Thursday, April 26, 2018

Perils of the Writer: Trend Chasing

So, the other day I was on a fantasy-lit based message board, and saw someone comment, "I want some fantasy-inspired music, but I don't like heavy metal.  What else is there?"

And I thought, "What are they talking about?  How is heavy metal the go-to trend in 'fantasy-inspired music'?"  And then it hit me:
fantasy music:heavy metal::fantasy lit:grimdark
(If I gave you SAT flashbacks with that, I apologize.)

But the analogy fits-- both fill the same subgenre niche, and both seem to be a popular trend at the moment.  And, I'll confess, I've never been too keen on the grimdark (nor heavy metal), but people like it and it's got some good stuff out there. Or, more correctly, there are a lot of works out there that I recognize their quality, while also recognizing that they are not for me.  And that's OK.  That's the thing with trends-- sometimes they'll be happening around you and you feel out of the loop because you just don't get why it's a thing.

Grimdark feels to be a strong trend in the genre right now, at least in the circles I have my eye on.  But trends change, so we'll see what's next.  I certainly would like it if people gravitated toward heroic fantasy, epic in scope but personal in scale.  I may know a book or two along those lines.

But what will the next fantasy trend be?  If I'm reading the tea leaves correctly (and lord knows I'm probably not), it's non-traditional secondary-world fantasy.  Things that really play with their worldbuilding, creating settings that are recognizable in totally different ways.  Stuff like the 1960s-ish secondary Asia of Jade City. Or the upcoming Titanshade by Dan Stout, set in a magical 1970sesque setting with 8-tracks and disco.  I'm looking forward to that one. 

Maybe that's why a part of my brain is churning away with a vague idea involving a dieselpunk secondary-world setting and this helmet.

But it's still just early churnings.  We'll see what develops.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Since I suck at prognosticating, here's my wish list instead.

Predicting trends in the writing biz? Me? Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m the last person you’ll want to consult for prognostications. I kind of fail at them.

Back in the querying stage, I did a crudton of research on the market: what was selling, who was selling it, who was writing it, how they were selling it, what the covers looked like, what movies or television shows were sort of like the stuff that was selling. Even that crudton was barely a crumb on the surface of this gigantic, seaming pile of…er, research you can do. And people were there all along the way, advising me to research more, know more, learn more. Ack!

In the end, I learned that I was basically Jon Snow. I knew nothing.

I signed with an agent three years ago, and holy hell has the book business changed since then. No one predicted the convulsion our industry has endured, and I honestly don’t believe anyone has a clear handle on where it’s headed from here. We think trends are toward more optimistic, fluffy stuff. But tomorrow’s news story stands a good chance of yanking the stuffing right out of us. Alternately, if we go dark and current events go darker, I can’t imagine readers are going to follow us down into the pit of despair. And bless them for not.

So since I’m failing so completely to predict, how about I wish instead? That's what futuristic fictioneers do, after all: we build a world to our own spec. And if I were building the near future of the publishing biz, here are a few trends I would like to see:

  • More characters of color. Not just because representation matters (though it definitely does), but also because that's the way the world looks. Humans are a wonderfully, wildly diverse lot.
  • A resurgence of cyberpunk or more specifically, post-cyberpunk (e.g., Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash). Technology is eating us alive right now in the real world, so fiction where we pwn that stuff would be empowering.
  • Gay characters who exist in stories that aren’t about gayness. You know, where they’re just people, peopling. 
  • A retreat from trope-stuffing. One or two are fine, but commercial fiction has become overloaded with tropes, and the stories suffer from this bloat. At least we writer types should seek to invert or turn a few tropes sideways. 
  • Less mocking. Mockery isn’t funny, and I’m tired of reading books where “comedy” occurs at the expense of someone else. 
  • Consent. So much consent. Consent on every page. Heck, a whole cast of characters who are oh-yeah, all-in enthusiastic about the sexytimes. 
  • On a related note, I would like the word “mine” in a romantic context to become archaic usage. People don’t belong to each other and are not objects to be won. 
  • Actually, instead of stories about horrible characters doing horrible things to each other, how about some books about good people doing awesome things for each other? 
  • I mean, if you need stakes and stuff, they can always save the world. I’m so over being told that I as a reader like to see characters making poor life decisions. I don’t. 
  • Oh! And this: a gory, blood-spattered, 'bout-time end to cliffhangers.
Yeah. I feel better now. Probably haven't predicted anything at all, but I definitely feel better. How about you? You got anything specific you'd like to show up on your to-be-read pile? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Release Day: The Plagued Spy by @KAKrantz

It's Tuesday, and I'm thrilled to announce the second book in my Immortal Spy Urban Fantasy series is out today in eBook and paperback!

The Immortal Spy: Book 2

It’s all fun and games until someone breaks out the needles.

It was supposed to be a simple retrieval mission. Go in, grab the bespelled package of evidence against some very corrupt superpowers, and get out. The mission turns sideways when a vengeful spy Bix blackballed during her time in Dark Ops crashes the job and injects Bix’s teammates with an unknown toxin. Succumbing to a horrific mutation, the dying spook whispers the Mayday protocol for a compromised covert operation involving a biological weapon.

With her friends infected and sequestered in quarantine, a mole inside the spy guild exposing its undercover agents, and the brightest minds in the Mid Worlds unable to identify the biologic, Bix picks up the mission to find the creators and the cure. She’ll square off against Fates, dragons, angels, and even the god of plagues to save her friends; yet the greatest threat might well be the darkness growing within Bix and the evil on which it feeds.

Beware the plagued spy, for wrath and ruin are sure to follow…

Buy It Now:

Amazon   |  iBooks  |  B&N  |  Kobo

If you missed the first book in the series, THE BURNED SPY is available at Amazon and Other Leading Retailers.

Cover art by Gene Mollica Studio

Monday, April 23, 2018

My Top Five Trends in Publishing

Just got back from the orthopedic doctor. Looks like I'll be doing surgery sometime soon because I screwed up some tendons in my shoulder. I tend to need those tendons, so, yeah, surgery.

That aside, let's see about this week's subject. The top 5 trends I see in publishing.

1) A surge in audiobooks. Technology is making it easier and easier for people to produce them and they are in demands. This comes with an audio glut. Too many books that would never have made thew grade as it were will come out and fall on their faces. bad writing, bad production and bad voice overs will linger like a bad taste in the mouth. This will eventually level out. 

2) Ebooks will get cheaper. Really, that's inevitable. Some of the big houses are still charging prices comparable to the cost of a hardcover, but it's not working for them and they'll eventually all catch on. Those that do not will a) be the exceptions or b) regret it. 

3) I agree with Jeffe. A lot more people will do ebooks through their sites. As with audio above, your mileage will vary depending on how ell made the books are and how well edited. As we have already seen on Amazon, quality DOES make a difference. 

4) Piracy will continue, but will be more costly. What do I mean? I mean as viruses get more adept at hiding a lot of sites that offer "free" versions of books that are for sale on Amazon, etc, will end up costing the downloaders dearly. Hackers are getting creative when it comes to stealing information and causing mayhem. You don;t pay to play and some of them will make you rue the day. 

5) Traditional publishing will continue, with a boost from more brick and mortar booksellers and with a dash of specialty presses. The thing about specialty presses is that they are vey often labors of love. Some will come, some will go, but love will continue on. The brick and mortar stores will expand slowly, and in the process they will cherry pick the best of the specialty presses. 

Those are my predictions and I'm sticking to them. 

In the meantime I predict that I will finish four novels this year.  That does not include the Predator novel that I already finished.

Boomtown, Spores, As We Know It and one more as yet unnamed. All three are in various stages of completion, and the unnamed one is potentially something that will be contracted in advance. 


Sunday, April 22, 2018

What Lies Ahead? Jeffe's Five Predictions

A panorama of Santa Rosa Lake, New Mexico (and surrounds).

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Trend Change: What shifts in the world of writing are you noticing? (Craft, Sales, Publishing, Tech, etc.)

Here's my five!

1. Craft

I think we're going to be seeing greater emphasis on craft. Following the market glut of frequent sequels and stuffed books created for Kindle Unlimited bait, I see readers growing more discerning about looking for the "good stuff." Self-publishing has aged into being an almost universally recognized publishing choice - but with that has come decreased tolerance for anyone doing it on the cheap. There's no excuse for slapped-together covers and poorly edited or formatted books, not when so many authors are putting out books indistinguishable from traditionally published ones. With more and more self-published books reaching award-nomination notice, craft will again become a key quality in a story, rather than low price point or shock value.

2. Sales

We all saw sales take a major nosedive with the 2016 election and ensuing dumpster fire in the US. Thankfully that seems to be rebounding. At least for sales of self-published books, and for those that meet a reasonable quality standard. I'm hopeful that the Amazon sweeps to clear out KU scammers will help restore discoverability of books so that readers are actually seeing relevant books.

3. Publishing

Traditional publishers have been offering fewer contracts for straight-up romance and I think that will continue to decline. Self-publishing and digital publishers like Amazon's Montlake imprint have created a glut of inexpensive romance books so that traditional publishers are simply not seeing the profit margins on the genre that they used to. On the other hand, I think traditional publishers are more and more excited about other genres with romance elements.

4. Tech

I'm wondering how many indie and hybrid authors will start moving to selling books directly from their own websites. The tech is there, as is the incentive to diversify from Amazon. I'm looking at doing this myself.

5. Etc.

We may have passed the self-publishing gold rush boom - but we're also emerging from the bust. Things are beginning to level out and a LOT of authors are establishing relatively stable incomes from hybrid efforts. Traditional publishers are recognizing that their authors will be also self-publishing and they're accommodating those efforts in contracts and in promotions.

I expect things to continue to improve for authors, which means all you readers should be golden!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rethinking A Decision Made for My Second Egyptian #PNR Book

I don’t really have mistakes to report on my first book, Priestess of the Nile, although I’m sure when I eventually get the rights back, I’ll revise it with all the many things I’ve learned since writing the story in 2011. Seven years of writing more books and interacting with great editors and getting better at craft issues have to make a difference.

But overall, I remain pretty happy with the story and with it being my first published title. I will forevermore be in love with that cover - thank you, Carina Press and Frauke of Croco Designs!

Where I do think I went a bit wrong was with the second book in that Gods of Egypt series, Warrior of the Nile. I do a TON of research, all the time, into various aspects of ancient Egypt, but for this book, I veered off the track in the hero’s backstory in my opinion. I made him the last survivor of a mountain tribe that had its own gods and myths (conveniently created by me to fit my story), although since he was adopted by Pharaoh’s family at a young age, he also subscribed to the Egyptian beliefs. Indeed, the entire book revolves around a demand made by the goddess Nephthys and her personal involvement in the quest.

In fact, however, much of how the book’s plot is resolved ties back to this personal belief system the hero Khenet retains. There’s a key scene in a ruined temple belonging to an ancient goddess predating Egypt, again all from my own inventive brain. There’s another pivotal moment where Khenet receives a bit of help from his tribe’s god, fulfilling a prophecy. And then there are these jewels….
Now if I’d been writing fantasy, nothing wrong with creating and injecting all kinds of cool new mythos and lore and etc.

Sobek - photo is Author's Own
But I really try to tell these stories from the standpoint that the gods exist and interact in the daily life circa 1550 BCE the way the ancient Egyptians believed they did, and very much wanted them to do. I feel the success of the later books in the series revolves around that key aspect. Not in taking giant departures and left turns from the overall Egyptian culture. (Liberties and conscious anachronisms, yes. Wholesale invention of new stuff – no.)  So to me, book two rings bit false now, like a brass bell in a lineup of silver ones. Not the same tone. I haven’t repeated that ‘mistake’. I find a way to make my plots happen much more concisely within the ancient Egyptian framework. They had such a complex civilization and belief system to match.

Don't get me wrong - I like the book and my hero, I love some of the 'Egyptian' elements in it wildly, like Lady Tuya's visit to the goddess Isis...I just think I moved away from what's at the core of my Gods of Egypt series by injecting a fantasy side story that had no roots in anything the Egyptians believed.

I’m not writing historicals. I am writing paranormal elements but I’ve always felt with Warrior I went too far away from what keeps me (and my readers) grounded in the Land of the Pharaohs as I visualize it.

(And with apologies to the very co-operative and supportive Carina Press Art Department staff at the time, the cover for Warrior - which was not done by Frauke - was just never my favorite of the series, for...reasons. Although some aspects of it are very cool!)

I've been self publishing the Gods of Egypt series since Warrior was released (up to seven books now!)  but I'll always be SO grateful to Carina Press for launching my career.

Friday, April 20, 2018

You Did What?

You want mistakes? How much time do you have? Don't worry. I won't list them all, if only as some kind of balm for my mortally wounded pride.

My first four books will never see the light of day. Each for very good reason. But the first one - oh the first one was SPECIAL. 

I wrote an entire 100k words of a contemporary romance aimed at Harlequin. It was called GROWING LOVE. It starred an American floral designer with a best friend who hauled her across the Atlantic to the UK to design said bestie's wedding - aaaaaand just maybe because bestie was setting up the heroine with her temperamental, rock star brother. I wrote this thing and I loved everything about it. Everything. I sent it off to a specific editor at Harlequin full of expectation.

Ah, the innocence of youth. 

I'd love to tell you I got a phone call or a glowing letter in response, but we all know what I actually got were crickets. Tiny, timid ones. Well. Then came my very first RWA conference and the editor I'd queried was going to be there. So I made sure to get an appointment with her. It was a group appointment, naturally. Thus, with sweaty palms and shaky voice, I described the book to her and mentioned that I'd sent it already. She promised to look for it when she got back to work.

Not only did she look for my packet, she wrote out a detailed rejection letter explaining why she couldn't buy the book. 


I'd written 100k words and there wasn't a single, solitary shred of conflict. None. Neither internal nor external. It was 100k words predicated on snark. Shush. It was glorious snark. I admit I crept back to my local RWA chapter and had to ask what internal conflict was, cause I had no clue. Some days, I think I still don't. Regardless. Pretty big mistake. Pretty big learning opportunity that led me to dive into local chapter meetings where people like Stella Cameron would come to explain the difference between internal and external conflict and why a romance had to have both and why externals always wrap before internals in the romance market. 

I *still* take writing classes. Probably always will, because there are nuances to story telling that I pick up from every single class I take. And there are still mistakes. Hopefully all new ones that we can talk about in the years ahead. 

Actual photo of the author working on her current WIP.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Mistakes of the First Novel

I'm a bit crunched for time this week, and the SFF Seven topic is about mistakes in that first novel.  And frankly, I'm always learning with every novel I write.  And back when Thorn of Dentonhill was coming out, I owned up to one of its more glaring flaws-- I mistake I wouldn't make if I were writing it now.  As it's still appropriate, I'll put it all out here:
The_Art_of_the_Steal_posterSo, I've been holding off writing this post for a while, but with this article recently making the rounds, it's probably high time I talked about this.

I don't know much about this movie (The Art of the Steal), beyond what's shown here on the poster, but the poster is very telling.  We've got eight characters: seven male and one female.  So, a bunch of guys of all different types and The Girl.  In other words, we've got The Smurfette Principle in full effect.  Furthermore, while Katheryn Winnick isn't being overtly sexualized in this image, it still stands out that she's wearing shorts while everyone else gets pants.

(2018 addendum: I've now seen The Art of the Steal, and it's a fun enough movie, but it is VERY much a Smurfette Principle movie.)

Images like this one are pretty common, not only for movies, but for stories in general, especially of the action/genre/sf/fantasy types.  Here's another exampleAnother. Another. Another. YET ANOTHER.  I didn't even have to remotely try hard to gather those. It's so typical, such a pervasive paradigm, that movies, books and TV shows can have little-to-no female presence, and it doesn't stand out as strange.  I mean, who's the most significant female character in Hunt for Red October?  It's Jack's wife, who only appears for a couple lines in the very beginning.  How about Saving Private Ryan?  I'd argue it's Mrs. Ryan, who doesn't even have lines, but is talked about as someone who deserves to have at least one son come home.

I could go on about this sort of thing, but there's one big problem: Thorn of Dentonhill falls into the same trap.  An image not entirely unlike the Art of the Steal poster could be used to show the main cast of Thorn.

I didn't mean to do that, which is exactly part of the problem.  While writing it, it didn't seem strange that there was only one significant female character.  Now, I could make excuses or arguments that the world we're looking into with Thorn is made of spaces where men intentionally isolate themselves in some way-- the all-male dorms of the University of Maradaine, for example-- but that would be pure rationalization.

The real reason is I wasn't fully aware.

Now, this doesn't mean that Thorn is, in and of itself, a problem. Frankly, I think it's a great book, and the early reviews have been very strong.  But it is part of this problematic trend, and I need to be aware of that as I move forward in my writing career.

I felt compelled to be up front about this.  If this means that Thorn is a problematic read for you, I respect that.

All I can say beyond that is I believe I've done better with each book that's following.