26 August 2015

'Hugo Worthy'

There are naturally a lot of posts about the Hugos going around at the moment, and the phrase 'Hugo worthy' has come up a lot, starting me thinking about perhaps nominating next year.  And what to nominate.

Other than favourite authors on auto-buy lists, it's unusual for me to read books in their year of publication, let alone the books that people seem to think are 'best' or 'worthy'.  And when I do get around to reading one of the hot nominees or winners, it rarely seems to be the sort of story I like, let alone thought excellent.

Which is, oh well, people like different things. 'Best' is a construct built of buzz, and word of mouth, an active fan base or, apparently, sealing wax, string and puppy dog tails.

So I circle back to that term 'worthy', and what exactly 'best' means, and realise that, substantively, they're terms that push me to not nominate the kind of books that work best for me.

So when the nomination deadline approaches I shall compile a little list of books I've read that were published in the relative year, throw away any criteria other than a yes/no decision on whether the book 'worked' for me,  and nominate them.

'Worthy' really is that simple.

16 August 2015

CDC: A sex game for girls

Cute Demon Crashers is unique in my experience.  Admittedly, I'm not an expert in the otome gaming area, but most (non-puzzle/time management) games I've played aimed at a female audience are either adventure, adventure+romance or romance+adventure.  CDC is not about romance: it's about getting a girl some sex.

CDC bills itself as a game about "consent and feeling safe in intimacy", and focuses on Claire.  We meet Claire as she's home alone and...somewhat frustrated.  Then four attractive demons turn up and offer her no-strings sex.  And that's...pretty much it.  Claire can get to know the demons a bit and decide whether to have sex with one of them, and just how much sex she wants to have (there's a lot of emphasis on stopping at any time).  But there is never a suggestion that this is a romance (the demons cannot form romantic attachments).

I think the last game I played where sex was the goal was Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (way back in the dark ages of gaming).  But LSL was about convincing some woman (any woman) to have sex with Larry (or, apparently, just paying a prostitute - I only played the beginning of LSL), while CDC is pretty much a beginner's guide to sex as a mutually positive experience.  I'm fairly sure it's also the only game I've ever played that (depending on the route you play) provides imagery of an erect penis (not hidden as towers in the background).

Anyway, I think this game will be a gift to tween girls worldwide, and it amused this non-tween too.  We've come a long way from Larry.

06 August 2015

Covers: Snug Ship and Filigree

Whoo!  New covers!  I am now fully covered out for my writing expectations well into 2017 (possible short stories aside).  This is the start of a new series, and I'm hoping to establish a 'series' look.  The artist is Andres Parada,

The only thing bigger than the world's first full virtual reality game is the mystery surrounding its origins. Who is the hidden figure behind Ryzonart Games? How was such a huge advance in technology achieved?

All Taia de Haas is interested in is getting her own virtual spaceship, but the very core of the game leads her inexorably on a dangerous quest for answers. When she uncovers the truth, she will have no future outside the Singularity Game.

The second book, Filigree, doesn't have a blurb yet (my gosh, it's going to be hard to write one without massive spoilers!).

Here's a close up of her face (and the reason she ends up called Filigree). :)

Lots of writing to do.  Still working on The Sleeping Life in the mornings and Snug Ship in the afternoon.

25 July 2015


Journey came out some time ago, to great acclaim, but it was Playstation 3 exclusive, and I had an X-Box.  It's now been released for Playstation 4, and I have one of those, so I've finally had a chance to try it.

And, yes, it is just as wonderful as all the reviews claim.

You start as a cloaked figure in a desert.  On the horizon you can see a mountain with a light.  And so, with bare instruction and no understanding, you start toward it.

Journey is a combination of evocative music and visual beauty and a story stripped of any language that you understand.  It is very short, but I think is the sort of precious jewel of a game that you keep by for the grey days, when you want to be uplifted.

Well recommended.

10 July 2015

Five-year financial report

I've been doing my taxes!  What fun!  Since it's my fifth tax return that features an entry (somewhat erroneously) called "royalties", I figure this is a good time to share some stats.

In December 2010, I published Champion of the Rose and The Silence of Medair on Smashwords.  I didn't tell anyone I knew, or do anything particularly resembling meaningful advertising.  Stained Glass Monsters followed in January 2011, Stray in March 2011 and Lab Rat One in June 2011.  My gross earnings up to 30 June 2011 were $76.24 AUD:

It's important to note that Smashwords pays quarterly and Amazon after 3 months, so the above doesn't reflect royalties earned in this period, but royalties paid.  [Smashwords also covers Barnes & Noble, Apple, and a myriad smaller vendors.]

In the 2011-2012 financial year I published Voice of the Lost, Caszandra, and Gratuitous Epilogue.  My gross earnings between 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012 were $10,160.67 AUD:

In the 2012-2013 financial year I published And All the Stars and Hunting. My gross earnings between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2013 were $16,645.97 AUD:

In the 2013-2014 financial year I published Bones of the Fair.   I also put a stop on my payments from Amazon for a while so that I would have more money for my overseas holiday (putting off my tax payments).  My gross earnings between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014 were $9,300.89 AUD:

You can see that the non-Amazon percentage is creeping up (though a little distorted by my deferring some of the Amazon payment).  This in turn distorts the next year of earnings.

In the 2014-2015 financial year I published The Pyramids of London  My gross earnings between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015 were $57,204.78 AUD:

My tax bill this year is going to be hefty.

As you can see the number of vendors has increased (Popcorn Press is the fee for the Touchstone RPG Source Book), but the bulk is still by far coming from Amazon (and by far coming from the Touchstone Trilogy, for that matter, with two rather successful Bookbub promos further distorting this year's royalties).  A further point of distortion is the plunging Australian dollar, which means I get more AUD for any USD these days (and very nice that is from my POV too).

Overall, my earnings look like this:

And, really, woohoo!  That's a lot of money!  A pity it's going to drop by about $20,000 in the current financial year (gauging from current sales/publication rates), but this is still a good deal better than I expected from my five-year check-in on the state of my self-publishing career.

If I were all about the money I'd just spend my time publishing Touchstone sequels, but as ever I'm writing what has my attention at the moment, dividing my time between the quiet and very unlikely to be very profitable The Sleeping Life and the tremendously entertaining and likely to get me my first hate mail Snug Ship.  (Gaming is such a touchy area.)  There are some mild similarities between Snug Ship and Stray (first person voice for a start, though Taia is more mildly snarky rather than self-deprecating and consistently humorous), but it doesn't have a strong romantic plotline, so it will be interesting to see how it's received.

Anyway, this is a post for the stat-collectors.  Sooner or later I will have to get around to the more formidible task of doing charts for the sales numbers.

20 June 2015

Interview with me at R L Martinez's blog

There's an interview with me up at R L Martinez's blog (where there's a whole series of interesting author interviews).  In this interview I go through writing process, cover creation, offer gratuitous publishing advice and (almost inevitably) weigh into the current Hugo Awards controversy.

17 June 2015

Occasionally self-publishing isn't fun

As I mentioned in my previous post, while I really love self-publishing, there are some negatives that anyone considering the route should be prepared for.  Obviously not selling or bad reviews sting, but that's a common experience for many authors.  Not having as many promotional opportunities (and some people simply refusing to read self-pub work) isn't fun either, but I'm pretty good at shrugging that off.

My most negative experience as a self-publisher was an innocuous twitter conversation.

This followed a guest post I'd contributed to the Book Smugglers' web site, where I'd listed 99 female authors.  The post was a response to the usual nonsense about how women don't write SFF.  Instead of producing a list of the same half dozen luminaries whose names seem to turn up on every list (perhaps contributing to the perception that there are few female SFF authors), I simply listed authors I had on my physical book shelves.

An Australian author* asked me why so few Australian authors (there were four) and I explained that most of my Australian books were in e-format, and thus not on the list.  [Though a lot of Australian fantasy is big-book multi-volume epic fantasy, which isn't to my taste.]

I thought nothing of the exchange until a month or so later when I noticed the same author talking about sources of information about Australian SFF authors, and speculating that there were so few Australian authors on my list due to cultural cringe.  She offered up her own list of Australian (adult SFF) authors, one she'd prepared some time before tracking Australian authors put out by mid-range and large publishers.

I suggested that the Aurealis Award nominees listed on Wikipedia would be a good source (a list I happen to be on, as a multiple finalist).  I was told that she'd started with that list, and then left off the YA and the self-publishers.

She'd taken the Aurealis Award list, and removed me from it.

This was a fantastically minor conversation, with no malice whatsoever involved, but it really brought home to me that self-publishers continue to be thought about in a separate category.  To not only be left off lists, but removed from them.

Sometimes it's the tiny comments, the smallest things, that are hardest to shrug off.

* Identity not important - this was an entirely innocuous exchange. Please no trawling through my twitter history playing detective.

On Writing, the 2015 AKH edition

I gotta say, I just love my writing situation.

I love writing, of course.  Making up worlds, putting people in them, adding unfortunate circumstances and then spinning out the consequences.  So. Much. Fun.

And I love being read.

I love that other people can walk into worlds that I have created.  I get a huge kick out of watching readers react to certain twists, or seeing which characters they fall for, or whether they spotted the clever thing.  Fan mail is awesome, and I'm an inveterate ego-searcher on Google, and really enjoy the discussions about my books.  Even the negative ones can be enlightening, though I often read them with a raised eyebrow or a 'well, all that went over your head didn't it?' expression.

I'm more mindful of probable reader response now, when I write, though I usually write the things I want to write anyway.

For that reason (among others), I love self-publishing.

I particularly love being able to write whatever the fuck I want, even YA including swear words.  I'll take the occasional one star review for swearing if I think it's character-appropriate. :D

Being able to write non-commercial stories (which, frankly, most of mine are when you look at what is popular and what I choose to write) is a big bonus for me.  I'm happy not to have to fret about not being able to sell the next book in a series, even if it has, say,  a...subdued critical response like Pyramids, or really low sales numbers like Stained Glass Monsters.  I can still happily work on The Sleeping Life, which is the kind of 'quiet' novel without a big hook that would struggle to get accepted at any publisher.

And I can embark on something off-the-wall, like Snug Ship (first in the Singularity Game series), which has a ton of wish fulfilment and a complete over-indulgence in my addiction to MMOs (and, uh, an ending that will make readers want to strangle me, if only for the pun in the final sentence), and choose exactly how much explanation of gaming terms I stick in.  Readers who are gamers will find it effortless, and there's a glossary for everyone else.  I get to make that call.

Self-pub isn't without its down sides (I'll have to get around to writing up my most negative self-pub experience one day), and I've got plenty of ground to cover before I can hope to be a full-time writer - in part because I choose to always prioritise the fun over tedious things like marketing, but also because I live in Sydney.  But every so often I look at how my life is going because of self-publishing, and can only stop and appreciate the moment.

I'm getting paid to have fun, and people randomly email me compliments.


13 June 2015

Jurassic World (Spoilgrrs)

There's been some debate, leading up to this release, as to Jurassic World's treatment of women, given that the trailers made it look like an "uptight Smurfette gets lesson in loosening up" narrative.

This is and isn't true.  In fact, it's a little worse than that.

Jurassic World is pretending the second and third movies in the series don't exist, and thus spends a lot of time making direct references and call-backs to the first movie, including mixing and matching a large similar set of main characters.

Jurassic Park was about:

John Hammond - wealthy guy and dinosaur fan, due for a lesson in hubris.
Dr Grant - paleontologist and dinosaur fan, there to save the day and learn that kids can be okay.
Dr Sattler - paleobotonist and dinosaur fan, there to save the day and make direct feminist points.
Dr Malcolm - chaos theorist, there to snark and be shirtless.
Lex - grandchild, computer fan, with a sibling relationship to work out.
Tim - grandchild, dinosaur fan, looking for a dino-loving friend.
Muldoon - manly man doing manly thing.
The Lawyer - there to be wrong.
Samuel L Jackson - as himself.
Nedry - greedy bad guy, there to get his just desserts.
Scientists of debatable morals.

In Jurassic World we get :

Aunt Claire - Park operations manager, brittle control freak, due to get in touch with her inner Ripley.
Grady - Velociraptor trainer, nature fan, there to save the day.
Zach - nephew, fan of girls, there to remember he should care about his younger brother.
Gray - nephew, fan of dinosaurs, there to tremble and be unhappy about his family.
Hoskins - there to be wrong, and to get his just desserts.
Cruthers - there to snark and to wish he could look half as good as Dr Malcolm shirtless.
Masrani - wealthy guy and dinosaur fan, due for a lesson in hubris.
Barry - there to be somewhat luckier than Samuel L Jackson.
Vivian - there so Claire isn't (practically) the only woman with a speaking role in the park.
Karen - busy guilting Claire about not caring enough about her nephews or about having kids of her own.
Scientists of debatable morals.

Grady is clearly Grant + Muldoon, but Aunt Claire (it was hard to catch her surname at all) is definitely not in the position of Hammond or Dr Sattler.  She is not a fan of anything except control, for a start, and spends her time reciting statistics (ah, KPIs and deliverables, how I dislike corporate-speak).  She's also not ultimately in charge, is answering to people of higher authority, has had vital information kept from her, is never shown to be respected, and is operating two beats behind competency.  Her story arc is about how she should lighten up, spare more time for her family, and maybe think about having kids.

In other words, Claire is an essay on work/life balance.

[Strange timing - I just finished a review over on Goodreads about how Dragonsbane is an essay on magely work/life balance.]

While Claire does morph into Ripley toward the end of the movie - and is given two separate crowning moments of awesome - this story would have been so much more powerful if Claire had started out as effortlessly competent and respected, lauded for the Park's safety record.  Instead, we have someone constantly being lectured on how wrong wrong wrong she is.

A poor foundation for any character arc.

28 May 2015

Cover reveal: Tangleways

This (Australian financial) year, a couple of Bookbub promos have seen a spike in my royalties that I suspect won't be repeated next year, so I have been busily upping my expenses (and thus lowering my taxes) by commissioning covers well in advance.

No-one is going to be surprised to discover that the Cwn Annwn are a factor in Tangleways after this cover. :D  I asked Julie to use salukis as the model - and this hound of death is just as gorgeous and strange as I hoped.  [DWJ's Dogsbody was one of the major inspirations for the Trifold world.]

The font layout was HARD for this one, because the background curves aren't symmetrical, but I think this works.  [I've taken to designing an ebook cover with larger fonts, and then a TPB later - where the edges will be cropped.]

WIP-wise, I've been bouncing around.  I've written one of three planned short stories for the trip to France that sits between Pyramids and Tangleways.  Actually, at around 7,500 words, it might just creep into novelette status - a first for me, and the next will probably be a little longer, though the third is just a shortish scene that could helpfully be titled "Ned's First Kiss".

Primarily, though, I've been working on The Sleeping Life and still expect it to be my next release, out toward the end of the year.

I've also been straying a little into my MMO game series, and have commissioned two covers for it (as part of my "OMG, I don't want to pay that much tax I'd rather buy covers" splurge).  After TSL has been released, I'll be working concurrently on both the Trifold and Singularity Game series, working my way through them.  Singularity is an open-ended series - no fixed end point.  I'm finding its worldbuilding endlessly entertaining, especially since people have been talking lately about utopias and the game in Snugships would probably qualify for one - though humanity is kinda on the level of chocobos in that universe.  [For those who don't get the Final Fantasy reference, that means we make great pets. ;) ]

23 May 2015

Poltergeist (2015)

The original Poltergeist, even with its now very dated special effects, remains a wonderfully effective movie.  The compact storytelling sets out in easy strokes a young family, and then it introduces WONDER.

The family reacts much as any family would.  A little disbelieving, a little nervous, but mainly with "HOW COOL!"  It is only when the phenomena steps up that it's even treated as a horror story (and even then there is a ton of wonder, and beauty and _joy_ in the story).

The 2015 version fails on just about every level.  From the very beginning the camera shots treat the family's new house as wrong, as full of lurking threat.  It skips almost all of the wonder altogether, instead taking us on a little tour of jump scares and obligatory dragging girls up stairs.

It's also just plain badly done, lingering on boring scenes (the check-out scene, particularly, is just pointless) and in every instance replacing the things that were cool with less interesting, scarier scenes.  Worse, no-one reacts with any logic, and apparently no-one has ever read any of the rules of scary movies.

I did not expect the 2015 version to wholly recapture the magic of the original, but this was a miss on every level.  I recommend skipping it altogether.

02 May 2015

Cover Reveal: The Sleeping Life

Another from the fabulous Julie Dillon, The Sleeping Life is the sequel to Stained Glass Monsters, and I just love the thematic echo in the swoony light and jewel tones of TSL's cover.  Due out toward the end of the year!

Fallon DeVries has a sister who lives only in his mind. Paying the price of magic gone wrong, Aurienne is trapped watching a world she cannot touch, only able to communicate with her brother while he sleeps.

And it's slowly killing him.

Fallon and Auri's best chance of untangling their lives is to win the help of a mage of unparalleled ability. But how can they ask for help when the warped spell prevents him from speaking?

Besides, Rennyn Claire - once the most powerful mage in the world - is a shadow of her former self: ill, injured and unlikely to recover unless she can hunt down the monster who once tried to make her his slave. But that Wicked Uncle is nowhere to be found, and other dangers, once slumbering dormant, are stirring..

18 April 2015

Self-publishing and SFF Awards

It's SFF awards season!  And very, ah, exciting it's been so far.  Since I published no eligible novels in 2014, this seems like good timing to talk about how self-published books stand in regards to SFF awards.

There are a lot of SFF awards out there, and the good news is that unlike many non-SFF awards, self-published books are eligible for almost all of them!  Very few SF awards restrict entries according to manner of publication, being far more concerned with criteria like year, length, place of publication and, sometimes, theme or content.  You can view a full(ish) list of SFF awards on the Science Fiction Awards Database, broken down into a number of categories.

So can a self-pub win any of these awards?  Well, yes.  Self-published authors have already begun to pop up on nomination lists, and even to win the occasional award.  What are the chances?

To understand that, we need to get into an additional major division for all awards: voted or juried.


Unless you're a well-known figure in the SFF community, or have had a blazing break-out book, a voted award is not an easy bar to hurdle for a self-pub - or, for that matter, the average trade published author.  You're just one of the horde swarming the foothills of Discoverability Mountain, staring hopelessly at the genre's luminaries blazoned in countless reviews across the blogosphere.

The results of voted awards can vary wildly each year, because different groups of people are nominating the books.  Some are open to anyone with an internet connection who knows about the award (such as the Locus Award) and some are only open to a restricted group, such as the Norton Award (SFWA members).  Some combine a limited nomination field with an open voting pool (eg. the Gemmell Award).  One of the absolute biggest is the Goodreads Awards, which merely has SFF categories, rather than being dedicated to the genre, and is weighted heavily toward those books that are already the most-shelved.

Of the 'core' SFF awards, the best-known voted award is the Hugo, which is an endlessly confusing award run by a new set of people every year (each year a different group of people hold a World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (WorldCon), and a combination of attendees and supporters of that individual convention, and the previous convention, can nominate).

There are some people who go to almost every one of these conventions, and some who go to the occasional one (I've been to four).  A solid percentage of WorldCon participants are industry professionals (authors, publishers), who are positively overwhelmed by the flood of books released each year.

Frankly, for many voted awards, most SFF books published each year will not have been read by more than one or two voters (if any).  On the flip side, for many of these awards the nominating pool is relatively small (particularly in some of the short fiction categories), so if your work happens to be known and liked by a group of voters, there's always a chance.


Juried awards, like the World Fantasy Award, invert this system. The judges read all the work submitted.  Who wins will depend entirely on the particular tastes of the judging panel, and that could just as easily be a self-published work as a trade published work.

Technically.  There are still several hurdles for self-pubs with juried awards.

Cost of entry is big factor.  Most legitimate awards have no entry fee or only a small entry fee, but many still require or prefer physical copies to be mailed to various parts of the world.  Looking at the addresses on the World Fantasy Award list, it would cost me (in Australia, one of the most expensive places to mail things from) a couple of hundred dollars to send physical copies.  While I see that the WFA has opened up to e-submissions, the hard copy is apparently preferred.

Which leads into the second point - perception of your book.  Will the judges seriously read/consider self-pubs?

As the occasional wins of self-pubs on juried awards show, the answer is yes.  Oh, sure, you may get the occasional judge who is actively negative toward self-pubs, but it appears to me that most people who get on award juries make a solid attempt to work their way through the entries and judge without fear or favour.

At the same time, I'm not going to pretend that judges aren't human.  A person who has been hearing buzz about a particular book all year, who has read multiple trusted reviewers claiming that X book is award-worthy - they'd have to be a paragon to pay exactly the same amount of attention to a self-published book by some author whose name they don't recognise.  They are almost certainly going to spend more time on the highly-lauded book, while the unknown will need to "prove worthy" of a full read, and prove it straight out of the gate.

Because this is a numbers game.  I don't have the stats on how many books get entered in the World Fantasy Awards each year, but it would be a rare judge who could wade through them all.  And every year, more books are published.  Can any judging panel realistically give all entries a fair shot?

The YA-oriented Cybils Awards uses one possible solution to this very problem.  Instead of one overwhelmed jury labouring through hundreds of books, two stages of juries are formed.  Stage one involves multiple juries reading an allocation of the eligible books and passing a set number along to the stage two jury, who chooses the finalists.

But are overwhelmed judging panels the biggest barrier to self-pubs winning juried awards?

Here's an interesting statistic about the Kitchies.  198 submissions.  8 self-published.  I read that, and then read it again in wonder.  Only 8 self-published authors entered the Kitchies?  I mean, I know it's a relatively new award, but it seems there were 190 non-self-published works entered.  What the heck's going on there?  Where's the tsunami?

But, you see, where trade published work is concerned, it's often not the author entering the work.  It's the publisher.  Over and over again I've seen self-pub authors (and, heck, creators of all stripes) talk themselves out of entering or drawing notice to their award-eligible work because to do so looks arrogant.  When you're a self-pub author, well aware of the stereotype of the deluded self-pubbed writer unable to judge the quality of their own work, do you really want to be so tacky-embarrassing as to put your own name into the hat?

I personally had the chutzpah to enter the Australian version of the WFA, the Aurealis Awards (and I've made the finals list a few times).  But there are a lot of awards out there.  Take the Tiptree Award, which recognises "science fiction or fantasy that explores and expands the roles of women and men for work by both women and men".

The last book I released featured a highly competent woman suffering from a variation of imposter syndrome, who falls in love with her country's Crown Princess.  Although the country is relatively egalitarian, I deliberately set out in that book to break down gender roles and expectations, starting simply by showing the majority of people in positions of power as female.  I am always exploring the role of women in my novels.  I usually write egalitarian worlds. Sometimes they're binormative worlds.  You'd think I'd be throwing myself at that award.  Yet I've never put my work forward for consideration for the Tiptree.

Because?  I guess I ran short of "FIGJAM".  How many other self-publishers are doing the same thing?

Does it matter?  In the grand scheme of things, awards are an ego-boost, with very few awards making a noticeable difference in sales.  But since making the finalist list a few times in the Aurealis Awards, I've seen the resulting reviews of my work that start "I don't usually read self-pub work, but...".  And award lists (when they're not melting down the internet) are fun - I like talking about SFF, and I'm not going to pretend I don't like my work being talked about.

One thing all the dramas in awards over the last few weeks have made clear is that, in this broad, diverse and fragmented community, if there's a book you want to see on award lists, talk about it, nominate it, enter it, put it out there.

Awards are part of the literary experience.  You may never win one.  You may think yourself a hack.  You may think that you won't be considered fairly.  But don't count yourself out at the start - become part of the discussion.

11 April 2015

An Experiment With Gender Numbers

You may already be familiar with Geena Davis's Institute for Gender In Media.  Discussing the results of the Institute's studies, Ms Davis has stated:
“If there's 17 percent women, the men in the group think it's 50-50.  And if there's 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

Now, in SFF we're sadly familiar with stories that barely manage one or two female characters, often with background characters strangely almost completely male (even when the story is ostensibly focused on women - such as the Pixar film Brave - they're apparently set in worlds where men outnumber women 100 to 1).

In my own books, outside the main characters, I usually aim for a roughly even split: if the last passing character was male, the next will be female.  If there are two guards, one will be male, one female (or alternating sets).  If the Chamberlain is male, the Captain of the Guard will be female.  I don't use a precise split, and have never counted them up, but I've always aimed for an equal 'feel'.

When drafting The Pyramids of London, I decided to try something different.  I would skew the background character numbers female to see how a book would read with 33 percent men 'in the room'.

Pyramids is set in an alternate Britain (Prytennia) where there's a legal equality between men and women that has grown out of a near-unbroken rule by a Trifold under the aegis of the goddess Sulis.  Only women can become one of the Trifold, and so no man can rule Prytennia.  However, while the country has become matrilineal, it is not strictly a matriarchy, but one where both men and women are equal partners in marriage, and where gender is not a factor for most roles in society.

Reader reaction (and keeping in mind that most people who have read Pyramids come from a background of my already woman-heavy other books) has been mostly positive.  Readers notice that there are a plethora of women, but find it novel or enjoyable.  Only a minority of reviewers comment negatively on the balance.

Anyway, a while ago I read this post by Marie Brennan about the absence of women in a particular fantasy work and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take with Pyramids

And it was!  Very interesting, in this book where I'd set out to to achieve a 70/30 skew in favour of women, I created 82 female-presenting characters and 83 male-presenting characters.

I don't think I'll do this exercise with the books that I thought were 50/50.  That may bring embarrassment.

I suspect that one of the reasons that Pyramids feels so full of female characters (beyond our apparently ingrained perceptions) is that the skew of powerful women to powerful men is much more distinct.  Prytennia's Trifold is always made up of women.  And when making clear that both men and women could hold important office, I did so by mentioning men formerly holding the roles, but naming current women.  With the exception of Lord Msrah and Lord Fennington (and the foreign Gustav) all the people shown to be in charge of groups and organisations in Prytennia 'just happen' to be women.

I ended up with a meeting where I added a male secretary just so the vampire wasn't the only man at the table.

Quite possibly Prytennia is, in my subconscious, biased against men in roles of power.  But would a reader even notice the skew if it was all powerful men, plus Lady Msrah and Lady Fennington?

I'll be returning to attempting relatively equal numbers in the next book, Tangleways, and hope that doesn't mean I accidentally produce 30/70 F/M.  I don't think I'll count them, but I'm glad to have done this exercise.  As eye-opening as a white-gold/blue-black dress.

For those who love detail, below is the breakdown of characters (divided up by importance in the story, and taking gender presentation at POV character assumption in regards to less binary gender identities).  I also chose to count all characters, even those identified only as "a girl".

Critical to the plot (F: 4/ M:3)
One Aunt (F)
Two Nieces (F)(F)
One Nephew (M)
One Vampire (M)
A Suleviae Princess (F)
An Alban (M)

Important to the plot (F: 2/ M: 4)
Another Suleviae Princess (F)
Another Alban (F)
A Swedish Prince (M)
A Bound (M)
A Roman friend (M)
An Eccentric (M)

Plot role/several paragraphs of dialogue (F: 26/ M: 11)
Another Bound (F)
A collection of Royal Heirs (F)(F)(F)(M)
Two Sphinxes (FF)
A Consort (M)
A Suleviae Queen (F)
Another Vampire (M)
A Cab Driver (F)
A Dragonfly Rider (F)
A Daughter of Lakshmi (F)
A Warden of the Borough (F)
A Family of Grocers (MF)
An Eccentric's Assistant (M)
Two God-touched (M)(F)
A Pharaoh (F)
A Curator (F)
A Police Commander (F)
Conspirators (F)(M)(F)(F)
A Wisdom (M)
A Coafor (F)
A Page (F)
A Minister (F)
Fulgite Conspirators (MFFF)
A Custodian (F)
Gods/higher powers affecting plot (M)(F)(M)(Unspecified)

Brief role/appearance/dialogue (F: 22/ M: 27)
A couple on a train (UU)
Station Master (M)
Train driver (F)
Two train guards (MM)
A Courser Rider (M)
A Workshop Manager (F)
A gawp of Warehouse Workers (MMM)
A Shop Gossip (M)
Volunteers and Grove Visitors (FM, U)
A Warden's grandchildren (FM)
A gift dog (M)
A horned serpent (F)
Various triskelion (N)(N)(N)(N)
Various other horned serpents (U)
Folies (U)
A current First Minister (F)
The Daughter of a Pharaoh (F)
Hotel doorman (M)
A Roman Engineer (M)
A Palace Factotum (M)
A Sacred Mare (F)
A Wind Stag (M)
Hounds, Owls, Mice, etc (U)
A Grove Administrator (F)
Three Potential Students (FFF)
A Fencing Instructor (M)
A Brace of Drunkards (FMF)
A Hand of Huntresses (FFFFF)
A Secretary (M)
Day Staff (M)
A Foreman (M)
Roman Expert (M)
Cart Driver (M)
Minister's Second (M)
A Chauffer (M)
An Attendant (U)
Dead People (MMFF)
A Caracal (F)
Siege Fellows (MUUUUU)

Mentioned, but do not appear (F: 28/ M: 38)
Niblings' parents (MF)
The Three Sisters (three former Suleviae) (FFF)
Three Prytennian Dragons (FMF)
Aunt's parents (MF)
Cantankerous great-uncle (M)
A Dacian Proconsul and his son (MM)
A French Princess (F)
Mayor Desh-aht (not specified)
A former First Minister (M)
Train passenger (F)
Hotel staff (not specified)
A former Keeper of the Deep Grove (F)
Aquitanian Hoteliers (FF)
A Lawyer (U)
An Apprentice (F)
A Vendor of Patent Medicine (F)
An Egyptian King (M)
A Student Artist (M)
Wisdoms (M, unspecified)
A Coafor (M)
A Karnatan King (M)
A dog walker (F)
A French Great-Aunt (F)
A Taxi Driver (U)
Palace Guards (F, U)
A Princess' Grandfather (M)
A member of the Tuatha De Danaan (U)
A King of the Tuatha De Danaan (M)
A Dragon Emperor (M)
A Tutor (U)
A Kitten (M)
A French Prince (M)
A Roman Consul (M)
An Auction Purchaser (M)
An Artist's Model (U)
Feuding Siblings (M)(F)
A Deiographer (M)
An Estate Guide (U)
An Art Teacher (M)
A Drink Inventor (F)
Four Nephews (MMMM)
An Avid Driver (F)
Unlucky Child (M)
Fulgite Dealer (M)
Artists (UUUF)
A Captured Driver (M)
Nomarch of the East (F)
Gods/higher powers (M)(M)(M)(F)(F)(F)(F)(F)(M)(F)(F)(M)(M)(M)(M)(F)(M) 8/9

31 March 2015

D&D vs Otome

I've played far more D&D based games than otome games (otome is a Japanese term for 'girl').  The majority of otome games I've run across are variations on visual novels, where you mostly endlessly click Next, with very occasional decision moments.  There are also massive amounts of games in Japan that have no official English language release and which I'm far too unmotivated to try and play.  Some of these seem to be quite dark.

The otome games I have liked tend to be a combination of "life simulation" (where you raise skills) and some kind of fantasy or SFF plot (like God Save the Queen).

So, anyway, last weekend I downloaded on Steam both a D&D game, and an otome game...and the otome game was better.

The D&D was Pillars of Eternity, a kickstarted revisit to a classic period of D&D gaming - if you played Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale you'll have met this sort of game before - you control a little party, running around various maps, killing stuff, exploring dungeons.  These games were a precursor to what we have with Dragon Age today - an early level of party banter and epic plotting, but without quite the level of detail.

Pillars of Eternity was neither brilliant nor entirely bad. But along with the things that were really good about this period of games, it also features some of the more frustrating problems - boring trots slowly across the map, giving the gameplay a feeling of crawling through mud, and combat that simply isn't fun.  I don't entirely dislike games with tough combat, but PoE requires a level of micromanagement to survive even minor battles on the easiest setting and, yeah, maybe I'll grind my way through this game eventually. Maybe I won't.  Hopefully the other game of this type I backed on kickstarter, Torment: Tides of Numenera, will balance all this more on the side of 'fun'.

On the other hand, the otome game turned out to be a lot of fun.  With the rather unwieldy name of 1931 Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum, this offers the usual harem of bishounen for our intrepid heroine to stumble across (yes, including a mummy), but is just as strongly focused on Scheherazade (or Sadie) carving an Indiana Jones-esque path through a half-dozen historical locations in between studying at university in 1931.

The archaeology and mythology aspects are remarkably detailed (though with a rather hilarious trip to Australia to track down Mary McKillop's relatives), and the dialogue is often rather amusing.  The skill management, once I figured out how it worked, was challenging, but not impossible and it even makes me interested in doing more than one play-through (with judicious fast-forwarding), to see through some of the other character plotlines.

So, yes, still not doing much writing - in part because there is so much I want to write - short stories, Tangleways, and the siren call of my Singularity SF series.  Pyramids has had a rather quiet launch, but one of the true strengths of self-publishing is that I can keep writing what I want to write, without any pressure to kill myself jumping through promo hoops out of fear that the series will be dropped.