Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

How to Support Authors Whose Work You Love: Pre-Orders

When you like certain authors’ work, there are three key things you should do to support them: Pre-order their books, post online reviews, and promote them through word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth praise for authors’ work is the greatest gift readers can bestow. Reviews rarely lead to sales. Praise often does.

Online reviews of books are vital to authors. It takes 25+ reviews to trigger beneficial effects from most retail sites’ algorithms. The most important thing to remember when leaving reviews of a work you’ve read is to be truthful, thorough, and fair.

That brings me to pre-orders. Online pre-orders are critical to the success of many books. I know some fans resist them. Don’t.

Waiting for a series to finish before you decide to buy it is a good way to guarantee that your favorite authors will get pushed off the shelves. It serves to kill new series before they get started.

Publishers and retailers use online pre-orders to gauge public interest in new books. This determines how they treat those books. Strong pre-orders for a book can inspire a retailer to increase its print order. It can propel a book onto bestseller lists.

When a publisher sees that a book has garnered strong support from pre-orders, it might invest more in its marketing.

Pre-orders help readers, too. Many online retailers guarantee pre-order prices, so you can lock in the best price.

So, if you love books, or like the work of a certain author, be sure to pre-order their books. It matters quite a bit.

FYI, The Midnight Front, Book 1 of my Dark Arts series coming January 30, 2018, from Tor Books, is currently available for pre-order in the format of your choice—hardcover, paperback, eBook, or digital audio. I’m just sayin’.

Also, if you’re an author who has a new book coming out in the next five to six months, and if that work is now available for pre-order in at least one format, please feel free to post links to your pre-order pages in the comments below!

#SFWApro

Pros: I Seek Your Convention Advice

This is a request for advice from my fellow authors and other publishing industry professionals, particularly those who attend a fair number of conventions.

I am pondering my convention schedule for 2017. There are some shows I attend every year — Farpoint (February, Baltimore); Shore Leave (July, Baltimore); New York Comic Con (October) — but I am looking to reach new communities of potential readers and to expand my professional network.

Part of the challenge I face in planning my 2017 con schedule is that my budget is limited, and most of the events that interest me are costly to attend. Committing to expenses such as these requires me to plan far in advance in order to keep costs under control.

Another factor that complicates my decision-making process is that, as of this writing, I still don’t know if my original novel The Midnight Front will be published next year or not. If it is coming out next year, expanding my schedule to cons I’ve not visited before could be useful. If it’s not coming out in 2017, I might be spending a lot of time and money for no reason.

Some of the shows I am considering adding to my schedule are:


ConFusion (Detroit, January) — I’ve applied for Professional Guest status, but I don’t know yet if I’ll be accepted, or what considerations they’ll offer me if they do.

SFWA Nebula Conference (Pittsburgh, May) — I know this draws a lot of high-profile fellow authors and other industry pros, but if I’m not nominated for a Nebula, is it really worth the cost of attending?

Phoenix Comic Con (Memorial Day Weekend) — This event seems to draw a fair number of high-profile SF/F author guests.

ReaderCon — I know I won’t be considered for programming at this event; I’d go to this just to attend panels and socialize. But some peers have told me that I’d most likely be snubbed by the majority of attendees because of my extensive work for Star Trek.

Comic-Con Int’l. (San Diego, July) — A big show, tons of noise, hard as hell to get noticed even for a moment. But if I knew I would have a new book out in the fall, and possibly ARCs to promote at the show, this could be worth the trouble.

GenCon Writers Symposium (Indianapolis, August) — I *really* want to be part of this, but the hotel situation is kind of a nightmare. As in, San Diego Comic-Con bad. But again, if I knew I’d have ARCs to peddle…

DragonCon 2017 (Atlanta, Labor Day Weekend) — I’ve applied for Pro Guest status, but I don’t know yet if I’ll be accepted, or what considerations will be offered by the con.

World Fantasy Con 2017 (San Antonio, November) — After all the brouhaha surrounding this year’s WFC, I wonder if I should even bother signing up for next year’s show. I know it’ll be run by different people than this year’s show, but I worry that WFC’s problems are instutional at this point.


So, what say you, fellow pros? Which, if any, of these shows would you recommend I consider spending my very limited time and money to attend?

An Editor (long form) and a Hugo

When it comes to The Hugo Awards, the lion’s share of pre-Worldcon debate and discussion seems to focus on the nominees in the prose fiction categories. This is not one of those posts.

I’m writing this to tell you why TOR/Forge Books senior editor Marco Palmieri deserves your Hugo Award nomination in the category of Best Editor–Long Form.

Marco Palmieri, TOR Senior Editor (2015) for Best Editor Hugo

Full disclosure: Marco and I have been friends for many years, he has acquired books from me in the past, and I currently am working on a trilogy of original contemporary fantasy novels for him at Tor. That is not why I am writing this post. In fact, I suspect he would prefer I didn’t, because he is a modest man who prefers to let his authors be the stars. He would never campaign for an honor such as this—which, in my opinion, is just one of many reasons why he should receive it. (more…)

“If You Were a Puppy, My Sweet”

by Glenn Hauman & David Mack

If you were a puppy, my sweet, you would be a wild one. You’d be big and neutered, just like human-you. You’d bound from place to place, unburdened by any thought of consequences, full of energy and bereft of conscience. Some would delight in your antics, your perverse rejection of dignity. Others would quail from your manic slobbering and call you a nuisance, but you would be excused, because that’s just how puppies behave.

If you were a wild puppy, I’d hear you yelp. I’d bear your endless braying and wonder what you were going on about. Sometimes you’d growl at people passing by, innocent people doing things you didn’t understand or thought dangerous, and you’d bare your tiny fangs in an impotent snarl. Other times, you’d bark at shadows or at nothing at all, and I would imagine that in your head you were facing down dinosaurs with mighty roars. You’d be crazy-brave.

If you were crazy-brave, you’d be impossible to housebreak. No matter how many times I tried, you’d have a mad streak in you, which would become a different streak on the floor. You’d confound me by defecating in your own den, devouring your mess, and doing it all again. I would do my best to help you stop, but you would be defiant, my sweet. You would become angry and think I was trying to stop you from doing anything you wanted, at any place and any time. And that would make you sad.

If you were sad, I’d try to make you happy again. I’d add something solid to your imbalanced diet of red meat. I’d give you a chew toy to see if it cheered you up, hoping that having something to gnaw on would satisfy you. I would enter you in a dog show, but no award would suit you. You’re too proud to be placated by such small gestures; you would never be satisfied with any bones thrown your way. You’d resist my advice until you made yourself sick.

If you got sick, I’d take care of you. I’d take you to the vet and get you all the medicine you needed, and I’d be on the watch for any of the horrible diseases you could get: Lyme disease. Worms. Fleas and mites. Arthritis. Puppy strangles. Parvovirus. But you’d slip your leash, flee into the night, make friends with the wrong animals, and come home infected with rabies.

If you came home infected with rabies, I’d watch, helpless, as you twitched and foamed at the mouth. I’d stay back as you lashed out at nearby objects, attacking and biting anything in range, trying to infect everything around you with the very thing that has driven you mad. I would try to soothe you as your voice became dry and rough and hoarse, the spasms of the muscles in your throat degrading your bark to a miserable “chorf.” I’d be heartbroken as the disease consumed your brain, and I’d wish there was something, anything, I could do to free you from its madness.

If I could free you from your madness, we’d both see you’re not really rabid, that you do what you do with the power of reason. We’d know you were once a thinking human being, responsible for your own actions—an honor you sacrificed to become this gibbering beast I can’t understand. I still wouldn’t know what you hoped to become. I couldn’t tell if your plans went ass-over-teakettle or if you planned to become this all along. I’d know you once were human, but that you chose to turn your back on that for reasons known only to you… to become something different.

If you became something different, all you’d do is howl strange love songs to your legions of the spittle-flecked, and you’d respond to nothing but dog whistles. Even so, in spite of evidence and experience, I’d try to reason with you.

If I tried to reason with you, I would soon discover it to be in vain. I’d realize you thought your fury would make you big and strong, and maybe you’d fool more than a few, but I would see the truth: I’d see that you’d shrunk, your stature diminished by your swelling savagery. You’d still think yourself a creature of courage and strength and righteousness, whose claws and fangs intimidate your foes effortlessly, but your anger and delirium and weakness would only make you an object of scorn, a walking tragedy defined by wiser souls than you. Honor and glory would desert you, and all you would be left with are your regrets and your incurable rabies.

If you were afflicted with incurable rabies, no one could save you as you weakened and drooled, a grotesque public spectacle. I would be sad but resigned to your tale’s inevitable conclusion, and you and all your puppy friends would be sad, too.

If you were sad and rabid, I would bring you with me to the wide-open rampart, and we would watch the mighty spaceships fly. I’d tell you to look up, and we’d see those ships break our world’s surly bonds to depart for alien shores. We’d wish their crews well as they explored great wonders yet unknown. Then you’d fill the lengthening dusk with your pitiful whimpers as the shiny rockets soared away … without you … never to return.

with a tip of our hats to Rachel Swirsky

(Read the backstory behind this piece, and our apology to Ms. Swirsky here.)

Speaking Truth to Puppies

Glenn Hauman and I have just posted, on the Crazy8 blog, reposted here on my blog a piece of short … I guess one could call it fiction, though it’s more of an essay, while at the same time a work of parody. It’s titled If You Were a Puppy, My Sweet.”

As the title gives away to readers familiar with the recent Hugo awards kerfuffles, the story is written in a format that parodies author Rachel Swirsky‘s Hugo award-nominated and Nebula award-winning short story, If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.”

Though our story mimics the style of Ms. Swirsky’s, Glenn and I want to make clear that we intend no disrespect to her or to her story. Our reason for choosing it as our template was the story seems to have become a lightning rod for the ire of Rabid Puppy and Sad Puppy supporters — two of whom today published a far more mean-spirited parody of it on the blog of Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day.

Also worth noting is the fact that while we informed Ms. Swirsky of our story before its public dissemination, she in no way endorses it or approves of it. We hope she can forgive our decision to proceed with its publication as a retort to the parody on voxpopuli.

At any rate, Glenn and I hope you all enjoy our latest stab at parody and that the court of public opinion doesn’t revoke our poetic licenses.

ETA: The story/essay has been moved from the Crazy8Press blog here to my blog because an internal decision was made by Crazy8Press’s management to disavow any implied endorsement of the piece that might have come from it residing on their servers.

Write back (not) in anger (#SFWApro)

hugo_rocketTo be a writer is to invite criticism. It can be hard to decide with which critics, if any, one should engage. Polite critics can sometimes be acknowledged with courtesy, but as a general rule it’s best to accept their feedback in silence and not attempt to rebut their points, especially when one is discussing matters of subjective opinion.

Poison-pen critics should in nearly all cases be ignored, except when the author of such a letter offers one the possibility of a “teachable moment.” Even then, unless it’s a subject that seems in dire need of examination, most such impulses to retort to one’s detractors run the risk of leading one to self-immolation. In those rare instances when one elects to respond to a detractor, a measure of restraint still is called for.

Every once in a rare while, however, one must sound the trumpets and let slip the dogs of war.

(more…)

Imperator Furiosa: The Hero We Need

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In a review of director George Miller’s new action masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road, USA Today reviewer Claudia Puig describes actor Charlize Theron asThe best female action hero since Sigourney Weaver in Alien”. I think Puig should have cited Aliens for Weaver’s action bona fides, but I also think she missed the point. It’s true that Theron is a great actor delivering a bravura performance, but what matters most is the character itself: Imperator Furiosa is the best cinematic hero in years.

Let me tell you why.

Imperator Furiosa towers above most other action-movie heroes because her character and the story of Fury Road subvert a longstanding, worn-out Hollywood action-movie paradigm—but not the one you might think. The real genius of Fury Road isn’t that its hero is a woman. It’s that the hero is the one actually driving the story in the first place.

Furiosa’s prominence in the movie has been making some “men’s rights activists” (MRAs) apoplectic, leading them to complain the Mad Max franchise was hijacked for a feminist agenda, that they were tricked by cool explosions and a freak with a flame-throwing electric guitar into watching a feminist manifesto in which Max has been emasculated. They’re at least partly wrong.

A key factor in what’s perplexing the MRAs is that Imperator Furiosa is the protagonist and hero of Fury Road, but here’s the catch: she is not the movie’s main character. Max Rockatansky (played by Tom Hardy) is not a sidekick in Fury Road, contrary to this post by Rob Bricken on io9. Max is undeniably Fury Road’s main character, its point-of-view character. He is the only character to whose inner life we are privy; he is our narrator. That said, it is true he is neither the protagonist nor the hero of Fury Road, but these aren’t bad things. They aren’t even uncommon in movies.

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In order to explain what I mean by all that, I’m going to ask that you put aside your preconceived notions of what protagonist, antagonist, hero, and main character mean within the context of dramatic writing. Let’s delve into some Dramatic Writing 101 neepery to define our terms, some of which will contradict what many of you might have been taught. James R. Hull provides a good primer on his Narrative First blog:

A Protagonist is the character whose action sets the narrative into motion. A protagonist is a person with a plan that challenges the status quo, for whatever reason.

The Antagonist is the character who most directly reacts to the Protagonist’s actions, works to thwart the Protagonist’s plans, and tries to uphold or restore the narrative status quo.

The Hero is the character we are meant to root for, the one we’re to perceive as “the good guy.”

The Villain is the character we are intended to root against — i.e., “the bad guy.”

The Main Character is the story’s principal point-of-view character, the one through whose filter we experience the story. This is also the character whose arc tends to exhibit the greatest degree of change in response to the events of the story.

When these terms are applied in the context of Fury Road, we find that:

  • Imperator Furiosa is the protagonist; by making a bid for escape with Immortan Joe’s concubines, she sets the main story in motion;
  • Immortan Joe is the antagonist; he reacts to Furiosa’s betrayal by marshaling every ally and resource at his command to recover what he considers his, and to exact his revenge;
  • Furiosa is also the hero of the story, the one with noble motives, and whose success we are meant to hope for;
  • Immortan Joe is also the villain of the piece, obviously; and,
  • Max Rockatansky is the main character, the person through whose experience we, the audience, perceive most of the major events of the narrative.

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In many action movies, the main character is also the hero. Just as often, the main character is not the protagonist: the villain is. In a great many action-oriented narratives, it is the story’s villain who acts first to upset the status quo, typically for selfish reasons. Once the actions of the villain come to light, the Main Character/Hero must act to oppose the Protagonist/Villain. This makes the Main Character/Hero function as the story’s Antagonist.

This is not a bad thing; I’m not saying that our favorite cinematic heroes are actually villains. I’m saying the heroes in action films are often depicted as reactive, while villains are more often proactive, within the bounds of the on-screen story. (I’m treating the revelation or suggestion of backstory that establishes characters’ motives as being separate from the principal diegetic action of the narrative.)

Here are just a few examples of reactive heroes in action cinema:

  • John McClane in Die Hard
  • Tony Stark in Iron Man
  • Neo Anderson in The Matrix
  • Alejandro in The Mask of Zorro
  • Ellen Ripley in Alien and Aliens

In Die Hard, the narrative engine comes from Hans Gruber and his team of thieves seizing control of Nakatomi Tower and taking John McClane’s wife hostage; McClane reacts to this threat by waging a one-man war against the bad guys.

The story of Iron Man originates in the actions of Obadiah Stane, who puts out a hit on Tony Stark as a prelude to a hostile takeover of Stark Industries; Tony reacts to his assault and kidnapping by developing the Iron Man armor and embarking on a redemptive quest.

Neo Anderson is the main character of The Matrix, but the protagonist is Morpheus, who does all he can to find Neo, liberate him from The Matrix, and instill in him the belief that he is “The One” who has come to free humanity from the machines.

In The Mask of Zorro, Alejandro Murietta (Antonio Banderas) is the main character, but the protagonist is clearly the villain, Don Rafael Montero, whose nefarious schemes and cruel henchmen motivated the first Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega) as well as the new Zorro.

Last but not least, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in both Alien and Aliens. In both films Ripley is the main character (though it was less clear in the first film, for various reasons). In neither one, however, is she the prime mover of the story. In both cases, the protagonist is the shadowy entity known as “the company” (The Weyland-Yutani Corporation) and its agents, which instigate the events that set these narratives into motion. Ripley reacts to the calamities that besiege her, but she is a reluctant participant in both cases.

Proactive main characters are more often found in antiheroes, such as Porter in Payback, Wilson in The Limey, or John Smith in Last Man Standing. It seems rare to find Protagonist/Heroes in action films. I think this is due at least in part to the fact that so many action-oriented movies are about defending the status quo of the story, whatever it might be.

That brings us to the true genius of Fury Road. Imperator Furiosa is one of the most compelling characters to hit the big screen in years because she is a true Protagonist/Hero. Her actions (in concert with those of Immortan Joe’s renegade concubines, aka Breeders) set the main story into motion. She is the one who lights the fuse on the action and becomes the prey in the chase—and she does so for noble reasons: to free herself and other women from slavery, to try to give hope to others, and to seek her own redemption. She is wounded inside and out, scarred and flawed, but also prepared to sacrifice everything to do what she knows is right.

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However, it would be wrong to argue, as some MRAs (and the previously cited io9 article) have, that this makes Furiosa the main character of Fury Road with Max a mere “sidekick.” It doesn’t. Max Rockatansky is still the main character of Fury Road. Viewers’ perceptions of events are filtered for the most part through Max’s experience. His journey is just as important as Furiosa’s.

Chase Magnett over at comicbook.com illustrated this point with exceptional clarity in his essay Why ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Really Belongs to Imperator Furiosa

Max enters the film as a true loner. He is unhinged from any one he has held dear and desires to live apart. His role does not reflect Joe’s patriarchal society, but someone who desires to abstain from and ignore problems that he does not consider his own. He only agrees to help Furiosa at first because he cannot escape Joe without her help. In the first half of the film, he treats women like competitors for survival, threatening and shooting at them multiple times. Only through shared experience does he learn to appreciate their talents and trust them.

The same essay also provides a superb analysis of the character arc for warboy Nux, and what his story, in conjunction with Max’s, tells us about the theme of Fury Road as a whole:

Max and Nux represent two types of men, those who don’t care about feminism and those who actively oppose. Both of their arcs follow the revelation that feminism is necessary not only for women, but for the creation of a better world. Furiosa’s cause results in the improvement of her own life and the bride’s, as well as the advancement of Max, Nux, and all of the Citadel. Her struggle for equality and self-determination is a rising tide, creating a better world for everyone.

It also is important to note that Furiosa herself is not changed as much by the events of Fury Road as Max is. He starts his journey as a haunted loner and a prisoner; through his alliance with Furiosa, he reclaims the nobler part of his soul from the wasteland, earning his freedom. This more pronounced degree of character change also clearly distinguishes Max as the film’s main character, even though he is neither its central hero nor its protagonist.

In many ways this parallels the ending of the second Mad Max film, The Road Warrior, in which Max regained his honor by volunteering to drive the rig for the refinery squatters. But where that film ended on a tragic note—the idea that we chew up our heroes and throw them aside, forgotten and unrewarded—Fury Road ends with Max restored and ready to return to the wasteland, not just to survive, but to live and be a force for good.

Lest this be mistaken as some kind of perverse betrayal of Max’s character by his creator, it should be noted that there are other notable examples of cinematic main characters who were not their tales’ heroes or protagonists.

Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding from The Shawshank Redemption was that movie’s narrator, and its chief point-of-view character—but Andy Dufresne was the Protagonist/Hero. In the end, it was Red who underwent the transformation of a man beaten down and institutionalized to one ready to reclaim hope.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the protagonist of Amadeus, but the main character is Antonio Salieri, who yearns to be lauded and remembered, only to find himself overshadowed at every turn by the prodigy Mozart.

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All this raises a question: How did writer-director George Miller and his co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris succeed so brilliantly at inverting the stale Hollywood trope of the reactive action hero? I would posit that they did so by giving us a story in which the status quo is one not worth defending. In fact, the point of the story in Fury Road is that some states of existence deserve to be smashed down so that something better can be built in their place.

Maybe that’s why it seems so difficult to craft emotionally compelling action movies these days. On many levels, it’s becoming increasingly clear the status quo of our world, despite incremental progressive improvements over the years, remains mired in patriarchy, oligarchy, racism, sexism, ignorance, and fear. Our society seems to be hurtling towards becoming the one depicted in Fury Road, careening down the dusty dead-end of dystopia.

Could it be that when larger-than-life heroes fight to defend a status quo we know to be flawed, their victories ring more than a bit hollow? It sometimes feels as if the only way to sell audiences these ever more outrageous, testosterone-fueled spectacles is to persuade them that the New Order coming to replace the status quo is even worse (usually global annihilation), so if we manage merely to keep things the way they are, we should be happy we achieved that much and stop railing against things like rape culture or rampant economic inequality, or expend effort promoting an idea as obvious and innocuous as “diversity is good.”

That point of view isn’t good enough any more.

I think part of what makes Fury Road so impressive as a film and Imperator Furiosa so compelling a character is the truth that heroism sometimes means defiance and rebellion. When the social order itself has become part of the problem, the status quo needs to be brought down so that a better, more just way of living can take its place. It’s time for us to crawl under this sputtering war rig and turn our thumbs black fixing what we know to be wrong.

Let patriarchy and oligarchy die historical (and reviled) on the Fury Road; it’s time for us all to lift up Furiosa—long may she reign.

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#SFWApro