Talk to the Hand

Something I’m exhausted of lately:

The kind of drama that comes from people who want more from you than they’re willing to give.

Sometimes that drama comes in very polite packages, and it’s only when you step back can you assess what’s not being done or said and strip the message down to its core content,

“But me.”

Sorry for vaguebooking, but this has come to me from multiple fronts over the last few days, and I had to hit the pressure release valve a couple of times (or the button under the counter that the bank tellers press when someone starts doing something suspicious?).  But really what gets me is how much of this type of behavior I’ve had to purge from my daily life over the last year.  It started out with bullying, openly troll-like behavior, bullshit “logic” presented just to spin up my wheels, controlling behavior, behavior designed to hurt my self-confidence (especially from freelancing clients), sexist bullshit, racist bullshit, and so on.  And now I’m down to, “You don’t get to use me for your agenda, especially not to prove you’re a ‘good’ person.”

A long road?  One I should have set out upon years ago?

The cool thing is what it leaves behind.  I feel a lot more free to like people, because I know I can boot out the ones who aren’t here for friendship and company and good cheer all the more easily.  Even if I still like them.  Because they’re not good for me.

And it’s far, far easier to get over stupid things.  “You’re a good person but you put your foot in it.”  “Ayup.”  “Moving on.”  I’ve been on both sides of that lately.  It’s nice.

I still spend some quality time every morning flipping off the news.  That hasn’t changed.  And I’m still pretty vinegary.  But I don’t feel like I have continuously flinch away from the world, either.

Although honestly it’s probably more like signing up for online newsletters than anything else, where you have to go through an unsubscribe for all the crap you signed up for, yet again, about once every six months.

New stuff out!

  • Very Mysterious Christmas Bundle:  Available for preorder, on sale for 99c.  My story “Old Friends, Annoying Houseguests, and Christmas Ghosts” is featured: a mystery/ghost story told by a not-entirely-trustworthy old friend.
  • UbiquiCity: Tales of the Fractopian Future:  I keep calling it UbiCity, after UbiSoft, but noooooo…anyway, cyberpunk a hundred years in the shared-world future.  Featuring “To Summon Mountains,” in which a monster meets her only living kin.
  • Stars in the Darkness: Stories of Wisdom, Justice, and Love:  an anthology of SJW-appreciation stories, profits going to the SPLC and the Human Rights Campaign.  I’m in with “The Page-Turners,” an alternate-realities metafiction story that made me cry to write.

A busy Friday 🙂


And Important Note on Success in Fiction…

…Treat every success in your fiction like it’s a clue.  In other words, hide the holy shit out of it.  Hide it in plain sight.  Break away the second before the character succeeds, and show them after a time jump, struggling on the next thing.  Show the bad guys flipping every success on its head.  Lie.  Bury the success in a list.  Have the other characters mock the success.

In the end, the character has to have done a lot of things right.  But don’t let the reader know that.  “That guy,” they should be saying, “he just can’t get a break.”

Why Aren’t You Selling?

Okay, harsh truth time.  Not the harshest of the harsh truths that I’ve ever laid down, but still pretty harsh.

There’s a “thing” that a lot of writers go through.  A LOT A LOT.  I do this and have been doing this for years, although I can see the light on the far side of the tunnel.

When we start out as writers, there’s this fairy tale that we’re told. “Write well and good things will happen for you.” It is false or at the very least misleading. Writing well is necessary, but it’s only the first thing.

Obviously covers, editing, blurbs and that kind of also thing affect sales, and knowing people who are in a position to help you with sales is good, and being known for writing a certain type of thing or for engaging on that same topic on social media is a good thing. Most writers know that these things have to be accomplished, either by themselves or by a publisher.

But…there comes this time when you’re doing all those things and you’re still not selling, and people are like, “But of course you’re selling! You’re doing everything right! Or at least right enough!”

And you’re still not selling, and you get angry about the damn fairy tale.

My perspective, fortunately, has always been to learn how to write better. (Some people can learn to write better simply by writing or by learning; I have to learn new things AND write until they work for me, because beating my head against the wall is how I let the light in.)  So at least I’m not still stuck in the place I was when I first started bitching and moaning about this.

And after a while, the small accomplishments build up. You’re published, you’re paid and published through independent sources (such as magazines for short stories), you’re getting independent validation, not just wishful thinking, that you’re running on all cylinders. And you’re still not selling. Getting to a place where you’re not bullshitting yourself about how well you write can be HARD. It’s easy to think you’re writing better than you really are, that you have more control over your craft than you do.  One or two under a penny a word publication credits does not make a professional writer.  Ditto one or two professional-level publication credits.  Sorry.

The stretch between “I’m good enough” and “Okay, I really am good enough” is a long and bitter one. BITTER. Because you constantly have to eat crow about your idea of how good you are, which is, yet again, not good enough.

The next thing after the bitterness is, the whateverth item on the list, is to stop giving a crap about how good you are and how readers aren’t reading you, etc. etc.  O woe is me?  Bullshit.  What you have to care about is…the reader having fun.

Readers are more important than writers.  They just are.

And yet, in practice, it’s almost impossible for writers to have faith in this.  It’s all about the writer and their talent and hard work, right?  No.  Most writers, even the selling ones, are replaceable.  The reader is more important than the writer.

I’ve see the O Woe/Bitter phase in myself, and in others a bajillion times too.

“Why isn’t this working?”  A lot of writers abandon the work here, because it attacks the most sensitive parts of the ego.  Everyone says they “love” what you do.  So where is the money???

The money is going to the writers that know how to sell their crap.

Learning how to sell your crap makes you a better writer.  Period.  You must learn how to sell your own crap.  Period.  Learning how to sell your crap means a better relationship and understanding with your readers.

If you’re bitter that you’re not being read more AND you’re a competitively professional writer, THEN your problem is that you don’t know how to sell your crap.

Learning how to sell your crap is part of the process of writing, as in writing books that readers cannot NOT buy.  It’s also how you handle yourself in the world, and how you approach the business side of what you do.

I think we writers all feel a little entitled to sell books because it’s hard to get to the point where there’s a book on the market, indie or otherwise. We did all this work; we deserve a reward, right?

But that doesn’t tell the reader why they should care, why they should want what you write.  If you can’t communicate why a reader should care about your book effectively, then you’re not going to sell a book, no matter how good it is–and it may not be all that good, because hello, communicating with readers.

I’ve heard successful writers, especially indie writers, tell me that they treat publishing like a game–to beat other writers in Amazon rankings, to be able to make readers hand over money and sign up for newsletters, etc. Just publishing the book is only the entry fee to the game–not the whole game itself.

Good players invest time and money in learning how to sell books.  Bad players get bitter, and eventually drop out.

I am not a good player; there’s a learning curve.  I’m working on it.

Again, my perspective is that the first thing to selling more books is writing a better book. It’s easier to win a cribbage tournament if every hand is a full house, even if you’re terrible at everything else (and, honestly, a lot of people mistake a pair of twos for a full house; I certainly have, and for an embarrassing length of time).

But writing well is not the only thing.  If your attitude toward selling things is, “I did the hard part, now the world needs to take care of me,” then  you are just another sucker waiting to be double-skunked–or someone who gets so bitter that they eventually talk themselves into tossing in the cards when they have three sevens and a six and dropping out just as that eight comes up on the draw.*



* I don’t play poker.  I have played a metric buttload of cribbage.


How to Write Other Stuff (if you’re me)

I thought of some other genres to write up like yesterday’s post about mysteries.

  • Adventure.  The main character has to do some sort of big goal that requires putting themselves at physical risk somehow.  So every scene, the character should try to achieve their goal by taking a physical risk that fails to resolve the goal, and not only that, but fails to achieve whatever goal they had for the scene–or make the situation overall worse somehow.  Finally, the character has been backed into such a damn corner that there’s no way out.  NONE.  Then you jot down some ideas about how the character could get out–hypothetically.  Toss out at least the first three, voila, write the fourth, and then go back into the rest of the story and fix all the necessary loopholes that allow the character to pull that ending off–put Chekov’s guns on the wall, as it were.  The character is rewarded, yay! the end.
  • Romance.  The main characters need to end up together. Every step of the way, you push them apart, or bring them together in a way that will absolutely sabotage their future happiness.  Dumbassery is not only acceptable, but de rigeur.  Write the big scene where you’ve backed them into a corner, find the most inventive/interesting/touching way to resolve that, lay down your Chekov’s loopholes, happy ending, the end.
  • Horror.  One or more of the characters is wrong.  Every step of the way, the character tries to prove themselves right, but fails in a way that makes everything worse (“It’s fine if we split up”).  The corner that you back them into is the one that says, “I can no longer deny that I am wrong.”  And then they either change or die (or, in the case of The Exorcist, change and die).  Other characters might die as illustrative examples and/or as wish fulfillment.
  • You can combine these as necessary–a romantic adventure, say, Romancing the Stone, is mostly an adventure with romantic subplots.  So most of the time, the characters face physical danger in pursuit of their goals, and fail on a physical level.  But sometimes they try to come closer to each other and fail on an emotional level.  They even do this at the same time, if I remember correctly.

The thing is:  every scene.  You don’t have to start out in media res.  But once you get things set up so that we know what’s at stake here, every scene.  The peaceful interlude has to end with the thing that every scene ends with, even if it pops up out of nowhere.

If you liked today’s post, please check out By Dawn’s Bloody Light.  They didn’t mean to piss off the fairies…no, wait, they did.  In retrospect they totally did.

How to Write a Mystery (if you’re me)

Someone asked me how I write mysteries.  Now that I’m writing them, it seems kind of like a “well, duh” question, although I recognize that they can seem intimidating from the outside, because I, too, was intimidated before I started writing them.

Mostly, mostly, you write a mystery like you write anything else, however you happen to write.  It’s just that a mystery looks different from the outside than the inside.  Mostly.


Mystery (not crime, suspense, etc., just mystery):

  • There’s a character who wants to find out something.  To me, this is the tricky part, because it often looks like mystery characters want revenge, or justice, or something like that, but no.  The real effort in a mystery is to gain correct information, not to “bring justice” or anything vague like that.  That’s why they call these whodunnits, not gotwhattheydeserveds.
  • First, you set up the novel, identifying the main thing that needs to be found out, the person who’s going to do the finding, and the person who’s going to be wrong most of the time (the sidekick, if this isn’t the finder-outter themselves).
  • The finder-outter tries to find out the information they need.  They don’t find it out, or they find out the wrong information and believe it, or they find out the right information in a context that misleads them, etc.
  • Bad assumptions drive mystery books.  The plot twist of any mystery story is, “That one book where the finder-outter was spectacularly wrong about that one thing, until the end.”
  • Clues do not drive mystery books.  There are clues everywhere.  As a writer, you are constantly telling the reader what really happened.  They just happen not to notice, because the characters are so busy being thwarted and wrong.
  • There are other tricks that help push through a book. They are essentially just handy ways to set up more bad assumptions–multiple suspects, questions about what time something happened, two suspects working together, thinking that two people are really one person (twins), that one person is really two people (disguises), hidden relationships, etc.  In fact I’ve started with one bad assumption and written mystery stories based on just that.  Random example: “I grew up thinking that I had a twin who died at birth.  In fact I was the youngest member of triplets–one other of whom lived.”*
  • One of my stumbling blocks has always been trying to make puzzles as difficult to solve as possible, because that’s what mysteries look like from the outside–and that’s what a lot of advice centers around, how to make a difficult mystery.  But I’ve gotten better feedback by learning how to limit the number of bad assumptions (and suspects) to 2-3 main ones at a time.  As soon as one bad assumption gets resolved, open up a new one.  You can always go back to the earlier bad assumption and reveal that the resolution of the bad assumption was another bad assumption, muahahaha.  But if you leave like ten bad assumptions hanging over a mystery at the same time (which in real life might be perfectly reasonable), readers’ brains will get tired.  Too much information, too many questions.  You want the reader to either a) just barely solve the mystery, or b) just barely miss solving the mystery.  A complete ??? is as bad as it being too easy.
  • In the end, you have backed the finder-outter into a corner.  Either they know the information and can’t prove it, they don’t know the information at all, or they think they know the information and they’re wrong.  Jot down at least 4 ways that the character might be able to get the correct information, definitively and finally.  Toss out at least the first 3 (or have the sidekick announce them as “real” solutions, easily disproved).  Write the climax based on idea 4 or whatever, and then–haha–go back through the book and put in all the loopholes that would make that ending possible.
  • Wrap up by letting the character decide what to do about the information they have now (let the murderer go free or not?  murder or manslaughter charges?).  Then sum up what actually happened all over again (see my post on surprises), wrap up any loose threads, and state the character’s view of the world.  In noirs this can be a very dark view indeed.
  • At that point, Robert is indeed your mother’s brother.

If you write a mystery like this, the endings SUCK to write, but they work, even though you might have no idea what that ending is going to be when you start writing.

If you liked this post, please pick up a copy of How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys, in which my Victorian orphan has to save a crew of chimneysweeps and a wealthy heiress from fates worse than death!  (And not the one you’re thinking of, either.)


*We’ll call it Triangle Girl and make it about a band camp murder in high school and nobody will see it coming.



Write What You Buy

I recently saw what looks like good advice:  “Write what you buy.”

So I looked at the books that I buy.  I buy:

  • Alternate history.
  • Literary historical fiction.
  • Fantasy, especially grimdark.  But also Terry Pratchett.
  • Classic mysteries.
  • Literary horror.
  • Diverse authors.
  • Smartass romance.
  • James Bond novels.
  • Pulp SF and pulp crime.
  • Short stories!!!

Some days, it feels like I’m never going to get to write the stuff that’s really “me.”  What that stuff is, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just that it’s a moving target.  But I’ve been studying across genres–and writing across genres–so much lately that I feel somewhat at loose ends.

Who am I?  What makes me “me”?  What’s the difference between books that I pick up because I’m studying a genre and books I pick up because I want to?  I’ve never been able to see my own style or tastes; I just know when something’s off (I didn’t used to!).  But I feel like that’s part of me, too.  I’m not going to be happy as a writer if I feel like I haven’t tried all the experiments, looked at the art and craft of storytelling from multiple perspectives, stolen the tricks from every genre and made them my own.

What does that even mean I should write, though?  I don’t know.  I have an email folder full of story ideas.  Crime, near-future thrillers, horror, historical fantasy…most of them are terrible and I no longer want to write them.

Today’s lesson: stop overthinking it and write what you love now.

Running twice as fast just to stand still

This morning is not the world’s greatest morning for a packaged sound bite about writing.  The World Fantasy Awards have been released and nothing that I read and liked won.  There’s a new conflict about how to handle serial sexual harassers in an entertainment industry adjacent to mine–everyone agrees that they should be handled, but the “how” is ripping people apart.  I’m finishing up a project that I love, but for a client that doesn’t treat me with respect and certainly hasn’t built respect into the contract.  I’m poking another client whose book was supposed to be started already, and not getting any response, and might need to scramble to get another ghosting book in place.  I’m struggling to learn how to do ads for my books, as part of my business, a.k.a. “Why are my clients’ projects selling better than mine?  Let’s learn that.”  And it’s not going the greatest.  I still don’t have any reviews on my new release.

And yet I’m showing up and putting the butt in the chair and getting the words done, and they’re not bad words.  So there’s that.

I looked at a meme about someone desperately needing to go on a beachside vacation and thought, “Nah, I’m good.”


Panicking over not Panicking

I woke up last night out of a nightmare due to the fact that I don’t have a list of tasks longer than my arm to accomplish STAT, only things that I really ought to get to sooner rather than later, and I was worried that I missed something vital.  In the dream, my teeth and legs fell off because I hadn’t been paying close enough attention.

Sometimes I get in one of those ruts where I’m working so hard that I hardly notice that I’m operating out of fear and avoidance, rather than reaching toward opportunity.

Every day freelancing is stepping off the edge and into a void, I swear.

New release:  October Nights: 31 Tales of Hauntings & Halloween.  If you like Ray Bradbury short stories, give it a look.

Notes on Selling Crap

I think a possible (possible!) hallmark of whether you’re on the right trail of selling your crap is the feeling that you have a magic wand.  You wave it, and stuff happens–books sell.

Maybe not as many books as you want to sell, and maybe you wave the wand again and the books stop selling.  Ooops.  Time for some forensic marketing? What do you call it when you want to find out why the book isn’t selling?

It starts to become a search for the perfect loophole:  least amount of effort, most amount of book sales.   Or even just the acceptable amount of effort for the acceptable amount of book sales.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s a different kind of “I don’t know what I’m doing” than it was a few months ago.  Which, after several years of spinning my wheels, is nice.

Right now:

  • Newletter with Mailchimp, landing page, book giveaway.
  • ARC newsletter with Mailchimp, to help drive book reviews.
  • Instafreebie to host books for review.
  • Actively hustling on Goodreads/LibraryThing when available.
  • Researched my possible Amazon lists/markets a la Chris Fox.
  • Using KDPRocket for keywords.
  • Getting into as many book bundles as possible.
  • Submitting ads for BookGorilla.
  • Social media stuff.
  • Blog (obviously).

And now I’m doing a/b testing on ad copy.  Sheesh.


Fake Drama

Personally, I think if you’re going to end a horror story on an “everybody dies” note, it has to be because the characters chose it that way OR out of irony when they do everything right but it still doesn’t work, not because they oopsed into failure.  If the situation was always hopeless, there never really was any conflict.

Well…okay.  I’ll make an exception for An American Werewolf in London.



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