Proof I’m Not Crazy: Reviews!

I have a book signing tomorrow at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA (7pm-9pm). Please come!

Hey! HEY YOU! I've got a book? You like books, doncha? How about you read MY BOOK! Hey! HEY!

Hey! HEY YOU! I’ve got a book? You like books, doncha? How about you read MY BOOK! Hey! HEY!

Associated with such an event, however, is the permanent and paralyzing fear that no one, in fact, will show up. It might seem like, outside of a few friends and family who might pop in, nobody much cares about my book or my career or the fact that the fantasy genre exists at all. All of it, ultimately, must be some kind of consensual delusion on the part of myself, my publisher, and the bookseller.

But I’m not crazy. For one thing, there’s Kameron Hurley’s lovely post on how our work matters. For another, there are reviews of my book, which, but for a singular exception, have all been simply lovely. Also, here’s the best part: I don’t even know all of those people.

So, as an effort to pump myself up AND as an effort to drum up attention for my novel, The Oldest Trick, just now released in paperback, let me collect for you a selection of review highlights.

Habershaw has a deft, sure touch and his characters are delicious. This is a well-crafted, gripping adventure.

~Samantha Murray, Amazon, 5 Stars

The Oldest Trick is a stand-out debut from talented new writer, Auston Habershaw. Intricate and deft world-building, strong characterization, a wry sense of humour and satisfying twists all infuse this novel. Well worth a look.

~Charcoal Chicken, Amazon, 5 Stars

Auston Habershaw’s attention to detail in creating his world of Alandar is nothing short of stunning (care to take a ride on spirit train anyone?).

~Steve Pantazis, Amazon, 5 Stars

Alandar is, quite simply, unlike any other place I’ve visited in fantasy. Habershaw tears down well-worn tropes and builds them into something new and unexpected.

~Daniel J Davis, Amazon, 5 Stars

An epic fantasy rollick in the style of Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch...Richly envisioned without getting bogged down in exposition, and bursting with action.

~John Perich, Amazon, 4 Stars

Alandar, the world of The Oldest Trick, is awesome. It’s dark and fantastical, full of magic and assassins and pickpockets. To me, it’s an amalgamation of anime, grimdark and the top tier of contemporary epic fantasy. The characters are slick, and not without motivations.

~ChappyZach, Amazon, 5 Stars

Auston Habershaw’s The Iron Ring is an explosive debut by a talented new voice in fantasy. It is remarkably well-written, fast-paced, and highly entertaining. The main character evokes images of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora, quick-witted, charming, and rogue-like, while the worldbuilding is as deep and complex – yet logical – as any Brandon Sanderson book.

~Nathan Garrison, Goodreads, 4 Stars

I freaking love this series. This is how high-fantasy should be done. Can’t wait for the next one.

~Brooke Johnson, Goodreads, 4 Stars

Compared with The Lies of Locke Lamora or The Name of the Wind, this book should only get 4.35 stars, compared with pretty much every other fantasy novel it’s 4.68 stars, rounded up to a well-deserved five. It’s been some time since I have read a fantasy-trilogy/series? that had me this excited. Most highly recommended.

~Tom Loock, Goodreads, 5 Stars

So there, see? I’m not a lunatic. This book is worth your time. Either the world is crazy, or I’m pretty good at this. So get out there and meet Tyvian Reldamar, scoundrel extraordinaire, as he struggles with his cursed ring and tries to get revenge without being bad.

And if you do, leave a review when you’re finished, okay?

Events! News! Books! Yay!

Exciting news, friends and stalkers! Thanks mostly to the Writers of the Future Vol 31 Anthology (to buy your copy, click on the picture on the sidebar), I am now ranked as an Amazon bestselling author in Science Fiction and also in Fantasy.


#29 in Science Fiction

#34 in Fantasy

Pretty wild, no?

Fair warning: they aren't exactly being shipped first class.

Fair warning: they aren’t exactly being shipped first class.

Additional News

Those winners of my little giveaway for a signed copy of The Oldest Trick now, finally, after long ages of waiting, have their books in the mail. If the postal service is smiling upon you, you should have it within the week. Just in time for release day.

Which reminds me…


The Oldest Trick, first installment in my fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, is releasing tomorrow in paperback for the first time. If you too enjoy the smell of a good book and the feel of smooth paper in your hands or just viscerally enjoy folding the corner over of a saved page, then go online and order! Available online wherever books are sold!


This is a picture of me signing Kevin J Anderson's copy of the WoTF anthology, just to prove that I know how to sign a book.

This is a picture of me signing Kevin J Anderson’s copy of the WoTF anthology, just to prove that I know how to sign a book.

Never fear, my irrationally angry friend, this week there are not one, but TWO opportunities to not only acquire the book immediately but also to meet my stunning personage and have the opportunity for me to vandalize your newly bought property!

I am holding two book signings this week.

Thursday, 10/1, 7pm-9pm at Pandemonium Books and Games

Come to this cornerstone of the Boston Scifi and Fantasy world, nestled in the heart of Cambridge’s Central Square (and easily accessible via the T). Come meet me, come let me sign my book for you, and also peruse the many other wonders this hidden gem holds. Here’s the public facebook event, too!

Saturday, 10/3, 5pm-8pm at On the Dot Books

At this event in Dorchester, not only will there be books to buy and sign, but there will also be food and a cash bar (I think–still hashing that out). Join THAT event either here or here!

So, a busy week ahead! Please come see me! Amazon says I’m good, dammit – you should believe them!


The Muppets: ‘Twas Ever Thus

I watched the pilot of the new Muppet Show the other day. I like it – a number of the gags were hilarious, I liked seeing all the gang again, and I thought the trope/show structure was fun and has a lot of potential. Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest thing I ever saw (a lot of the jokes fell flat), but I liked it and will watch again. I went to sleep that night thinking that it was a pretty solid rebooting of the franchise and that it should do well.

Then, the next day, I saw all the rage. All kinds of backlash from all kinds of places (this one on i09 is a good example) talking about how they “ruined the Muppets” and made them unlikeable and cynical and dark and so on.

And I honestly don’t know what they’re talking about. Really.

Maybe it’s because I, myself, am a fairly cynical and dark human being. Maybe it’s because, as I have small children, I’ve watched almost all the Muppet movies not only recently but many, many times over, but I don’t think this show has changed the Muppets as characters all that much. Sure, sure – the format has changed. The vaudeville acts and the musical numbers have been sidelined (temporarily, perhaps), but the Muppets themselves? Not buying it. Here, I hope to rebut the claims made using evidence from pre-existing Muppet properties.

Claim #1: This Show Has Made the Muppets Cynical and Mean

First off, I would ask somebody to please point out where the cynicism in the pilot is in the first place. Is it from Kermit’s sarcastic remarks? Please! He’s been making those since forever. Point in case, in The Muppet Movie (going all the way back to 1979), Dr. Teeth and the band paint Fozzie’s Studebaker to make it less conspicuous – by covering it with rainbows and star patterns. The following exchange occurs:

DR TEETH: Doc Hopper will never recognize you now!

FOZZIE: I don’t know how to thank you guys!

KERMIT: I don’t know why to thank you guys.

Not enough evidence? Consider how often Kermit facepalms in front of the crowd. Consider how many times he chews out Gonzo for doing something crazy. Consider the number of times he has had it and freaks out on his friends (happens in Muppets Take ManhattanIt’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie, and even The Muppet Movie). It happened on the original show all the damned time. It was a recurring subplot.

Or maybe you felt the sarcasm was a result of how Fozzie was treated. Except of course you are forgetting that he has always and forever been treated this way. He had a dressing room in an alley in Reno in The Muppets, he was shot at and had things thrown at him in The Muppet Movie, he’s been fired, he’s been beaten, thrown from a moving vehicle, and so on. Just because.

As for cynicism, the Muppets have always had their cynical moments–usually at their lowest point, usually just before the pivot into the third act or even as part of the first act: they just lost the theatre, they just got fired, they just got thrown out of their home. Hell, at the start of It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Movie, Kermit is contemplating suicide, just like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. The “cynicism” people are pointing to in this new television series seems to me evidence of the fact that the show is just starting and the Muppets are stuck in a rut. A rut they can break out of or recover from. It’s only the pilot guys.

Claim #2: This Show Has Muppets + Sex! OUTRAGE!

Yeah, I guess you guys have never paid much attention to this show. There has always (ALWAYS) been sexual humor in the Muppets; you were just too young to get it, because it went over your head. Much like this sexual humor would go over any kid’s head. Seriously, where was the actual raunchy sex talk? Fozzie made a “bear” reference, but what little kid is going to get that? Do they ever discuss sex? Fozzie is just dating a girl and they talk about having children. Animal mentions “too many women.” That’s it.

But beyond that, have we forgotten about Animal’s track record? Here, let me remind you:

Ah, yes--subtle. I can see how you missed it.

Ah, yes–subtle. I can see how you missed it.

That scene involved Animal chasing a blonde out of a theatre at the start of The Muppets Take Manhattan. What did you think was on his mind?

Not enough for you? What about Gonzo’s weird thing with chickens (obviously NOT Platonic–he gives her mouth-to-mouth later on in Muppets Take Manhattan and it is played for all it’s worth). Oh, and – Dear God! – did you forget all about the It’s a Very Muppet Christmas Special in which Kermit, like George Bailey, is experiencing an alternate universe in which he never existed. In that alternate universe, he encounters this image:

Yes. That is what you think it is.

Yes. That is what you think it is.

That is Scooter, dressed in tight pants and leather dog collar, gyrating in a steel cage inside a seedy nightclub. Yes. Scooter.

Oh, and is it the Muppet/Human love affair that creeps you out? Have we forgotten that such love affairs have occurred consistently and forever since the Muppets’ inception. How many of the male guest stars on the original Muppet Show did Piggy lust after? Did we forget her fantasy involving Charles Grodin serenading her while she swam about in a silver swimsuit in a synchronized swimming routine during The Great Muppet Caper? Did we forget Kermit’s budding romance with Juliana Donald’s waitress character in Muppets Take Mahattan?

Yeah. Yeah, I guess we did.

Claim #3: They Threw Piggy Under the Bus

Pictured: Not a sane pig.

Pictured: Not a sane pig.

Okay, yeah – Piggy is a narcissistic, delusional, fame-addled lunatic in the new show. She is the target of fat jokes and played up as crazy.

Except that she’s always been a narcissistic, delusional, fame-addled lunatic who has been the target of fat jokes and played up as crazy.

Piggy has never bothered to remember Gonzo’s name (not since The Muppet Movie), she has never bothered to care about Kermit’s feelings, and she has always, always, always been portrayed as a character with less talent than aggressive self-interest. She is the quintessential diva and has always been thus.

Now, you can say that this is an unfair depiction of a strong woman, and I would certainly agree with you, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is her portrayal. Piggy ditches Kermit as soon as she gets a phone call from her agent in The Muppet Movie (in the middle of a date). She lies about her identity in The Great Muppet Caper to impress Kermit and to indulge in her own delusions of grandeur. She lies to Kermit again in Muppets Take Manhattan when she claims to leave town but, instead, sticks around and stalks Kermit out of jealousy. In the original show, she is constantly locking herself in her dressing room, making unreasonable demands, screaming at people, and Kermit is there nodding and trying to calm her down and taking the heat. In The Muppets, they have Piggy playing a corpse on a gurney in a mock episode of Scrubs and she refuses to play dead and inserts herself in the scene to the frustration of the rest of the cast. She is that person.

I will readily agree that Piggy has good qualities. She is tough, smart, willing to take risks, assertive, and has a mean karate chop. She saves the frog’s bacon (pardon the pun) on several occasions, granted. Ultimately, when push comes to shove, Piggy is a good person and does the right thing. Which, of course, is actively demonstrated in the pilot episode when she and Kermit apologize to one another and promise to be honest.

As for the fat jokes, well, they are artifacts from a previous era and should go. Mocking Piggy for her weight and size was a giggle in the 1970s, but not anymore. If I have a critique of the show, that’s the primary one – that joke landed as crass and mildly offensive.


This is the first episode of a series that, presumably, will build upon the emotional relationships and allow characters to evolve. To claim they “ruined the Muppets” is both inaccurate and premature. If you think this Muppet Show was dark and sarcastic, you just haven’t been paying attention to the Muppets overall for the past 40-some-odd years.

Now, what is missing from this pilot is the feel-good, hopeful songs – things like “Rainbow Connection” and “Somebody’s Getting Married” – as well as the zany vaudevillian stuff. If that was your primary draw for the Muppets, I’m sorry about that. Let’s not pretend, though, that these Muppets aren’t the Muppets we’ve always known and loved. They’re just doing a slightly different act.



The Simple Revolution

I just read a piece by Aliette de Bodard on about how oppressive systems perpetuate themselves. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (good read, by the way – nice, fast paced, and very Star Wars-ish). Also somewhat coincidentally, I’ve been working on another book in The Saga of the Redeemed that, in fact, deals with popular revolution against an oppressive regime.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that revolution is very much on my mind.

(please pause as the NSA zeroes in its internet snoopers…)

Clearly these are faces you can trust, backwater farm boy. Giant fish men wouldn't steer you wrong!

Clearly these are faces you can trust, backwater farm boy. Giant fish men wouldn’t steer you wrong!

De Bodard’s article has it exactly right – oppressive systems do not persist in spite of the people but with their approval (tacit or begrudging as it may be). One of the things I liked about Wendig’s novel is that he goes out of his way to mention and show how people put up with the Galactic Empire for so long because that was basically how it was done. That was just how the world was. Yeah, they sucked, but if you kept your head down and didn’t cause trouble and just went along to get along, you’d be more-or-less fine. Luke Skywalker, remember, was going to apply to the Imperial Naval Academy in Episode IV. Not the rebels. The rebels, I’m betting, didn’t offer much in the way of career options or recruiting centers. Yeah, young Luke wanted off the farm, but he didn’t want off it that badly that he was going to throw in his lot with a bunch of crazy terrorists.

Wendig also tries to demonstrate how messy the transition from Galactic Empire to New Republic is going to be, too. For one thing, as the tagline says, the war isn’t over. There’s a lot of Galactic Empire out there, folks, and it isn’t about to roll over and die. Well, not all of it. Some of it will, some of it will go rogue, other parts will keep fighting. Criminal syndicates will take over backwater systems. Vigilantes will run amok. Basic systems and services will break down. Lots and lots and lots of people will die. That’s just for starters, too, and during that time you are going to have a lot of people asking one question:

“Was the Galactic Empire really all that bad? Was it worse than this?”

In Crane Brinton’s The Anatomy of Revolution, he talks about something called the Thermidorian Recation – the period of calm that follows the furor of revolution. Most interestingly, this reaction sees the relaxation of some revolutionary policies and, in the end, results in the new order sharing a number of potent similarities with the old order. In other words, the revolution, in the end, doesn’t change society half as much as it thinks it will. The Russian people weren’t a hell of a lot better off under the Soviets than they were under the Czars; the new system of the United States wasn’t all that much different than Britain; the current rulers of Egypt are scarcely any different than Mubarak. Heck, it’s basically the same people in charge. Again.

In the Saga of the Redeemed, particularly in the next book or three, I want to deal with the awkwardness and horrible mess that is involved in “fixing society.” Tyvian, bound by the ring’s influence, has to act to do what is “right,” but what is “right” doesn’t always translate to what is “best” (as he points out strenuously and at length). Indeed, there seems to be some doubt on his part that any improvement at all is possible, especially given that, in the end, all new world orders are made up of the same things: human beings.

While I am perhaps not as cynical as my protagonist (heaven forfend!), I do wonder if people understand what they’re advocating for when they propose to tear down an oppressive system. We make it sound so easy sometimes – the American Revolution was won at the Battle of Yorktown, and that was it (and yet, in 1812, we were basically still fighting it). One battle – one war – does not a revolution make. Society changes slowly, very slowly; it’s like the melting of a glacier. Sometimes a big hunk falls off all at once and there’s a huge crash, but that was made possible by a long, long process of the supporting ice melting out from underneath. Even then – even after it falls – it will just freeze back again come winter unless we are vigilant (or we raise the ambient temperature of the globe sufficient to…actually, you know what? Different discussion for a different time.).

The revolutions of the world are not just the stories of Luke Skywalker or George Washington. They are also the story of the pain, suffering, and deaths of thousands or even millions of souls trapped beneath the wheels of history. If you need a reminder of just how ugly a thing that can be, you need look no further than the barbed wire fences surrounding the nation of Hungary and the poor, starving people huddled on the other side.

Book Signings for THE OLDEST TRICK!

Ooooo! Made with read dead trees!

Ooooo! Made with read dead trees!

Release day of the paperback version of The Oldest Trick is fast approaching! On September 29th, my debut novel (err…novels) will be available in physical form for you to annotate, smell, and hurl against the wall in a fit of anger at Tyvian’s latest act of douchebaggery.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I’ve got a pair of book signings planned that you are all cordially invited to attend.

Signing the First:

Where: Pandemonium Books and Games, 4 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 

When: Thursday, October 1st, 7pm-9pm

Pandemonium is one of my favorite book stores/gaming spots in the Greater Boston area – I’ve been going there for years. Nestled in the heart of Central Square, it’s easily accessible from the T. It should be a really fun time. What’s more, people will be playing my favorite game, Warhammer 40,000, in the basement while the signing is going on! (I realize this might not be a draw for everyone, but, well, that’s too damned bad.)

Signing the Second:

Where: On the Dot Books, 1739 Dorchester Ave, Dorchester MA

When: Saturday, October 3rd, 5pm-8pm

On the Dot is a little independent bookstore in Dorchester that takes a special interest in local authors and, as luck would have it, is attached to a café (which I am renting out). There will be some food (though what and how much is still being hashed out) and probably a cash bar. This is more of a signing/release party kind of thing, and should also be a giant blast. Please come if you can!

About Those Giveaway Winners

So, some months ago now, I had a little signed copy giveaway of my book, as I was under the impression it would be released in paperback in July. Well, then it turned out to be August. Then they pushed it back to September. I’m just here to tell you guys: I haven’t forgotten and, yes, you will get a book. There is a crate of them being shipped to my house as we speak (well…hopefully). I should have them by the 29th at the latest and I’ll be putting them in the mail just about as soon as I have them in hand. Thank you all for your patience.

There you have it! Book signings and events! (Also, don’t forget I’ll be at the ITVFest in Vermont next week! Come on up and have fun in the beautiful Vermont countryside!) Come and meet me! Have me scribble on your book! I’m looking forward to it!

Writers: The Morlocks of Creation

Read a thing on a friend of mine’s facebook feed today. It was a picture of a Craigslist ad or similar that went something like this:

I’m looking for a fiction writer who can write a series of books in the Paranormal Romance, Werewolf Romance, Christian Romance, or Military Romance genres. You must think creatively about the topic I give you and write a full book (5000 words) that is unique and original and that will attract readers. Must have lots of description. I will pay $40 (Canadian) and a $5 bonus if delivered within 5 days. Copyright will revert to me upon publication. Send a writing sample.

Two things here (well, a lot more than two, but let’s focus on the big ones, shall we?):

  1. What kind of idiot would ever sign up for such a thing?
  2. What the actual fuck is this poster thinking?

What’s sad here is probably somebody gave this a shot. Being a writer is depressing, lonely work at times and getting a quick $45 is probably tempting if all you’ve had is Ramen Noodles and multivitamins for a week and a half between pulling doubles at TGI Fridays. But holy crap, writers, don’t you dare do this! Don’t! Hell, I’d pay you $40 US to not do it. (please note: I have no actual money. Just, you know, making a point)

I’m reminded of this wonderful, expletive-laced rant by Harlan Ellison which I will share with you now:

The man is right, dammit. We are living in the middle of a society that is constantly and aggressively seeking to devalue art and artists. I talk about writers here, but it may as well be anybody we loosely categorize with the flavorless moniker “content creators.” Actors, graphic artists, musicians, sculptors, writers – performers of any stripe – have been reduced to being seen as hobbyists with nothing better to do or lazy bums who will dance for a nickel.

Granted, there are always dilettantes – that guy who comes up to the lead guitarist in a band and says “hey! I play guitar! But I gave it up – I like making money.” Yes, we (by “we” I mean “actual artists”) dislike that person for belittling our art and they suck and so-on, but the person who’s worse – the person who is far, far worse – is the person who expects you to perform your task for free. If you consider yourself a professional, the answer should be no. It should always, always be no. Be polite, of course, but tell them to walk. Professionals, by definition, get paid. Maybe not a lot, but still something.

Hey, man, this CD has some mean riffs, right? Twenty bucks.

Hey, man, this CD has some mean riffs, right? Twenty bucks.

Artists may not run the government, they may not drive the economy, they may not fight the wars or pave the roads or build the houses, but they create the culture. They fashion the very ineffable substance that makes our daily lives bearable. Ever gone to work humming a song? Ever imagined yourself as this or that great hero or wished for romance of the kind you read about in a book? That stuff – the stuff of living – is made by artists, most of whom are pretty near broke or, if they aren’t, are working a side-job and squeezing in their passion between shifts and kids and meals and their love life and everything else. Like the Morlocks in HG Wells The Time Machine, they make your life more liveable while they toil in the shadows. Ponying up the occasional Eloi isn’t too much to ask, right?

I’ll tell one more story, and then I’m out:

During the Writers of the Future Workshop, my fellow writers and I were let loose on Hollywood Boulevard to talk to a total stranger as part of our “24-hour story” exercise. I talked to a number of people, but maybe the most interesting was this one guy hawking CDs by the Chinese Theater. He was yelling as people passed by, trying to give them the hard sell on his music, hassling strangers. He had a shield up around his inner self – he was the carnival barker, not the guy putting his love on the street for others to walk over. I’ve worked jobs like that before, and it’s pretty demoralizing, especially when it’s your own work you’re hawking. So, I walked up to him and bought a CD. “How much,” I asked.

“Whatever you got, man, that’s fine.”

I gave him twenty bucks.

His eyebrows shot up. He got quiet for a second. He took my hand and he shook it. “Thank you.” He didn’t seem to think that was enough. The shields were down now – I could see this was an important moment for him, even if only a small one. “I just want you to know…” his voice cracked a little, “I want you to know that I’m really good, okay? I’m not just talking. My music is important to me, and I really think I’m good.”

That right there was worth the twenty bucks.

Pay the writer. Pay the artist.

Publicity Notes

  • I’ll be signing copies of The Oldest Trick at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA on October 1st from 7pm-9pm. Come check it out!
  • I’m heading up to Dover VT for the Independent Film and Television Festival this 24th-27th! I’ll be giving a presentation on World Building in Science Fiction and Fantasy on Saturday morning at 11am. The rest of the festival looks great, and time is running out to get passes and lodging. Hopefully I’ll see you up there!

So Close, Yet So Far

I will now put forth a premise that I shall seek to support:

You cannot love both The Hobbit and The Silmarillion in the same way.

I don’t mean to say that you cannot enjoy both – it is possible, and indeed I myself do enjoy both. I am saying you cannot love both in the same way and,

You like the guy, face it.

You like the guy, face it.

arguably (though I am less certain on this score), you likely cannot love them the same amount. The reason for this is narrative distance.

In The Hobbit, you are right there with Bilbo every step of the way. You learn his quirks, his thoughts, his every move. You are tired when he is tired, full when he is full, and so on and so forth. The narrative distance is small. Granted, Tolkien does maintain a certain distance from his character (the narrator often has little asides to the readers about this or that), but for the most part you are deep in there, in the trenches of Bilbo’s adventure. It begins and ends with him, and it is told in that way. Heck, the name of his memoir is There and Back Again. Indeed, one could argue that at least half the uproar against Peter Jackson’s…well, let’s just say indulgent adaptation is that so much of the story eclipsed Bilbo’s journey, his growth, and his triumph.

Cool picture. Who cares about these people, though? (yes, I know the picture is from Warhammer)

Cool picture. Who cares about these people, though?
(yes, I know the picture is from Warhammer)

In The Silmarillion, things are different. This is not the story of an individual (though there are many important individuals to like). It is not the story of a single act or battle (there are numerous to choose from). The Silmarillion is a epochal tale, spanning a full Age of the Middle Earth (or two). The characters, though personified, are not people. You don’t know how Feanor likes to drink his tea. You don’t know what it was like for poor Galadrial to walk across Helcaraxe with the other Noldor when the world was young. Was she cold? Frightened? You have no idea. The story doesn’t tell you and, what’s more, doesn’t treat such details as important. The Silmarillion is a book of history and myth for a fictional world and, therefore, the individual is subsumed beneath the tides of peoples and ages. You are observing the world from an extreme narrative distance granting you unparalleled breadth and scope of narrative, but no intimacy. When Gothmog smites Feanor down, you couldn’t give a shit.

You’ve probably noted that I have a bias, here, but I’m trying not to. There is nothing wrong with a broad, mythic approach to storytelling. Many wonderful stories are told that way – The Iliad, much of the Old Testament, and many modern fantasy and science fiction novels, as well. It’s a totally different flavor, though, than the intimate tale. I contend that you can’t love them the same way, because they are fundamentally different things.

 Recently, I read Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem and, following that, read Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings. Both of these stories maintain a pretty healthy narrative distance between the reader and the characters. Even though Three-Body Problem runs a fairly close Third-Person Limited point of view, you don’t feel close to the characters. Your connections with them are mostly businesslike, with the exception of one character (one of the first ones you meet). Likewise, The Grace of Kings tells a sweeping saga of rebellions and empires and battles and politics, but only one character really captures your attention and, even then much of what he does is held at a distance from the reader. You do not live in Kuni Garu’s shoes. His struggles are not your struggles. You like the guy, sure, but you are only mildly disappointed at his setbacks and modestly gratified by his victories.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, personally speaking, such styles are not for me. I am in it for the character, ultimately, and the character alone. I can extend my concern to a group of characters, certainly, but there is only so close I can get to so many. One of the reasons why I am drifting away from George R.R. Martin these days is because there are so many POV characters in Westeros that I’m losing interest. Martin, to his great credit, has spent about five books having his cake and eating it too – telling a sweeping narrative of historical proportions while also keeping you emotionally connected to (most) of the protagonists. That, however, is a slippery tightrope, and he’s losing his footing for me. I don’t think I’m alone there.

My closest inspirations for my own fantasy work are the likes of Robert Jordan (who wound up having much the same problem as Martin is struggling with at the end), Patrick Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch. For them, character – the individual – is the key to the story. Tell as many generational tales as you like, but I want to be able to feel at home with the protagonist. I want to hear Kvothe sing, I want to trade dirty jokes with Locke and Jean, I want to get in arguments with Nynaeve and watch her tug her braid in frustration. If I can’t have that – if I can’t make a personal, intimate connection with the characters I’m supposed to be caring about – I’m not going to get invested in the story. I might enjoy the story, but I’m not going to love it the same way.

EDIT: Apparently WordPress ate the start of a paragraph. It has been replaced.

The Shopkeeper of Mad Mountain

a17a9a2d7a6bc69bd53b0ac0549c2182Hey there, stranger! Welcome to Mad Mountain! Sure, sure – take a look around. I gots everything a party of stu…stupendous heroes like yourselves need to go spelunking down the Black Mine.

What’s that? Oh, right – adventuring. Yeah, that’s what you kids call it. Nothing crazy sounding about that, no sir.

Eh? Oh, yes – that barrel there is full of pebbles. Lightweight, easy to toss, guaranteed to reveal deadfall traps or your money back. Just a silver piece a handful.

Why yes, that price does seem a might bit high, I suppose. But gravel here is pretty hard to come by. I got a mess of children, see, and they go out mornings and collect rocks for their dad. Go ahead and look – I can wait. You won’t find a pebble worth lobbing for six miles in any direction, gods as me witness.

Oh right – here we get to the part where you threaten me with beating and mutilation and such. Same old story. I tell you what, Thagg the Magnificent, if’n you wanna hack off my head, be my guest, but good damned luck finding a healer in this town hereafter. Father Paldrick is a business partner, see? You kill me, and any of your pals what get cursed by spider demons or have their entrails eaten by gorefinder worms or just wind up plain dead are going to stay that way. So, go on mister –  I’ll wait.

Thank you.

Today I’m having a special on used rope. Oh, yes – I’ve been gathering rope from the…err…less successful spelunk…errr…adventurers have left around. Damnest time untying it all sometimes. You wouldn’t believe the stupid nonsense these people try to make outta rope. Catapults, winches, belaying lines, boulder traps – you name it, I’ve hacked it down and respliced it to resell. What? It ain’t stealing, honest! Them folks ain’t needing it anymore.

Yes, nobody has come out the Black Mine alive as of yet. Oh, yes, I’m sure you’ll be the first ones. Why, the Black Mine has never had to face a bloodthirsty barbarian, a charming rogue, a secretive wizard, and a forthright cleric before. No sir. Most folks bring a paladin or a plain old fighter instead of Thagg over there. Sure he’ll make all the difference.

What’s that? Yessir – all those “craptastic rusty lamps,” as you put it, come with a lifetime warranty. You just come on back if it don’t work and I’ll either give you a new one or store credit, I swear. Never had nobody ask for it yet, gods as me witness.

Maps of the dungeon? Now how in the Nine Hells am I supposed to have that hanging around? You think anybody around here actually goes into the Black Mine? We had us a wizard in here to seal it up just so nobody would. But then some fool has to go about running his mouth about all the treasures down there and next thing you know, weird little groups of three to five people start showing up and marching past all them magic wards. Damnest thing, if you ask me. Fools, the lot of them.

Well, except you. You lot look exceptionally intelligent. Can I interest you in a selection of skeleton keys? I’ll give you a money back guarantee.

So, that will be the crowbar, sledgehammer, door wedges, one lamp, five torches, one-hundred and fifty feet of rope (new), four bags of pebbles, some of them ball bearings, and a wheelbarrow. That will be fifty-seven gold and five silver, please. Most generous of you.

You know, now that I think about it, might be there’s treasure to be had off this Black Mine after all.

The Grand Princess Unification Theorem, Corollary One

I am the father of two small girls. I, therefore, watch a lot of Disney movies. I am also a science fiction and fantasy author as well as a literature professor, so when I watch Disney movies, I begin to analyze them in weird ways. A few years back I posited the Grand Princess Unification Theorem which linked Snow White, Sleeping BeautyBeauty and the Beast, and Cinderella into one shared narrative involving a couple fairies meddling in the lives of mortals to breed the ‘perfect’ princess for some purpose of their own as yet undetermined. There were, however, a couple princesses left out of the equation.

For the nonce, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, and Brave clearly exist as a part of their own particular historical heritage and I see no real way to join them together with each other or any other of the stories thus far discussed. I have, however, devised a theory linking Frozen, Tangled, and The Little Mermaid. Ready? Here we go.

A Secondary World

See? I'm not crazy!

See? I’m not crazy!

The three films in question do not link up to the ones set in our world, since there is no mention at all of anything pertaining to it and the kingdoms depicted bear little to no resemblance to actual historical kingdoms of any kind. What this means to me is that these three films are set in a secondary world and, what’s more, they are all set in the same world. Now, with Frozen and Tangled this is no surprise, as Flynn (Eugene) and Rapunzel are guests at Elsa’s Coronation. This clearly places Arendelle and Corona (Elsa and Rapunzel’s respective home countries) in the same universe. What’s more, the two countries maintain diplomatic relations or, perhaps, are even distantly related by blood (Rapunzel could easily be a cousin of some sort).

How does The Little Mermaid fit in? Well, first let’s consider geography. All three countries, as depicted, are maritime powers, with shipping and boating being apparently key aspects of their economy. Corona seems to be situated on the mainland, as does Arrendelle (though Arrendelle is clearly further north). Eric’s kingdom appears to be island based. It fits. Heck, he is even very likely related to Prince Hans, who is said to be from “the Southern Isles.” He’s probably one of Eric and Ariel’s children (more on that later).

Furthermore, the level of technology and even the fashions of the three countries are interrelated. We see a lot of doublets, for one thing, and the women’s gowns, while different, are different variations on an approximately contemporaneous style. They could easily, easily be from different corners of the same continental region in the same world. Even their soldiers seem to be operating using the same kinds of weapons, armor, and so on.

"Ship parked at the castle" screams maritime power, don't you think?

“Ship parked at the castle” screams maritime power, don’t you think?

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting…

Now, assuming these three settings are three parts of the same world, what happens when Elsa’s power is revealed? As I’ve mentioned before, Elsa’s power is simply unparalleled. It has the power to destabilize the whole world and, if this is a world with Corona and Eric’s kingdom, things are going to get unstable there, too. For starters, there is the inevitable war between Arendelle and Weaseltown which the courageous Duke of Weaseltown tried to prevent by assassinating Elsa (unsuccessfully).

Prince Eric is not “prince” by this time – he and Ariel have been married for a long time, and Ariel has borne fourteen children. This was done, wisely, as a guarantee for the small nation’s trading prowess. As his children’s grandfather, Triton, King of the Ocean, would never sink a vessel with one of his grandchildren aboard. Hence, Eric convinced Ariel to bear a number of children and raised them all as saliors – they traveled the world in Eric’s naval and maritime vessels, and they never encountered any kind of oceanic mishap. Triton loves his grandchildren, after all.

But you know who Triton doesn’t care for, apparently? Anna and Elsa’s parents, the King and Queen of Arendelle. Indeed, Triton doesn’t give a crap about any other humans at all. Ariel’s inhuman origins, though probably not well known as facts, are no doubt whispered as rumors. When one of Granddaddy Triton’s little darling boys is cast out and humiliated by some Arendalish sorceress, Triton is displeased. If Triton is displeased, you can bet Eric is also displeased (because if your father-in-law is King of the Ocean and you live on an island, you do whatever the hell he wants).

The Duke of Weaseltown is no dummy, and he would doubtlessly propose an alliance against Arendelle to King Eric. With his father-in-law in a froth, Eric sees it might be wise to back the Weasels (pronounced “wessels,” please!), even if his youngest son is a douchebag. He demands an apology from Queen Elsa. Elsa, having vivid memories of almost being hacked to death by Prince Hans, probably tells him exactly where to stick it. War develops.

What About Corona?

Trouble is coming, friends. Big trouble.

Trouble is coming, friends. Big trouble.

The war, however, quickly becomes a stalemate. Elsa can send no ships against Weaseltown or the Southern Isles, since Triton will sink them. Likewise, the Southern Isles and Weaseltown can’t come near Arendelle without being frozen solid. The contest becomes one of trade embargos and espionage–you either stand with the Southern Isles or bend your knee to the Snow Queen.

Corona is the tiebreaker. As evidently the wealthiest and most militaristic nation of the three, if they side with Arendelle or the Southern Isles, the other side stands a strong chance of losing. Furthermore, Queen Rapunzel’s legendary healing abilities (still retained, mind you, despite her loss of hair – that’s why we still have Flynn/Eugene to kick around, after all) are a potent ally in their own right.

But which side does Queen Rapunzel pick? On the one hand, she has some kind of pre-existing relationship with Queen Elsa. On the other, pissing off the King of the Ocean seems like a really, really bad idea. So, she remains neutral, but for how long? When Anna shows up in her court in the dead of night with a desperate plea for help, how can she refuse? When she accepts a state visit from Queen Ariel, riding atop a swell of the ocean big enough to swallow her city whole, how can she not be worried?

Well, anyway, it’s a pickle. A damned interesting pickle.

If Disney wants somebody to write a political intrigue-based novel set in this little world of theirs, they’ve got my number. I want to know what happens.

Publicity News

Hey, check this image out:

It's real! It's actually REAL!

It’s real! It’s actually REAL!

You can get yours on September 29th! Or Pre-order your copies now!

E-books Don’t Smell (and other Revelations)

Recently, I said I was hoping to do a Goodreads giveaway as a promo for the paperback release of The Oldest Trick. I’ve got a bunch of electronic contributor copies burning a hole in my pocket at the moment and nothing much to do with them, so I thought giving them away would be pretty cool. Giveaways I’ve hosted here on this blog haven’t worked very smoothly (mostly because there isn’t a good system in place here to trade contact information, track entries, and so on), so Goodreads seemed a natural alternative. There’s just one problem: They don’t run giveaways for e-books. Bummer. Back to the drawing board.

This disappointment is just the latest in a long line of troubles facing the author who publishes only electronically. Now, don’t get me wrong – having a novel out of any stripe is pretty damned exciting and I love that there are people out there who have read and loved my books and I’m immensely grateful to Harper Voyager for publishing them. That said, I’ve found it much harder to promote and sell an e-book than I thought.

At the Writers of the Future Workshop (enter the Writers of the Future Contest, budding SF/F writers!), I had the unique privilege to listen to Tom Doherty of Tor speak about the publishing industry as it exists today. The basic theme of his talk was this: the primary difficulty for new writers and for publishers is the issue of discovery. “The Internet,” he said, “is great if you know what you’re looking for. It’s a really difficult place to discover new talent.” So, for already established authors – folks with back catalogs and name recognition – the Internet is wonderful, since people who like your work can find everything you ever wrote and buy it (a great improvement over bookstores which would only be intermittently stocked with older titles). But for the little guys (like me), I’m just one very tiny mote in an endless sea of book titles from relatively unknown authors. Many of these books are wonderful and an equal quantity are, well, not. It is very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff for anyone, editors, agents, writers, and fans all alike.

Of course, the author must promote his work. This – what you’re reading right now – is one author’s attempt at promotion (I hope that, by reading this blog, you might become curious about my work and buy it without me having to sling mindless Twitter ads at you day in and day out. I have no idea if it works). While the internet is a powerful promotional tool, the e-book is still a harder sell than a physical copy. According to Forbes, e-book sales make up 30% of the market and sales have risen sharply over the past few years while independent bookstores have dropped by more than 50% in the past twenty years. While those are harrowing numbers for print, the fact remains that 70% of books are still sold in print and, while you might not be buying it from an indie bookseller, there are good odds the book is still made of paper, no matter its place of origin. The age of the e-book is very much here, but it isn’t the lion’s share of the market by any means. And it’s worth noting that the 30% of the market that is occupied by e-books, is very much swamped with a vast array of traditional and self-published titles alike. Getting recognition from that 30% is very difficult. Print, a full 70% of the market, is somewhat more rarefied air, if you will.

This book is great, but I better keep it to myself. No one must know.

This book is great, but I better keep it to myself. No one must know.

I have tried to think of ways to effectively promote my e-books beyond simply shouting into the Twitter-Void, annoying people on facebook with ads, and writing blog posts. Here are the things I’ve tried:

  1. Blog Tours, which are the equivalent of book tours, but online. You go around and ask blogs to feature your book on their blog, interview you, or let you do a guest post. It works okay, but it is frequently impersonal and you need to be careful setting them up. The most successful ones I’ve done have been when I got writer friends of mine (in the same genre) to let me post on their blogs or asked them to feature me.
  2. Giveaways are possible, but getting an e-book to somebody as a gift is technically complex, involving codes and programs to download and passwords to submit and so-on.
  3. Getting Reviews has also been a significant part of what I do. I bug people I know have read the book to write me a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. This helps my visibility, which helps me gain recognition, which helps me sell books. It is very slow, very incremental work though. A lot of people don’t want to write a review for some reason, even if they do like your stuff. Also, badgering people about it won’t get them to do it any faster. It is likely it will turn them off to doing it.

And…that’s it. I’m stumped after that.

A real book, though, still has a number of other options available to it – options that authors have been wielding effectively for years. Observe:

  1. Book Signings: People like signed books. People like meeting authors. Sit at a table with a stack of books to sign and you’ll make new friends, new fans, and so on. You won’t always be successful (my second WoTF book signing was pretty much just me sitting at an empty table talking to one guy who didn’t end up buying a book), but you’ll encounter and engage with more people you’d do otherwise.
  2. Book Readings: Yeah, you can read your e-book, but not as many people are likely to whip out their iPhone or Kindle and buy it right there. If you’ve got a stack of books and you’re reading from that book and all these people have come out to see you, odds are you’ll sell more. I’ve gone to book readings, and I feel weird if I don’t buy the book. It’s almost as though I’m insulting the author if I don’t.
  3. Book Giveaways become easier with a paperback. You just stick it in the mail and off it goes. Maybe even with a nice, personalized message or something.
  4. Impressing Guests is an underrated part of book promotion, I think. Some guy asks you what you do, you answer with writers, and he says “what have you written” and bam, there’s a book in his hands with your name on it. Your friends and family get to do the same thing – your book on their shelf. With an e-book? It’s always an explanation as to why your book is currently invisible.
  5. Bookstores, while dwindling, still sell a lot of books and are still the best places to browse for new titles. There you are, on a bookshelf alongside the greats, cover art on display.

All this, coupled with the fact that traditional books still control the balance of the market (I have people asking me when the print version of The Oldest Trick is coming out every day; it’s September 29th, by the way), means there is a lot to be said for the paperback, even now. Certainly, e-books are key, but they aren’t perfect yet. They don’t have that feel, that smell, that weight that makes it seem like somebody’s work and effort means something more than just the words on the page. E-books are whispers in the air; the physical book is letters on stone tablets. I, personally, cannot wait to have both at my disposal.



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