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Yikes! I Have to Do It Again?

Over at Mad Genius Club, Sarah Hoyt has some observations on the anxiety of having to follow your first published novel with a second, as well as some tips for overcoming that horrible brain freeze.

Quite honestly, I don't think it's unique to writers. Why else would we talk of "one hit wonders," if there weren't at least some bands and artists who freeze up at having to follow that initial success with a second song, a second album? What about the artist whose work is acclaimed, and now has to go back to the studio and try to paint another work that lives up to the expectations created by that initial success.

And I really doubt it's confined to the creative arts. How about the inventor or the company who produces a wildly successful product. Now you've got to produce something else that capitalizes on that initial success.
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The Logic of Writing

Not just the internal logic of a story, of actions and consequences and how they work together to move the story forward. The logic of being a writer, the reasoning behind the choices you make in your career.

As Dean Wesley Smith points out in his latest blog post, it's especially important to think through as the publishing business is undergoing such tremendous upheaval. Even a decade ago, there was one path and only one to a professional writing career. It involved sending your stories and novels out to one after another editor's slush piles, trying to get them accepted for publication. So a lot of things, like getting an agent, made sense at the time.

Right now everything is in flux. Some obvious leaders are appearing: Amazon's Kindle and the Kindle Direct Publishing system, for example. But there are a lot of other companies trying different approaches, trying to see what might work.

Which means the old verities aren't necessarily valid. So it behooves you to pause and think through the logic of the course of action you're taking. Does it make sense in this volatile new world of changing technology? Or are you just following the Way It Has Always Been Done?

I have to admit that I waited a long time to get into indie publishing, mostly because I started back in the days when your choices were traditional publishing and vanity publishing. So it had been pretty thoroughly drummed into my head that self-publishing was the mark of the loser, an admission to all and sundry that you couldn't cut it. It was only after my brother told me how much success he was having serializing a novel that I finally decided to poke a toe into the waters, and then very cautiously.

And even with all the changes that the publishing world is undergoing, success is still hard. You may not have to go through the years of endless rounds of submissions, of accumulating rejection slips by the bushel, filing one story after another away as it runs out of markets. But eliminating the gatekeepers and hoops doesn't mean eliminating the problem of finding an audience for your work. If anything, it makes it harder. In the old days, once you'd finally gotten past the gatekeepers, you were plugged into a system that would find an audience for your work. People knew that stories published in magazine such-and-such would be the sort of thing they would enjoy reading. They knew that the books in a particular section of the bookstore would appeal to their tastes. Now you have to figure out how to pick keywords that will help readers find your books in search engines, how to get people to review your books so they will become more visible in Amazon's suggestion system, etc. Even if you get one book to sell well, there's no guarantee the next won't flop, hard. Or the one after that. And while you don't have to worry about your publisher dropping you because your Bookscan numbers aren't good enough, there's still the risk of becoming collateral damage in Amazon's battles with the Kindle Unlimited scammers and having to struggle uphill to prove your innocence and get your account reinstated.

It's a brave new publishing world out there, no country for old men.
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For Love and Money

The Passive Guy has an excerpt from an interesting article about the history of writing for money. Even back in the time of the ancient Greeks, the poet who wrote for a fee, rather than for patron, was viewed as suspect. It makes me think of Lewis Hyde's discussion of the tension between artists' need to make a living and fear of being perceived as "crass" or having "sold out" if they write for money.
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Books, Books, Books

February is bringing a break in the cold weather, although it doesn't look like it's going to last for long. But there's no better time to enjoy some good books.

The Sun Never Sets by Joseph T. Major

A passionate defense of an exiled prince leads to changes that shake the course of European and world history, and lay the stage for a wider and wider yet monarchy.
In our world, the Electress Sophia of Hanover, sister of the gallant Prince Rupert of the Rhine, was made heir to the British throne, only to die just too soon, leaving the succession to her son. Once, though, she got a little too exercised about the poor exiled Pretender . . . and if she had been just a little more exercised, William of Orange might have changed his mind.
Such a change could put a strange and striking monarch in reach of the British throne. But the heirs of the Stuarts were not yet gone, and they could strike back. The result of this bold decision would mean wars across the world, involving people from lands spreading from Poland to Virginia, from Scotland to Naples. It would mean battles in the Cockpit of Europe, in the wilds of Saxony, and indeed on the green fields of England itself.
Not all is war. Literary figures such as Swift,Johnson, and Voltaire have strange and different meetings. The universal genius Benjamin Franklin, Printer, has an entirely new field of endeavor.
The opposed royal houses, and the other princes of Europe, face off in new and strange alliances in this novel.

Madeleine and the Mists by Mary Catelli

Enchanted pools, shadowy dragons, wolves that spring from the mists and vanish into them again, paths that are longer, or shorter, than they should be, given where they went. . . the Misty Hills were filled with marvels.

Madeleine still left the hills, years ago, to marry against her father's will. If her husband's family is less than welcoming, she still is glad she married him, and they have a son, two years old.

But her husband's overlord has fallen afoul of the king. And all his men fall with him, including her husband.

She sets out, to seek the queen and try to bypass the king -- and the Misty Hills.

Some things are not so easily evaded.

Miss Eleanor Tilney: or, The Reluctant Heroine by Sherwood Smith

Eleanor Tilney is little more than a plot device in Jane Austen's tale, whose first half scintillates so brightly, but whose second half hints at the brilliance to come. This reimagining attempts to bring life, color, and a little laughter to that second half.

Eleanor gets a voice, and a romance, as we see Catherine through hers and Henry's eyes.

Pride and Platypus by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian

From the critically acclaimed author of Mansfield Park and Mummies and Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons...

Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy’s Dreadful Secret

When the moon is full over Regency England, all the gentlemen are subject to its curse.

Mr. Darcy, however, harbors a Dreadful Secret...

Shape-shifting demons mingle with Australian wildlife, polite society, and high satire, in this elegant, hilarious, witty, insane, and unexpectedly romantic supernatural parody of Jane Austen's classic novel.

The powerful, mysterious, handsome, and odious Mr. Darcy announces that Miss Elizabeth Bennet is not good enough to tempt him. The young lady determines to find out his one secret weakness -- all the while surviving unwanted proposals, Regency balls, foolish sisters, seductive wolves, matchmaking mothers, malodorous skunks, general lunacy, and the demonic onslaught of the entire wild animal kingdom!

What awaits her is something unexpected. And only moon, matrimony, and true love can overcome pride and prejudice!

Gentle Reader -- this Delightful Illustrated Edition includes Scholarly Footnotes and Appendices.

Grandmaster's Gambit by Leigh Kimmel

The disastrous war of 1913 is over, and young journalist Isaak Babel has used his fame as a war correspondent to win a peacetime job covering an international chess tournament in New York City. However, trouble is aboard the airship Grossdeuschland, in the form of the notorious Bolshevik terrorist Koba and his henchmen. Men with a dark plan, and New York City will not welcome their visit

If you'd like your book promoted in future installments of the book promo post, please e-mail me at And as always, if you've enjoyed a book (or didn't but think someone with different tastes would), please be sure to post a review on and Goodreads. Indie and small-press writers need reviews to help make their works visible.
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Look Busy!

Many years ago, I had a very unpleasant evaluation from a boss. His assessment? That I did good work, even excellent work, but I didn't look like a good worker.

Because I wasn't visibly busy all the time.

I've been in a number of situations where it was literally more important to look busy all the time than to actually be productive. You would be more reliably rewarded for stretching two hours worth of work into eight hours of going through the motions than for accomplishing your work in an efficient and productive manner. How dare you get finished "too fast!" That meant you were lazy and dodging work. It got to the point where I preferred to avoid any clock-based work and stick to doing stuff on assignment, where as long as the work got done, I didn't get hassled about whether I filled the entire box of time with busy, or how the bits and crumbs of time at the end of shifts "added up," never mind they couldn't be brought together to make a lump of useful size.

And the longer I watch the current Administration, the more I feel like I'm seeing people whose idea of doing a job centers around looking busy. Several of the most controversial actions have that smell of someone who feels the need to be seen Doing Something, even if that action doesn't actually contribute that much (or anything at all) to a workable solution to the problem.
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When the Going Gets Tough

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has some observations on writing in difficult times.

And I agree that writing can feel very trivial when a crisis is going on. I recognized the feeling after the 9/11 attacks because I'd felt it a decade earlier. When Operation Desert Storm began, I simply couldn't write fiction. It just seemed too trivial in the face of what was going on, to the point that writing at that moment would trivialize what was going on. As if by writing about fictional conflicts, I was somehow mocking the people who were putting their lives on the line.

Looking back, I can see there was nothing rational about that feeling. Maybe it was just the product of spending my childhood being continually hassled about respect and disrespect. Or maybe it was just the attitude in the small town I grew up in that sf and fantasy were "escapist trash," inherently trivial and trivializing, incapable of dealing respectfully with weighty issues.

Or maybe it was just that I had no audience at the time. Not that I wasn't trying, but back in the days of Operation Desert Storm, there was no World Wide Web. There were no blogs. And there certainly wasn't any Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords or JukePop Serials. There was traditional publishing, and there was vanity publishing. And at that time, I was still most definitely at that point where I was sending stories out until they ran out of markets, then filing them away. Which meant that writing was regarded as a recreational activity, something to pass the time while I had nothing better to do.

Now things have changed, and writers can reach an audience without having to first obtain a permission slip from the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. There are dozens, even hundreds, of possible outlets where we can make our writing, both fiction and non-fiction, available for purchase or free reading. So there's a certain comfort in writing stories that are not allegorical so much as applicable, as JRR Tolkien responded when asked whether The Lord of the Rings was about World War II. As I've said earlier, I don't think that this current Administration is the Armstrong timeline's equivalent of the Flannigan Administration, and not just because the stressors are different from the ones faced by the US of the Grissom timeline. Two weeks into the Trump Administration, I'm seeing far too many things happening that look like hasty "see, we're Doing Something" responses than any grand sinister plot.

Not to say that inept fumblings aren't dangerous. Often dumb mistakes can cause as much damage as outright malice, if not more so. But most of us aren't in positions where we can do much more than a token effort toward changing policy at the highest levels of government. The most that most of us can do to have a real effect is to focus on our local public officials and candidates for public office: city council, school board, library board, etc. And that's not something we're going to be doing on a day-in, day-out basis.

So if we're writers, by all means don't put writing on indefinite hiatus. Write mindfully, but avoid lecturing or blatant allegory. And yes, write things that seem lightweight and fluffy -- people need to get away, to take a mental vacation, and the sort of adventure fiction that used to get dismissed as "escapist trash" can actually be a bigger help than gritty realism, simply by giving your readers characters who overcome their situations instead of just having to grimly hang on.

And remember, your book may well be that one golden book that lifts someone out of despair, that carries that person through a time so dark that the light at the end of the tunnel seems to have been turned out to save electricity. So give yourself permission to write it, however trivial the story may seem at the moment.
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The Muffler Quiets the Bang

Did you know that the automobile muffler was invented by the son of the inventor of the machine gun?

Yes, that's right. Hiram P. Maxim, son of man for whom the Maxim machine gun was named. Like many young men of generations to follow, young Hiram was fond of his muscle cars. Of course back at the turn of the twentieth century, the top-end cars could produce about 40 horsepower at the brake. But their exhaust pipes came straight out of the engine, which meant they roared like nobody's business. So bad the early flivvers had a reputation for scaring horses, and a lot of municipalities wanted to ban them, or at least put harsh limits on their use.

So Maxim, the son of an inventor and a tinkerer in his own right, put his mind to doing something about that problem so he could drive his car through town without noise complaints. The result was the earliest automotive muffler. And given that he was also the son of a firearms manufacturer, he realized that the same technology could also be used to quiet the muzzle report of a rifle.

Over at The Arts Mechanical, J. Carlton has a lengthy article on the history of the silencer or suppressor. It's a must-read for anyone who writes mysteries (especially hardboileds and police procedurals), thrillers, military science fiction, and any other fiction in which modern firearms are involved.
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Wagging Tongues

I grew up in small-town America, so I was nodding right along with Sarah Hoyt's latest posting:

I was raised in a village, so like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, I have one up on the rest of the world, since I know all kinds of evil and how evil works.

It’s not that there isn’t evil in cities, of course, but it’s more anonymous, less personal, and far more expected, so it doesn’t sucker punch you when you least expect it.

Which is why I prefer cities, preferably large cities, because it’s possible to be almost completely isolated there. I suspect for extreme introverts there are only two choices of residence, out in the middle of nowhere, or the center of a large city. In both cases, unless you’re ravishingly interesting to look at, or a celebrity, you’re like to meld with the landscape and matter to no one.

The most annoying evil of living in a village was the gossip.

Read the rest over at According to Hoyt.

I didn't actually live in town -- I lived on a farm about a mile out. But I lived right down the road from a gossip. In fact, one of our neighbors was trying to figure out how to get into town without J- seeing her go by, because she was tired of having J- light up the phone lines about it.
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Worrying Developments

An interesting article suggesting that Trump's immigration ban is in fact a headfake in a much longer game.

But even if it was a well-intended but ham-handed effort to protect America from those who believe that using violence in the furthering of their religion is a sacrament, it will do more harm than good. There are two kinds of responses to a security hole: things that produce an actual improvement in our safety, and things that are done to be visibly Doing Something. And the latter can actually be worse than nothing, because they create an illusion of increased security, and thus lessen the likelihood that anyone will do the things that will actually make a difference.

Consider this: most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- but both of those countries are conspicuously absent from the list of countries affected by the immigration ban. (In fact Saudi Arabia is a major factor in the financing of terror, because they pay their troublemakers to leave the Kingdom and cause trouble Somewhere Else. And a lot of these remaindermen have become terrorists or terror masterminds).

Nor would it have prevented the San Bernardino shootings. One of the shooters was born right here in the US, and the other was from Pakistan, another country not affected by the ban, but also a hotbed of jihadism.

Worse, because it is a blanket ban on everyone from the countries on the list, it has trapped many Christian and Yazidi refugees who were suffering religious persecution in their homelands, and run a very real risk of being killed if they remain stranded in limbo, or worse, are forced to return to a home that is no longer safe for them. This is something that a lot of the protesters are missing -- it is not singling out people on the basis of religion, but on national origin in several Muslim-majority countries with significant levels of turmoil and association with terrorism. Which makes no distinction between terrorists and those who live in terror as dhimmi, hoping that their Muslim rulers won't take offense, won't decide that they no longer are interested in jizya payments and will say "convert or die."
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Rock and a Hard Place

It seems that a lot of authors are afraid of being accused of cultural appropriation if they write characters of other races, but also worry that they will be accused of racism and erasure if they don't write a culturally diverse cast. Way back in 2009 I remember saying that a lot of what I was seeing in the RaceFail arguments made me think of The Road to Terror, J. Arch Getty and Oleg Naumov's analysis of the doctrinal maneuvering in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union right before the Great Terror of the 1930's. The ever shifting interpretation of Marxist theory that could lead to the position that was acceptable last week becoming heresy today -- and the desperate need of the Party faithful for absolution of their political sins, to the point they were happy to abase themselves.

I also predicted that the harder the Leftists pushed, the more people would stop trying. Some people would just withdraw and stop caring, and others might become actively oppositional and defiant. The comments sections, both in the Passive Guy's blog and on the original post he references, are quite instructive. Yes, there are a lot of people whose give-a-damn is busted, who no longer care what the increasingly shrill voices say -- and thanks to indie publishing, don't have to.

More darkly, we have the people who have decided they might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and are openly espousing racial theory. Most of them are still in relatively obscure parts of the Internet, but a few have become notorious in the science fiction community. One in particular enjoys trolling anyone who mentions him critically in a blog post.
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