumphs.

So, last time, I told you things didn’t seem to end well, and then I got through this book, and realized that things have gotten even worse.

It’s the second act of a three-act play. But there’s hope among the ruins, so to speak, and the sides are forming up.

I’m so curious to see how all of the dreamers’ abilities come together in the third book  – Dylan’s ability to transport data, and Taryn’s leadership of the horse clan, and –

Spoiler alert.

Yes! Sorry.

You’re right – I have a section in the notes called The Uncanny X-Men for exactly that plotline. (Laughs) And it is developed in the third book, which is going to bring everything to a close. I think.

Any timeline for us?

No – I just wrapped this one, and I’m taking some time off. But my hope is to have the third book underway by the fall, and out late in 2013.

Working title?

Not yet. It’s going to be one of three, but I haven’t chosen it yet.

Thanks for your time today! The book, Nekhet, is on sale now on Amazon.com and BN.com.

Splashdown

There’s an eerie, vacuum-filled period following the mouseclick that gets the KDP and Barnes & Noble publishing engines started on new source files. For one thing, there’s far too much time available to me; work flies by, since I’m not trying to edit over my lunch hour, and the evenings fairly yawn with oceanic grants of free time. That sounds like a good thing, but it’s largely artificial, since I’ve been working myself blind over the course of the past year; this is, in essence, an extra full-time job. It’s not always good for my mental health, either; I start worrying phrases, passages, plot points, et cetera to death again.

So the first thing I do when I finish a book is rebalance the Spectrum (which I discussed in Twenty-Six Point Two). First I pick up and read something truly amazing, and then I pick up and read something truly awful, all in the space of a weekend or so. I won’t name the latter, but the former during this weekend was Brian Aldiss’ Non-Stop, a generation-ship SF work that’s been on my to-read list forever, and more than earned its keep. It was humbling in its depth, brevity (a packed 241 pages), and premise, and I instantly felt like trying to claw Nekhet back from the clutches of the KDP/BN servers as little more than unmixed, lumpy literary cake batter. But then I read my opposing-end Spectrum book, a current bestseller with the word taut misspelled as taught (no, really) and a scene in which a keychain sprouts six feet of very useful deus ex machina rope (I shit you not), with which the main character extricates herself from a scenario threatening certain death.

Excelsior! 

I am back on the Spectrum!

With that, I’m shutting things down for a bit. There are reviews to beg and plead for, interviews to do (a few scheduled for this week), and then, on Friday, a private little celebration with a few good friends and helpful beta readers for the release. There’s marketing and promotion and other activities to take part in, and time to be spent on the family and myself.  I’m also going to spend a bit of time sketching on two other projects, Myrddin’s Mystic Accounts and Valence, before I get back to Sabine’s tale. So blog posts may be few and far between for a while, at least until I start getting to work on the next book (which I’m thinking will be released late in 2013).

Thanks for the support and interest I’ve received from you over the course of the past year. I didn’t think Reswyt would ever reach the number of people it has, or speak to you at the depth you’ve told me about in your correspondence. That’s an author’s greatest reward, frankly. I’ve met a ton of truly amazing people as a result of this exercise, and it’s been worth it for that alone. It’s been genuinely great to read the emails and Facebook messages I’ve gotten from Reswyt fans, and it’s something that never, ever gets old. I respond to every single one, sometimes late at night, sometimes on a bit of a delay – depending on how my work week is going – but I do answer each and every one. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you like Nekhet (or even if you don’t).

I’ve also gotten a few fistfuls of emails asking why I’m not going to get the next book out sooner. The short answer is that I can’t, really – not unless I somehow get to bag my day job (which is normally 60+ hours/week) and devote my full-time attention to writing. That’d be a nice state of affairs, and there’s nothing that I’d enjoy more – I love doing this! – but it’s not in the realistic-options universe for me at the moment. Tell you what – get out there and tell your friends about the series, get a book club here and there to start reading the books, convince your lit-reviewer friend to have a look at it,  and somewhere down the line, I’d have a shot at writing full-time.

And that, my friends, puts the next book in your hands a whole lot faster.

‘Til then –

Dave

Sticky Floors, Agency, and Mental Eye Candy

Agency is back in the news, just as I’m beginning to think about setting the price for the second book – and the news is supposed to give me pause to consider.

Meh.

At issue, if you haven’t kept up with this particular topic, is how large publishers sell books to book retailers. Prior to the advent of Apple’s iBookstore – and I’m going way back here – publishers wholesaled their books to retailers for half the suggested list price; retailers then marked books up from there appropriately. Once Amazon appeared on the scene, its immensity allowed it to do the unthinkable: accept wholesaled books at half price…and then mark them down to loss-leader status in order to move huge volumes of books (with hopes for add-on sales). That, the publishers decided, was removing their ability to control pricing of their product. So, thus, it was bad.

On to the agency model they went, in which publishers set the price and the retailer takes a cut of the proceeds – Apple, for instance, takes 30% of the price of books sold through its iBooks app. That returned control of pricing to publishers, but caused ebook prices to rise sharply (thus screwing the consumer). So, thus, it was bad, too. (See where this is going?) And this time, it’s made the Department of Justice unhappy enough to stop hosing down its rose borders, hitch up its pants, and go inside for the squirrel rifle.

I’m supposed to be all concerned about this upcoming litigation on the part of the DoJ, because lowered book prices – if they come to pass – are supposed to create more pressure at the bottom of the market, where indie authors like myself live. The logic being bandied about goes like this: if the current slate of wildly overpriced $19.99 ebooks are suddenly marked down to $9.99 or even $7.99, I will need to take a proportionate reduction in the price of my book to make everything ‘seem’ rational to the consumer once again. Because God knows readers equate price with value. Right?

I’m not buying it. If I produce a car that I go to market with for $20,000, and a group of large automakers conspire to raise the prices of their cars – for no supportable reason – to $100,000, and are then sued and forced to reduce their price to $50,000, that doesn’t mean I have to cut my price to $10,000 to keep everyone’s mental fractions intact. Those prices didn’t make any sense before the cut, and they still don’t; the same is true of ebooks. The prices currently being charged by large publishing houses for ebooks are ridiculous; there’s no printing involved, no physical stocking of books, no remaindering the unsold copies, no endcap advertising, none of it. So selling an ebook for $15.99 and a hardback for $28.99 is somehow supposed to convey to me that the content is worth around $15 (I’ll be generous with transmission costs on WhisperNet here) and the delta is entirely made up of production cost, an argument I don’t buy for a second. They’re both wildly overpriced, and that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with my own work and how I price it.

Part of that has to do with top-down versus bottom-up pricing. Starting from the bottom up, the pricing conversation for about any book would start at the unrealistic – “let’s give it away” – and proceed through a volume-building price point ($0.99 is the going Kindle rate for developing your market, apparently) and on up to some point where learned consumers in the room would start to look around and say, “I’m not sure I’m spending $12 on a book. Let’s come down from there.” Whereas the top-down discussion is free to start wherever you want, with some sort of ascribed sanity to it. “Who thinks $50 is too high? All right, then. What about $45?” It sounds like a rational discussion, but it’s not.

So fuck the agency model, and fuck the wholesale model; fuck all of it. I don’t really care what large publishers are doing. Whether you feel screwed by their pricing model is your own decision; I don’t believe any book is worth $28.99. Sorry. I just don’t. My decision to make is how to price my book. And, really, that decision leads on to a deeper discussion of what any book should cost. Pretty much every track on iTunes is $1.29, whether it’s Mahler or Gotye or dogs barking ‘Jingle Bells.’ We’ve arrived at a price for music, apparently; THE price. Why haven’t we found the price for books? What the fuck?

Well, here’s my personal philosophy on it.

A book should cost about what a good movie costs ($10)  – they offer roughly the same level of entertainment – with a few modifications. First, you have to do all of the casting, lighting, and special effects in your own mind; so I’ll pay you a few dollars (three, to be exact) to be your own personal Stan Winston and put creature effects in as necessary. Consider yourself on the payroll. I’ll also knock off a dollar for not being the beneficiary of any trailers beforehand, but add back a quarter or so because you don’t have to sit through inane pre-movie advertising and watered-down Entertainment Tonight reporting; you can start reading a book whenever you want, without having to wait for the featurette about ABC’s shitty new fall dramas to end. I’m adding a dollar because you can re-read the book anytime you want, whereas you have to pay to get back into the movie; I’m also adding back the $0.25 in gas it would take you to get to the movie theater, since you can download a Kindle/Nook book anywhere. I’m subtracting two dollars because a book takes longer to read than a movie takes to watch, so it’s an investment of time, and time is money. I’m adding a quarter because you can listen to whatever soundtrack you want and you’re not at the mercy of whatever half-rate score the movie was saddled with. I’m deducting $1 because all eye candy, male or female, must specifically be generated by you, the reader, but I’m adding $0.25 because your choice of eye candy is limited only by your imagination, and you have an unlimited casting budget. I’m adding back $0.25 because your selection of snacks is much broader, and of much higher quality. Finally, I’m adding a quarter because I won’t make you wait until after the credits for any hidden scenes, sitting alone in a sticky-floored theater with the lights already coming up.

That’s $10 – $3 -$1 +$0.25 +$1 +$0.25 – $2 +$0.25 – $1 + $0.25 + $0.25 +$0.25 = $5.50.

There you have it. Five-fifty. It passes the eye test; it lives in that I’d-expect-to-be-entertained-for-that-price realm; it’s an amount of money that you’re not going to debate for a long time (kinda like the iTunes $1.29 price point), but one sufficient to make you feel entitled you to a seat at the critical review table once you’re done.

Maybe I’ll start with that. And if the big publishers want to adopt it for their next slate of gripping page-turners, I’ll license this logic to them for a small fee.

Pay Attention, Double-Oh-Seven

Got into a strange conversation the other day while waiting to pick up the kids from school. A good friend, who’s read the book, asked “It must be hard work putting a novel together – do you use any special tools?”

My first reaction was to say no; writing is the least gear-intensive of any form of art. It’s you, a keyboard, and a screen. That’s pretty much it. And I’m more than a little biased, since in my other other life, I’m a guitarist – a performance art medium in which people actually debate whether tubes from 1950 or 1951 sound better, and in which at least one performer claims to be able to detect a meaningful difference between nine-volt batteries. Guitarists are batshit-crazy gear-focused technophiles, to a one, and so – by comparison, anyway – writing looks pretty plain.

But then I got to thinking about it, and surveying my workspace, and I noticed that I was wrong. At some level, anyway. There are a few select pieces of kit involved in writing. Here’s mine.

Probably my most significant writing idiosyncrasy is a mechanical-switch keyboard. (Or, as I call it, ‘a keyboard.’) It’s probably because I came of age in the dawn of the PC age, but clicky keyboards sound and feel normal to me. Over time, mechanical-switch keyboards got tossed aside in favor of the cheaper, more reliable, but (IMHO) gummy-feeling modern keyboard, the piece of shit Dell throws in every box that goes out the door. But I like a little click with every keystroke. When you’re grinding through the first ten thousand words of a new book, it’s like getting a little reward with every letter.

Although the book ultimately ends up in Word, I do a lot of the heavy lifting in a program called Scrivener, which is to writing what Pro Tools is to music. Every section of a book you write in Scrivener is assigned its own identifier number and keyword tags; when it’s time to move things around (and I do a LOT of moving sections), there’s no searching 120,000 words of Word text for a phrase you think might be in a section. Just enter the keywords into Scrivener, and up pops a live-draggable chunk of text. Scrivener doesn’t make the writing process easier, but it makes the editing and book development process vastly more efficient and fun.

Speaking of software, I also like Grammarly. It’s tough to use in a fiction novel, because candidly, not everything that makes for effective fiction writing follows Oxford comma-type rules to the letter, but it’s a damn fine place to start from in checking whether you’ve hashed some of the true ground rules. It’s much more powerful – and insightful – than the core Word grammar checker, which more often than not gets grammar rules wrong. (Sorry, Microsoft. It’s true.)

I also like a second monitor or two; I can store the main work on the large monitor and stash tools, Grammarly and Scrivener windows on another. Somehow, it lends itself to the idea of artistic creation; here’s the canvas (the main screen), and here’s the palette (my second screen).  And if I’m working for long periods of time, I use tinted glasses, which makes extended writing sessions easier on my eyes (and enables unlimited Walter quoting while I work).

A trio of research tools are up next – a bookstand, Levenger page points, and Genius Scan. Research is a huge part of my writing process, and it gets old quick to be trying to balance a hefty copy of Budge’s Ancient Egyptian Magic on one leg while I’m writing. The bookstand takes care of that; the page points get me right back to the key sections I need to refer to quickly; and Genius Scan turns my iPhone into an instant scanner those moments that I need to capture something permanently for quick reference.

It might not seem like a writing tool, per se, but I make heavy use of Spotify. Writing is tough enough if you’ve got all day to do it in and no distractions around you, but I work a full-time job and have three little kids, too – so getting back into my writing ‘headspace’ quickly and completely is key. Music is a valuable tool in doing so, and I invested in a good pair of earbud headphones, too (these are the only ones I like).

There it is. My writing environment. Add a glass of something, and I’m good to go for the evening. Writing still doesn’t involve nearly the level of gear investment that other art forms do, but in a way, I like that – at the end of the day, I can look back over what I’ve done and know that it’s not the tubes, or the cables, or the amp, or my choice of nine-volt batteries.

It’s just me.