28 July 2011

Impacts of Magic: Women

When creating my worlds some of the primary questions I start with are:

1. Does magic exist?
2. What can it do?
3. What will it change?

What will it change is the thing which fascinates me.  It's so central to the process of my novel-writing, that I'm embarking on a series of posts about the impacts of magic, exploring magic and worldbuilding.  For the purposes of this exercise, the answer to (1) is Yes and (2) is Lots!

The first topic on the cards is one which is of primary interest to me: Women.



What does the existence of  bountiful, working magic mean to women?

Babies

Using magic to get a baby is at least as old as Rapunzel, but magic's key benefit is the avoidance of babies.  Whether charmed necklaces, potions, or useful cantrips, effective, readily obtainable birth control can bring about a fundamental shift in the world's society, primarily because the threat of an unplanned pregnancy will no longer hang over "non-committed" sex.  Additionally, couples might choose to delay children, to spend more time consolidating wealth or pursuing careers and interests.

And, of course, magic offers the possibility of not only safer childbirth, or safer abortion, but can toss out all those doubts concerning paternity.  Where does that leave that insistence on virgin brides?  A quick divination before the marriage vows to confirm that there's no baby on the way (or if there is, then the groom was involved), then it's time for the ceremony!

Will birth control necessarily bring about a sexually free society?  Of course not.  But the chances are much higher, and when building that high-magic fantasy world, it's worth taking the time to ask "why not?" and follow through which rules and symbols (that hymen veil, for instance) will be absent or altered as a result.

Strength

Women are not measurably less intelligent than men, or less perceptive, or less agile.  They share the same number of limbs, the same senses, the same ability to walk upright, to pick up tools and use them.  Yet women, through broad stretches of history and across multiple cultures, have been reduced to chattel - property passed from father to husband.

Why?

At its most simplified, this power imbalance comes down the fact that men are physically stronger than women.  If you ever see any cartoon about caveman courtship, it will involve a woman being dragged back to the cave by her hair.  While, arguably, women are less aggressive than men due to lower testosterone levels, there's a difference between being less aggressive and accepting without protest no property rights, no voting rights, no ability to say No.

Now add working magic to that caveman courtship.  Back in prehistory days, we'd expect a fairly simplified form of magic, perhaps a matter of will and emotion.  Are you really going to risk dragging sexycavegirl99 around by her hair if, when she's driven and desperate and frightened enough, she can make you burst into flame?  Suddenly gender equality hits the negotiating table.

Of course, it's not just a question of mating rituals.  A woman who can detonate boulders when she's riled would likely have some interesting approaches to hunting mammoths.  If you're having a war, do you send the women to cower in the caverns beneath the fort when they can call lightning down on your enemies?  And not to forget the Buffy Summers Effect - just because you tower over the pint-sized blonde doesn't mean she won't have some inborn ability to kick you down the street when you try to drag her into a convenient alley.

Again, no guarantee.  The society which forms around women who can overcome inferiority of strength with an equalizer such as guardian spirits will not necessarily be any less inclined to call them chattel.  But the odds are better, and when you're putting your world together, and you decide how your magic works, you have to ask: if women can do THIS, why do they allow THAT?

Other

There's a great many more things which will impact on women in a world of actual, working magic, although I think Babies and Strength are the pivotal alterations.  I called this section "Other" because it's common to discuss woman's role as "The Other", and there's always a bunch of people who work from the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" point of view - believing that men and women are too fundamentally different to ever really understand each other, to ever really step into each other's shoes and KNOW what it is to be a man, to be a woman, to be Other.

Add magic.

23 July 2011

Sour Cream & Chives Fantasy vs Cheese & Onion Fantasy

The last six months or so I've repeatedly stumbled across an ongoing debate which could be roughly summarised as "gritty fantasy vs heroic fantasy".  Gritty fantasy has been called "nihilistic", while heroic fantasy (more by implication than direct statement) has been cast in the light of shallow wish fulfilment, an old-fashioned kind of fantasy which the genre has 'matured' away from.

Gritty fantasy can be roughly defined as minimal-magic books dealing with the harsher aspects of conflict, where the protagonists are not necessarily likeable, admirable, or 'good'.

Heroic fantasy at its most straightforward is The Hero(ine) vs The Evil.  Magic is strongly present in these novels, making clearer just who The Evil is, often with (as Diana Wynne Jones pointed out in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland) helpful Colour-Coding.

My reactions to these debates has generally been:

- Gritty fantasy is supposed to be something new?
- Gritty fantasy still reads like fantasy to me - we're not going to run out of new sub-genre seats on the fantasy bus.
- It doesn't help to suggest that non-gritty fantasy is somehow immature.
- There are a lot more than two sub-genres in fantasy.

For the most part I've regarded the whole debate with slight bemusement, the same as I would if I found page after blog-page devoted to how Sour Cream & Chives chips are the one true chip, while Cheese & Onion chips are mere pretenders to the deep-fried potato world - or how only kids eat Sour Cream & Chives, and educated folk prefer Cheese & Onion.

And of course I can't help but apply the debate to my own novels, which certainly don't fit the definition of gritty, but don't match that definition of heroic fantasy either (Salt & Vinegar fantasy!).  My books are very high in the magic quotient, and my heroines are generally likeable (I hope), but I'm not falling conveniently into this gritty v heroic argument.

One of my favourite reader reviews for Champion, from the inestimable Chich, says:
Aside from the main character—and you probably know this only because you are in her head—there are no good guys or bad guys. Instead, there are a group of powerful people, everyone with their own agenda trying to impose their will over the rest. But seriously, at one point or another, you have reason to doubt the motives behind anyone's actions. Maybe because this other series I was reading, where the bad guys were so very evil, I kept trying to find someone to blame—to hate. However, much as it happens to the characters in the book, most situations could be looked at from different perspectives and with enough reasons for their actions, instead of anger, the most you can feel for some characters is pity.
When I'm writing, I tend to write about people, not good guys and bad guys.  I don't write massively detailed back stories for every single person who trots across the page, but if they do something, I need to have some vague idea why they're doing it.  "Because they're evil" isn't a very useful motive.

I don't tend to regard the vast majority of people as awful monsters.  I tend to regard most people as a variable combination of kind and petty, operating under a straightforward system of enlightened self-interest.  They'll be helpful or indifferent toward you, unless their own interests are in some way impacted, and then they start making moral decisions.  But in increasingly extreme situations, self-interest and circumstances can lead people into becoming 'evil'.

Champion does have a kind of evil lurking behind everything (Champion's world is actually my fantasy version of a genetic engineering makes monsters which kill you Frankenstein story), but almost everyone is acting in their own self-interest, or the interest of the country they're loyal to.  Stained Glass Monsters is about the process of becoming evil (or not), and how the small choices you make while trying to do whatever you must, can dramatically change what other choices you have to make, and how you're regarded.  Medair, of course, gives us two sides and then hopelessly muddies them, and adds to that a second question of how 'good' Medair's side was - the Ibisian invasion is undoubtedly an evil, but it takes Medair a tremendously long time to recognise that the utopian Palladian Empire she constantly mourns is the result of the systematic invasion of an entire continent.

Gritty?  Heroic?  Neither?  Not real fantasy?  Bleh.  Silly argument.  Fantasy is an infinitely adaptable genre, and we all have our own flavour preference.

20 July 2011

Thank You, Bliss Rowan

I don't think I've yet managed to put out a book which didn't have a typo.  The Silence of Medair had four, which I discovered to my horror when I re-read it after it was shortlisted for the Aurealis.  It probably still has a couple, hidden in plain sight.  I will stamp them out eventually.

I cringe at typos, and strive with each new book to improve the editing cycles the books go through to cut them out.  And I accept that I will always get affect/effect wrong, no matter how many people correct the drafts - I've reached the point that I think there is no right way to use affect/effect, and I've started to phrase certain sentences to use different words.

I also deliberately employ "not correct" grammar occasionally, though I don't use as many sentence fragments as I was once inclined to.  I will dangle prepositions, or leave out participles, whatever.  If a sentence sounds better to me that way, that's how it's going to be.  But that's a choice.

No-one likes to have errors pointed out to them (and sometimes I might disagree on what constitutes an error), but I always want to hear about them.  And they cut my esteem a little each time.  But today Bliss Rowan gave me a nice little comparative boost.

The last couple of months I've been reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels in chronological order.  I'm a little over halfway through.  Some I've read before, and some I haven't.  They were published from the 1930s to the 1970s, and a lot have been out of print.  A few years ago, ebooks were released of most of them, although there's a few still to come.  The copyright seems to be owned by different publishers, and the pricing is all over the place, but most are released by Bantam, and cost $9.99.

Bantam, it is clear, scanned these books, ran them through a spell-checker, but didn't bother to copy-edit them.  The last book I finished, If Death Ever Slept, was riddled with Mm for 'him' and Ms for 'his'.  And the next, And Four to Go, has introduced me to Bliss Rowan.

I've never encountered Bliss Rowan in a Nero Wolfe book before.  Miss Lily Rowan, of course, is a recurring character.  Today she has served the delightful purpose of making me feel a little better about those four errors in Medair.

Because Bantam is making my four, tiny, quickly fixed errors look damn good by comparison.  So thank you, Bliss Rowan.

15 July 2011

Fresh Eyes

I started working on Voice again this week, re-reading and fine-tuning and underlining a reaction to an event which was missing in the previous draft.

This is a book which starts out action-heavy, and as it has been quite a few months since my last look at it, I managed to get something closer to "reader reaction" to the story.  You can never truly read your own writing as a reader would (even if every reader was the same), but you can step back from the details and get caught in the story.

And, damn, I'm AWFUL to my characters.

Physically Medair comes out of the story better than most of them (Cass is by far my most-injured), but I think she is the most brutalised 'spiritually'.  Part of this is the product of the person she once was, a child of unthinking privilege, and also because this story is probably the novel of mine with the 'largest' theme, but she grew up so idealistic and proud, and I keep kicking her in the face.

11 July 2011

Duplicates

There's a Canadian singer named "Autumn Wright", so I decided to stop confusing her fans. :)  A slight name change, though it will take the bots a while to clear out the old one from the search engines.

I'll leave this background image up for a while - it's one of my favourite covers.  I love the way Julie (Dillon) did the ribbons wrapped around Rennyn's fingers, and Rennyn is one of my favourite characters.

10 July 2011

Cover Play

I've been playing with possible font/title placement for Voice of the Lost.  I always tend to want fancy squiggly fonts, but these are always unreadable in thumbnail.  You can see that some of these options would work fine for the cover of the trade paperback, but won't be much chop for an inch-high image.



Other variations:


I've also been playing with fonts for some placeholder covers for next year's books, until I get pictures for them.  The font on The Sleeping Life (you'll have to look at it in close up) is one I find absolutely gorgeous, but there's not many covers it would work on.


 

07 July 2011

Self-pub Q&A

Q's from Dave:

1) What can you say about your method for tracking sales data? How do your sales trends influence your decisions about timing of new releases, advertising etc?

2) Given your experiences with Glacial Decisions Publishing Inc, have you foresworn traditional publishing altogether or are you still trying to get some of your work into the trad pipeline?

3) What haven't you said yet about your cover design process?

Sales data

Tracking sales data for a self-publisher is fairly straightforward (unlike traditionally published authors, whose sales numbers may as well involve sorting through the entrails of a goat, so far as I can tell).

I e-publish through KDP, which posts sales within an hour or so (broken up between the three Amazon areas - US, UK and DE) and Smashwords which posts sales immediately for sales made on site (and emails you about them if you want), and sporadically posts data from other distributors that I sell through via Smashwords (Apple, Kobo, etc).  Hard copies are through CreateSpace, which again is fairly immediate data.

These are my US KDP sales so far this month:


As you can see, my rambly SF diary is just a tad better a seller than my high fantasy, but that's apparently a general trend - high fantasy is considered a very non-hot genre at the moment.  [Of course, it would help immensely if I did more promotion work.]  I'm nowhere in the league of people making a living off their writing (hundreds of sales a day), but I've been having a great time reading some of the reviews popping up on Amazon which show me that for a couple of people I've become a "to buy" writer - that I meet their particular tastes, which is a really nice thing for me.  [I also have a hilarious one-star review for being a swear-bear.]

Timing of new releases, advertising

Sales trends have no influence whatsoever on what books get put out when - I put them out when I'm satisfied with them, and they have a cover.

In terms of advertising, I haven't tried to time anything as yet, though I gather people buy more leading up to Christmas, but for e-books post-Christmas is the biggie, after all those new e-readers are unwrapped.

I do tend to second-guess myself about pricing, and it will be interesting to see whether sales drop off drastically for Stray when it goes back up to $2.99 in a week (let alone my high fantasy going up to $4.99).  I've decided to stick to the pricing schedule I posted, at least for a while.

Traditional publishing

I don't submit any more, and have no particular motivation to return to the submission queue.  I suppose if I started selling amazingly well a publisher might approach me, and I'd have to make some form of decision.  It would be sensible to work with a traditional publisher for foreign language sales, but for English language books I'm not sure I'd want to give up e-book rights and apparently e-book rights are the big deal-breaker these days.

Still, not something I need to worry about unless that whole "selling amazingly well" thing happens.

Covers

Are fun!  I'll talk about them more when I'm finalising the cover for Voice.

03 July 2011

Stained Glass Mapping

Added the map for Stained Glass Monsters (and sent the file for update on CreateSpace).  For The Sleeping Life I'll have to expand this, and Tyrland will shrink down to a middle-sized kingdom, thoroughly dwarfed by the Empire Rennyn & co head to in an attempt to clear up some unfinished business.

I also updated the ebook files to the new formatting fad which is going around - including the blurb in the 'front matter' of the ebook.  This is something I've wished for more than once when reading ebooks since it's very common to download a mass of samples and then have no idea what any of them are supposed to be about by the time you get around to reading them.  Even if you embed the description in the metadata of the ebook, too many ereaders don't display this in any handy way - so I'm including mine right after the copyright page.

Other than that, I've been playing some Nancy Drew hidden object games, and failing to weed the garden.