Lords of Existence Cover Reveal!

I’m so excited to reveal the cover to Lords of Existence, which is the the eighth (and final) volume of my Saga of the God-Touched Mage series.

If you’re interested in pre-ordering the book, you can find the links down below.

As a finale, this episode has some unique and intriguing aspects that I wasn’t sure Rachel was going to be able to pull off, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at her work. It is, of course, fantastic once again.

Amazon: US | UK | DE
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Damsel in Distress

I’ve mentioned before the my daughter, Brigid is a writer. I know you’ll get tired of that as a lead-in, but hey … it works for this post, so I figure you’ll just have to deal with it.

What I haven’t talked about here is that, as luck would have it, her husband (hence my son-in-law) Nick is also afflicted with this thing that compels one to tell stories. I’ve avoided talking about his work here because he’s just now finishing up his first book targeted for publication, and who the heck needs that kind of pressure, eh?

However, Nick recently posted quite an interesting discussion on the use of the Damsel in Distress trope—a topic that is getting some play in certain circles these days. As background, he provides a good bit of history regarding the use of hostages, and goes on from there. If you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth a read.

I admit to two feelings about the issue. First and foremost is that, yeah, the root of the argument—the root of the pushback—against the weak and defenseless damsel being held by the dastardly bad guy while our heroic golden boy charges forward to save the day is one-hundred percent bang on. The history of this trope is crammed to the brim by lazy writers at best, something Nick captures in this snippet:

Often times the sexualization of damsels in distress isn’t intended but rather the by-product of lazy, half-assed, mindless writing.

I would add, however, that the key words in this part of Nick’s commentary are “often times,” and that we should not read “often times” to always mean a majority of times. Often times may mean most times, but does not have to. In addition, I think it’s equally important to note that often times (and in my opinion most times) the sexualization (or genderization?) of the damsel in distress is indeed on purpose, or is at least the case of a writer dutifully and knowingly playing along with gender stereotypes (they casually, but purposefully, decide to use shorthand they think the audience will understand)—which can be argued to be equivalent to doing it on purpose.

In the case where it’s being done on purpose, it’s tantamount to the writer being a bit of an ass.

And in the case of the writer being lazy, well … there is no real excuse for being lazy at any craft that matters to you. If you are lazy, then you’re saying you don’t care enough to do better work, and, really now, isn’t that pretty close to “being an ass” of a different kind? Just throwing that out there.

I suppose there are exceptions to this rule, exceptions where the story carries value from the fact that the damsel is passive, but I’m sure they are quite rare. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head. In general, if you are writing a female (or male, for that matter, but those are considerably rarer) with nothing much to do in the story except to be rescued and then carted away as a trophy, then you will almost certainly be lumped in with the writers who are doing it on purpose, even if you’re just being lazy. Consider it a writer’s equivalency with the old adage that you should never argue with an idiot because the bystander may not be able to tell the difference.

I also, however, admit to a bit of angst whenever folks shout “thou shalt not have such a [insert favorite issue here] in thy work or else thee shalt face the wrath of the gods of taste.”

At this point, though, I have to fess up to the fact that I’m in the process of casting a bit of a magic trick here. I’m going to spend some time discussing the Damsel in Distress storyline as a plot device, and laying out what I think is a reasonable argument for allowing the use of the concept. Then I’m going to make that argument disappear before your very eyes. We’ll see if I can pull that off. Feel free to tell me I didn’t. I’m open to discussion. [grin]

So, let me start by equating the use of the Damsel in Distress storyline to my view on the use of profanity. I live squarely in the middle of the mid-West. I personally know many writers who refuse to use profanity in their work on moral grounds. This is completely fine. But what that says to me is that those writers are committing themselves to never being able to write certain characters the way they need to be written. And when you decide you will not write a certain character (or, as is more relevant to the discussion, a certain storyline), you are limiting yourself in ways I think are unnecessary.

In his post, Nick spends time discussing historical uses of hostages and the behavior of those hostages. These are all completely correct, and should be used by writers whenever the situation calls for. And he brushes on the motivations of both the hostage takers and the hostages during these events.

In that light, here is probably a key point in this “Damsel in Distress” conversation as Nick makes it—and it is, to my mind, the most important thing to walk away with if you’re attempting to write something worthwhile, regardless of the storyline you’re following.

The main issue with sticking to the “damsel in distress” trope is that too often people forget that the damsel is a character too, regardless if the damsel is in fact even a damsel…

Let’s not, after all, throw the damsel (or dude) out with the bathwater. It’s important to realize that in the case of the Damsel (or Dude) in Distress situation, as Nick’s post touches on, it’s not fundamentally the hostage (or assault, or whatever) storyline that is at fault. People do actually take hostages, and stronger people do actually assault weaker people. Hence it must be okay for writers to make such plot lines. No, as Nick suggests, the problem lies in the fact that the writer in question has not written the hostage/victim or the hero to be believable characters. I completely agree with this thinking.

Ideally, of course, your damsel or dude in distress is going to actually try to do something to get out of distress. Show me what they are doing. It’s okay if it doesn’t work. Not everyone can be Sarah Connor, after all. It’s okay if a hostage can’t get out of their situation on their own if you show me why. Or, if a damsel/dude in distress is going to sit passively around and wait to be rescued (as Nick’s post suggests they sometimes did), show me why they do that, and show me in a believable fashion. Make it real. Give them something to do, and something they care about. And, If the hero (or heroine) is risking everything to rescue the dude/damsel, please, please, please, make it for some reason more complex and valuable than the desire to boost his own identity by taking home the fairest maiden in the land. Living happily forever is fine, I suppose, if it’s all consensual and you can make it make sense to me. (grin)

If you can do those things, then the Damsel in Distress storyline can, will, and should work just fine.

Of course … (he says, cuing up the magic trick finale) … this argument is more than a bit disingenuous.

This is because the phrase “Damsel in Distress plot” is misnamed. The discussion around this topic is not really about the plot at all. Oh, of course there are discussions about the specific plot line, but plot is a symptom. I can say this because plot stems from character, character (or lack thereof) is the root cause of plot. So, while the heated nature of the modern day discourse around this subject feels like it’s centered on a plot line, it’s not really so. The conversation is, instead, actually about the lack of characterization or the utter reliance upon worn-out gender stereotypes to substitute for true characterization that writers use to create their characters. People who argue against the Social Justice Warrior-ness side of the discussion seem often to attempt muddying the water by inserting this storyline question into the mix, but the fact is this: If you have written real characters actively pursing goals through all means at their disposal, you have not written a “Damsel/Dude in Distress” story.

So, Nick’s point about character is well made. The entire point here is that writers need to stretch themselves to write robust characters. The “acceptable plot line” argument is therefore just an illusion, a diversion that can catch on because (for whatever reason) folks aren’t thinking about “story” from the right perspective.

But this is an important differentiation for writers to understand. When you understand that plot springs from character, you must then see that character is spoken to by plot. An example as an aside: If you replace Sleeping Beauty with a shiny red corvette, does it make a difference to Prince Charming? Possibly. Possibly not. If you’ve read this far, I hope you get the point I’m making here.

If a writer is obviously trying to write a good, strong characters in a hostage/assault/victim situation, but doesn’t do them well, then I’ll probably give that writer a point or two for the effort but will view them as still learning how to write. But if that same writer doesn’t even attempt to do those things, or if they just hand-wave, then I’ll likely assume that writer is either completely out of touch or is being an ass on purpose.

2015 YEAG Arrives!

I know I’ve mentioned before and before and before that my daughter, Brigid, is a writer—and a danged good one, at that. As more proof of this, you can now see (in the form of a terrible mash-up I’ve done) that authors’ copies of the 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide have arrived.

For my Facebook and Twitter followers, I only partially apologize for the redundant use of that photo. Let me just say that if/when you have a daughter, you’ll understand.

Talking funny

Lately I’ve taken to watching videos during lunch. Interviews of people I think are interesting, or other things I think I want to learn about. Today, I stumbled upon an HBO thing titled “Talking Funny,” which has Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis CK sitting around and talking about how they view comedy under the hood.

It’s incredibly entertaining from moment to moment, of course. How could it not be? But I’m writing about it today because at its core because it’s a group of four very intelligent artists who know exactly what they’re doing, talking about how they do it and what they think about as they’re doing it. I’ll probably go back and watch it again next week some time.

Embedded in its conversational flow are things about what quality means to each of them (which is different), and how they judge their work. You’ll find thoughts on how they think about and develop their material, and how they each bring something unique and different to certain types of material that makes it fresh again. You’ll hear them discussing hack-work (though they won’t call it that). You’ll hear them talk about what it means to use controversial topics or words in their art. Jerry Seinfeld’s discussion of the use of the word “fuck” is fascinating … actually, hearing them all discuss it makes me think a lot about the use of language in my own work.

You’ll hear them talk about the relationship of the artist, his content, and whether their audience is there for the content or the artist–which is a particularly deep subject in itself.

You’ll hear discussion about when work is “done,” if it ever is. You’ll see them discuss composition of a bit, and even compare notes about the construction of an entire show.

These kinds of things fascinate me. It’s 50 minutes long, but I suggest that anyone interested in the idea of constructing art, and especially constructing performance art (of which writing is one type), will walk away thinking a lot about what they do themselves.

Here it is: (along with a bit of a language warning…expect to hear anything)

Lord of the Freeborn Cover Reveal!

The calendar marches toward the end of January and that means we’re nearing the launch of Changing of the Guard, which is volume six in my Saga of the God-Touched Mage series. As is my practice, though, today I get to reveal the cover of the next volume–Lord of the Freeborn. Definitely exciting. If you’re interested in pre-ordering the book, you can find the links down below.

As usual, Rachel J. Carpenter has done a spectacular job capturing one of the key characters in the storyline. I particularly enjoy the wicked little expression she’s carrying around with her–definitely fitting.

Enough of my jibber-jabber, though. Here’s the goods!

Amazon: US | UK | DE
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Analog/Asimov’s readers polls!

It’s that time of year again–Analog and Asimov’s have now released their annual readers’ polls, and I’m terribly excited to be able to remind you that that I’ve got stories on both polls.

First, you might be interested in considering “Primes,” for best novelette in the Asimov’s poll. This is a tale that’s been reviewed quite positively, specifically including nice commentary in Tangent and a “Recommended” notice from Lois Tilton at Locus. I must also admit to having a particularly warm place in my heart for this one. [grin]

Then you might mosey on over to Analog’s poll, where you can consider my short stories “Survivors” and “Unfolding the Multi-Cloud,” of which, I must admit to a personal preference for “Survivors,” but of course your mileage can vary.

Whether you select one of my works or not, I sincerely hope you’ll wander over there and make your voice heard.

The super-secret key to ultra-productivity

Today I wore my Slitherin shirt to work, researched demons and Chicago in the 1920s, wrote a couple thousand words, and listened to Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday. So, yeah. Pretty typical.

When I left the day job a year and a quarter ago, I remember people asking what a writer does all day. I couldn’t answer them then, and to be honest, I can’t really answer them now except to say that there just isn’t enough time available to do it all.

I’ve been thinking about this since last weekend, when I found myself at ConFusion, talking to Karen Lord (who was the guest of honor), Tobias Buckell, Jim Hines, and Howard Tayler about productivity and how they create their work. Not surprisingly, there was zero overlap in our approaches–with perhaps the one central truism being that deadlines always work to create words. Tobias is a long-haul writer, a guy who can plant butt in chair and focus forever. Jim works around a day job, but has set times he works with. Karen is more fluid, but seems to roughly be in the 60-90 minute runs camp. Howard plans day-by-day, week over week, and manages to deliverables. Me? I’m all over the place, though I’m probably moderately consistent on creating in three standard session, two in the AM, one in the evening.

But we all agreed that none of of work the same way all the time, and we all agree that the only thing that matters is that you find something that works for you to actually prioritize the work you care about highly, and therefore, allow yourself to make the time you need to do it.

There it is.

The super-secret key to ultra-productivity.

I would assume that rule is universal. If you’ve got other ideas, I’m always interested in hearing about them.

I’ll leave you with this documentary on Billie Holiday, just because I thought it was interesting in about every way possible. Remarkable artist. Remarkably interesting life, especially given the times in which she lived.

A pleasant surprise this morning

So I’m working away on a short story and I get a twitter ping. I grumble at the interruption, but I am also struggling with a sentence, and weak. So rather than continue to struggle, I go check it out.

Turns out it’s a notification from Nicole Sweeny, who runs “The Bibliophile Chronicles.” This is a review site for fantasy and SF books, and she’s posted a very nice review of Glamour of the God-Touched.

For the record, you are welcome to interrupt me for this kind of news pretty much any time.

MLK Day – Letter From Birmingham Jail

Commemorating Martin Luther King day, a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

I first read this in an anthology while I was probably a freshman in high school. I was a young white guy growing up Louisville Kentucky. It must have been 1975 or 1976. This meant two things: (1) I was pretty much oblivious to my possession of what is known widely today as privilege, and (2) I found myself swept up in Louisville’s first year of court-mandated busing. The last bit resulted in me being yanked from my essentially all-white middle school and made part of the distinctly integrated, inner-city environment of Manual High School.

It was in one of those school rooms where I first read Dr. King’s letter. I remember being quite disturbed by it.

I had other things to worry about back then, though. I was somewhat gregarious, and reasonably bright–bright enough anyway–but I was small and inexperienced and way, way out of my league in a 2500+ student inner-city school. Mere survival felt like a major challenge at times. So I absorbed Dr. King’s letter and I felt its importance, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand it beyond that importance.

I read it again sometime after graduating from the University of Louisville, which is a school on an urban campus, and which is tangled up in what can be pretty bitter local politics with its rival the University of Kentucky, a good deal of which is fueled by a fractured history of racial tension across the state. Louisville is considered “the city.” Everywhere else in Kentucky isn’t.

On this second reading, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” made more sense to me. It is a remarkably simple framing of the interactions between a collection of frighteningly complex issues, and I think it helped me understand that there truly was (and still is) so much of the world that lies outside of my inherent understanding. It helped me see that I needed to be careful where I put the weight of my opinion. It fed into my earliest views of things like leadership, and organization, and social constructs. The letter is, of course, written to Christian leaders, and being a church leader himself Dr. King relies heavily on biblical references. I am often made uncomfortable by such reliance. I consider myself spiritual, but can get edgy at the idea of these human constructs known as religions (as well as most other organizational constructs for that matter, most of which I figure are generally needed but mostly untrustworthy due to the all-too-human need for self-preservation and tribalism that infects their leaders and members). But in “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King, however, brings these stories to bear in ways that serve the spirit rather than attempt conversion, and he uses them to admonish and expose the failing human beings behind the church’s curtain of the day.

I don’t remember exactly when this second reading occurred. I was probably 25 or 30 years old. As I recall, though, I believe I saw it as a historical document. I had, at that time, this view that since the legal structure had “fully changed” in the United States, that it was now just a matter of time before the concept of a truly integrated world was at hand. In other words, I was oblivious. One of the most important messages embedded in Dr. King’s text flew right over my head. Since I had not actively thought things through, I assumed that if everyone just waited for enough time to pass, that things would stabilze. In other words, I still didn’t really get it.

So, with that said, thanks to my Facebook Friend, we run time up another two decades to the point of this morning when I read it again.

I suggest you read it too. If it’s new to you, I bet you’ll learn something important. If you’ve read it before perhaps you’ll remember something you forgot.

Or, maybe, if you’re like me (a white guy who’s lived a seriously charmed life of 50+ years), as you read along you’ll begin to see it as a scorecard that Dr. King projected into the future–maybe you’ll have moments where you think “well, at least we’re passed that,” and other moments where you cringe with the realization that 50 years later the human beings who live in and execute our system are still struggling to live up to the beauty of the idea that all people are created equal. Maybe it will rock your world, as it did mine this morning, to realize that you were not quite two years old when this document was written, and so it represents a true yardstick for the time period that you have lived. And in those moments when you cringe perhaps you’ll be struck with the idea–bolstered by historical data and recent headlines–that perhaps we’re not even really “passed” the parts you think we’re passed. That is, I suppose, how oblivion works, after all. We don’t see a problem or feel the ramifications of a problem, hence it does not exist.

And perhaps you’ll then think that maybe there is no being “passed” this kind of issue. Perhaps you’ll think that even if some uncertain optimum was achieved, that even then the work is not done. Entropy, as I learned in engineering school, is always increasing. Houses built require future diligence. Perhaps there is no being “passed” things when it comes to social groups. Perhaps there is no “finished.”

So, then, if there is no “finished,” no “passed,” no “through with,” does that mean there is only “now?”

Would that make a difference in how you thought or how you saw the world today?

So, yes, I suggest you read “Letter From Birmingham Jail” again. Or for the first time.



When I was a younger man, my brother and I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time in the basement of one of my best friends, listening to rock, playing pool, and drinking the occasional beer. Among the bands in our routine was a little group from Canada. You might have heard of them. They were called Rush.

I am terribly stoked thise evening to be able to report that a story of mine is going to be included in an anthology titled 2113: Stories Inspired by the Music of Rush, an anthology edited by John McFetridge and Kevin J. Anderson.

This project will include some remarkable authors (the list of which you can find behind the link there). We’ve each selected a song to focus on, and as one of the other authors suggested, I think the whole thing would make a helluva playlist. My selection is “Natural Science,” which is a massive beast in three movements that I just couldn’t pass up. The story is about half-done, and I know where I want it to go. Now we just get to see if I can finish it off.

The anthology’s release date is still in work, so I’ll post that whenever I hear of it. In the meantime, here’s something to help you get into the mood.

SGTM Volume 6 ready for pre-order

Time continues to motor on by at its usual rapid pace. By that, I mean that we’re nearing January 15th, which just happens to be the relase date for the next volume in the Saga of the God-Touched Mage series. But first, of course, I get to do another cover reveal and announce that volume 6, Changing of the Guard, is now available for pre-order in all the usual places.

Thanks, as always, to Rachel Carpenter for her great work on the cover. Watching this series roll out has been a total blast.

Without further discourse, I present the cover!

Coming January 31th!
Now available for pre-order!

Changing of the Guard

Amazon: US | UK | DE
Nook (Link soon!)
Kobo (Link soon!)

Available in print 1/31!

I’ll have a double shot of Collins, please!

It was a very tight race, a photo finish as it were, but today I get the very distinct pleasure of reporting that the 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide is now available at Amazon and other online venues. This means that the 2015 YEAG has won the race by a nose, and is now officially the very first professionally published anthology in which Brigid and I have shared the table of contents. This is soooooo cooooooooool I can’t even begin to express it. The fact that the project is such a worthwhile one (supporting inclusion in middle-grade SF) just makes it that much smore special.

At one point we thought that Fiction River’s Pulse Pounders anthology would represent that milestone, but 2015 YEAG managed to eek it out at the end.

Of course, it would be nice if these two represented the first of at least a few more, but today if for celebration of the present and that is what I shall do!

So, in celebration, here are the covers to both!

My ConFusion Schedule

I’ve been a terrible person and not mentioned that I’ll be in Detroit, attending ConFusion, from January 17th-19th. This will mark the third time I’ve been at this convention, and it’s always a fun time. I get to see Brigid and Nick, and I get to see and spend time with a bunch of interesting people. What can possibly go wrong with that?

I received my agenda yesterday, and just got around to compiling “where I’ll be.” It turns out I’ll be quite busy–which is good, I think.

Here’s a listing of the sessions I’ll be participating in. Stop in and see me if you’re in the area:


Friday 6pm: Collins/Harriett reading Yes, I shall be reading something of my own. If you come, I shall not be alone! (Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to read, eh?)

Saturday 12pm: Secret Histories and Alternate Universes
How do you take our world and build out from it? Simply add dragons to the Napoleonic wars, or create a history of secret witches running the American Revolution? Ferrett Steinmetz*, Courtney Allison Mouton, Laura Resnick, Ron Collins, Jay S. Ridler

Saturday 1pm: Current State of Short Fiction
An update on the state of short fiction in the fantasy/SF world – who’s writing, publishing, and reading? Catherine Shaffer*, Scott H. Andrews, Ron Collins, Elizabeth Shack

Saturday 3pm: Mass Autograph Session

Saturday 4pm: Time Travel (im)Possibilities
Would 1.21 gigawatts get the job done, or would the flux capacitor even work? Time for our panelists and audience to debunk our favorite time travel devices in literature and popular media. Bill Higgins*, Philip Kaldon, Ron Collins, Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Saturday 7pm: Playing Solo vs. In a Band
Playing with other people is a very different dynamic from working alone. How do you adjust, and make it work? Cathy McManamon*, Jason Neerenberg, Ron Collins.

Sunday 1pm: The Kids are Alright
Blah, blah, greying of fandom, we’ve all heard it. But why are we still talking about it as an inevitability? What are kids into these days? YA and Middle Grade literature is filled with SF/F, as are tv shows and movies aimed at kids, while things like Tabletop encourages families to play more games. The kids are here, and they’re doing just fine. Jackie Morgan*, Ron Collins, Carrie Harris, Justin Howe

Sunday 2pm: Powersuits and Prosthetics
Science Fiction has long imagined a future when technology can replace or enhance human limbs. Join Science Guest of Honor Cynthia Chestek and our costume panelists to discuss how to design plausible robotics for your science fiction hero. Ron Collins*, Patrick S. Tomlinson, Cynthia Chestek, David M. Stein




Cha-cha-cha Changes

Why, yes, I was listening to David Bowie this afternoon. Why do you ask?

If you’re a regular reader of this place, it should be pretty obvious that I’m in the process of revamping the place a bit. This is going to be moderately routine thing for the next few days, I would think. So, yes, I’ll be move things about here and there. Hopefully this means it will be a bit easier to find things that matter to you, but if nothing else I figure that at least I may actually enjoy putting my eyeballs on my site a bit better.

In the meantime, sorry for the mess.

Oooo … what does it mean that Radio Paradise just kicked off Heart’s “Crazy on You?”

It’s a sign, I say. It’s got to be a sign!

The girls, can rock, I say. For all you young’uns, here’s what a real performance used to look like before all the laser lights and the dance steps took over. [grin]

Typosphere: Defined

I wrote this bit a long time ago, but I’m in the process of changing things up around here, and I decided that I wanted to have it in a place that was a little easier to reference. So, here it is.


First, there was a boy and a girl. Or maybe it’s better to say first there was a girl and a boy … whatever. You get the idea.

Somehow, they managed to get together. A year in college. A couple more as DINKS. Jobs: programming, hardware design, database development, project management, student teaching. The kid. The move. Somewhere in there came the writing and the critiquing. The Imps. Learning how to tell a story.

The encounter.

Every now and again, you stop and look around you, and all is going pretty much as it should. It’s not really that you’re completely successful–success is a philosophical conjecture. It’s not that you’re perfect or that anything else around you is perfect. And it’s not some mystical presence of supernatural power that makes you blink and sigh.

Relationships are not magical creations.

Instead, it’s the realization that every time you make a mistake there’s someone in your support structure that picks you up and makes everything all right again. It’s knowing you’re safe, and feeling that it’s okay to stretch yourself just a little–that it’s okay to do something that scares you (and maybe even succeed with it). It’s okay, because there are people who will love you no matter what.

That’s when you know you’re in the typosphere.

Good Luck Charm

I am incredibly proud to note that Abyss and Apex have now published my novelette “Good Luck Charm.” You can read it here. I suggest, of course, that you read the whole issue, as this is a great small press site and I love the idea of supporting these kinds of efforts.

Here are the gritty details as far as “Good Luck Charm” is concerned. This story had a strange and wonderful birthing in that I wrote the first third or so of the piece several years back, but found that I didn’t know where it went. So after much gnashing of teeth and beating my head against the metaphorical brick wall, I basically put it aside as a failed attempt. But the idea kept tugging at me, and I would occasionally go back and pick up the broken threads of it. I would open the file, and mush a word here or there, all to no avail.

Then, the last time (naturally) I looked at the opening, something wonderful happened. Call it kismet, say the characters started talking to me, call it writerly insanity. I dunno. But I started running on it, and when I was finished I knew that it was pretty much said exactly what I had wanted it to say. Looking back on it, I can probably see why I struggled with it. It’s a tough story.

But, yeah. It’s out there now. And I’m totally happy with it.

Gathering of the God-Touched is Published!

Obviously, it makes me quite pleased to note that Gathering of the God-Touched, volume four of my new fantasy serial, is now live and available for purchase at all the usual locations. This is really quite an exciting moment for me, as it represents the half-way point of the whole publication process. I’m learning a ton every step of the way, and (of course) enjoying the successful run that the first volumes have been having.

That said, life is quite busy these days. In addition to keeping the SGTM series launch afloat, I’m working on a pair of short stories (and have several more to complete in the near term). And I’ve been reading like mad because I over-committed myself to reading other folks’ stuff (oops!), as well as because I’ve picked up some new published stuff that has been quite enjoyable (the latest: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I’m about half-done with, and which is just as lovely as one would think a Neil Gaiman story would be).

Pay no attention to the fact that I blew off much of yesterday to indulge in a full-day Louisville Cardinal sports-fest, okay?

Anyway … here are the details where you can find Gathering:

- – – – -

Gathering of the God-touched
Volume 4 of Saga of the God-Touched Mage



Amazon: US | UK | DE
Barnes & Noble
in print @ CreateSpace

Pawn goes to pre-order

I’m a day or two late, here, but I’m happy to announce that Pawn of the Planewalker, volume 5 of my Saga of the God-Touched Mage serial novellas is now available for pre-order. I have to admit that Pawn is among my favorite installments, and it has lots of moving parts and it finds a few things getting put into places that … well … they work for me, anyway. We shall see if they work for you.

I should note that this also represents the public cover reveal for the book (if you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ve already seen it … lucky you!), so I need to give Rachel Carpenter another shout-out for her great work!

Here are the details:

Coming January 15th!
Now available for pre-order!


Pawn of the Planewalker
Volume 5 of Saga of the God-Touched Mage



A god-touched vigilante.
Powerful rivalries.
A desperate plan.

- – – – -

Amazon: US | UK | DE
Nook (Link soon!)

Available in print 1/15!

Nearly a dozen bits on “art”

Yesterday I ran over to John Scalzi’s site and read through a collection of posts he noted as his “Best of the Year.” If you’re one of the six people in the world who doesn’t read his site, you should wander over there. It’s good stuff.

Afterward, I scanned through my own posts this year. I wasn’t actually looking for a “best of” kind of thing. Not really. I’ve done a “most popular” posts thread in the past by just stripping data off the server logs and going with that list. Perhaps I’ll do that again at the very end of the year. We shall see. Mostly what I was looking for was a sense of where I’ve been this year–my first as a full-time writer of fiction. What struck me was the raw numbers of times I took on the topic of the art of writing–often, but not always, parsing it against the business aspect of it–or at least what it means to be a writer. (Yes, I hear the pretension in that last phrase … what the hell of it, eh?)

This theme permeated my blogging throughout the year, it seems, and to be honest, it wasn’t what I was expecting.

I come to the blog in a pretty free-form way. I don’t plan what I talk about. I write what I’m thinking about, or about what I’m experiencing, or whatever. So to see this aspect run so heavily through the posts of the past year are interesting. And, yes, I know I’ve touched on those topics throughout my 18 or so years of doing this … but man, 2014 seemed to be All About the Art.

So, in my best Scalzi impersonation (har!), I’ve decided to drop what I considered my 12 most interesting posts about the subject here. (Actually, my top 11 posts about the art of the business, and 1 other that I just liked–I’m persnickety that way).

Here they are:

Project Manager vs. Artist
Make it Mean Something
The Artist’s Career
How to Prove You’re a Man in 5 Easy Steps
Merry Clayton: The Art of a Background Singer
Jay Lake
Writing Well
A Sort of Aesthetic Trilogy
Story Geeking
The Writer as Artist
Hard Work & Opportunity

Target of the Orders is Published!

Following Saturday’s pre-order announcement, I am even happier to note that SGTM volume 3, Target of the Orders is now available for full download (and in print, of course). The series appears to be on schedule. Yes, I do so love it when a plan comes together!

As always, your support is greatly appreciated.

On the whole, I can’t be happier with the response the project is getting on the comment boards, with the majority arguing between “this is great” 5-stars, and “this is great, but I hate serials!” 1-stars. I guess it’s great to be controversial? [shrug]. I am obviously no expert when it comes to indie publishing, but this immediate response from readers is among of the things I’m finding most interesting about the entire experience. It is enlightening, invigorating, frustrating, and humbling all at the same time. It’s got quite the different feel to it from the classic review cycle of stories when they go to traditional magazines and anthologies and whatnot.

Anyway, the beat of this project goes on. We’re nearing the halfway point of the story, and Garrick is finding himself in lots of hot water (speaking figuratively, there … I think [grin]).

I hope you enjoy it!

Target of the Orders
Volume 3 of Saga of the God-Touched Mage



A god-touched mage.
A headstrong rebel.
Magewar to the west.

- – – – -

Kindle: Amazon (US)
Kindle: Amazon (UK)
Kindle: Amazon (DE)
Nook: Barnes & Noble
Several: Smashwords
E-Pub: Kobo
Print: CreateSpace

Two notes to you

Time flies, man. Time flies. I can’t believe we’re in the middle of December. In celebration, here’s a picture of Lisa and my favorite ornaments hanging on our tree. We took to them the moment we received them (as a gift, naturally). They’ve since grown to represent not only Christmas, but a vision of how we see ourselves becoming many years from now.

Rather than wax ineloquently about time, however, I want to take this moment to say two things that might be important to folks who like to read my stuff:

- – – – -

First …

Gathering of the God-Touched, volume 4 of Saga of the God-Touched Mage is now available for pre-order at the following locations!


Kindle: Amazon (US)
Kindle: Amazon (UK)
Kindle: Amazon (DE)
Nook: Barnes & Noble
Several: Smashwords
E-Pub: Kobo
Will be in print 12/31!

- – – – -

But most important of the two, let me now say …

Thank you.

Thanks to your remarkable support, I can report that volumes 1 and 2 are doing very well, and that volume 3, Target of the Orders (which is set to officially launch on midnight, two days from now), will debut in incredibly nice places in the Amazon charts of both the US and the UK. As of this morning it was sitting at:

#48 in Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > Two hours or more (65-100 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy
#71 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Horror > Dark Fantasy
#76 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Dark Fantasy

#10 in Kindle Store > Books > Literature & Fiction > Horror > Dark Fantasy
#43 in Books > Fiction > Fantasy > Coming of Age
#44 in Kindle Store > Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Coming of Age

While these are not Stephen King numbers (all friends who learn I write immediately jump to Stephen King comparisons, so there you go), they are considerably better than I ever really envisioned this project doing. Pretty good, I would say, for a little indie project done out of the basement of a guy in the southlands surrounded by Indiana cornfields, and all that.

Looking back on this blog the past couple months, I can see I’ve been in a strong period of self-promotion–which I guess makes sense given the cycle I’m publishing this series on (I shall, I’m sure, spend some time talking about the wisdom, or lack thereof, about this kind of schedule in the near future). But it’s not really my style, and I admit I feel a little uncomfortable going Full-Buy-My-Book here. So, I shall stop here and say only this:

Thank you, again.

Thank you to everyone who has read one of my stories. Thank you to every one of you who has told someone something about my work. Thank you to everyone who has played a part in helping me create this project. Thank you to everyone who has just stopped by here to check up on how I’m doing. You have each made a difference in how I feel about my work (and perhaps life in general, eh?), and I cannot fully convey to you how much I appreciate that.

Changing gears

Everything is very strange, now.

Yesterday I finally finished ALL of the bulk of the work of producing all eight volumes of Saga of the God-Touched Mage. Really. Completely. Well, except that there’s a little work left to do to insert covers as they are completed, but the rest is done and the inclusion of covers is relatively simple at this point. This means I’m now fully faced with the struggle of jumping into new projects.

As a general rule this isn’t such a big deal for me. In fact, I usually have two or three projects going at once, and am constantly playing tag with them. But my decision to launch eight volumes in a row with two weeks between them each was an interesting exercise that I didn’t really plan well for. It was an all-encompassing thing that I soon realized would require me to set everything else aside. So that’s what I did. I set it all aside, and focused on the project before me.

Now that project is gone, and I have to admit I’m having to kick my brain to get it out of the track (rut?) it was in. It helps that I have an actual project to focus on—something I’ll speak of more when I’m able (oooo … sounds super-secret, doesn’t it?)—but even then it’s still proving to be hard to stay in the zone right now. I’m pulling out all my tricks, free writing, characterizing, describing places and dealing with all five senses. But it’s only working a little. I have about a thousand words I like as a result of the day.

But, you know what?

That’s about a thousand words more than I started the day with.

That kind of support behind you

“Then she said, ‘You should quit your job.’”

Those words came out of my mouth a few hours ago as I was sitting as a table in Viewpoint Books, signing some of my work, and talking with David Bosley and Janice Benham, two other local writers who were also signing their work. Janice had asked about my move to writing full time, and I was explaining that while it was always this vague “dream” to me, it was Lisa who in so many ways has really made it happen.

“Wow,” she said. “It’s amazing to have that kind of support behind you, isn’t it?”

I looked at the table before me. The first three books of my fantasy series that’s doing so well right now were sitting out front. A short stack of my SF collection was there beside them. And there were the Indy 500 books I wrote with John Bodin, and a pair of Writers of the Future volumes, and the two baseball fantasies. There I was, literally surrounded by my books, gathered there with other people who couldn’t help but put words on a page (and in the case of David, who would eventually read a couple of his poems). And there I was in a place where people came up and bought my books and asked me to scribble a few cool things in them. And there I was surrounded by a room full of books by people like Karen Joy Fowler and Neil Gaiman and just tons of others.

And in that moment I thought about people like Lisa Silverthorn, and Amy Casil, and Brian Plante, and Jim Van Pelt, and Linda Dunn, and Chuck Eckert, and John Bodin, and about a hundred IMPs, and Vera Nazarian, and the Not-A-Web-Ring. And I thought about pros like Mike Resnick, and A.J. Budrys, and Dave Farland, and Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, and Dennis McKiernan, and the folks out in Oregon and … well, the list goes on. I know I’m missing lots of people, but life is short, you know? So many people have helped me along the way to my level of beautiful obscurity, you know. But in the end of that split-second flash of reflection and gratitude, I came back around to Lisa, and to Brigid, two people who have given so much to make me who I am.

And I smiled.

“Yes,” I finally said as I was surrounded by these small, but wonderful trappings of this life I’m living today. “Yes, it is amazing to have that kind of support behind you.”

Gathering of the God-Touched Cover Reveal!

Yes, my good friends, it’s that time again. Volume two of the Saga of the God-Touched Mage is fully launched, and Volume 3 is on pre-order. I don’t think I actually mentioned here that volume 1 is now available for the super-cheap price of $.99, but there, now I’ve mentioned it.

This means, of course, that the future lens of the series turns to volume 4, Gathering of the God-Touched. And that means I have a new cover to reveal! This is totally turning out to be one of the best parts of the whole process. When you check out the image below, I think you’ll agree with me when I say Rachel has done another sparkling job.

Pretty danged spiffy, eh?

I should note that members of my newsletter got a bit of an advanced preview a couple days back. You, too, can get the jump on everyone else by subscribing to it with the “Ron’s Ramblings” link up there on the main menu.

I’m also happy to report that the first and second volumes continue to move quite briskly (at least more briskly than my meager expectations!). I had no idea they would hit the top 20 lists in both the US and UK as they have. So my heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who are reading it. That tells me I must be doing something right somewhere. [grin]

For posterity sake, and just for the fun of seeing the entire collection together, here are the covers of the entire series in order … you can, of course, find all the proper links on the sidebar.

You must have really thick skin

“You must have really thick skin.”

That was a comment from a friend of mine recently. He was talking about one review in particular that has been posted against Glamour of the God-Touched. Before I go too far here, let me state a thing or two. First, I’m quite pleased with the response to this story of mine. Sales are steady and commentary is quite glowing about the work itself. The only real controversy around it is its length…which I can’t do a lot about, and which is listed at the top of the volume’s listing. I mean, everywhere I go, I do my best to point out that this project is a set of serial novellas. And I avoided using the term “Book X” the covers specifically to avoid the idea that these were brick-thick novels. One does what he can, and at that point there’s not much left to say. Shrug.

But, yes, I’ve been around long enough to know that (1) there are always a few who won’t like your work … and (2) that’s completely fine. In the case of this particular work, I have to say I was expecting more push-back on the actual content, because the end of #1 is a particularly dark moment in Garrick’s (my protagonist’s) existence. It is not his finest moment. Beyond that, the first story is the shortest in the series, and I knew in advance what I was in for in that vein. I know there are folks who buy things without taking into account, or even checking into, its length.

So, I expected to lose some folks there. I figured in advance that if I could get folks to volume 2, then things would get copacetic. It’s all good.


I don’t remember my exact response to my friend’s comment, but it was in the line of “Hey, that’s okay.” Then I had a bit of a masochistic chuckle over the reviewer in question calling Garrick a douchebag and we moved on.

The thing about reviews is that there are as many reactions to a work as there are people. If you’re going to write, you just have to come to grips with that fact. And you have to come to grips with the idea that they are all essentially “right,” even if some are more pleasant to accept than others. For example (picking notes from two people I have absolutely zero connection to), one person read Garrick’s first tale and said:

”Compared to a lot of published material in this genre this book is absolutely brilliant. It is original, well written, well-paced and has a fairly engaging core character.” *

While another read it and said:

”… reads like a 12year old dungeon master running out of ideas. I read a lot of fantasy and don’t generally leave reviews as I think everyone deserves a chance but cynically I think this is here to divest you of some money and nothing more”

Both of these people are in the UK, and I have almost certainly not met them ever in my life. They are “just” two random readers, both of whom I am immensely grateful to for having taken a chance on my writing. I am a small fry. I need every read I can get. But clearly, these two had very different experiences with the work. And, of course, both of them are right. In one case, I was a good enough writer to impress. In the other case, I was a 12-year-old DM derelict of ideas. But both of them are right. Go figure.

(*) I should note that the reader who left #1 downgraded his rating because he was surprised it was a novella rather than a book.

If you’re reading my blog because you’re a writer (or any other kind of artist, for that matter), I think the point here is that, yes, you probably do need to have thick skin at times. Or, at least it’s helpful to be able to divorce yourself from your work to the degree that you can keep what are usually a relatively few sharp comments from harshing your buzz. There is no question that, in the early days of your so-called “career” especially, criticism will cause a writer to be taken aback. I mean, I know some folks say they are never hurt at all by pointed comments, but I think that’s more than a bit of a front. What I think they mean is that they’ve figured out how to deal with them internally and move one pretty quickly.

The problem, of course, is that very few people seem to come equipped with skin coated with Kevlar. I have known writers who literally cannot keep their creative flow going when they hear or read something uncomplimentary about their work. Sometimes the writer receives twenty glowing comments, but cannot use them to leverage themselves out of one critical zinger. I get it. I do. Dealing with someone saying the art you bled over for months has less value than sheep’s dung can sting a little.

So, how do you make that happen? How can one grow this thick skin?

I suggest only this focus on the positive, and keep making things.

Focus on the things people like. There are likely a lot more of these anyway (as there are with GGT), and these are your peeps. They are your audience. Remember that, and as you’re sitting at your desk writing something new, picture yourself telling that story to those folks. Imagine them smiling at victories, or weeping at losses. Imagine them chuckling at the little jokes you’ve added in there because they make you feel so good.

Or, better yet, focus on the things you like about your work. It’s your art, after all. It’s your message.

I was thinking about that this morning in particular because today, for the first time after probably two months of solid work on producing the Saga of the God-Touched Mage (not writing, but producing … two very different things), I actually sat down and began the purely creative work on a new project. This one a short story that I hope will be finding a home shortly. But today it’s serving a different purpose. Today, you see, it’s making me happy. And it’s managing to do that all by itself.

And that, I think, creates the thickest skin of all.

Publication Day Arrives for Trail of the Torean

The time, you know, it flies.

I’m happy to announce that Trail of the Torean, volume 2 of my fantasy series, is now available for full download. The reaction to the first volume was really quite brilliant, and I’m excited to see where Trail might take us. Thank you so much for all your support.

Cursed magic from the gods.
A mysterious underground city.
The first steps toward open war.

- – – – -

Kindle: Amazon (US)
Kindle: Amazon (UK)
Kindle: Amazon (DE)
Nook: Barnes & Noble
Several: Smashwords
E-Pub: Kobo
Print: CreateSpace

I have to say that after all this time, it’s a lot of fun to see these books reaching this point. Book one continues to ride along at #2 on the UK Dark Fantasy charts, and has been at #15-#25 on the US short read SF&Fantasy charts–though in a twist of irony it appears Amazon has changed its category from short reads (64 pages and under), to “Two hours or more” … which essentially means it’s more than 64 pages. I’m easy. The hard-copy print version is, I think, 78 pages counting all the interstitial pages. So changing its category was probably fair enough.


Whichever you want to call them, if each of these books are as successful in their first two weeks as book one has been, that would just be ice cream on top of the ice cream.

Of course, while I’m in the middle of all this hoopla, I should note that volume 3, Target of the Orders is available for pre-order.

Amy Sterling Casil calls Target of the Orders “Fast-paced, elegant, and brutal. Impossible to put down.”

You can find those links in the sidebar. [grin]

And I would be a terrible marketer if I didn’t add the fact that you can get advanced information about my work by subscribing to my newsletter. This week, subscribers received the opportunity to win a free copy of Glamour of the God-Touched, and got an advanced look at the cover to volume four!

Forgive me for all that … but I would hate to be called a terrible marketer.

(Yeah, ummm, right, Ron. Move away from the pamphlet printer. Just move away.)

Entering the Home Stretch

This morning I proofed the first half of Lord of the Freeborn, which is the seventh book of the series that I might have mentioned around here a time or two. Hopefully, I’ll finish that today. Then tomorrow will be spent proofing Lords of Existence, which is the eighth and final book in the series (I suppose I should add “as envisioned now,” to that). When this is done, I’ll still have quite a bit of packaging to do. Yes, quite a bit. But this milestone will mean the true end of the creative element of this work, at least regarding the text itself.

I’m sitting here eating my lunch and thinking about that.

It feels strange. It’s a weird post-partumness that doesn’t feel like other projects. Perhaps that’s because this represents the endgame to my first run as an independent publisher rather than as a writer. I’m not sure that’s the cause, but it feels right. When volume 8 is finally finished, it will be the tenth book I’ll have finished building in the past couple months (starting with my two baseball roadtrip/fantasies).

I find the emotional aspect of doing this project myself to have been fascinating. At times I’m absolutely pumped and raging with energy toward the work, and at others it’s just seemed overwhelming and daunting. But one thing I’ll definitely say about it is that doing this myself has felt extremely intimate. I’m thinking that in particular as I go over the proofing process. Every time I read this work, I realize that someone is going to read it exactly as I leave it. This is all me, speaking directly to all you. Yes, it’s been beta-read, and yes, it’s been copy edited. But I make the decisions. It’s me and it’s you. As I’m making changes in the text, I’m feeling the eyes of the reader at every step right now.

No pressure, right?

I’m admittedly fairly pleased with the response so far. Most readers seem to really love the actual work, and the only complaints that seem to be holding water have to do with the fact that Glamour of the God-Touched was so short. I can only plead guilty, and note that it is the shorted segment of the entire series. Shrug. I’ve touched on why that is in other posts, so I’ll not rehash it here.

But these comments, too, feel different from the usual reviews I get on my short work published through other veins. Again, they feel more intimate. I suppose that’s because they come for the most part unbidden from the readership (I say for the most part, because while I never demand a glowing review, I certainly do request that people as a whole talk about the work…so I’m sure some folks will respond to that prompting).

Anyway, lunch is over now.

Time to get back to the work.

And, yeah, I still feel you there, perched on my shoulder and whispering “you’re not actually going to say it that way, are you?”

Cover Reveal #3!

You may have heard rumors that I’m in the middle of publishing a fantasy serial in eight parts. [grin]

This is turning out to be quite a fun experience–and one of the most fun parts is working with Rachel Carpenter, who is doing all the covers. She’s created really fantastic work for both Glamour of the God-Touched and Trail of the Torean, which I’ll add down below for posterity’s sake. Now I get the pleasure of revealing her work for the third volume, Target of the Orders.

Pretty danged spiffy, eh?

I want to thank those members of my newsletter who weighed in with opinions on the details last week (and won free stuff!). You, too, can participate as such by subscribing using the “Ron’s Rambings” link up there on the main menu. Thanks also, of course, to those of you who are reading the first volume and responding so kindly. That’s actually the most fun part of all, really. It’s always nice to know folks actually like what I’m doing. [grin]

Anyway, here are the first two, again … did I mention you can use links on the sidebar to pick up your copy of Glamour and pre-order Trail now? It probably just slipped my mind.

Hard Work & Opportunity

As with most everything I have to say about art and writing, this is a long and meandering piece. I think it means something though. I think it gets somewhere. We shall see. I am going to use pretentious words like “art” and “artist” and other such muck-a-muck.

If you are one of those TLDR kinda folks, you might want to wander a different direction, though.

Just sayin’.

If I can simplify her commentary a bit, my friend Amy Sterling Casil has written a particularly nice exploration of what it means to be an artist. She couches it in terms of musicians Carlos Santana and Richard Shindell (one of whom I assume you’ve heard of and is likely rich and famous, and one I assume you have not heard of and is likely of rather lesser means). She uses my Saga of the God-Touched Mage series as the spindle she wraps her ideas around, and in the process of doing so says some extremely nice things about it.

In it, she touches on how “unfair” (*) it seems that talented people—people who are artists at heart—get overlooked, or are not as commercially successful as others. It’s a conversation that comes up considerably more often than you might think among writers. Us writer-types can be a catty breed.

* I hate the word “unfair” in general, but it kinda works here

Anyway, her post stirred the pot and dredged up lots of different things from the recesses of my brain. They all combine to make a point, but I’m not sure what order they need to be put in to drive a perfect narrative. So instead, I’ll just do the whole avant-garde thing—let them rip freeform, and see how they look when I’m done. Here are things I know, or things that are at least true to me. They are a shade random, and this is a long list. Sorry about that …

  • There is a difference between commercial success and artistic success. Many artistically successful people find that artistic success to be compensated in financial fashions. I think the two correlate, but not perfectly. At least I feel pretty comfortable saying that there are very few big name artists who are just terrible at their art.
  • There is also a difference between an artistic success and a celebrity, though that line may not be as firm as some believe. The act of being a celebrity is, in itself, a form of performance art, and while I often don’t really get it, I admire it when I see it from certain angles. The first person who made me really realize this was Madonna, who I think has done remarkable things in her career. John Lennon was another performance artist. Both of those examples are/were talented at their chosen professions (musicians, in this case) AS WELL AS remarkable performance artists, but …
  • There exist people who are “merely” performance artists. In today’s world, those are the Kim Kardashians and Snookies and whoever. They are artists, just not in the way you may think of when you conceive of the idea of an artist, and perhaps not in a way you appreciate. If you react to them, however, you are, oddly, part of the art.
  • Yoko Ono was a remarkable performance artist on her own, and her art was a deeply participative form that incorporated the audience directly into it. She was, of course, not particularly well-known before she had the audacity to marry a Beatle. I figure this means she was probably not well compensated for her artistry until she had celebrity to her name. Think about that for a little.
  • I figure there’s a correlation between celebrity performance art, visibility, and financial compensation. I think it’s likely that celebrity performance art pays (as a whole) better than raw talent at any other specific form of creation—perhaps because negative reactions to their form of art serve to strengthen the bonds between them and the audience who accepts them. Just throwing that out there. This may become useful later in the conversation. Bear with me.
  • Amy and I have always been on the same wavelength about this writing gig. I met her in person for the first time in LA at our first WotF session, and we immediately started jabbering about things, and it was just one of those moments where you know there’s this bridge there. I mean, I remember that first night sitting at a restaurant dinner table with six or eight other folks and having a really intense talk about what was okay to do as a writer and what was stifling—talking about writing via rules of thumb vs. doing different things. Amy was smart in places I’m not smart, and maybe I was able to contribute thoughts in places she hadn’t been to. Dunno the full reason. As she notes in her post, the flavor of our work is different. She’s a little F&SF, I’m a little Analog. But deep in the heart of what we do, at the core level of how we approach a work as “artists” I think there has always been some kind of alignment between us. I’m sure there are a lot of things we don’t agree on in general—that there are things in general life she cares about that I don’t, and visa versa. But Amy has always understood what I was doing when I threw words on the page, and the same thing I think goes for me.
  • Lisa (my beloved wife and copyeditor, not Lisa the writer) and I talked about this at lunch today. Part of this connection I have with Amy, I think, is that Amy is a person who is always looking for meaning. She’s a person with a sense of interest about story that remains stuck “on.” I think this is important. There are very few people like this—and fewer writers and artists than you might think, really. Amy sorts through ideas for their core meaning in relation to the big things in life. I think I am very much like that, also. For me, there is no other reason to write but to express ideas about the world as a whole.
  • The downside to being like this is that it’s sometimes hard to get people to understand what you mean. Lisa (my wife) “gets” me most of the time because she’s been with me forever. But even she doesn’t really get what I’m doing with the artistic side of my work. Not all the time, at least.
  • I think some of that is because it is very hard for most people to engage in a work of art at the same level as the artist. It takes energy. It takes a commitment. I know the difference in myself, for example, when I’m really engaged in what the artist is trying to do, and when I am not…or maybe I should say I know when I’ve seen enough of someone’s work that I disengage from it. There is a difference.
  • I’ve worked with several other writers, and learned a lot from them. But Lisa Silverthorn (the writer and great friend Lisa, not the beloved wife and copy editor Lisa) is probably the only other writer who I have felt that kind of kinship with, though I think she and I are on the same wavelength in the area of dreams and passions, whereas Amy and I share a link that is more intrinsic to the work itself. I really can’t explain it better than that.
  • By that last bit, I don’t mean to say those other writers are not artists or anything else negative about any other writer.
  • I do, however, think that there’s a change in people when they begin to find their ability to comment on life through their “art” rather than seeing what they do as base entertainment or simply try to tell a good story. Something happens when they get to the point where they open their own souls up and see what they have to say. All of a sudden, that craft stuff they have been working on by rote seems to suddenly make sense, even if they don’t see it themselves. Brigid (my daughter, a new writer on her own) appears to be getting to that point, BTW. Singer had a commentary to it, but was done differently. Her last couple works have shown me new things about her “as an artist” that weren’t always there in the first couple pieces. It’s really fun to watch people change…but I digress from my digression.
  • Maybe I’m just transferring here, tough. All of that is wrong. Maybe that’s just how it was for me.
  • I write a wide array of story types. Hard SF? Cyber punk? Slipstream? Magic Realism? True Fantasy? Yes to it all. Some of what I do I think is pretty danged good, and I think other folks will think so, too. Other stuff I think is good, but I know others will be mixed about. I’m hard to classify because in the end I don’t decide what to write based on what I think will be successful (commercially) or not. I write things I care about at the moment, and I let them free to find whatever place they are going to find.
  • As random fate would have it, I’m listening to a CD by Alvin Youngblood Hart. I’m going to guess most of my readers will not recognize the name—though he’s quite successful, and a remarkable blues musician. If you haven’t heard him, pull up Mr. Google and go buy something. My guess is you’ll like it.
  • Back to the subject again … I’m not as good of a writer as I want to be. Perhaps there are those who would just say I’m not a good writer. I hope they are wrong (grin). Perhaps I would be a better pure writer if I focused on one area, one genre. But I don’t think so. My work says what I want it to say. And, not to be too morbid, I hope to die thinking that I’m not as good of a writer as I want to be. One should always be striving to get better.
  • In my opinion (and what do I know, I’m just the writer), the main thing that’s constant in my work is that I’m always quite clear in my mind what every character in every story is there for. They all mean something to me. I don’t write throw-away stories or throw away characters. At least, not on purpose (grin). This has been true since the minute I started writing, though I’m better at putting it on the page now than I was back then. I hope (grin).

Okay, Ron. What does all that mean?

Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s like this:

Assuming you’re any good at anything, commercial success is probably about opportunity. But being good at something, and getting proper opportunity is really complicated. You might, after all, have heard someone say that luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity. I agree with that, but, seriously, what does that mean? Let’s take a moment and really think about it.

Let’s start with the hard work part: Hard work (in this field) is what creates both quality and “product.” When you start, you’re generally not very good, so you pay for quality with hard work. And if you’re lucky, no one reads those early stories because the quality is not good (perhaps you could consider that negative opportunity). But eventually, all that preparatory hard work results in improved craftsmanship and thereby enables better artistic success. Then the hard work of sticking to it results in good “product” to bring to market (love those business terms, eh?).

Then we get to opportunity. Opportunity is much harder to quantify. It is not what you might first think. Or, better, it’s more than you might first think.

Let me take a small step backward for a moment.

As it turns out, Amy’s post has things almost right when it comes to Glamour of the God-Touched (and the whole SGTM series) in that it had a many-twisted path to its birthing. I originally envisioned them years ago as a series of novellas, but I wrote them as novels because that’s what I thought I needed to do to be “commercial.” I wrote on them, and wrote on them, and wrote on them. For years, actually. But they didn’t breathe right, and when I would talk to publishers about them, and the editors or agents would get excited, but then kind of scratch their heads and go other directions. Truthfully, I don’t think that even I liked them in that format. But that’s what I thought they needed to be to “sell.” But, after years of setting the story aside, and then trying it out again, and setting it aside, I finally decided to do it the way I originally envisioned them. Suddenly they spoke to me again. I know what I want to say with them, you know? They pulled at things inside me. And when I put them together the way I originally envisioned them, I knew I was in the right space. I’m proud of them.

That’s a long way of saying that Amy’s commentary about them being “Ron” made me very, very happy, and perhaps stands testimony to what I mean when I say we’re on the same wavelength when it comes to the base art of what we’re each trying to do. It’s really fun to have someone get it.

Against that frame work, we come again to opportunity.

For new writers, opportunity was once thought to start (and end?) with getting someone to publish your work. It is true, of course, that being published is/was a gateway one had to go through, and as Amy noted, the traditional publication route (which I still appreciate and still pursue), is an interesting exercise in itself. I am often published traditionally in short markets. I understand how that gateway can be viewed as opportunity, or at least how the lack of access to the gateway can certainly feel like denied opportunity. But it’s not.

Not really.

The existence of a publishing stream is really just a pathway to opportunity. It’s always been just that. Just like the existence of a concert hall did not give Robert Shindell an opportunity, publishing houses to not provide opportunity. At best, these middle-men provide visibility, which I postulate is different. Perhaps you’ll think I’m parsing things too finely, but the person who gave Robert Shindell an opportunity last Friday (as related in Amy’s post) was Amy. She is the one who went to the show, despite not knowing what to expect. She is the one who “took the chance” on Shindell. The music hall was a gateway to that opportunity, certainly. But it was not the opportunity. The opportunity was Amy and Bruce deciding to give Shidell their attention, and to give it in a full fashion.

Perhaps it’s all the work I’ve been putting into Glamour for the past several months. Perhaps it’s the group of local writers I’ve been working with lately, but this is how I’ve begun to think about things. A publishing company gives a writer visibility. An art gallery gives an artist visibility. The television gives a modern-day celebrity performance artist visibility.

But it is the consumer of the art who provides opportunity. Remember that. It’s the consumer of the art who provides the opportunity. And that makes it tough. That makes it complicated.

For example, when I pitched SGTM as serial fantasy novellas to editors and agents in the traditional markets (which I did), they all just kinda grinned and said “we can’t sell novellas.” Which is marketing speak for “we don’t see sales opportunity out there.” And, for the way they market, they are probably right. Or at least, they can make more money if they spend their capital on art products that will have a better “hit rate” with the reading public.

Hence, it was either find very small press, or do it through Skyfox. Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been an option, but now it is. And so that’s what I’ve done. But publishing—the act of creating a book and making it available—is not visibility, nor is visibility equal to opportunity.

* Aside: whenever I talk to new writers they inevitably want to talk about marketing, which I think is vital, but somewhat boring, and really not quite up there with rocket science. Don’t get me wrong. Marketing is important. Getting your work in front of as many eyeballs as you can is turning out to be a huge value (ultimately, there’s this big eCommerce vibe about indie success that I find interesting). But you can cover what you need to cover in an hour or four, and in the end most new writers need to worry more about finding their voice and their art a lot more than they need to worry about marketing.

Anyway, when you look at things this, opportunity gets really, really complex.

Opportunity is, at its root, about finding and building a core of people who are willing to be open to what you do.

For someone like me, a person who is not a name, and who still jumps categories, it’s also about finding people who will absorb what I do and look at it for what it is. For someone like me, the broad-brush approach can find those readers, but also results in finding “audience” who is not my audience. And that creates dissonance and heartache in some places.

How do you get someone to come to your work with an engaged mind if they don’t know your work to begin with (as Amy came to Robert Shindell’s work)? How can you engage a person who likes your SF work, when you are writing fantasy instead? How do you find new people who are likely to appreciate your work? How do you avoid creating the bad visibility (*) that happens when the “wrong” audience hits your work?

* Example: The first person who reviewed Glamour of the God-Touched said only that they felt “gyped” because the work was too short. Clearly, this person was not the audience for a novella (technically, the first episode is a long novelette, though the rest are all squarely novellas). Admittedly, it’s a little hard to stomach the idea that anyone would find GGT to be of less value than half a Grande Mocha at Starbucks … but I do get it. It’s okay. But again, she wasn’t my audience. She bought my work without looking at the length, and it “cost” me in the form of a two-star review that wasn’t about anything but the length.


That’s the gig. It really is fine. The audience decides what they will focus on, and the audience decides what they care about. That reader is right for that reader. The work was bad because it was short. In my mind, I’ll turn that comment around and say the story was so good she just couldn’t get enough of it, and complained when the story was done. (grin).

Amy said her post is about what people think is good, versus what is really good. And it is. But I’m sitting here thinking, and listening now to Annie Lennox, now. And I’m thinking about what I could have done to improve the experience of that reader who wanted a longer story for the money. I suppose I could have dropped the price. But would that have made a difference? Would it have changed the review to a 5-star? Would it have meant she would have read it and just not said anything? Who can tell? All I can really say is that I had an opportunity to make her happy, and I failed. For her, I was not a good enough writer to overcome what she felt was too great of a price tag.

In the end, I’m thinking the right answer is to go back to work, and make the next thing I write better. That ship has sailed, but there are more ships.

And I’m also thinking about how I engage with other artists.

When I hear music, do I really listen? When I read a story, do I see the work? Really? Am I admiring it properly? Am I seeing what they were trying to do? And can I bring myself to the work in the way they envision it? There are only so many hours in a day, and I get busy like everyone else.

But in the end, I’m sitting here thinking: Do I give the artists of the world the opportunity they deserve? What is the best way to do that? What do I get in return? And if I don’t, who will?

Anyway …

If you’ve made it this far … well, first, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably crazy bored … but if you’ve made it this far, I would ask you to ask yourself those same questions.

I figure it’s worth thinking about.

If nothing else, maybe Robert Shindell will get a few more folks going to his music halls. (grin)