When Your Children Turn On You

Heartbreak … it’s inevitable in this life.

Muse: Unless you’re a pyschopath.

Are you implying something?

Muse (whistling innocently): No, not all.

When I think about heartbreak, I think about disappointment, but magnified. Most folks have experienced it at some point, whether it’s the job you didn’t get, the prize you didn’t win, or that time the Covid shutdown kept you from that dream vacation you’d been planning for years. The worst instances, though, are the ones between people.

So I should I be surprised one of my characters broke my heart?

In a short story I am currently writing, I had a plan for the plot right from the beginning. Point A to Point B, to Point C, and so on, all the way to Point Z, the story’s close. Somewhere around Point Q, I had one of the main characters do something absolutely devastating to the protagonist.

That was the plan, anyway.

The problem is, as I started writing this story, I became invested in the arc between the protagonist and this other character. I was not only enjoying their interactions and their relationship, I was also starting to like the other character. I began thinking of them as a co-protagonist. And then I reached that point in the story.

And I froze up.

I didn’t want the character to do that horrific action any more. Was it consistent with their personality? Yes, basically, since they were someone who acted out of anger without thinking things through. Was this bad deed consistent with the rest of the plot? Yeah—it was pivotal, in actuality. But I didn’t want that character to do it anymore. I had grown to like them, you see, and the idea of a character I like following through with the planned action made me uncomfortable.

I scoured my brain, looking for a way out. Sure, there are things I could write in place of that event that would be less ugly and make the character look better. But anything I could think of would have soft-pedalled the conflict. Without that terrible issue between the protagonist and the character to resolve, the emotional impact of the story’s peak would have been diluted, lessened.

* * * * *

Some authors and readers would argue that the author is in total control of what happens on the page. I agree to a point. In a logical way, I think that’s correct. Rational thought serves humanity very well when it comes to day-to-day living and making life-altering decisions. The people who navigate these things the best are usually the ones who apply reason and common sense.

But art is not about logic. Creating a story is not about logic, at least not one-hundred percent. There is a lot of emotion tied up in it and emotion, simply-put, isn’t logical. When we talk about something being a “passion” or a “labor of love,” we’re not talking about being rational. We’re pouring our joy, angst, excitement, and despondency into our creations.

In short, we’re making them human.

And I think we’re built to be attracted to other humans. I don’t mean sexually or romantically, but in a “part of the herd” kind of way. We empathize. We feel bad when our friends are having a hard time, or sad when we see people suffering. Feelings don’t do anything concrete but it’s a natural reaction, as part of our shared humanity.

Artists are sometimes stereotyped as moody. Are they artists because they’re moody? Or did pouring their humanity and emotions into their work make them moody?

Muse: Are you saying this is why a lot of the classic writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath drank and did drugs?

Seems likely.

I’ve written characters to whom I’ve felt little attachment. I’ve also killed off characters I loved and while I won’t go so far as to say it hurts, it does darken my mood a bit, to literally murder my creations.

In one of his Castle Perilous books, John Dechancie wrote several characters trying to concoct a spell to summon a spaceship that could travel dimensions. The first try brought them the time machine from the H.G. Wells book of the same name. One character remarked that it must have been a prop cast-off by the studio but the second stated that would mean the spell cheated; that it had delivered a working dimensional transport (time being a dimension) and that in a multiverse with infinite possibilities, somewhere there was a dimension where the man himself was the fiction, and the creations of Wells were reality, which would mean the time machine worked, and fulfilled the spell’s parameters.

If that logic holds, in some corner of the multiverse, exists a world where Jonathan Pembroke is unknown and my creations are the reality and the horrible things that befall them really happened and I’m responsible for all their pain and misery. Or am I? Did I just channel it—tap into some universal consciousness to see it unfold? Or did my imagination spawn a dimension where it happened? The metaphysics of that concept really make my head spin.

And this is where the heartbreak comes in. Through whatever mechanism—whether something extra-physical, my active emotions, or even just pride in my creations—I’m tied to them. And when the ones I like do awful things, even thought it’s my own fault, it hurts to watch.

* * * * *

In the end, I had to let the character go through with it. It wasn’t pleasant but without that element to the plot, the last third of the tale just peters out. It wasn’t what I wanted but I had to let it happen. It’s a feeling akin to standing by and watching your adult child make (what you know will be) a horrible decision and not being able to do anything. Not as severe but along the same axis. Lesser heartbreak is still heartbreak … even when you do it to yourself.

And with that, I think I actually need a drink.

(Note: the above is a bit hyperbolic but has a grain of truth. I didn’t cry or break down in depression after writing the end of the referenced tale, but it did sour my mood for a while. I didn’t see any way to both avoid it and keep the integrity of the story. I hated saddling the character with that action and subsequent guilt over it—which, as they are a part of me, I got to share. No pain, no gain, I suppose. I won’t lie: I am trying to justify writing a brief redemption arc but I may just do it in my head, for my own satisfaction.)

I like it dark. Dark! Okay, not that dark.

(Note: This blog entry contains spoilers for several fantasy works, including Abercrombie’s First Law series, Parker’s The Folding Knife, Moorcock’s Elric saga, and Tolkein’s Simarillion. If you don’t know or wish to know the conclusions to these stories, abort now.)

So …

I finished reading The Folding Knife the other day. Written by K.J. Parker, the book concerns a man named Basso who, through scheming and chicanery, becomes the First Citizen (a limited dictator) of the Rome-like Vesani Republic. The book was more a socio-economic fantasy, with heavy discussions of politics, currency manipulations, international banking, and the like. It’s a different kind of fantasy book.

It was also pretty much a downer at the end, as Basso ends up broke and on the run, with everyone he ever cared about either dead, or hating him. As I returned to my Kindle’s main menu, I leaned back in my chair, stared at the ceiling, and asked myself, “Why did I read this again?”

I don’t mind dark books. I don’t mind grimdark fantasy. Mass death, maiming of main characters, assault, slavery, some light incest … none of this stuff bothers me insofar as when it is relevant and makes the story go. The world is often a nasty place and bad things do happen to good people. If it is consistent within the story, bleak subject matter won’t cause me to turn aside from a book.

(For the record, I am not bothered by slow-burn romance, noble deeds, valiant rescues, or cheesy hero tropes, for the same reasons, and I don’t consider books that are not “gritty” or are noblebright—a sometimes-used word for the opposite of grimdark—to be inferior.)

But one thing I don’t like are endings that are complete downers, where the bad guys win and there is no hope for the future. Allow me to explain.

(Muse: I sure wish you would.)

To me, there is a difference between a bittersweet ending and a complete downer. In the former, despite the protagonists suffering loss and ruin, and regardless of who is left alive, there is still a glimmer of optimism for the future. In the latter, it seems like that no matter what the protagonists have done, the other side has prevailed and all of the protagonist’s efforts—you know, the side the reader is set up to cheer for—go for naught.

And I really don’t think I like the second one. It feels like a slap in the face to the reader. I don’t mean this in an episodic sense. Certainly, the bad guys can prevail in a certain time frame. But by the end of the story arc, or trilogy or whatever, I want to see the main character succeed in their objective(s). Otherwise, what’s the point?

Some examples of bittersweet endings:

– The Simarillion. On the down side, the elvish realm of Beleriand has been destroyed, most of the high-born elves are dead or have fled, and the world is generally in ruins. However, Morgoth, the ultimate enemy, has been cast into the void and the men of Numenor are ready to usher in an era of prosperity. Obviously, the history of Middle Earth doesn’t end there but at that point, despite all the chaos, things were looking up.

– By the end of Stormbringer, at the end of the Elric saga, the entire world is dead, including the protagonist. All memories of the previous age and its wonders have been lost. However, through Elric’s actions and sacrifices, the Chaos gods have been banished and the world (and humanity) have a chance to advance without Chaos’s influence. There is hope for the future.

Okay, that’s one side. Now what I consider to be downer endings:

– By the end of the First Law series, Logen and Ferro are both on the run and/or insane, and West is dying from disease. Bayaz, the genocidal maniac who engineered countless deaths, walks away unscathed. Jezal, the coward and useless jackass, becomes king, where his hot princess wife is eager to pump out his children under threat of death to the person she really loves. Glokta, an amoral semi-sadist, ends up in the catbird’s seat, pulling the strings behind Jezal’s throne. Talk about depressing. No happy endings for anyone except the jerks.

– In the book I just finished, The Folding Knife, the protagonist Basso—who was a king-figure—is fleeing for his life, doomed to menial labor. All the people he cared about are dead (his mentor, his nephew), betrayed him (his current wife), or hate him enough to want him dead (his sister). The republic he headed is being torn by strife and economic ruin and it’s hinted that it will soon fall to its long-standing enemy. Mass death and devastation and all he has left are regrets.

In the second set of examples, I couldn’t help but walk away from these almost feeling depressed.

None of this new, either. I remember reading Romeo and Juliet circa ninth grade. Great, everyone the audience cared about was dead. I had basically same reaction then: “Why? To annoy and depress? Congrats, Willie, mission accomplished.”

Look, I’m no pollyanna. I try to be realistic. I know bad things happen and there are bad people in the world who do these things. At the same time, I view reading fiction as an escape. I go in for the story, so I can see people overcoming some of these horrible events. There doesn’t have to be a better world at the end but I want there to be a chance at a better one.

At the end of First Law, the main bad guy has gotten away with launching a war that killed tens of thousands for his own personal gain (taking out a rival). He suffers zero repercussions. The only people who end up with a happy ending are the cruel, the selfish, and the amoral.

I din’t really want to read that.

If I want to see bad people getting away with things without any comeuppance, I can flip on the news any day of the week. Our entire world is full of people who do horrible things and suffer no consequences. When I dive into fiction, I don’t expect everything to be wine and roses. But I would like a possibility that there may be something better in the future for the characters I’ve come to cheer for.

Maybe I am too idealistic.

So what’s the point of this ramble? I guess there is none, other than “dark” is not the same as “hopeless.” I can get behind dark, I think I’m done with hopeless in my fiction. (My apologies to Cormac McCarthy.) Nothing wrong with those books and for things like First Law, I know there are a ton of fans who adore them. That’s cool and I wish the authors of these books nothing but success.

They’re just not for me.

(Muse: That was a lot of talk for not saying much.)

That’s what I do.

Excelsior!

So, 2020 … a great year all around, amirite?

Muse: Go sit down.

Yeah, it was a rough year for a lot of reasons. But since my better half is always (rightly) encouraging me to be more positive and not such a pessimist, I thought I’d pick out something positive, so here it is: I wrote 505 thousand words this year. Half a million words.

I suspect to some writers, that’s not a big deal—that they do that and more every year. For me, it was an accomplishment. I’d never even remotely written this much in a year and I have to say … it feels pretty damn good.

So what does it mean for next year? Hell if I know. Since there’s one day left in 2020 (as of this writing), I am just going to bask in the glow for the remainder of the year, so I can hit the ground running on 1 Jan and get back to work for 2021.

Here’s a breakdown of how the words went this year:

The Holly Sisters

  • Added about 20K words to the early drafts of The Mauler (book 2) before it was published in Sep
  • On the second draft of Sylvan Valley Aflame, to the tune of 114K words. I have my beta feedback now, so going back to polish it up, with a hopeful publication date of late March.

The Sentinel

This is the new series I am working on, which will be quite a different in tone than The Holly Sisters. Maybe four book before it’s over.

  • Completed the first draft of the first book, with a tentative title of She Who Fights Monsters at around 116K words
  • Began the first draft of the second book (no title yet), with 38K words drafted

Romance books, with—

Muse: Wait, what?

I’ve been working on my interconnected romance book series. Not published yet, as I want to have 4-6 of the books ready to rapid-release.

Romance

  • Book 1, added 17K words to the 2nd/3rd drafts, so it’s almost publication-ready (oh, and did the cover myself, too, and it’s not bad)
  • Book 3, got to 36K words in it before I stalled out
  • Book 4, completed first draft of 54K words

(Book 2 was drafted in 2019 and I haven’t gone back to it yet)

Smut Stories (Yeah, I write smut too. Shut up!)

Total of about 89K words in seven different stories. They are getting some good ratings on websites where they’re posted.

Other

I do some writer prompts with friends and some other short stories, which came out to about a total of 21K this year

Whew.

Okay, so 2020 is about in the bag. Now what? What lies ahead for 2021? Well, here are the goals:

  • 1) Publish the last book in the The Holly Sisters, Sylvan Valley Aflame, around 31 Mar.
  • 2) Write the sequel to Pilgrimage to Skara, with a planned publication sometime in Nov.
  • 3) Revise Sentinel book 1, finish book 2 first draft, start book 3
  • 4) Finish romance book 3, revise book 2 & 4, draft book 5.

No real goal for the smut. I’ll just tackle that as the ideas come … err, arrive.

You all have a happy, wonderful holiday, and let’s kick off the next year on the right foot! Cheers!

Something scary for Halloween, all right …

Okay, I did a thing. I read Twilight.

(NOTE: There are some mild spoilers below.)

Pause for collective sharp intakes of breath. Before I elaborate on anything, a little background.

Five or six weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mom. Mom is interested in my writing so we discuss it sometimes. She asked me if I had considered doing young adult (YA) fiction, since it seems to sell well. I admitted I hadn’t. Then we got on popular YA fiction, including Twilight. Mom asked if I read it. I said no–and then, foolishly, I added, “I probably should sometime, just to have a frame of reference for YA books.” When she asked when, I said I’d get around to it.

Well. My mom is a fantastic mother but she’s like everyone else in our family, in that we all like to antagonize each other. So about a week after that conversation, I get a package containing a shiny new copy of Twilight. Mom rather smugly informed me I had no more excuses to put it off. So I accepted that and read it.

I haven’t seen the movies or read much about it. I’ve only absorbed what details have seeped into pop culture (such as sparkly vampires). So I went into this, trying to keep an open mind. Twilight isn’t the worst book I’ve read but …

Okay, I’ll start with the good. I will give Stephanie Meyer credit. She does write decent prose, in the sense that it maintains a good rhythm and is easy to both read and get lost in reading. It never felt like a chore having to parse words, I never had to stop and reread things because it wasn’t clear. She overuses adverbs but whatever. And I will say Meyer clearly knows how to ramp up the stakes and dramatic tension. For a handful of chapters around the climax, the pace picked up and while I wouldn’t quite call it “compelling,” the action and uncertainty of the outcome kept me reading. Last, I will add that Meyer does a good job of contrasting the bright, hot, dustiness of Phoenix and the damp, cloudy, gray of the northwest Pacific coast. She works the setting to flavor the mood of their respective sections.

But …

The pace. Dear Lord, the pace. It took two hundred pages before anything of any real importance happened. Very little character development, very little anything. Teenage drama, I guess, but as someone separated from their teenage years by three decades, it came off as insufferable. There was a forty-page span that consisted of not much more than repeated instances of:

Person One: “I like you but we can’t be together.”

Person Two: “I think we should.”

One: “Then maybe we should.”

Two: “Oh, but we can’t.”

Glarg. I like romance–fantasy and otherwise–but this was just … vapid. Anyway, outside the apex of the story, the pacing was way too slow and the book too drawn out. It’s about five hundred pages and I think it could have been written in three-hundred-fifty.

Also, speaking of insufferable, there’s Bella, the female protagonist. She comes off as the world-weary teenager who’s smarter and wiser than everyone else, who realizes that everything in life is shit and awful, and is just above it all–exemplified by calling her father “Dad” to his face but by his first name internally as a way of showing her disconnection with him and how’s she generally “just over everything.” I have hated that trope forever. It was lame when Holden Caulfield sat around pontificating like he was some profound philosopher in Catcher in the Rye, and it is still lame today. (Holden Caulfield needed nothing more than a solid punch in the face, as far as I’m concerned.) Let’s examine Bella: yes, her parents are divorced, but ages ago. She’s never been abused, she’s never gone hungry or been homeless, she hasn’t been the victim of violent crime, she’s not disabled, she hasn’t watched her loved ones die. Until she starts involving herself in the world of vampires, literally every one of her problems would be considered a “First World problem.” After one of her extended moping sessions, I wanted to yell at her to go live in sub-Saharan Africa, where she could eat and defecate into the same creek, and then ask her how bad things were back home. Add to this that she displays some mild feminist leanings with some of her statements and mindsets (which is fine), but then ditches those as soon as a hot guy makes googly eyes at her.

Muse: That’s an oversimplification.

Not by much. Instant hormonal love and she forgot everything that made Bella her own individual person. It made for a very inconsistent character. I admit, she grew a little more empathetic in the second half of the book but as a character, her development was awful.

Then Edward. Vampire’s a hundred years old. Just in terms of life-experience, there is no way he should literally be in love with a moody teenager. Yes, I know it was hand-waved with her pheromones or something drawing him in and his struggle not too feed versus his being drawn to her (which actually came off all right as a source of internal conflict for him). Even so, on a sliding scale of creepy to acceptable, it’s going to be on the creepy side. I’ve heard Edward gets quite stalkerish over the whole series. I thought that aspect was present but mild in the first book. Maybe it gets worse in later books. Besides, Twilight has nothing on Fifty Shades of Grey (though I understand the latter started as fan-fiction for the former). In any event, creepy.

Last … sparkly vampires. I mean, what? Sparkly vampires! I got nothing, folks.

I have to give it a 2.5/5. Overall, an average book. Decent writing with a workable, interesting climax, coupled with terrible pacing and inconsistent characters.

If I had to guess, I can only imagine this appeals to teenagers since they often feel disaffected and isolated, as Bella did, and I think are still innocent (or naive) enough to believe that a handsome stranger can bring some awesomeness into their lives. A handsome, sparkly stranger. (Sorry, I can’t get over that.)

Look, I know I am not the target audience for this. But if we want our young readers to do better, we have to offer them better. I will never poo-poo a teenager reading Twilight, since I am frankly happy if they’re reading something other than their phone. I would just ask them to diversify–to pick up something else and keep it going. (“Hey kid. I know you liked Twilight. You might like this too.”) Twilight is not a horrid place for a young adult to start reading.

But it would be a bad place to finish.

To answer Mom’s original question, I don’t know that I want to write YA fiction. I don’t want to write about the supernatural world overlapping with our world, nor do I want to write about a mage academy of some sort. The YA market is absolutely inundated with those stories, and many are mediocre at best.

Muse: They sell, don’t they?

I don’t know for how much longer. I think people are burning out on them. If I am going to go down the YA path, I think I would prefer to write something like Uprooted by Naomi Novik or The Song of Lioness trilogy by Tamora Pierce, that takes place off-world and doesn’t … pander to young adults or treat them like children. Those books have cross-age appeal.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s getting the best of both worlds.

Reviews Tell the Tale

So …

I entered Rumble in Woohollow into this year’s SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off). If you’re not familiar with that, the SPFBO takes in 300 books and divvies them between ten book blogs and review sites. Each blog picks a finalist and the ten finalists go head-to-head and a winner is crowned and earns … renown, I guess. More details are here. It’s been excellent for exposure, it’s a good community and I’ve met a lot of good folks.

Well, this morning, I found out I was cut. I didn’t make it to my blog’s semi-finalist round. My reviewer wasn’t connecting with Rumble and moved on at about the 25% mark (meaning they read a quarter of the book). (Here, if you want to read what was said.)

Yeah, I admit to being a little disappointed. Not in being cut, per se; I mean, there is a 97% attrition rate before the final round and even if a book does everything right, it’s hard to overcome those odds. But I was hoping to do a little better. C’est, la vie. That’s life, right? But something interesting that boiled up was that this reviewer thought there was too much (pointless) dialogue in Rumble. They are not the first reviewer to say so. I’ve heard that from at least one other blogger. Even someone who said they loved Rumble and gave it 5/5 on Amazon said the dialogue was a bit heavy-handed. My blog reviewer wanted to see more world-building too.

Muse: You’re having a hard time with this balance thing, aren’t you?

Yes, considering Pilgrimage to Skara generally got good marks for the world and setting but readers felt that the characters were off. So now it seems like I swung in the opposite direction. This feedback on Rumble’s dialogue is consistent, meaning I can’t just discount it.

I like dialogue. I like the banter between characters. I am not a fan of lengthy narratives. Even when a narrative is done from a character’s observational perspective, it often feels impersonal, if not outright cold. Repeatedly reading long passages with an absence of speaking or any action tends to make me impatient.

Having said that, I’ve been involved in an indie (self/small-press-published) reading challenge this summer. I’ve read quite a few indie books, most of which have better ratings than mine. Many—even those with less world-building than my own—feature a number of what I would call long-winded narratives. But people seem to eat them up–or more correctly, books that feature them.

My wife (in her tongue-in-cheek way) suggested I start marketing my books as the fantasy equivalent of the movie Con Air: fast-paced, action-oriented, and with only enough character development to barrel the plot forward. She was joking but I really started thinking about this. Maybe this is just another case of my tastes differing wildly from the standard fantasy user.

Muse: Ya think?

Yeah. And if I want more folks to read, I think I have to change it up a little. I can’t keep writing to myself.

Rumble is done. The Mauler releases in eight days and it’s pretty much set in stone now. I’ll see what I can do to tweak Sylvan Valley Aflame (the last book of the trilogy) but I don’t want to change too much, stylistically. I want the tone consistent for the trilogy.

I am working on a new project now, a new series. About 45K words into the first book. It might be three, four, or even five volumes by the time I’m done. I just don’t know yet. But I am going into it with the mindset that I’ve had multiple people tell me to cut back on the dialogue, cut back on the info-dumping dialogue. I’ve developed a more comprehensive database of the world, the cultures, nations, etc. I’ll try to bleed that in.

Will I be more successful? I guess I will try it and see what happens.

So that happened today.

Also within two hours of Rumble getting cut, one of my steamier romance stories got a comment that the reader was reduced to tears while reading it, and stated it hit them right in the feels. I have to take that one as a win.

Silver linings, folks.

The Mauler, out 28 Aug!

I’m a bit late updating this here (as I’ve done it on social media) but The Mauler, the second book of The Holly Sisters, will be available on 28 Aug (preorder for Kindle link here, paperback link coming).

It’s the second book to have a cover done by Jessica Dueck of StarsColdNight. She does excellent work, and she puts up with me and my crazy ideas, so that’s a point in her favor right there. Beautiful work. Her website and other work here.

Still aiming for Mar 2021 for book three, Sylvan Valley Aflame.

Cheers!

Keep plugging along

So …

It’s been a while since the last entry. For various reasons, I haven’t been back to update. Some soul-searching, some real-life complications, and lots of writing.

Yeah, I know I had a little whinge last time. I guess I got it out of my system. So, let’s recap:

– I’m working on final edits for The Mauler, book 2 in The Holly Sisters. This might be my best book yet. It takes the series in a darker direction. Kindle version is up for preorder now (paperback on its way) and releases on 28 Aug.

– I have my first full draft of Sylvan Valley Aflame complete, which will wrap up the series and send Sydney in a new direction. Looking at having that out around Mar 2021.

– I am 30K words into a new grimdark project.

– I finished another romance book (not that the readers of this blog will care).

Muse: Busy spring and summer, I see.

Yeah … too busy for me to sit around moping about my writing future, I think, like I was doing. Pretty much, my attitude came down to, “Fuck it. I’m gonna write what I want. People will like it or not.” Probably a healthier place to be in.

At a Bit of a Crossroads

I think we all come to them, in life. All the time. Points where seemingly minor decisions can have cascading effects for months or years. I think I’m hitting one of those in my writing life now. So now I sit here at three in the morning, unable to sleep because of thinking about this.

I’m going to try to speak in very generic terms here because it is really not my intention (nor in my interests) to call out anyone or anything specific.

I have two books that I self-published: Pilgrimage to Skara, in Jul 2016, and Rumble in Woodhollow, which I put out in Oct 2019. Neither has been well-received.

Sure, some have gotten some praise from specific people. Some people have eaten them up. Some folks hated them. For the most part, though, the response from the fantasy reading community has been “Meh.” I’m firing right down the middle of mediocrity…which is really hard to take.

On one level, I think part of it is because my tastes about what is ‘a good read’ differ so wildly from the bulk of the readership. I’m pretty active in the independent (self/small publishers) fantasy writing community, even if I read more discussions than participate, and I see books with massive problems just being lauded and praised to the heavens. I read a book recently where the main character was a casual, systemic racist and there were decades of unresolved marital rape…and these things were just glossed over. I’m relatively forgiving as a reader; I could have overlooked these issues if not for significant structural problems in the plot and character arcs as well. And yet…popular bloggers and reviewers were falling over themselves saying it was the best thing they ever read. I see this time and time and time again. I try to write the kind of stories I like. I’m gathering through empirical evidence, it’s not what other people like. They prefer the story I mentioned above. Readers in this community rail and gnash their teeth against rape being overused in stories ALL THE TIME, but in this tale, it was never resolved and kind of buried–and no one seemed to care. That’s baffling to me.

Muse: So it sounds like a jealousy issue.

I agree part of it is that. But it’s also me realizing something else. You know, if you’re in a room with a hundred people and one or two don’t like you, that’s really their problem. If ninety-five don’t like you, you have to look in a mirror and honestly assess what you’re doing. Well, my mirror-assessment is me being told by a good portion of the reading community that I’m a mediocre writer. I have to listen to that. I can say it’s about different tastes and I think that’s true. It also doesn’t change anything.

I’m frustrated. I’m kind of down on the process and where I am on this journey. I agree that Pilgrimage had some very stark problems. I’ve tried to do better. I thought Rumble was a significantly better book, with more empathetic characters. Reading them both, I thought I could see growth, as a writer. Nope. According to the readership, it’s about the same.

Mind you, I can just go on the feedback I’m getting. When folks read my book, tell me they like it, but don’t post a written review for others…then turn around and spend time and care reviewing another book they read, that sends me a message. When they DNF (do not finish, meaning shelving something that’s not holding your interest) that sends me a message. When someone has rated hundreds of books, has an average rating of four stars (meaning they like a lot that they read) but gives you three stars, that sends me a message. People that tell me they like it often don’t leave reviews, don’t leave ratings at all, so I’m left with the folks that do, and they’re telling me, “Eh, it was okay.” Nothing special, nothing memorable, just “okay.”

Don’t take that wrong. I hold zero animosity towards these folks. I like most of them. I understand that time on earth is finite and they have demands other than reading in their lives. They need to spend their time how they choose. I expect nothing and am grateful they bothered. My issue here is disappointment, not resentment.

Still, the messages are sent. Believe me, I’m getting them.

Muse: So, what? You gonna quit?

I don’t know.

Someone referred to me as “stoic” recently–namely, referring to how I kept a stiff upper-lip and maintained polite, positive interaction while Pilgrimage was getting bombarded with bad reviews. (Ironically, it still gets a few reads a year and they’ve been ticking upwards.) I try to be stoic.

It is fucking hard sometimes.

I try to stay calm and positive and upbeat, and focus on the folks who did like something I wrote versus the ones who didn’t. I do appreciate that someone read my book and took a chance on it, and me. And I do understand that not everything is for everyone.

But where do you go when it feels like your books are for no one?

They’re not for no one. There is a small group of readers who do seem to like my style and stories, and I love them for it. I love my family and friends, who have been a phenomenal support network.

I am almost done revising the sequel to Rumble, which is The Mauler. I have a few folks who said they are willing to beta-read it. I will put out the last book next year, which is in draft. That will conclude the current story arc for the characters. I’m going to finish it–for myself and for the percentage of folks who do seem to enjoy it and have supported me.

After that, I am undecided as to what I’m going to do.

Maybe this is a blip on the radar. Maybe after a few days, my confidence will return and I will keep plugging away it–like that alchemist who just knows that if he keeps trying, he’ll find the formula for turning lead to gold.

But as I sit here in the dark at my laptop, groggy and disappointed, staring down the different avenues of the crossroads, at my potential future as a writer….

This time, it might be different.

Am I Letting My Peers Down?

So …

I am not someone who leaves a ton of reviews on the works I read.  There are a few reasons.  One, I have been reading a lot of indie fantasy lately.  The authors are my peers to some degree and I have a friendly acquaintance relationship with quite a few.  I am reluctant to–

Muse:  But don’t–

Quiet, we’ll come back to that.  I am reluctant there.  I’m not as reticent with professionally-published books but then, I always feel like my voice will one of a herd, and probably not even seen by the author.  I should at least go leave some star ratings on Goodreads for the professional books I’ve read.

Two, sometimes I feel like most of my points have been covered.  In this sense, I kind of operate on the principle that if I don’t have something to add to a conversation (vice repeating everyone else), then I just keep my yap shut.  I read reviews that cover what I want to say and feel it’s not worth repeating.

The third reason is the biggie.  I can take harsh criticism on my reviews.  Pilgrimage to Skara garnered some quite visceral feedback.  That’s fine.  But the truth is, I am by default a rather brutal reviewer myself.  Of the last twenty books I read, I would not give any of them a five-star rating.  I can scale my reviews to the author’s skill level and to some extent, their sensitivity…but I generally limit a softer approach to writing groups and beta reads.  If I am going to start reviewing published books–books that are being sold–I expect to get bloody on a number of them.

This ties me back to the first point.  I saw something the other day from a self-published author, saying they were thirsty for feedback–ANY feedback.  I read one of this author’s books and was not a fan.

I know feedback is always the desire for any author.  You want buzz, you want readers talking about it.  I’m there too.  Rumble in Woodhollow only has three ratings on Goodreads.  I know several folks who have read it and I want to pester them for public feedback (my family is eager to help but I am asking them to leave it alone) but I am trying to be good and leave them be, to let them get to it when and if they want.  So I understand that desire.

But I also know if I start doing this, I am going to drop some pretty rough feedback on some folks with whom I’ve been on good terms.  Not all of them–not even many.  But some.

Muse:  This sounds like a very long ramble to say you’re being indecisive.

Pretty much.

Muse:  You yourself would say that you can’t get better without honest feedback.  Don’t you think your peers feel the same way?

Some, to be sure.  Put that against my nature to not want to savage people, though, and there’s the rub of it.  I have to decide if that outweighs the feeling that I am letting my peers down by not reviewing.

Guess I will keep thinking about it.

Rumble in Woodhollow, et al

So….

My latest project, Rumble in Woodhollow (Kindle, print) is now live on Amazon.  It’s the first book in the trilogy The Holly Sisters.   Rumble introduces us to a twenty-two-year-old faery named Sydney.  Sydney is the younger sister of Marla, the leader of the Faery Gang, which is one of the criminal outfits competing for control of the underside of the city of Woodhollow.  Sydney gets drawn into her sister’s activities and her actions have consequences for the whole city.

Okay, simple enough.

One of the strongest criticisms I received over Pilgrimage to Skara was that I didn’t do enough promotion or pushing of my own novel.  This is hard for me; I am not good at marketing myself.  I tried to do better this time but still think I didn’t do enough.  Sales have been slow.  I wasn’t expecting to set any records or do gangbuster business–but frankly, sales on Skara were better at this point (six days after release).   I’ve posted it in a few places, and some friends signal-boosted by cross-posting on social media, and that was kind of them.

One thing I know I did wrong was a failure to get ARC (advanced reader copies) out to try and build up some buzz.  I botched the timeline of my release, I should have done that months ago.  I have done a lot more networking and gotten some name recognition this time around, so there is that.  Live and learn, I suppose, and keep building on the next one.  As of today, I still have no feedback on the book other than from my beta readers.  No reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, no mentions really.  I really just want to know what people think, even if they hate it.  Even if they go, “It was ‘meh.’ ”

Muse:  It’s been out less than a week.  People have jobs and not everyone reads with their hair on fire, like you do.

I know.  I guess I just need to be patient.

Muse:  There is another possibility. Maybe people are put off from the reviews on Pilgimage and are waiting to see if this one is any better before they invest in it.  Maybe the people that did get it aren’t engaged enough to keep reading.

You’re supposed to be helping, Muse.

Muse:  Just keepin’ it real.

Very true but nothing to be done about that now.  I can’t worry about the Skara effect.  Once someone leaves the first review, Rumble will either rise or fall on its own merits.  And if the story sucks–or worse, is boring–well then, what’s done is done.  I’ll chalk it up to yet another learning experience.

Anyway, if you have read this far and I have not bored you, I will say that I am about 70K words into the sequel for Rumble, which will be titled The Mauler.  I expect to have it out around next September.  If anyone likes Rumble and wants to early-review the The Mauler, let me know.  The last book in the trilogy will be out around a year after that and leads to the “thrilling conclusion,” as they say.

At least, I hope it’s thrilling.

Anyway, if you have any feedback (“too slow,” “loved it,” “Sydney’s great,” “you can’t fucking write at all”), I would of course love to hear it.

In the meantime, I am gonna see if I can figure out why Amazon can’t seem to link the Kindle version and the paperback version pages together, and why the paperback version is listed under “Textbooks” in the store, despite me asking for that to be fixed and Amazon confirming it was.

There’s always something….