Shut up and take my money – a conversation about book piracy

Last week, a popular YA author Maggie Stiefvater posted this story on her blog. She essentially did a test to see exactly how much damage piracy was doing to her book sales. Her story has erupted into debate across the authorsphere, because her results are hard to argue with. But they’re also extremely interesting. Here is the short version:


I’ve decided to tell you guys a story about piracy.

I didn’t think I had much to add to the piracy commentary I made yesterday, but after seeing some of the replies to it, I decided it’s time for this story.

Here are a few things we should get clear before I go on:

1) This is a U.S. centered discussion. Not because I value my non U.S. readers any less, but because I am published with a U.S. publisher first, who then sells my rights elsewhere. This means that the fate of my books, good or bad, is largely decided on U.S. turf, through U.S. sales to readers and libraries.

2) This is not a conversation about whether or not artists deserve to get money for art, or whether or not you think I in particular, as a flawed human, deserve money. It is only about how piracy affects a book’s fate at the publishing house.

3) It is also not a conversation about book prices, or publishing costs, or what is a fair price for art, though it is worthwhile to remember that every copy of a blockbuster sold means that the publishing house can publish new and niche voices. Publishing can’t afford to publish the new and midlist voices without the James Pattersons selling well.

It is only about two statements that I saw go by:

1) piracy doesn’t hurt publishing.

2) someone who pirates the book was never going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a lost sale.

Now, with those statements in mind, here’s the story.

. . . .

It’s the story of a novel called The Raven King, the fourth installment in a planned four book series. All three of its predecessors hit the bestseller list. Book three, however, faltered in strange ways. The print copies sold just as well as before, landing it on the list, but the e-copies dropped precipitously.

. . . .

I expected to see a sales drop in book three, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, but as my readers are historically evenly split across the formats, I expected it to see the cut balanced across both formats. This was absolutely not true. Where were all the e-readers going? Articles online had headlines like PEOPLE NO LONGER ENJOY READING EBOOKS IT SEEMS.

Really?

There was another new phenomenon with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, too — one that started before it was published. Like many novels, it was available to early reviewers and booksellers in advanced form (ARCs: advanced reader copies). Traditionally these have been cheaply printed paperback versions of the book. Recently, e-ARCs have become common, available on locked sites from publishers.

BLLB’s e-arc escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.

. . . .

Floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.

I asked my publisher to make sure there were no e-ARCs available of book four, the Raven King, explaining that I felt piracy was a real issue with this series in a way it hadn’t been for any of my others. They replied with the old adage that piracy didn’t really do anything, but yes, they’d make sure there was no e-ARCs if that made me happy.

Then they told me that they were cutting the print run of The Raven King to less than half of the print run for Blue Lily, Lily Blue. No hard feelings, understand, they told me, it’s just that the sales for Blue Lily didn’t justify printing any more copies.

. . . .

I was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle, and so I began to work with one of my brothers on a plan. It was impossible to take down every illegal pdf; I’d already seen that. So we were going to do the opposite. We created a pdf of the Raven King. It was the same length as the real book, but it was just the first four chapters over and over again. At the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite books. I knew we wouldn’t be able to hold the fort for long — real versions would slowly get passed around by hand through forum messaging — but I told my brother: I want to hold the fort for one week. Enough to prove that a point. Enough to show everyone that this is no longer 2004. This is the smart phone generation, and a pirated book sometimes is a lost sale.

Then, on midnight of my book release, my brother put it up everywhere on every pirate site. He uploaded dozens and dozens and dozens of these pdfs of The Raven King. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one of his pdfs. We sailed those epub seas with our own flag shredding the sky.

The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book.

And we sold out of the first printing in two days.

Naturally, the discussion on this got very interesting. Comments on the Passive Voice blog pointed out that Maggie’s ebooks are priced anywhere from six to twelve dollars. She doesn’t set the prices–the publisher does. Someone also pointed out that the time of her Lily Blue book launch coincided with the huge spike in ebook prices from publishers in 2014-2015. That was when publishers won a big contract battle against Amazon, keeping Amazon from discounting prices on ebooks.

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Aye, here there be pirates. “The Ship” by FantasyArt0102

This is why there’s so much talk in the news about “ebooks are over” and “people prefer print”. When the ebook is 15 bucks and the print copy is 12, people grudgingly buy the paper copy. Or they go read cheap indie books. According to the Author Earnings Reports, ebooks are booming–but not for the overpriced publishers. Imagine that.

But that’s only the most obvious problem. Blogger/author Joe Konrath commented,

Years ago, I was in touch with an author who had a decent debut novel that did well for him and his publisher. I don’t remember the details, but there was some sort of contract issue and he decided to self-pub the next book. After some great success self-pubbing, things were worked out with his publisher, or maybe it was a new publisher, and they bought the book. That meant he unpublished his version, and he asked fans who hadn’t read it yet to wait the 12 months for it to come out through regular channels.

You can guess how that went.

The problem isn’t piracy. As long as your book is available, and reasonably priced, piracy isn’t going to harm your sales.

But if your book isn’t available yet, such as the case with ARCs and galleys, your fans are going to do whatever they can to get ahold of it. There is a whole market for selling ARCs, and always has been. Many indie booksellers can only stay afloat by selling ARCs. I’ve visited hundreds of bookstores and have seen this firsthand.

With digital, it is much easier to get your hands on a copy of a yet-to-be-released title. Rather than buy it, you pirate it. And that will almost definitely result in a lost sale.

Piracy isn’t going away. You can’t fight it. The answer isn’t releasing fake versions on torrent sites. The answer is to stop releasing ARCs.

So, basically, the problem is impatient fans. We have an interesting generation of people right now who are used to instant gratification. In fact, they’ll pay extra money for it, like binge-watching entire series on Netflix (Stranger Things, anywone?). And if they can’t pay for it, they’ll steal it, with nary a twitch of the conscience.

But another problem is desperate authors. Another commenter on the Passive Voice said,

You can tell ’em, as I’ve been telling authors, do not upload ARCs to NetGalley other – its the main source for pirate books sites to obtain advance copies of upcoming new releases, but do authors listen? Anyone can sign up at Netgalley as a reviewer and gain access to thousands of books for free.

Also I’ve told authors never send PDFs to book review blogs, no matter how friendly or Kosher the site looks, aside from the fact Mobi other can be cracked with specific software by determined thieves. As for sharing of PDF ARCs on groups and forums (shareware) who didn’t think that would happen between friends in the same way friends will exchange paperbacks.

Authors are so desperate to be noticed (read) common sense escapes them, and it’s another reason so many are obsessed with paying for book reviews, for big splash Bookbub ad days, and gifting books in exchange for reviews. Fame comes with a “price tag” and it’s not always as authors would truly wish for.

It’s a thorny problem, and there’s no easy way around it. People are greedy. Authors are desperate. And books are a funny commodity–people have this idea that pirating a book is like borrowing one at the library. The difference is, the library bought the copy at some point, sending a little money the author’s way. The reader of a pirated book will never pay for that book.

What do you think? Is there another answer that you’ve thought of? Does this steam you as much as it does me?

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Confession: I love similes

I’m knee-deep in editing the final book of Malevolent right now. In the big battle in the middle of the book, my editor keeps saying, “Too many similes … too many similes … can we have some metaphors instead?”

This is my confession. I love similes.

I never thought about them very much until I read Signal to Noise by Eric Nylund. It’s a cyberpunk book in which everybody has brain implants that let them interface with computers. They all work in these “bubbles” instead of offices. The bubble interfaces with their implant and lets them visualize their own thoughts and ideas as metaphors. For instance, one character’s office is a steel plant with lots of machinery running. When the hero gives her bad news, in the background, the steel plant has an accident and molten metal spills everywhere.

The whole book is like that. It’s crushingly vivid because there’s a powerful visual metaphor in every paragraph. I counted, once. Every single paragraph. But it has to be that way, because the things he’s describing are impossible to imagine otherwise.

So I developed a habit of way over-describing the crazy things I was trying to write about. Here’s a sample of what my poor editor was talking about, from the middle of Malicious:


As before, I felt the barrier as hot and cold at the same time, like having a fever. I slipped into a weird trance state, almost dozing with my eyes open. There were life motes here. I could use them–this barrier was like a water main under high pressure. All I had to do was give it a crack.

Instead of blocking out Mal’s immense death power, I reached out and grasped it. He made an awful sound, a soft scream I had never heard before.

“It’s okay!” I said, unwilling to break out of my trance. It hurts to have your motes yanked, so I tugged as gently as I could. His motes had a pull like a gravity well and a definite shape. Wielding them like a magnet, I aimed them at the mote stream of the barrier at my feet. Life motes poured into both of us, hot, violent, unpredictable. I pulled in more and more, the pressure building as a fever-heat behind my eyes.

The ghouls were twenty feet away and galloping toward us like apes. Mal stood paralyzed, eyes closed, suffering as I used his power. He wouldn’t be able to stop them.

But I could.


See? Six similes in three paragraphs. I’ll have to revise this. I think I have a problem.

In the meantime, have a few Inktober sketches!

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Tree swift

 

inktober-17-monitor
Monitor lizard

23 book reviewed in a minute

I was reviewing the last book I read, and I thought, “You know, I should put that on my blog.”

Then I thought about the 23 books I’ve read this year and how I ought to review them on my blog, too. But who has time to read 23 book reviews?

So, I present to you, with apologies to Rinkworks, 23 BOOKS REVIEWED IN A MINUTE! That means very, very, very short reviews of each.

Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Beginnings by Lydia Sherrier

Lily: I’m a wizard.
Sebastian: I’m a witch.

They solve PROBLEMS with MAGIC.


The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue

Twelve princesses are cursed to DANCE EVERY NIGHT until LILY agrees to MARRY her BLACKMAILER.


Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Revelations by Lydia Sherrier

Lily: Sebastian, are you keeping secrets?
Sebastian: Yes. Lily, are you keeping secrets?
Lily: Yes.



Fire Water by Domino Finn (book 5 of Black Magic Outlaw)

Cisco goes to the ELEMENTAL PLANE and there learns an INTERESTING FACT.


Dragonfriend by Marc Secchia

A girl named HUALIAMA is TOO TOUGH TO DIE because DRAGONS. Also GRANDION has secrets TOO.


Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Allies, by Lydia Sherrier

Lily and Sebastian don’t TRUST EACH OTHER because they’re a WIZARD and a WITCH with TERRIBLE HOME LIVES.


A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones

VIVIAN SMITH is FAMOUS for RUINING ALL OF TIME. See: nuclear war in WWII.


Spellsmith and Carver, by H.L. Burke

Auric: I hate my crazy dad.
Jericho: I love your crazy dad.
Auric: I hate you now, too.

CRAZY DAD runs away into the FEYLANDS.

Auric: I take it back.


Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus: Legends, by Lydia Sherrier

Lily and Sebastian go to ENGLAND because of MORGAN LAFEY.


Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

A bunch of KIDS go to MARS to escape ALIENS but find aliens ANYWAY.


Cities of Gold by Douglas Preston

A couple of guys try to retrace the path CORONADO took from Mexico up through New Mexico. The desert SUCKED back then and it STILL SUCKS.


Coiled, by H.L. Burke

Brothers: One of us turns into a snake when somebody looks at him. The other turns into a snake when nobody is looking.

Sisters: One of us has healing powers but gets uglier when she uses them. The other gets more beautiful the more cruel she is.

Now they have to GET MARRIED.


Excalibur by Tim Marquitz

Captain: We can fly this alien ship even though it was designed by BUGS

BUGS start KIDNAPPING PEOPLE

Captain: Let’s rescue these people.

BUGS HATCH OUT OF THEM

THE END


Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

Anna is a WEREWOLF OMEGA which means she can CALM DOWN OTHER WOLVES. So when a WEREWOLF starts hearing VOICES she can CALM HIM except the voices are caused by an EVIL WITCH.


The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

Valancy has a WEIRD NAME and a BORING LIFE. Then she finds out she has A YEAR TO LIVE. So she IS RUDE TO HER RELATIVES and GETS MARRIED.


The Tethered World by Heather L.L. FitzGerald

HOMESCHOOLERS go to a FANTASY WORLD that is really the GARDEN OF EDEN with ELVES.


Dragon Lyric by Bethany A. Jennings

Dragon: Wives are beautiful. And delicious.


Fabled, by Kara Jaynes

A girl can’t go to ARCHERY SCHOOL so she runs away and FIGHTS FAIRYTALES INSTEAD.


The Midnight Queen, by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Sophie is studying MAGICK even though it’s IMPROPER.

Gray: I am disgraced and accused of murder. Shall I teach you magick?

Sophie’s father: I have a plot to kill the king and pin it on Gray.

Sophie and Gray GO ON THE RUN.


 

Book Lover’s Blog Hop

Book Lovers Blog Hop

Today I’m hosting a spot on the Book Lover’s Blog Hop. Each day in August, we hop around and answer questions about our favorite book. Our question today is:

Which book do you wish had a sequel?

Leslie Conzatti

Leslie Conzatti www.upstreamwriter.blogspot.com

This is going to be super-obscure, but the book I wish had a sequel is the second book in the Mediochre Q. Seth series by Callum P. Cameron, called “Black and White and Shades of Mediochre.” I discovered the first book, “The Good, The Bad, and the Mediochre”, purely by chance, and thoroughly enjoyed the hodgepodge of paranormal/supernatural creatures, the lively characters, and the compelling plot, so I went ahead and got the second book. Well, come to find out, his publisher went bankrupt before he could release the third book (or perhaps just after, I’m not sure) so, sadly, it is a series that will remain unfinished for the foreseeable future. And I wish it were not so!


BelindaBekkers

Belinda Bekkers www.belindabekkers.com

I’ve always wanted to know what happened to Nick Carraway. Wishes sometimes come true. An unpublished manuscript for the Great Gatsby was discovered and Harper Collins is going to publish it…eventually.


Laurie Lucking Author Headshot

Laurie Lucking www.landsuncharted.com

I would’ve loved a sequel to Redeemer, the last book in Katie Clark’s Enslaved series. While the ending was satisfying in many ways and tied up a lot of loose ends, it also sent the protagonist, Hana, off on a new adventure with the guy she ended up with (I won’t spoil the love triangle by saying who!). Basically, I was just so drawn into Clark’s world and characters that I wanted to spend more time with them and to get a chance to see more of what their new lives looked like after the major conflict ended.


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V.L. Jennings www.virginialorijennings.com

The Harry Potter series should have had a sequel, because seriously! We all want to know what these kids grew up to actually be after such an amazing childhood! Did they continue to have adventures? How did their kids deal with having “famous” parents? The “peak” at the end of the series wasn’t enough in my opinion. As for the “play” that was published here recently, I just can’t bring myself to read it as I’m just too afraid. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?


Jebraun Clifford

Jebraun Clifford www.jebraunclifford.com

I always wanted to have a sequel to ‘Walking Up a Rainbow’ by Theodore Taylor. My original book is dog-eared and torn; I’ve read it so much! But it ends. Just ends. Sure, the heroine meets one of her goals. But. What about the rest? Come on, Theodore! Don’t leave us hanging!


SkyeHegyes

Skye Hegyes www.skyehegyes.com

Last year, one of my favorite books that I read was Uprooted by Naomi Novik, and I loved the book. Loved. Adored. Dreamed about. It was pure amazement among pages. I can’t say enough good things without spoiling them, so I’ll keep quiet. Let’s just say, though, that part of me really hopes for a sequel that is just as amazing as the first. Although, I’ll also be the first to say I’ll burn it if it’s not as amazing at the original.


Jo Linsdell

Jo Linsdell www.JoLinsdell.com

So many books I could list here. Geekerella by Ashley Poston needs a sequel to tell the story of Sage. It also needs a spin off series for Starfield (I fell in love with this and it truly needs it’s own book). I can also never get enough of the Shepherd series by Ethan Cross. There is still so much more that can be done with both brothers, but also the other characters from the Shepherd organisation.


Karina Fabian headshot Aug 2013

Karina Fabian http://fabianspace.com

“A Wind in the Door” by Madeleine L’Engle. Charles Wallace was my favorite character and she left him at tiny, awkward 15! I actually started writing because of the stories I dreamed up about him growing up. My dream would be to get permission from her estate to write the sequel. I have the whole plot figured out: in involves tesseracts, withinning and Patagonia. Plus, a tragic first love and a beautiful lifelong love.


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Kessie Carroll (you are here)

There’s this little book called Rainbird by Rabia Gale that I wish had a sequel. She’s busy writing other books now, but I felt like that book ended on kind of a cliffhanger. I wanted to see what happened when the star dragon showed up and started wrecking the world, man.

Above, Skye mentioned Uprooted by Naomi Novik. That was such a good book, but the ending was so very unsatisfying. If she could write a sequel that had an ACTUAL ROMANCE *shakes the author*, I would totally be down with that. The characters are more mature now and it might work better.


 

Thanks so much for visiting the blog hop!

Stories that stand the test of time

In Story Engineering, Mr. Brooks talks about the importance of human psychology. He states that a book that gets psychology right will stand out from the crowd.

I started looking around for examples of this. Being a mom, we read oceans of children’s books. I’ve noticed for a while that my favorite books are really old ones, from the 60s and earlier. With the new angle of human psychology in mind, I started looking at them.

And you know, he’s right.

Look at Little Bear, by Elsa Holmelund Minarik.

LittleBear

Little Bear asks for more and more clothes to wear outside because he’s cold in the snow. At the end, his mother takes away all his clothes and shows him his fur coat. “And he was not cold. What do you think of that?”

Or how about Three to Get Ready, by Betty Boegehold and Mary Chalmers.

threetogetready

“George was very sorry. George was very sorry for George. He said, “Gigi’s fish looks better than my fish. Ginger’s fish looks better than my fish. They have a better supper than I have.” So George bit Gigi. He scratched Ginger.”

Each little story in Three to Get Ready is a different exploration of a vice–bad temper, greed, or disobedience. Each vice comes with interesting consequences as some adventure befalls each kitten.

The same with Arnold Lobel’s little books, his most famous being Frog and Toad.

a-year-with-frog-and-toad-by-arnold-lobel

In one book, for example, Toad has a dream that he’s on stage, being famous. Meanwhile his friend, Frog, is in the crowd. Every time Toad does something amazing, Frog shrinks a little more. After a while, Frog is too small to be seen or heard. Toad wakes up in a panic. I’ve posted before about the wonderful story about when Frog and Toad fly a kite.

But there are plenty of others. For instance, Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, a heartwarming tale about earth works. Or the same author’s book The Little House, (one of my favorites as a kid), a heartwarming story about urban development. The early Berenstein Bears (The Bike Lesson, the Honey Hunt, the Bear’s Picnic) inadvertently says more about marriage than it does about the story. (Seriously. Watch Mama Bear’s face.)

So, I think Larry Brooks is right. We love seeing the outcome of human psychology. It makes for the best stories.

Rebooting Spacetime

It was time. Time to write the final Spacetime book. I grimly faced the computer screen, forcing myself to read the first book in the series. I had to reread the whole series in order to write that final book, and I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Except I did. I read Facebook. I watched videos. I chatted to friends. Everything except read the book.

Finally I confronted myself. I usually love to read my own work. Why was this so hard? What was wrong with me?

As I began to answer those questions, I realized what I needed to do.

Spacetime was my “learning to write” books. I experimented. I tried things. I practiced editing. And the books are terrible. Downright awful. I could detail all the ways that they suck, but I’ll spare you.

The point is, I unpublished the whole series this week. As of next month they will be unavailable online any more. It’s been a regular ice pick through the heart.

I still like the characters, though. I feel like I didn’t do them or their world justice. (I even had a review that mourned that the ideas were good, but the execution was lacking.) I’ve been dying to reboot their world as a tightly-written urban fantasy joyride. So I talked it over with my husband, and he agreed.

Spacetime is going away. It’ll be reborn as a trilogy that will be so good, I’ll actually want to read it. Right now the world building is consuming my consciousness. We’re revamping the magic system, combining and rethinking characters, and basically doing all the things I couldn’t do before. Lesson learned: don’t write fantasy books when pregnant/nursing. My brain cells just don’t operate at full capacity.

The five books will be condensed into a trilogy. Here is the rough summary of the new first book:

If you can’t kill them, catch them.

When a wild kelpie rampages through downtown Phoenix, James “Carda” Chase captures it using forbidden space magic. Hired as part of a secret coalition of mages defending Earth, Carda must figure out who is breaking the World Wards and letting monsters through before the wards fall and magic creatures overrun a world unprepared for them.

Yeah, there’s a tiny influence from Monster Hunter International in there.

There was so many ideas in the original Spacetime drafts that got cut, like angeli ascendants, and geomancers, and various other worlds and characters that never saw the spotlight. The original series was closer to superhero fiction than real urban fantasy. Casting it as actual fantasy means fantasy creatures running around our modern world. I get to play with modern applications for magic (like, for instance, powering a car’s engine purely by fire magic). I get to write a character in a codependent relationship with an elemental. My werewolf doesn’t have to be so sciencey anymore–he can just be a dang werewolf.

I’m so excited to write a proper couple of books in this genre. Everything about urban fantasy excites me. Imagine if Harry Potter grew up and roamed Muggle London, beating down magical creatures that threatened to expose the wizarding world to Muggles. That’s urban fantasy. And it’s awesome.

the_dresden_files_gm_screen_by_charro_art-dam61wj

Top Five Fandoms I’m No Longer In

I borrowed this topic from Thrice Read, who did it as part of their Top Five Wednesday theme. I loved the idea of talking about fandoms we’ve loved and abandoned, so here we go:

5. Harry Potter

harrypotterbook3

I started reading Harry Potter when book 4 came out. The controversy over them was raging, and I’d heard both sides of the argument pretty thoroughly. So I picked up the first Harry Potter and the first Redwall (both of which were very popular at the time). Harry was so much more fun than Redwall. My whole family really got into the Harry books, trying to guess what might happen next, trying to guess who the Half-Blood Prince might be, and so on. But after book 7 … I don’t know. I’m done. I still admire the books for being a great story, but that ship has sailed.

4. World of Warcraft

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I played WoW with my siblings from the first version onward through the first two expansions. I had a top-level character with epic gear, did Heroic Dungeons and raids … and then I burned out. I had babies and less and less free time. Then the fourth expansion came out, which changed the original game … and I don’t know. I never got into it after that. I still buy a month now and then, but it’s such a time sink, I just can’t get back into it.

3. Doctor Who

DOCTOR WHO *embargoed 19th March*

I watched a smattering of Doctors 9 and 10, but I started really watching it with 11. And, let’s face it, the story arc for 11 had some real high points. Trying to guess what River Song would do next, and if she would really kill the Doctor? And the whole arc with the Doctor trying to escape his own death at the hands of the Impossible Astronaut? Silence will fall? The crack in the wall? The Weeping Angels? Oh man, it was amazing.

Then the head writer started writing Sherlock instead, and the brilliance faded. The Eleventh Doctor kind of fell by the wayside, his series ending with a whimper. Then the Twelfth Doctor started up, and instead of the dignity I felt the Doctor should have, he was overly silly. I fell off the Doctor Who wagon and never got back on.

2. His Dark Materials

The-Golden-Compass

A friend gave me the first book when it was still called Northern Lights (it was changed to the Golden Compass later, which annoyed me, because the alethiometer wasn’t a compass). That first book was AWESOME. Then the second book came out, and it was … well, still good, but where was this all going? Then the third book came out. My friend and I read it … and we never spoke of it again. You don’t split up the main characters and take away their powers at the end, man. Growing up isn’t as horrible as all that. But this book makes adulthood into this horrible, horrible thing. Not to mention all the other … uh … issues this author seemed to have. We’ll leave it at that. Talk about disappointing.

Number 1: The Raven Boys.
ravenboys
I picked up the first book when it came out because I had liked Shiver so much and I wanted to read more of the author’s work. Raven Boys took me on a wild romp with preppy school boys, psychics, a treasure hunt, leylines, ghosts, and all kinds of fantastic magical realism stuff that flirted with real magic. The second book, Dream Thieves, was even better. Then the author started talking on Twitter about the directions she was taking the characters … directions I honestly didn’t think worked for the characters … and then book 4 came out .. and all I had to do was read the reviews. Very disappointed reviews. The big reveal was a bust. The big reversal was flubbed. It was like getting to the ending of LOST and going, “What, did the author run out of ideas or something?”

So there’s my top five no-longer-fandoms. How about you? Do you have any fandoms that you jumped into and then left later on?

Writing is hard (or why my brain is fried)

I’ve been working hard on the third Malevolent book, Malicious. I’ve almost finished this revision cycle, and the book is awesome. But man, it didn’t start out that way.

I wrote Malcontent and Malicious when I was pregnant with our youngest. She’s seventeen months old now, and I’m just now finishing revisions on Malicious.

Malcontent was easy to write. I knew the conflicts and the villain. But I didn’t know what the heck I was doing with Malicious. The villain changed, the conflict changed, my hero and heroine’s relationship changed. The first draft was me flailing around going, “What am I even writing?”

When I got to the end, the lights came on. I spent the whole book brainstorming my villain. Only when they defeated him did it finally click. Then I had to go back and rewrite swaths of the book to make the villain fit my new understanding. (And a book came out last year that did almost my exact same ending twist. :facepalm:)

So, after pass after pass after pass, the book is finally approaching readability. I’m confident that my editor won’t curl up in the fetal position now.

It’s so weird to finally be finished with this trilogy. I didn’t realize what a huge project it would be when I started out. “Hey, it’s only three books. No problem!”

News flash: writing books is hard. Especially if you want other human beings to read them.

So now I’m in that downtime between projects, unsure what to do with myself. This is compounded by summer vacation setting in. The kids don’t know what to do with themselves. I’m thinking we should sign up for the library’s summer reading program this year. Last year, when it started, the kids book section was empty. I couldn’t figure out why all the books were gone. Surprise! The summer reading program had kicked off. The books were all back a few weeks later.

I’m working through my own TBR pile. Amazing how stuff just accumulates in your Kindle–out of sight, out of mind. Right now I’m reading a shlocky, clunky space opera–but hey, it’s light. I’m also playing some Minecraft mod packs. Amazing how many story ideas you can get from those. Right now I’m learning Thaumcraft, a kind of crazy alchemy pack.

I’m going to read through my Spacetime series, correct the commas and make the dialogue funnier. Then I’ve got to write that fifth book, which is an epic boss fight that wrecks the worlds. I think I need to binge on superhero movies for this one.

Figuring out that Spacetime has more in common with superheroes than with real urban fantasy has been such a relief. Urban fantasy usually features a tough protagonist in an urban setting tracking down fairy tale monsters.

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Harry Dresden by theglyph

Superhero fantasy involves people with super powers fighting each other. While there can be monsters, they’re more the “victims of science” kinds of monsters. Genetically-engineered mutants, robots, that kind of thing. Superheroes also get away with having aliens. Urban fantasy? Not so much, unless it’s a Men in Black kind of thing.

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From Final Fantasy XV, which kind of blends superhero and UF, depending which game you’re playing

I also want to write more cozy dragon mysteries. They’re like curling up with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa. I’ve got a second one nearly finished. I want to write a third one where my little dragon sleuth is hired by a cat, who thinks her mistress has been murdered but can’t prove it. Because this whole series is one long wishful thinking about talking to animals.

So that’s my long ramble about the various projects I’m working on. How about you? Got any projects simmering away?

Love is the motive

I’ve been brainstorming up a new Sonic story. I write about one per year, and it makes my fans so happy.

Anyway, as I was figuring out the character arcs for everybody, it dawned on me that the root motive of every last character is some kind of love. And it’s funny, because it’s has almost no romance.

One character loves his sister with this obsession, because she was in stasis for years and has just recently awakened again. He’s extremely jealous of the other characters for having any contact at all with her.

The other characters are fond of the sister, except for one character, who falls in love with her magic. This is bad for him, because the magic is slowly killing him.

All of them love their home island, which has been stolen from them by the bad guy, and they’re struggling to get it back.

As I was pondering this, I started looking at other books. Who else is motivated by love? Harry Potter? (Love of friends and home.) The Railway Children? (Love of family.) Trumpet of the Swan? (Love of family.)

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It’s interesting, because I’ve also been plotting out murder mysteries for my dragon cozy series. Murderers are motivated by everything except love: lust, greed, jealousy, pride, anger, and so on. (Is sloth ever a motivation for murder? You’d think a slothful person would be too lazy to kill anyone.)

It’s interesting to see the way things turn out. A bad motive leads to evil actions. A good motive (like love) can lead to good outcomes, except when it doesn’t. (I’m thinking of the necromancer in Malevolent who is obsessed with resurrecting his dead wife.) Or when love of one’s country (patriotism) turns to frenzied conquering of the world.

But when you have selfless, sacrificial love, you get beautiful stories like Linnets and Valerians, which I just finished reading to the kids. Four children get caught up in a series of curses and black magic that surround this little English town. They have to break the curses with the help of friendly animals and good people, who are pitted against the evil animals and people. Their love has to overcome a bitter root of jealousy that has been there for years.

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I think the sacrificial love stories are the ones that stick with us the longest. That’s what makes a story beautiful. The nice thing is, it has nothing to do with romance. Oh, it works in romance, too, but love is so much bigger than that.

Villains can be motivated by love, too. Love of self is the easiest one–“I’m better than everybody else so I deserve better treatment/a better spouse/more money/to rule the world.” But what if a villain is motivated by love for a person? That’s why Mr. Freeze from Batman is one of my favorite villains. Everything he does is to try to save his wife, who is frozen in stasis with incurable cancer. The motivation there is fascinating.

So, next time you write a story, see if your characters are motivated by love in some way. Pay attention to movies and TV shows. Who is motivated by love, even if it’s twisted?

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Fire and Ice Cream – cooking in books

In his book On Writing, Stephen King observed that people love to read about work. That’s why Tom Clancy novels are thinly disguised manuals about how things work, yet people read them by the truckload.

The cozy mystery crowd is the same way. Is there knitting on the cover? There’d better be technical knitting stuff in the book. In one of my Facebook groups, a reader complained that Silence of the Flans didn’t actually have any flans in it.

When I read mysteries that involve the victim being poisoned via blueberry pie, I want to know about that pie. Did it have a normal crust? Or was it a Marie Calendars sour cream blueberry pie? Is there some twist to baking it, like all the tricks it takes to make a perfect cheesecake? How do you hide a bitter poison in a sweet confection, anyway?

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The cozy mystery genre is hot right now, but it’s been flooded by a lot of indies who don’t really understand the genre. They promise a culinary cozy, then the dessert in question is barely mentioned. Does the heroine run a cupcake bakery? Tell me about cupcakes. I want to know the sizes, the types of batter, the way the icing is piped. Does the heroine sell those tiny cups of frosting that were so popular a few years ago?

When I set out to write a culinary cozy with dragons, I picked ice cream, since it’s my favorite dessert. I love eating it and I love making it. In the book, the heroine debates things like almonds vs walnuts in rocky road. She constructs the perfect coffee ice cream.

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I looked up tons of recipes as I wrote. Having never made Rocky Road before, I checked that out. Turns out it’s a kind of frozen chocolate pudding with nuts and marshmallows folded in. I researched coffee ice cream. You make a custard with coffee in it, the higher quality, the better.

This book is packed with cooking. When the heroine isn’t interviewing people or eavesdropping on conversations, she’s mixing up ice cream or batches of brownies. At home she cooks breakfasts worthy of a restaurant.

Food is comforting. Eating it with friends is comforting. In all my books, across all genres, my characters experience downtime and safety with food. I guess I have too much hobbit in me.

My first dragon cozy, Fire and Ice Cream, launches today. I hope people like it, because I want to write twenty more of these. The characters are adorable and the mystery is fun to figure out. And there’s so much food.


fire-and-cre-cream-coverTianna Tokala is starting a new life in Carefree, Arizona, working in an ice cream parlor. She also has the magical ability to turn into a small dragon called a drake. All she wants is a quiet life where she can make ice cream with her wonderful ice breath.
But when her manager is found dead with a bowl of Tianna’s Rocky Road ice cream beside her, Tianna springs into action. With a knack for observation and her enhanced drake hearing, she delves into her manager’s smoky draconic past.
Aided by a secretive drake, a single mother, and a four-year-old dragon shifter, Tianna must unravel the web of lies that surround this dragonic death … or there may be more fire than ice cream.