Category Archives: books

Next Big Thing

My friend Chris McMahon asked me if I’d be prepared to do this. To help him out, I agreed. Now I just don’t do chain letters and this one has reached its end, anyway. I asked around. Everybody willing I that knew or at least could think of had done so. But by all means, volunteer.

Update: ha, a volunteer – due next Wednesday… Pam Uphoff

1) What is the working title of your next book?

‘current book’ (yes, that is what it is saved under). At the moment one is called CHANGELING’S ISLAND. The other is called Fred. Yes, two books at once. No, this is not a good thing.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

From my head. From that empty resounding space which should be full of folded grey muck called brain. Where do you get yours from? Those delightful people who write to you and say: ‘I’ve got a great idea for a story. You write it and we’ll split the money.’ ? Trust me on this one, this is not wise. CHANGELING’S ISLAND is the result of reading AGAINST PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, talking to an abalone diver about his one-time deckie, a person with aboriginal heritage, reading that many of the sealer-settlers here were in fact Celtic/Scots Irish islanders themselves, and that a belief in the second sight is widely held here. Put that into a fantasy-writer’s anti-computer AKA head, and the story had to come out. Fred is a result of cockatrice and a woman scorned and the unification of Italy… Okay so maybe I need to get out a bit more.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It does not fall. It stands. Fights back. Resists to the last word. CI is probably going to be labelled as anti-urban Fantasy, and possibly as YA. Fred is Alternate history meets fantasy, have a passionate affair and Fantasy is left with a very odd love-child.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Aaaaaaaaaaaaagh! Should I run screaming into the night? Personally I favor Sylvester Stallone as the little grandmother, DiCaprio as my braces-on-her teeth heroine, and Julie Andrews to play my 15 year old sulky city brat boy hero, Brad Pitt ideal for the decayed corpse in a hole in chapter three, and Chuck Norris as the mermaid… Look, this is a BAD mistake. Never do this, or you tie your characters to known and narrow values, making it a lot harder for people to identify with them, and put their OWN characteristics into that frame.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Phttt! (If a book fitted into one sentence, why write a book? And yes, I am a professional, done a lot of books.)

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
One’s on contract, the other will go to my dear long-suffering Agent Mike Kabongo

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Long did I labor, and burned much midnight oil… Which manuscript? I’m still busy. It takes anything from 4 weeks to 4-5 months. Now stop bugging me.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It’s like the Bride of Frankenstein meets the Eye of Argon with a dash of added Blathering Heights and a lot of the Cat-in-the-Hat! (Ergo, it isn’t. Like the crocodile, it is like itself. And the tears of it are wet. It is vaguely like other Dave Freer books, in that sense of humor and ethos are similar. If you like his books, you’ll like the next one.)

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The thought of living in a cardboard box under a bridge. I only look like a troll. Shrug. I am writing Fred for that reason, anyway. CI is a book which may well be unpublishable, in that it’s as un PC as ever I am (Yes, I did write the Bolg, PI: Wolfy Ladies (Bolg PI)
stories) Shrug. Idealism I suppose. Wanting to tell a story where being human counted not being a ‘designated victim’. Wanting to have a COUNTRY story instead yet another urban one. Wanting the values of people I considered quality, reflected as worth having.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Um. I’m sure there must be something. Really…
The author might have a sense of humor.
I think.

Anyone wishing to be tagged to answer this rather insipid lot of predictable questions… write to me. Maybe you can make your replies more entertaining than mine.


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Character Building

Back when I was a gossoon, and the world was yet young and unformed in places, whenever your parents, teachers etc wanted you to do a spot of septic-tank diving or eating earthworm-spaghetti in the ante-chamber of hell, or to take a long swim in water that could freeze impure thoughts solid and leave you singing falsetto for six months, they’d tell you it was ‘character building’. I don’t know if this is an expression elsewhere, but in Darkest Africa, it was used often. Let me assure you all that if I had to get post-facto planning permission for my character, it would make several major national bureaucracies explode. It’s almost worth it. I have a character, as a result of their well-meaning efforts, slightly larger than Pangea, and incorporating architectural styles from Aztec to Zorasteran, and all possible intermediates.

In their generous fashion the Army, South Africa, migration, and the publishing world have done their very best to continue this good work. I only have something to do with the last part now, and really, I appreciated your efforts, but you can stop now. Let’s try doing things the easy, pleasant, highly rewarding way… just so I can experience that too.

Being possibly slightly biased, I think this has made me into an interesting (if confused and confusing) character, except when I have had three glasses of wine and start droning on about fisheries management, stats and the philosophical underpinnings of politics, at which point I can put hyperactive two-year olds to sleep and wildly cast nasturtiums (or whatever other delicate blossom comes to hand, like cauliflower) about the ancestry of politicians and fisheries scientists. Do not give me wine.

And from this I wanted to extend the would-be writer’s thoughts into that job some of us do, and some of us just make as we go along. Being fluent liars – that’s what fiction is, after all – we’ll probably deceive you about how we slaved over the hot keyboard to do this, even if we didn’t. But it is worth thinking about. We read about a character, and not, in most instances, a plot, or the gifted beauty of the prose (well, yes, but look at the fact that most modern literary fiction sells 3 copies to people who aren’t pretentious enema-orifices, and there is a fairly limited supply of the latter, as the sequential disease-vectors for this unpleasant complaint are the soy-latte, Voltaire and the vegan leather leather boot, and most people are sensible enough to avoid at least one of those.) We read about character… because: 1)We can identify with them. 2)They are amusing, different, interesting.

You simply can’t always do the first. My politically incorrect hero PI Bolg,
is difficult for anyone to identify with. Well, perhaps aspects of him. I am sure there are some of you who are 4’7″. I am sure some of you are blue. I know for a clearly established fact that some of you are contrarian, and have enough attitude to stop a herd of charging buffalo in their tracks. But my point is Bolg is an easy character to make interesting. He’s had many lifetimes of character building. Most of the time we simply don’t have that luxury. And if we’re to follow that excellent piece of advice – write about something you know about (or at least something about) – one’s characters can end up well, like us. Which is tough (and rather obvious) if you’ve lived a sheltered life and are a young writer (or even an older writer who has a great imagination and yet has a fairly safe, comfortable life. You’re a cubicle geek from the software industry and the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you is a FEMA official looking at you funny (Yes, there is a real author rather like this).) You can write characters other cubicle geeks love, and there are a lot of them to buy your books. You can make my eyes glaze over. Or you can step out of your known.

Of course, the joy – or trial – of being an author is that you don’t have to restrict yourself to experience. No, I cannot be female and give birth. I cannot be a skin color I am not, or an orientation I not. Trust me, most female fantasy writers couldn’t possibly deal with the life-threatening, often acrobatic and deadly adrenalin fueled hell-scenes they write either. Most male ones or sky-blue pink and polka-dot skinned ones cannot write about medieval torture and the emotions of crusaders or harlots from experience either. What they, and you, can do is to build that character – and if they do it well, build it with foundations of your experience and observation of real people, re-enforcing of research, bricks of building it up gradually (that interesting character does not arrive fully formed and deep without this. You get cardboard cutouts, all very well for demonizing political opponents, but useless for enveloping readers). He wasn’t always the finest swordsman outside France. Once he was the finest boxing champion of kindergarten, for three years. And before that he was the kid they laughed at for wetting his pants. This shapes and forms that building. And then there is mortar. And the author only has one kind of mortar, and that is imagination and real empathy, the ability to see himself, standing there with a dark stain spreading from his crotch down his pale blue trouser legs while the other kids giggle and point. To burn from the scolding and to cringe with the embarrassment that shaped that brick.

And then finally… there is the plaster-work. And that is confidence and panache. Cough. Many is the author who has hidden lousy character structure under this. You can get away with it too.


Until you don’t and the whole book collapses like streets of cheap clapboard or dominoes when the reader jars on one of those weak characters.

The other route – which is particularly favored for coming of age novels is of course to write those bricks and mortar. It’s easier. But the books still usually call for the same things.

So: Okay. your turn. Let’s talk about characters where, although you did not see the building, you were sure the author had built them, not just taken prefab units for their book?

cross-posted at Mad Genius Club


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Amazon have got over their snit about someone (presumably an illegal fileshare) offering some of Eric and my shorts and novellas. So they’re back up on Kindle. Shortly we will I hope, start with Smashwords and become available on other platforms. B&N, Apple etc.

This story has, oddly been about our best selling, ahead of the the first RATS BATS & VATS prequel novella

And a long way ahead of the novella in the RBV universe, intended as a start to a new novel (which I still want to do)

And streets ahead of the short set Misty Lackey’s bards universe

It’s interesting that, without a major novel on offer yet (there is the YA WITHOUT A TRACE)

That Kindle and Smashwords are now providing 5% of my income. This is more of a comment about how utterly dismal my income from all the 17 novels is, than how wonderful indy is, I am afraid. But still, it’s very welcome. Hopefully I’ll be adding to it.

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The treatement and cure for Nasty Bloodsucking Parasitic Parrots

Whenever people talk about politics they seem to get bogged down in minutiae. Let’s step back and look at what politics is, and why it exists at all.

It should be obvious looking at the root of the word – poly as many (or a badly spelled parrot) and tics as in involuntary jerks or spasms or possibly badly spelled nasty blood-sucking parasites. Now that we understand this our grasp of the antics of politicians is suddenly much more clear. But besides producing many nasty parroting blood-sucking parasitic people who can’t help being jerks, the purpose of politics is to decide on governance. On who controls and orders society (or a part of it) – AKA government.

Now let’s look at the purpose of government – besides providing an environment for nasty bloodsucking parasitic parrots – AKA NBPP. As far as the NBPP are concerned that is its first and foremost purpose. Never forget this. It is key to our understanding and getting the best out of them. Of course originally back in the high and far off times (more recently for me than most of you, which is why I remember it so clearly, when we were still monkeys) Government outside of the family group arose from the need to defend ourselves from the bigger family next door – otherwise they were inclined kill the males, eat them, and take the females to breed with and eat their food. And as offense made your family bigger, to organize raids on suitable targets for the same. It is questionable whether at its core government has changed much from this. Of course some bright monkey figured two families could do better together against a third and thus the arms race was born, leading to where we are now. Several sf authors have suggested that what we need is a common enemy…

Back in those days the organizing was done by the biggest nastiest monkey in the troop, and his camp followers – who because they got eat better and get eaten less, which is a serious advantage. It was mostly done by bite and swat, but also with reward or offers thereof. At the top it was almost inevitably male because they’re bigger and nastier. Once again, none of this has changed much, and maybe we need to think about changing it.

This led to autocrats – kings, Chieftains – with their clique of courtiers/ elders / camp followers running the show, with for solid genetic reason said head honcho doing his level best to put his bloodline on top and keep it there. The same applied to courtiers/camp-followers, who wanted that privilege for their genetic heritage – or the head honcho’s job. And thus was born the system of NBPP. Remembering this – they’re fighting for the top job, or at least to be in camp-followers, not you, or the people or society. What they did – be it get the ordinary folk to build a stockade together or harvest together (which would benefit all of them, was – no matter what bullshit they came up with (AKA rewards and offers thereof, offers being cheaper and easier) was to keep themselves at the top. Over time the offers got bigger, and sometimes even partially fulfilled, but bite and swat got moved up to a lot worse too.

In conflict with all this (and this is at the root of modern democracy was a set of behaviors as old or older, ‘fair’ (which is not ‘equal’ but meritocratic. That can be equal, but isn’t always.) which all social species need to some extent to survive. It’s well recorded and demonstrated among various monkey species, and obviously ties into an earlier evolved concept – reciprocity (which we can see in all sorts of species – where they figure doing X will get you Y and somewhere the leap got made – if you want Y do X. It’s a vast leap. Many people still haven’t got it, proving Border Collies are a lot smarter than they are. That’s why I made one the hero in Dog and Dragon – but that is another matter. Obviously most of politics and governance isn’t ‘fair’ and all sorts of deceptions are employed to try and make it look like it is – be it ‘by divine right’, or ‘the people elected me’. It’s only when these fail and it looks like the head honcho and his camp-follower courtiers might find themselves first course in the new tribal feast (or at least deposed or dead), that NBPP start on horse-trading towards a fair deal. Being the nice people they are that often comes down to ‘we’ll make you junior camp followers, and give you pretties (less than we give ourselves, but more than we give other people who want us for entrees) if you keep the would-be chefs off our throats. Occasionally it rises above this to make things more fair and meritocratic, but not if they can avoid it. The system is evolved to not select that kind of leader or courtiers.

Governance, to my jaundiced eye, is best viewed as an eternal conflict between the general populace seeking a fairer more meritocratic system and the NBPP wanting to keep themselves where they want to be. All systems of government derive from this.

Over time, as some of us moved from monkey to less monkey, and the groups of families grew bigger all of this got more and more complex, and we lost sight in the trees of the wood, we did try various options on this. The Greeks from which we draw much of Western Civilization tried a fair number – feudal, dictatorship, military repression, qualified democracy (no slaves or women need apply), timocracy (read PYRAMID SCHEME). (Sf tried a few more. Sprauge de Camp and Heinlein particularly spring to mind. Had to love de Camp’s ideas, the drunken council and sober council being one I found delightful. It seems to have died out, with only socialism and condemnation of what is called capitalism and a few autocratic theocracies, getting a look in now. Oh and space-faring heriditary autocracy (Some, as in Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves have basis in logic. Others are fantasy dressed up as sf, and delusions of what nobility and empire are.)

Modern Democracy rests on an equal right to vote – conflating equal with ‘fair’ and allowing no measure of merit. It’s obviously a bit of a con, because even monkeys have no trouble getting the concept of merit not always meaning equal. But it’s better than the autocracy (which, by in large is the alternative. If we ever got enough space to be safe from being dinner, anarchy has merits. Socialism BTW is a con job, purporting to be more fair by apportioning reward more equally but sans merit (unless you are one NBPP in which case the rewards are much bigger. Surprise).

What obviously is wrong with democracy is that it is viewed by so many as an end point. One simply has to look at our elected leaders (pick one, any one) and realize that if this is an end point, it surely doesn’t work that well.) And by so many as a one way street. You get a vote by being a citizen (or pretending to be one) – not something which required much merit if you were born there. And as party democracy has largely degenerated into lobby groups and pretties for camp-followers… which usually boils down to we’ll take from those who aren’t in our camp and thus do better (which, surprise, is back where it all started.)

Hmm. As I wrote in STARDOGS the logical answer is surely to accept that government and those in it will always become principally self-serving and for the benefit of government. The only way to win in the sense of a fairer more meritocratic system that benefits the society and not just the government… is to make Government’s reward directly the result of doing a better job. One of my friends suggested that democracy should have an entry and exit poll with the electorate being able vote for the departing polly and the number of votes = bonus. But that would still come down to hand out the pretties to as many as possible, by taking from who wouldn’t vote for you anyway, rather than necessarily any improvement in the society. Some kind of short and long term reward which is not just based on popularity but hard metrics. For instance a basic salary based on the MEDIAN per capita GDP, and a bonus -or clawback – based on the difference between start time and now. And for a long term effect you could make that affect their pension. Obviously these things have no impact on multi-millonaires going into the process or on them getting kickbacks or sweetheart directorships or jobs afterwards from lobbyists etc. So you’d have to deal with that. The other issue, of course, is making the voters liable in some way for the action of their representative. You’d think a lot more carefully and vote a lot more thoughtfully, if you personally would carry either a profit or loss from it. And then there is the question of merit – we need universal suffrage… but are all votes really equal? Is the vote a reward, or a duty, or a punishment? Maybe 1 vote basic, a second for those who have served the community/society? Maybe another for… I don’t know, paying taxes. Philanthropy. Tertiary education? And becoming a five vote person recognized with a title of some sort, or better pension or tax break or something, making it a measure of merit to be striven for.

This is what sf ought to be exploring in the future worlds we write about. Not the stale stuff.


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A turn of phrase…

Ok every now and agan I write something that so appeals to my twisted sense of humor/literature, that I want to read it to someone else, immediately. This is in reference to Black Guiletto whoowns and runs a coffee shop in Bolg stories.
I noticed Guiletto hovering in the background, a tray in his hands. He doesn’t do ‘hover’ any more than blue whales do.

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Clearing the decks for action

Isn’t odd how like army a writer’s life is? Long periods of nervous waiting. Then ‘hurry up we want it yesterday.’  You can also guarantee this will happen just when everything else does. I am now expecting the editorial notes for CUTTLEFISH  soon. Tomorrow, or the next couple of days.  And no doubt they’ll want them back sooner… And I need to do this as I have other books to write. But… we have a filk harpist coming over on the ferry to visit with her harp, for a week, and my friend Peter coming over to open Aladdin’s cave… uh, his container which has just shipped over (which has 50kg of flour, rice, oats, polenta, oil and a slew  of other dry good he’s kindly bringing over for me, and new tires for the ute – which I have to service and replace those at latest next week.)  And the weather looks to be improving (so our fish stocks – which are getting low need replenishing. We manage to live on my income, by growing it, catching it or making it ourselves) .

So today I cleared the decks.  I find the state of my office has a huge impact on my productivity (possibly more effect than cause. When you’re depressed you couldn’t be bothered to tidy it.) I reach a point where I simply can’t live any clutter any more. And sorting it out IS good for me and my mind.  Oddly it helps to fix stories too.

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Collaboration, economics and a general grump

So I just got what to my enormous relief is the last of edits for the three way Heirs books (I write the first drafts and they go to the co-authors, before coming back to get a final edit). It’s a relief that its the last, but I really don’t even want to look at the unpleasant vast amount of work I know will be involved.  I have one more book to do in this universe, but it’s with Eric, who is a good structural editor,  and knows a great deal about writing.  He also is meticulous about his homework – you won’t have to fix myriad continuity errors and he gets the history right.  He’s also really good about consulting.  Obviously I want to do books on my own,  firstly because they’re mine, and secondly for financial reasons. Eric and I split the advance 50:50, but Mercedes took 50% and we got 25% each — which doesn’t actually reflect the work (by word count I’ve done 75-98% of the books, and for the all bar the first had barely any prior outline above a 1/4 page – which I wrote) or by adding another 50% onto the sales.  It’s not worth it, and to get 2% of the cover price of a paperback I won’t do it again.  Well… not unless someone came up with a truly vast advance. I suppose for  1/4 of a million dollars – which would replace (it’s a lot more expensive here) the home and farm we had to sell to emigrate and to move ourselves and the dogs and cats.  That would leave me in a position to say that I will only self-publish e-books thereafter, and if people want to read my books, well and good. Right now, it’s take a full-time day job (there is a possibility) and cut back on the writing hugely, or continue to try and build the e-books and make a little from traditional publishing. Traditional publishing and distribution and bookselling have certainly made enough from me, for which, partly because of collaboration, and partly because of  authors getting a very small share of gross, I haven’t seen much.  For example, Shadow of the Lion has paid royalties, but my advance was $7500.  In the end I have about doubled that… Not bad for a book that grossed  more than 2/3 of a million – for the rest of the chain. I worked out the other day that by now ‘my’ books have grossed over 3 million dollars. For the last ten years of average 14 hour days (to take out the advances and books that are still forthcoming)… I’ve earned 124K.  I know.  That’s  their gross earnings. They still have costs, you say… Yes, that’s what is usually  ignored in these assessments:  it’s their gross, against my gross.  And when you look at their costs a small part of that is paper and print. The rest is premises, staff and equipment… which are my expenses too.  I know. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else. I chose to become an author, and I enjoy doing what I do.   I still love it, but this can’t continue.  I need to start earning a living, or start doing something else and writing as an occasional hobby.

Which is why I am pushing hard to sell some e-books.  To make a web presence. Because I want to write, and I want to be able to.


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