Exordia: sci fi book review

I’m a bit late to the party, here–I was supposed to have this review up a few days ago so people could catch the preorder. But it took me a while to read the book … so here’s my review, late! On the plus side, it means you can grab the book and read it now. 😀

Here’s the info:


Exordia CoverSacrifices must be made.

On a desert planet, all citizens must cooperate to survive. The scientific organization, Pallagen, protects the colony city of Exordia–whether they want it or not.

Rebels must be broken.

Ex-Pallagen researcher Lena Ward isn’t going down without a fight. Her team of Exordia rejects is ready to pierce Pallagen’s benevolent exterior and expose the truth of their horrible agenda.

Loyalty must be programmed.

Amnesiac Alex Kleric is reclaiming her life as an Enforcer dedicated to Exordia and Pallagen. But the records aren’t jogging her memories. Something is wrong–and all questions point to Lena Ward and her underground rebellion.

Progress must continue.

To save Exordia. At any cost.


My review:

Oh my goodness, I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I picked it up expecting one more fast-paced techno-thriller with very thin character development. Oh, and dystopia, which I don’t like very much.

What I got was a fun, snarky, sci-fi adventure. The characters actually have downtime for development in between raiding labs and rescuing people. And when the action gets going, it REALLY gets going. The cities on this alien planet are fascinating, a little bit dystopia, but not too much. It kind of reminded me of Fifth Element with the Firefly characters running around in it. With River Tam, even!

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Anyway, this is a super fun book. Kind of soft sci-fi, because the hard science isn’t explained very much. It’s just a good, entertaining read.


Buy it on Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo

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Spring cleaning writer challenge and Joke de-recommendations

I was tagged by Jennette in the Spring Cleaning Writer’s Challenge. I thought it sounded like fun, so here we go! Mostly, it’s an excuse to talk about what we’ve been working on.

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1. Dust bunnies and plot bunnies: Reorganize your writing goals or make new ones.

My writing is kind of in limbo at the moment. I submitted a book to a publisher, and until I hear back yay or nay, I don’t know whether to dive into book 2 or wait to do revisions on book 1.

I did have two stories published in anthologies recently! I contributed a sci-fi story to an anthology themed around battles on Mars, and I contributed a story to a humorous fantasy anthology exploring how telepathy would be uncomfortable and full of too much information.

I also took a good, hard look at the four fanfics I recently finished. Aside from the characters, the worldbuilding and minor characters are mine, as well as the major conflicts and character arcs. So I’m in the process of changing the names and heavily revising them to turn them into fantasy. The premise is: Atlantis was a continent that sank centuries ago, leaving a chain of islands inhabited by people who salvage technology from the ruins. The heroes all have minor magic powers, and get mixed up with an Atlantean flying construct that they accidentally wind up being the crew of. Then they have to fight bad guys with it. It’s awesome.

2. Which stage am I at?

According to Deborah O’Caroll’s metaphor:
a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

Definitely the “polishing and scrubbing” part (editing). Editing all the things. The nice thing with these fanfics is that they’re completely finished, so I can go back to the beginning and put in all kinds of nice foreshadowing.

3. Treasure from the back of the closet: Snippet Love.

From my not-properly-named urban fantasy book, currently waiting in the slush pile at a publisher’s:


Indal’s ears were forward, like a friendly dog that had been out for a run. But as I stepped toward him, the ears flattened and his lips curled back from his fangs. Those teeth were like white knives. A growl rolled out of him that froze me in my tracks. He crouched, the muscles tensing as he prepared to spring.

I tossed the Hot Pocket.

The werewolf flinched backward. The Hot Pocket rolled across the leaves. He did a nervous sideways step and sniffed in its direction. It must have smelled good, because he stepped closer and sniffed it again. Then he ate it in two snapping bites, like he was starving. He returned his attention to me, licking his chops, ears forward again, probably hoping I had more.

Well, that was as far as my plan had gone. I was scanning the nearby trees for a branch I could grab, when the wolf made a funny sound. He moaned and licked his nose several times. He shook his head, pawed at his jaws, then slowly sank onto his side.

Xironi hadn’t moved from her place behind the tree. “What was in that Hot Pocket?”

I thought of the giant pill. “A sampler of all his new meds.”

She heaved a sigh of relief and exasperation. “One of those bottles was a tranquilizer.”

The wolf body began to shudder and shrink back into human form. Indal’s eyes were closed—I think he was already unconscious. His face was human before the rest of him was. I stood between him and Xironi, just in case he woke up and wanted fresh meat. But the drugs had knocked him out.

I exhaled, the tension in my muscles relaxing. “That worked well.”

Xironi walked up to stand beside me in her tiny nightgown. “You turned a Hot Pocket into a medication grenade.”

“I did have to bake it first,” I agreed.


3.5. Bonus: Do some actual spring cleaning of your writer self. (And share a picture!)

I’m sitting here sick and wondering how I’m going to clean house today, so no photos, please. :-p


I’m going to tag Bethany Jennings, H.L. Burke, and Janeen Ippolito!

Rules:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you
2. Share the picture
3. Answer the questions (naturally…) or even pick and choose which ones you answer
3.5. Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them (via comment/message/email or hey, even carrier-pigeon or smoke signal; I’m not picky)

Questions:

1. Dust-bunnies and Plot-bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)

2. Which Stage Are You At? Expound!

a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

3. Treasure From the Back of the Closet (Share one to three snippets you love!)

3.5. Bonus: Do Some Actual Spring Cleaning of Your Writer Self! (And share a picture!)


And now, for the second meme. RJ Conte did an April Fools joke on her blog where she de-recommended her own books. Like, humorously listing off why you don’t want to read them. I thought it was hilarious, so here’s my own books with the same treatment.

Turned: A werewolf love story. A couple of rich people get bitten by werewolves and become homeless. And they don’t even kiss! What kind of shifter romance is this?

The Bramblewood Werebear. A girl travels across the country to marry a rich dude who forgot to mention that he turns into a bear. And he’s feuding with werewolves. Again, no kissing! What a lame shifter romance this is!

werefox-artistic1fullsizeOutfoxing the Wolf. A werewolf prince uses a poor girl in an alchemy experiment and turns her into a werefox. They fall in love. Do they kiss? I don’t remember! What a terrible author I am, if I can’t remember things like that!

Malevolent. A guy who might be undead and has no emotions falls in love with a sick girl who is determined to prove that he’s a vampire. This book has a necromancer in it, and necromancers are evil, so DO NOT READ.

Malcontent. The guy and the girl now accidentally share a soul, whoops, how’d that happen? There’s a lot of gooshy romantic stuff that happens. And zombie dogs. And cats. Making animals into zombies is cruelty to animals! Not recommended! It’s probably that necromancer’s fault, anyway. Warning: kissing.

Malicious. The hero gets turned into a monster and the girl has to save him. There’s a small zombie apocalypse. This book is scary and dark and zombies are scary. Also there’s pretty hot kissing. Do not read under any circumstances.

Fire and Ice Cream. People only want to read cozy mysteries if they’re about witches! Who wants to read about a detective who can turn into a small dragon that breathes ice? Nobody, that’s who!

A stitch of honor. A short story about a space captain who knits scarves for his dying crew. This story is practically guaranteed to make you cry, so DON’T READ IT.

A kitsune and a dragon escape from a zoo. Nobody knows what a kitsune is, anyway.


And that’s it! A list of my books and stories and why you should avoid them!

Bad cozy mysteries are educational

Over the weekend, the kids and I hit the library. I’ve had a hankering for a nice, fun cozy mystery, so I browsed around and picked up one at random, pretty much because of the cover. I won’t give out the name of this unfortunate book to keep from embarrassing the author, but it’s probably nobody you know.

I started reading, and … well, oh my. It’s pretty bad when the detective commits almost as many crimes as the killer (and victim, in this case).

The premise is that the heroine runs a restaurant (like most culinary cozy heroines). She has the bad luck to find her shady business partner dead in the kitchen.

At this point, most books would go into the crime scene, the clues, all that jazz.

Not this one. The heroine and her sister grab the body and drag it into the alley behind the restaurant “so as not to ruin business”.

I was astonished at this, and utterly certain that this would come back to bite them. So I kept reading in suspense.

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Apple pie via Wikimedia Commons

The heroine’s lowlife sister steals the dead man’s wallet and goes on a shopping spree with his credit card, leaving a plain trail for the police. This puts the spurs to the heroine to solve the mystery before the cops close in.

Continually astonished at the stupidity of these characters, I kept reading, waiting for the hammer to fall.

The body disappears, then reappears in a lake up the road. The investigation begins. The heroine is sweating bullets. The suspense mounts. Clues contradict each other and many secrets come to life as the suspects sing like canaries. Typical mystery stuff.

And then … the killer is found. And for some reason, the cops stop asking questions about who moved the body, and they quietly stop investigating the credit card fraud.

WHAT.

I got all the way to the end.

No consequences for the heroine and her sister’s asinine actions. The police just drop everything. Tampering with a crime scene is a felony! Credit card fraud is a felony! There should have been some kind of repercussions, but … just … nothing.

I got on Goodreads and found that a lot of people threw the book at the wall over this. I also learned that in book 2, the heroine steals the victim’s car. So … I think I’m done with this series. The detective can’t run around committing crimes and getting away with it. If she’d had to pay a fine, at LEAST, I would have bought it. But … just getting away scot-free?

Let that be a lesson to you, authors. Don’t let your characters get away with anything. Let them make bad choices, sure, but then let the consequences come back to bite them. Otherwise, readers will be throwing your book at the wall and saying nasty things on Goodreads.

Here are some other cozies you should read instead:


Five books I’m looking forward to in 2018

It’s Valentine’s Day and I love is in the air! But I’m kind of tired of romance. So let’s talk about books we love!

Specifically, what books are you looking forward to this year? In between following various authors and getting to beta read new books, this year is shaping up to be a great year for books. Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:

1. Last Dragon Standing, by Rachel Aaron. Currently on preorder, this is the final book in the Heartstrikers series. The other books have names like Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another. They’re urban fantasy books in a world where magic suddenly appeared in our modern-day world. And dragons disguised as humans rose to become CEOs, world leaders, etc. Except for one, who doesn’t want to be a mean, nasty dragon. He wants to be nice. And his morals upset the entire dragon society. I’m totally looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.

2. Peace Talks, by Jim Butcher. This will be the 16th book in the Dresden series, I think. And I know nothing about it, except for a teaser chapter that was released about two years ago. Thanks for being so slow, publishing!

3. Janeen Ippolito’s new book in her Ironfire Legacy series. It’s about dragon shifters in a steampunk world. With airships. And weird cities. And secret societies. Book 1 ended right as the story was getting good, so I’m eager for the next installment.

4. The Scarred King by Josh and Lelia Foreman. I read the first book of this trilogy, and I’m ravenous for more. It starts out as Pacific Islander fantasy, with a hero who is sort of Maori, gets exiled from his homeland, and goes on an epic quest through fantasy lands via outrigger canoe. He’s also been so well trained at home that going to all these more European places, he’s like John Carter of Mars–he’s super strong and agile and can take on anybody. Along the way, he starts picking up magic items and making a name for himself by accident. There’s plenty of strange fantasy creatures, and fascinating political machinations. When this book launches, don’t miss it, because it’s mind-blowing.

5. Spicebringer, by H.L. Burke. A story about a sick girl who is trying to save the last tree sapling that grows the kind of spice that makes the medicine she needs. And she has a tiny fire lizard. That’s all I know about this book, but it sounds fun and I’m looking forward to it.

I think I read a lot of books with dragons in them.

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Heart of the Forest by morteraphan

So, what books are you looking forward to reading this year? I’ll do another post on my sadly neglected To-read pile. 😀

New book covers and stuff

I get quiet on this blog when I’m busy creating things. Here are some of the pretty things I’ve been working on:

I’ve been working on making new covers for my historical shifter stories. Aren’t they pretty? Much better than the terrible covers they had before. These are set in a fantasy world loosely based on the Regency period in England, so you have women in dresses and men in top hats drinking tea and sometimes turning into monsters. There’s romance, but no sex. Which is one reason I think they don’t sell much, ha! But I still love them all. And yes, they each feature a different kind of shifter. I still think the werefox is the most original (nothing like a good cup of tea to set you right!).

I’ve finally completed an audiobook of the second fanfic in the series I was doing. Here’s the first audiobook, and here’s the second one. I got a lot of advice on the first one, namely, “DON’T TALK SO FAST!” So I tried to slow it down a lot for this second one. I find that talking slower leads to a better performance, too. I’m sure there’s seasoned actors out there snickering at me for figuring this out. I feel like I’m slowly building up courage to record an audiobook of my original work.

In other news, I’ve been drawing a lot and writing a lot. It’s amazing how a nice, boring, routine life promotes a creative mind. The kids love being on a routine, because they always know what we’re doing next (even if it’s math).

I feel like I’m slowly coming out of this scary survival place where I’ve been hiding for the last decade. It’s hard to be creative when your brain is shut down in fear all the time. But things are stable, and I feel like I’m turning back into a human being again. All I want to do is create things. And you can tell, because look how pretty those new covers are!

Here’s a composite artwork I’m very proud of, too:

artemis-dream

This is me drawing a made-up Sonic character, then going crazy with Photoshop compositing and various special effects brushes. Oh yeah, those tutorials on matte painting are paying off.

The top five things I learned about marketing this year

Confession time: I didn’t actually do a lot of marketing this year. Not, like, real focused, aggressive advertising. What I did do was a lot of soft marketing–telling people that my books exist, mostly. I couldn’t afford to run ads in the big book newsletters, but I did try the Kobo advertising thing they have. Anyway, here’s some of the things I learned.

5. Kobo’s advertising is very interesting. Mostly because the international market doesn’t read the same things the American market reads. The American market devours weird things like urban fantasy and science fiction. The international market prefers contemporary romance or political thrillers. That’s what I see dominate their charts month after month. But I did manage to sell a few YA paranormal romance books with their ads, and their ads are pretty cheap (5 bucks for the basic one, as of this writing).

4. People like pretty pictures. If they’re pretty pictures that pertain to your books, so much the better. I observed this phenomenon with the launch of the Mortal Engines trailer. If you read the book description, it sounds like nonsense. “London is hunting again. Emerging from its hiding place in the hills, the great Traction City is chasing a terrified little town across the wastelands. Soon, London will feed.”

But you show them the artwork …

Mortal-Engines
Mortal Engines concept art

All of a sudden, we have a visual for a really amazing setting.

3. Fire and Ice Cream was picked for the Fellowship of Fantasy book club last year, and it got a ton of reviews. Not all of them favorable, either, ouch! But hey, readers say they’re suspicious if a book has only good reviews. Long story short: book clubs are awesome. But go into it with thick skin, because if your book has a flaw, it’s going to be chewed over with delight by the readers.

2. Keep writing books. Every time I launch a book, people go, “Oh yeah, she writes books, doesn’t she?” And I sell a few of everything. And only go Amazon exclusive if you’re in one of the weird niche genres that sells a lot on Kindle Unlimited. If you’re any of the big general genres, like mystery, go wide on all the retailers. You never know where your readers are lurking, and Kobo’s reader is waterproof, so maybe they’re in the bath!

1. Be enthusiastic. If you’re writing and talking about what you’re writing and being excited, it gets people interested. I discovered this to my chagrin while working on a fanfic. When I described it as “Beauty and the Beast with Serenity’s ending”, I had all kinds of people sitting up and taking notice. Too bad it was only a fanfic–the plot really was that good. So my next book, I’m going to come up with all kinds of little hooks and pitches for it. And I’m going to talk about it a lot.

I followed a blogger one time who had a concept that totally fascinated me. I stalked her for two years until her book launched so I could read it. And really, isn’t this cover just intriguing?

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By the way, see what I mean about really good artwork selling the story?

So those are the five things I learned about marketing this year. It doesn’t have to be huge glamorous things like book signings and pestering bookstores to carry your book. It can be simple little things like saying, “Hey guys, I have a book out. Think it’s something you might like to read?”

Choosing a word for the year

I don’t think I ever picked a word for last year. I was looking over my resolutions post from last year, and I seem to remember that it was something like Fun or Moving Forward.

This year, my word is Steadfast. It goes along with this Bible verse:

Hebrews 10: 35-36: Do not, therefore, fling away your [fearless] confidence, for it has a glorious and great reward. For you have need of patient endurance [to bear up under difficult circumstances without compromising], so that when you have carried out the will of God, you may receive and enjoy to the full what is promised. 

This year, I’m going to keep on keeping on.

Last year, I was trying to take my art in new directions, trying out streaming with my husband, trying out new school things for the kids. Over the course of the year, what I discovered is that simplicity works best. When it comes to school, a pile of workbooks and read alouds has been great for us. I’ve found some holes in my kids’ education, and we’ve been fixing those this year. It’s been great to have that focus.

Streaming fell by the wayside when we found out that we don’t have the hours and hours of free time necessary to make streaming work. We’ve just been playing games together for fun. Same effect, less stress.

Books published last year were books 2 and 3 of the Puzzle Box trilogy, and the first book of a paranormal cozy mystery with dragons. I also made the decision to unpublish the Spacetime books and completely redo them from scratch. I was still learning when I wrote them, and they were pretty much an unreadable mess.

I also wrote two book-length fanfics toward the end of the year. I just couldn’t get the stories out of my head, and I was very pleased at the way they turned out. It also showed me that it’s better to write for fun than to try to write for money. I’ve been so money-focused for so long that I lost track of the fun. And my writing wasn’t very fun to read. So this year, I’m going to try to balance my writing with more fun. I want to dare to dream and experiment and write crazy things.

I do have the new first Spacetime book in revisions, as well as the second dragon cozy. I’m looking forward to publishing those in the early part of this year, before summer, probably. After that, I want to take a crack at writing a stand-alone fairytale fantasy. Kind of Sleeping Beauty meets Howl’s Moving Castle. Since it’s barely in the concept stage right now, I have no idea if that will be out this year or next. I’ve observed that fairytale fantasies tend to balloon to massive length their authors didn’t intend.

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Howl’s Moving Castle from the Studio Ghibli film

If you followed my blog last year, you saw all these little discoveries and growing pains. I want to thank you deeply for coming back and reading my strange little scribblings. I now have more blog followers than I’ve ever had before, and I’m excited and humbled to see you all.

I also want to blog more regularly–once a week, if possible. And good pithy topics. It’s hard to be pithy once a week, but it’s a good goal to have. Let’s see if I can’t knock the chupacabra blog post off the #1 spot for the year.

A sense of wonder

David Farland says that all stories need the following beats in varying amounts: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama. Depending on the genre, you might have more suspense or more romance, more humor or more horror.

One that I enjoy and don’t find very often is the sense of wonder.

Dave Farland gives the reason for this.

When you’re a child—between the ages of 0 and 11—you’re in what I will call the “discovery” phase of life, a time when much of the world seems strange and new to you. In some ways, the world seems boundless, because every time that you turn around you learn about some new wonder or some new region of the world that you have never heard about. And so children in that age are predisposed to what I, and a few others, call “wonder literature.”

In wonder literature, the main emotional draw (outside of the essential story itself) is typically that it arouses a sense of wonder. Hence, stories set in fantastic settings are extremely interesting to children. But when you encounter something new—say a new animal—there is more than one possible outcome to the encounter.

1) The encounter can in some way be more satisfying than you had imagined. (In which case a sense of wonder is aroused.)

2) The encounter can twist away from your expectations in a way that is neither wondrous nor terrible. (In which case a laugh is usually evoked.)

3) The encounter can be more painful or traumatizing than you had imagined possible. (In which case terror or horror are aroused.)

Because of this young readers, by virtue of age alone, are biologically predisposed to be drawn to works of wonder (fantasy or science fiction), humor, and horror. Those are the largest draws for them.

Source

Maybe it’s because I have kids in this age range who are really into wonder literature, but I like it, too. I want some wonder mixed into my mystery or romance or fantasy. Something new and unexpected that makes me sit up and go, “What is this? Tell me more!”

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Saggitarius by Sandara. What is this?? A sci-fi faun??

One of my favorite things in urban fantasy is when a myth, creature, or historical period is given a new twist. A Minotaur who has become a Buddhist? The conquistadors used black magic to subjugate the Native Americans? The number of people who disappear every year are the same percentage as herd animals eaten by predators? Hitler was a werewolf? TELL ME MORE.

I love this genre because it’s fantasy, mystery, wonder, and drama all in one package. Its also a very glutted genre, full of copycats. Like a copy machine trying to copy a copy of a copy, about all that’s left is the darkest of the lines. Urban fantasy has gotten darker and grittier, the detectives ever more hard boiled, the monsters ever more nonsensically sexy. Lighter strokes, like wonder and humor, have fallen by the wayside. The humor has become darker and meaner.

Yesterday I was clicking through a promotion page of urban fantasy books on sale. They went like this:

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The art of Don Dos Santos for the novel Black Blade Blues

A woman/man has fire magic/is half-demon/is a vampire/is a dragon/is some other magical creature. They have just moved to a new city/lost a job/broken up with a partner. Then an assassin finds them/they find a mysterious magical item/they are hired to find something/kill someone. But that mission will damn the main character/empower the villain/doom the world.

Dozens of books. Same plots. Same characters. Maybe the summaries were bad at conveying what made their books unique? But there’s no hint at wonder, or fun, or the other experiences I want from this genre.

When I wrote the Malevolent books, my goal was to invert the expectations of vampire romance novels. I lampshaded the heck out of the tropes, sort of like elbowing a friend and going, “She’ll never figure out he’s a vampire! Eh? Eh?”

As I’m rewriting this new Spacetime book, I’m kind of doing the same thing. Sure, James and Indal are running around Phoenix and hitting clubs. They’re also exploring a mysterious island in a pocket dimension that exists on the other side of a door in James’s apartment. The island keeps spawning new terrain–mountains, forests, monoliths, and so on. There’s a huge silver disc-clock-thing that changes when the island does. The bad guys are very interested in it, but the heroes have no idea what any of it does. The island and its secrets will drive the whole series.

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A very early conceptual version of the disc, made by me.

This concept intrigues me. It fires up my sense of wonder. I want to know what will appear on the island next, what new wonders or dangers the heroes will encounter. Sure, there’s the usual urban fantasy trappings–werewolves, demon satyrs, vampire elves, protagonists who kid around and make jokes. The whole package all together is like candy to my brain.

I’m going to send the first chapter to my newsletter subscribers on Friday. If you’d like a sneak peek, sign up! I’m trying to ramp up my newsletter, turn it into a fun thing to read. I’ll include pretty art and progress reports on how writing is going, as well as exclusive sneak peeks.

You guys can also help me pick a title, since I have no idea what to call this book. The working title is Island of Elements, but that’s more of a series title than an individual book.

How about you? What flavors do you prefer in your books: wonder, humor, horror, adventure, romance, mystery, suspense, and drama?

The phoenix in urban fantasy

The phoenix is a mythical bird that dies in fire and is reborn from the ashes. It’s pretty well known as fantasy creatures go. There’s one in Harry Potter, for example, so of course everybody knows them.

I’m plotting a book where the hero has to stop an evil phoenix from stealing a magical artifact of some kind. Since I’m writing urban fantasy, the phoenix will be human-shaped most of the time, the way vampires, werewolves, and most other monsters appear human until pressed. That’s no problem–I’m having so much fun dreaming up powers for him to use against the hero. Bad guys are fun.

The trouble is, I’m not sure a phoenix can actually be killed. That’s their shtick–they resurrect. So I went poking around to find out more about the original myths.

phoenix_by_ei_en-d4fe5hn
Phoenix by NekroXIII

1. They seem to originate in ancient Egypt and Phoenicia. The bird was said to be the same rich purple as the expensive dyes the Phoenicians produced. They were the bennu bird, some kind of stork or heron.

2. In Egypt, the phoenix worked like the dung beetle. After it was reborn, it gathered up its parents’ ashes and carried them to Heliopolis in a ball plastered with myrrh. (Source: Wikipedia)

3. It’s a symbol of peace and prosperity. They’re always considered a good omen, or a symbol of a benevolent god of some kind.

4. When they burned up, it was always on fragrant wood, like cinnamon twigs, so a burning phoenix was basically incense.

The death and rebirth of the phoenix is part of the myth. I don’t think they could be killed permanently, but then, they were considered good luck and I don’t think people killed them anyway.

So, as I’m planning my story, I’m wondering if I should bother having the hero trying to kill a phoenix. They only come back. Maybe have the phoenix be a recurring character in other books? (“That annoying phoenix guy, back again from the dead!”) Should the phoenix not be a bad guy at all, but rather be working for the Greater Good, but with goals that go against the hero’s? (Like stealing magical artifacts.)

I needed ideas, so I went and hunted around for other urban fantasy books that feature phoenixes. These are the ones I grabbed samples for.

The Nix series by Shannon Meyer. Girl with phoenix powers fights the oppressive bad guys, mafia, other magic users, and has her family slaughtered in the first chapter of book 1. Eh. Not really what I want to read right now.

Souls of Fire by Keri Arthur. Girl is a phoenix, but the worldbuilding is set up in such a way that she always has to have at least two lovers. Eh. Infidelity doesn’t strike me as an outstanding character trait. Pass.

Phoenix Blood (Old School series), by Jenny Schwartz. A girl with the power to find things runs into her old flame (ha ha!) who has phoenix fire in his blood and a week to live. I kind of liked the setup for this one. The reviews say that it’s not over-the-top with bedscenes, and the hero and heroine are “emotionally mature adults”. I’m down with adult characters who act like adults without panting after each other all the time.

I’m seeing lots of other books, like book 3 in a series, that features a one-shot phoenix character. I don’t want to have to read a whole series to understand it, though. I’m also seeing some YA and epic fantasy with phoenixes, but they use the actual bird. I kind of wanted the humany kind.

Any suggestions of books to try? Or suggestions of how to write a humany phoenix in a way that makes sense?

 

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?