Black Dog Series Sale

Just letting you know that the Black Dog series will be on sale March 10 through March 14.

As with the recent Tuyo series sale, the first book is free and the rest reduced in price, sometimes by quite a bit.

If you’ve thought of picking up this series, this is a good time to grab it!

If you already have this series and enjoy it, good time to mention it to a friend.

I have to say, I’m dying to finish up ALL THE REVISIONS and start Silver Circle.

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Manta rays

I got this tidbit from Zoology’s Greatest Mystery, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

This isn’t relevant to anything particularly. Like the fish with the black stomachs so that the bioluminescence of their prey won’t glow through their abdominal wall and give away their position to predators, it’s just neat.

Apparently if you were to take one of those log graphs where you plot body mass vs brain mass of various animals, manta rays swoop up above all other fish [see what I did there?] and land on the graph right among the mammals. Who knew that? I didn’t know that.

Also, this is just as it should be from an artistic point of view, as manta rays are so utterly spectacular. Did you know their wingspan can get up to about 30 feet? That’s about two giraffes.

Photo by, let me see, Andre Kaim on Unsplash:

They also show curiosity and social bonds — I did not know they were particularly social — and appear to understand the concept of mirrors. The famous mirror test is iffy, but still.

Here’s an article about social behavior. You know, they wouldn’t put “friendship” in quotes if these were mammals. That’s a bit annoying.

Oh, this article here is neat!

The researchers studied the structure of more than 500 of these groups over five years, in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Marine Park, one of the most biodiverse marine habitats on Earth. They found two distinct but connected communities of rays living together. These social communities were quite differently structured, one being made up of mostly mature female rays, and the other a mix of males, females and juveniles. … The study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, used social network analysis to show that manta ray communities contain a web of many weak acquaintances, with some stronger, longer-lasting relationships. Though they do not live in tight-knit social groups, the team noticed that female mantas tend to make long-term bonds with other females, while males did not have many strong connections. 

Very cool.

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Sale results

Okay, so, having let sales fall as far as they were probably ever going to, I pretty much pulled out all the stops with the Tuyo-series sale. I stacked up promo services with the following results:

Day 1: Freebooksy, Robin Reeds, Book Cave, Digital Books Today, all with series promos if that was an option — 1200 downloads of TUYO

Day 2: Book Runes, DangoBooks Partners — 300 downloads

Day 3: Booklover’s Haven, JustKindleBooks — 120 downloads

Day 4: Fussy Librarian alone, because I really wanted to know how this service performed — 360 downloads

Day 5: EReaderIQ with a series boost, Book Rebel — 250 downloads

The service with the best reputation of the above is Freebooksy. The second is Robin Reads. The third is Fussy Librarian. Unsurprisingly, that is also the order of expensiveness. Freebooksy performed best for me the first couple of times I used it. My assumption is that a substantial part of the people on their mailing list who want to download Tuyo have already done so during an earlier promotion and that Tuyo is unlikely to ever get 2000 downloads just from Freebooksy in the future. I will add that Freebooksy is the most user-friendly service and that counts for something. And I like the analyses Written Word Media sends out — that’s the parent company that runs Freebooksy.

DangoBooks is a brand-new promo service. They’re trying to build their customer base and offered to promote for free, so I added them to the list at the last minute. Next time I will put them on a day by themselves to better see how they perform. Book Runes has done very well for me in the past and did less well this time, again probably because a lot of subscribers who want Tuyo already have it. The combination produced almost as many series sales as occurred on the first day, an impressive result that in contrast makes Freebooksy’s series promo not look worth the extra cost.

JustKindleEbooks is probably too expensive for that low a number of downloads and I don’t know that I will bother using it again. Booklover’s Haven is so inexpensive that I wouldn’t hesitate to throw it on a day with another service, but I certainly wouldn’t use it by itself. EReaderIQ and Book Rebel did pretty well and aren’t very expensive, so I would probably use them again.

As only Fussy Librarian was placed on a day by itself, only that service can be truly evaluated. I was fairly satisfied with Fussy Librarian’s performance. For the price, this is a pretty good performance, especially as I’ve used them several times. Waiting six months between promotions with them seems to have helped performance here. Next time, the service I will put by itself is Robin Reads. My impression is that it doesn’t live up to its reputation for me, but maybe I’m wrong, so I would like to find that out.

Tuyo went right up to the top in its categories and stayed there for most of the promotion. Amazon doesn’t seem to have updated and is still showing it up pretty high in the Free Kindle Books category even though it isn’t free today, which is kinda unimpressive and I wonder whether that will be updated by the end of the day. I would like to see its rank stay up high for a good while.

Tano paid for its cover, yay!

Subtracting Tano from the equation, royalties in the past 7 days are twice what they were for any week during the past three months, not as great a result of the sale as I would have liked, BUT I hope to see both sales and especially KU pages read stay substantially higher for at least a couple of months. As a rule, the KU pages read begin really increasing several days after a sale ends and stay up for quite a while. That did not happen last time and so that is what I most want to see this time. KU pages read are twice what they have been lately, but Tano is responsible for a lot of that boost. I want to see a better response for everything else in the series in addition to pages read for Tano. The next week or so will show whether that’s going to happen.

Whew! Next up, the Black Dog series sale.

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Recent Reading: Nora Goes Off Script

Okay, so I picked this up solely because commenters here (Kim, seconded by Alison) recommended it, so you see how influential you all can be? One mention, maybe two, and boom, there it is, on my Kindle.

Of course, I was also in the right mood to try a contemporary romance. I find romances, especially contemporary or Regency, offer the kind of familiarity of setting and happy endings that work best for me when I’m also trying to get work done on my own projects. At times like this, if I can read fiction at all, it’s usually re-reads, and if it’s new-to-me fiction, it’s often romances.

This one, Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan, turned out not to be ideal because it was only easy to put down during the one high-tension period in the middle. The rest of the time, I was pretty strongly engaged and therefore had trouble setting it aside. A win for the book! Not ideal for me!

I dislike this kind of cover. Too … simplistic, cartoony, whatever. I just don’t like it. On the other hand, the cover doesn’t matter to me compared to a strong recommendation from you here. I turned out to like nearly everything else a lot.

Things I liked:

I liked that Nora begins the story over her failed marriage. Her husband, Ben, was awful, and I’m glad we never actually meet him. The term “narcissist” is thrown casually around today as a nearly all-purpose insult, which is perhaps not ideal, but Ben sure seems like a pathological narcissist. Also, no one ever actually uses that term when referring to him, as far as I can remember. I like that he is so clearly drawn, even in his absence, that we can say, How narcissistic he sounds! without the author pounding us over the head with the diagnosis.

Anyway, I also like that Nora in a secure place with her career. I mean, there’s room to improve, but though she has a habit of feeling that money is tight, she can apparently expect to sell every single screenplay she writes to a romance tv network for quite decent money, so she’s not in dire straits. I like that her new screenplay has hit it big and is being made into a serious movie, though it is DEFINITELY not the kind of movie I would watch because it’s closely based on her relationship with Ben and his leaving the marriage and how that was fine.

Here’s the setup:

Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband, Nora’s life will never be the same.

That’s all backstory. This has already happened. The story opens on the first day of filming. Then the story moves on, thus:

The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.

That’s somewhat misleading, but it’s good enough to go with.

Leo is interesting. Not really sympathetic right off the bat, but interesting. Nora is sympathetic. Her kids are great, and they pretty much make the story, both in Nora’s interactions with them and — this is crucial — Leo’s interactions with them. The kids pull the reader’s sympathy toward Leo as we get to watch him unwind, relax, and smoothly pick up a dad’s role toward them without anybody exactly thinking of it quite like that. But nearly.

Nora and Leo fall in love — this is believable — the seven days disappear, Leo settles in for a longer stay, then he gets a major starring role in a big movie and leaves, promising to return shortly. He doesn’t return. All is woe.

This is the part where I was speculating — you may have noticed in a previous post — that maybe Leo’s co-star Naomi was blackmailing him. SO MUCH made that plausible, but commenter Alison said nope, that wasn’t it. It sure wasn’t. I didn’t see the actual reason coming at all, and Alison, I’m curious, did you? Kim, how about you, did you see that explanation coming? I feel like I should have figured it out, especially after I knew my first guess was wrong..

Things I didn’t like:

Okay, I’m going to start by saying that I did in fact like the plot twist and the reason that Leo left. That was fine. I liked how we finally (FINALLY) find out what was going on with Leo. That was also fine.

But why, why, why didn’t Nora ever text or call and ask straight out, Leo, what the hell? You said you were coming back. Why didn’t you come back?

Now, in story terms, it’s … kind of plausible … that Nora did not do that. Ben left, he didn’t come back. He said he’d come back to see his kids, but he didn’t. So … kind of? Maybe? A famous movie star who is very rich, I guess it’s reasonable to assume he was just toying with your affections and never meant to come back.

On the other hand, no, it’s honestly not plausible. The way he was with her, the way she was with him, it’s just not. So when he says, “I love you, I’m definitely coming back, I will see you this Friday, I would not miss your kid’s performance in his school play, I will absolutely for sure come back.” and then he doesn’t come back …

… Why don’t you ask, “What the hell, Leo? Why didn’t you come back?”

But you don’t ask that. Instead, you sort of text message around the edges of this crucial question and then fall apart emotionally. Later, after you’ve somewhat recovered, during a text exchange, you say something or other that tentatively pins the blame for heartache on Leo and he returns quite sharply, “I said I was coming back!”

You don’t respond, “Yes, so that’s why I thought you were coming back! Why didn’t you come back?” Instead, you pause in puzzlement and ask your friends what they think he could be thinking.

This is the quintessential “If only they would TALK to each other!!!!” situation.

The only reason this was tolerable is that Nora falling apart emotionally didn’t last all that long and after all they did get it figured out in the end. Oh! No, I’m wrong. The thing that REALLY made this tolerable is that everyone supported Nora. Her friends, her family, her kids, Leo’s employees when she occasionally spoke to them — everyone. This was just really nice to see.

And they all did so believably too, except that — as far as I can recall — none of them said, “Oh, honey, this seems so strange. I know you may not like to [for some fairly inexplicable reason] ask Leo why he didn’t come back, but rather than assuming you know, maybe you should ask him?”

When I try to think of an actual sensible reason for Nora not to ask, I can’t. So maybe ignoring that [inexplicable] failure to ask is about the best way to handle this?


I probably emphasized the implausibility of this plot point a little too strongly. It was pretty implausible, sure, but this by no means ruined the story, which I really did find difficult to put down. I enjoyed this book very much and eventually, when I re-read it, I’ll be paying careful attention. Maybe I’ll see some plot justification that seems adequate to explain the above, and if not, fine, it’s still a good story and a fun read, with engaging characters and great family dynamics. I liked it a lot and I would be happy to read something else by Monaghan.

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Bah, Humbug: 50 Years of Bad Grammar Advice

Once again, I ran into a post someplace or other lauding Strunk and White. And once again, I immediately thought of this article, “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” by Geoffrey Pullum, who is or at least was at the time the head of the linguistics and English department at the University of Edinburgh. I read this article a good long time ago, but it stuck with me, for obvious reasons — Pullum is not a guy who pulls punches.

For me to report that I paid my bill by saying “The bill was paid by me,” with no stress on “me,” would sound inane. But that is no argument against passives generally. “The bill was paid by an anonymous benefactor” sounds perfectly natural. Strunk and White are denigrating the passive by presenting an invented example of it deliberately designed to sound inept.

What concerns me is that the bias against the passive is being retailed by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don’t know what is a passive construction and what isn’t. Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses. “At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard” is correctly identified as a passive clause, but the other three are all errors: “There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground” has no sign of the passive in it anywhere. “It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had” also contains nothing that is even reminiscent of the passive construction. “The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired” is presumably fingered as passive because of “impaired,” but that’s a mistake. It’s an adjective here. “Become” doesn’t allow a following passive clause. (Notice, for example, that “A new edition became issued by the publishers” is not grammatical.)

This passage has stuck in my head because first, it’s outrageous that advice about passive voice is promulgated using examples that are not passive; and second, it annoys me tremendously that when actual passive constructions are used to advise against passive, the examples given are always entirely artificial and ridiculous, created specifically to make the passive voice look awkward. Strunk and White might have contributed to that, but everybody does it . The ball was kicked by Bob, the water was drunk by me, those examples are designed to look awful and that’s absolutely infuriating because English teachers and other authorities ought to know better.

Passive voice is absolutely correct — and sounds absolutely correct – when it’s used properly. My dog was hit by a car last night. Rinderpest was declared eliminated in 2011. Last year, 27 million bushels of rice were produced by farmers in Thailand.

I should pause to ask: do you see why the examples used by Strunk and White are or are not passive?

At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heardby me. –> the subject, “me” or whatever, has been left out, but is understood to exist even though it hasn’t been specified. This is the same as Rinderpest was declared eliminated in 2011 … –> by The World Organization for Animal Health, which is a mouthful, and that’s why someone might choose to leave it out. The fact that rinderpest was eliminated is the important thing.

There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the groundby … …. … –> there isn’t anything there. You can’t fill in a “by” phrase at the end. The subject in this sentence is one of the fake subjects so common in English: “There.” English so strongly prefers the subject – verb – object construction that we frequently use fake subjects, particularly “there” or “it,” in order to have something to put in the place of the subject. But this sentence does have a grammatical subject in the front, no matter how fake. It’s just a perfectly ordinary active voice past tense sentence. It doesn’t have anything to do with the passive voice.

Pullem goes on:

These examples can be found all over the Web in study guides for freshman composition classes. (Try a Google search on “great number of dead leaves lying.”) I have been told several times, by both students and linguistics-faculty members, about writing instructors who think every occurrence of “be” is to be condemned for being “passive.” No wonder, if Elements is their grammar bible. It is typical for college graduates today to be unable to distinguish active from passive clauses. They often equate the grammatical notion of being passive with the semantic one of not specifying the agent of an action. (They think “a bus exploded” is passive because it doesn’t say whether terrorists did it.)

And as I say, I think of this every. single. time I see a reference to how great Strunk and White is as a style guide. It’s not great. It’s annoyingly unhelpful when it comes to style and frequently wrong when it comes to grammar.

I mean, saying “Don’t be wordy” or “avoid awkward constructions” is all very well, but what is a novice writer actually supposed to do with style advice like that? If the writer has no sense of what counts as “wordy” or “awkward,” then all the advice in the world is pointless.

Pullem goes on:

There is of course nothing wrong with writing passives and negatives and adjectives and adverbs. I’m not nitpicking the authors’ writing style. White, in particular, often wrote beautifully, and his old professor would have been proud of him. What’s wrong is that the grammatical advice proffered in Elements is so misplaced and inaccurate that counterexamples often show up in the authors’ own prose on the very same page.

Some of the claims about syntax are plainly false despite being respected by the authors. For example, Chapter IV, in an unnecessary piece of bossiness, says that the split infinitive “should be avoided unless the writer wishes to place unusual stress on the adverb.”

The bossiness is unnecessary because the split infinitive has always been grammatical and does not need to be avoided. (The authors actually knew that. Strunk’s original version never even mentioned split infinitives. White added both the above remark and the further reference, in Chapter V, admitting that “some infinitives seem to improve on being split.”) But what interests me here is the descriptive claim about stress on the adverb. It is completely wrong. Tucking the adverb in before the verb actually de-emphasizes the adverb, so a sentence like “The dean’s statements tend to completely polarize the faculty” places the stress on polarizing the faculty.

The way to stress the completeness of the polarization would be to write, “The dean’s statements tend to polarize the faculty completely.” This is actually implied by an earlier section of the book headed “Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end,” yet White still gets it wrong.

I will add to the above indictment of advice to avoid splitting infinitives:

Thus much and more; and yet thou lovs’t me not,
And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.

— Byron, “Love and Death.”

And that sounds so fabulous to the ear that frankly this single example ought to, all by itself, drive a stake through the advice never to split infinitives. The better advice is to drop the adverb into the infinitive or put it somewhere else, whatever works best for the actual individual sentence. But that’s more difficult advice to follow, I suppose, and thus we get all this dogmatic advice that would not be at all helpful even if it were generally correct, which in Strunk and White, it frequently isn’t.

You can split other verb forms too, by the way, even though you may see advice not to. If you don’t worry about it, you’ll do it without without noticing and it will be fine, as here:

They had previously been quite reckless in their behaviour; often making a great uproar; quarrelling among themselves, fighting, dancing, and singing. — Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge

Why should I complain, when we both have merely done our duty and will surely be the happier for it in the end? — Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

I got both the above quotes from this helpful post right here, which declares the advice not to split verbs is the stupidest advice in the AP stylebook. I wouldn’t know, not having read the AP stylebook, but certainly it’s better to put the adverbs wherever they sound best rather than follow arbitrary rules that one should put them in some specific location no matter how awkward that may be. I mention this because Strunk and White is by no means the only style guide that is wrong about important elements of style and grammar. One might also notice that advice to avoid adverbs is not followed by Dickens or Alcott. That is because this also is stupid advice.

I realize that’s quite a rant to be inspired by happening across one of ten thousand comments about how fantastic Strunk and White is as a style reference, but I do think of this — much more briefly — whenever I see that kind of comment. I emphatically suggest that prospective writers develop their feel from style via reading great writing, not from style guides, and most certainly not from style guides that offer proscriptive advice about the passive voice using examples that are not passive voice.

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Adding Magic and Spirituality to Your Story

A post at Writer Unboxed: On Magic and Spirituality in Story

There’s a lot of talk in SFF communities about hard versus soft magic systems—hard magic systems being the most well-explained and intricate. Heck, I’m not even fond of the word “systems” when used in conjunction with magic. For me, explaining magic makes it more like science. I like magic to have an unknowable quality to it. I like magic to be just beyond the grasp, of the characters and thereby of the reader.

Oh, yes, I feel the same way! I react exactly the same way to the word “system” when used with “magic.” I especially like magic that isn’t systematic, isn’t explained. Think of Piranesi, for example, or the fairyland style of magic in, say, Song for the Basilisk.

Naturally I was pleased to run into this attitude in the linked post.

Getting to the core of what it is about magic and spiritualism that I feel enhances a story is a sense of wonder. I don’t consider it something that’s exclusive to SFF or speculative fiction. I love stories of any genre that can incite me to feel it, even as an underlying feature.

Yes, I’m on board with this as well.

I’m just finishing up reading a sprawling epic fantasy. The world-building is phenomenal, the scale of the story is gigantic, and the political maneuvering is elaborate. And I’ve been wondering why the story is feeling flat, lifeless. The story has kept me intrigued enough to keep going, but just barely. As I considered writing this post, it hit me: it’s failing to incite a sense of wonder. There is little in the way of overt magic in the story, which for me would typically be a good thing. There is, however, a set of deities, and we actually get to experience their interactions with one another. You’d think that would do it, wouldn’t you? But I don’t have to wonder whether or not these gods are interfering in human affairs, or even tipping the scales. Let alone whether or not they actually exist. These deities are right there, on the page, telling me exactly what they’re up to.

For me, my rapt attention or astonishment has been wiped away by this lack of mysteriousness.

This is a post that resonates for me. The fantasy gods I like least are the ones that are giant people who stroll onto the stage and are just … people. I think of gods like this as the Greek God style of deities: giant powerful people who aren’t at all special or even interesting except for being giant and powerful. This is the sort of fantasy god who lacks any sense of, yes, wonder, and I would add, who lacks any sense of the numinous. They are, for me, largely boring if they are not active in the world and largely irritating if they are active in the world. As always, the right author can make me enjoy the just-people sort of gods, so there are exceptions, but generally I prefer gods that are either more godlike or else absent.

The linked post continues:

I’ve noticed a compulsion by some storytellers to explain the magic. As if they need to define a consensus reality for the reader. When I look at the definitions above, the key terms are: mysterious; belief; assertion; personal; uncertainty; and doubt. Why would I want to take those very human aspects of life out of my story? … When I’m told in a story what to believe, what is certain—if I’m taken by the hand and shown a consensus reality—it can diminish my sense of wonder. On the other hand, if I’m experiencing the story’s world from the characters’ shoes, with a grasp of their beliefs, uncertainties, and doubts, my attention is more likely to be rapt. I’m more likely to be led to astonishment. I’m more likely to gain a sense of wonder.

I will say here, the desire to explain the magic may not be the author’s personal inclination. Two or even three times, I’ve had editors push me to explain and systematize magic in a novel. Not City, as far as I can recollect. That is so obviously fairy-tale magic that I think no one would push to make it more scientific or algorithmic. But for several others. I’m generally half-hearted about systematizing magic and I think the linked post captures something about why I’ve felt that way.

The author of the linked post is Vaughn Roycroft. As far as I can tell, he’s written one fantasy novel, The Severing Son. He discusses that novel in the linked post. I must admit, I’m not caught by the prologue, though you can certainly click through and see what you think.

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Monday Update

Okay! So, results of the sale (so far) have been interesting, but I guess I’ll hold off on describing full results until the sale is over, which means Wednesday morning. Today is Fussy Librarian’s day, only Fussy Librarian is promoting today, and depending on results either I’m done using Fussy Librarian for at least a year or else otherwise. It’s been a highly inconsistent promotion service for me.

I can say already that TANO has not quite paid for its cover, but nearly. Probably by the end of the sale, it will have done so.

More importantly, I’m really happy with first reviews and with the scattered personal emails and messages! These great reviews and comments make writing the book SO SATISFYING.


It’s spring! I pulled out seeds, looked at what I have available, realized in dismay that I have almost no flower seeds, and immediately ordered some. Annuals are so pricy if you buy flats that I never get as many as I really want that way, plus I know what I want and those are not generally exactly what nurseries carry.

I want single or semi-double low-growing zinnias and marigolds for a big strip of earth beside the driveway. The soil there is gravelly and dry, it gets full sun, and I want plants that require minimal care. I like the small singles and doubles better than the big poofy flowers. I want annual vinca in some tangerine type color, not pink or white, because I want them to blend with the zinnias and marigolds. I need strong, sunny colors because the area is very sunny and pale colors get washed out. Also, verbena bonariensis always volunteers in that area and that lavender color looks good with sunny colors.

I love petunias, but the deer and/or bunnies also love petunias. Ditto for the black-leaved sweet potatoes. Marigolds, zinnias, and vinca are tough, don’t need a lot of extra water, and the wildlife leaves them alone. I admit I was seduced by a new poppy called ‘Amazing Grey.’ I haven’t been super happy with poppies as a rule, but I couldn’t help myself. We’ll see how it does in that area.

I also have two butterfly weed (Asclepias) right there. Such a stunningly pure orange, I really like it. Took me some time to get one established and I cheered when it produced the second. Plus a few butterfly bushes, which I am not thrilled with. I got a couple with apricot-colored flowers, but the color turned out to be too pale. The wild lavender butterfly bush that volunteered is actually better right there.

I’ll start all the annuals under lights. Eggplants too. I like fancy types that aren’t available in the stores here. I mean, I like the ordinary big black-skinned eggplants too, but I want long lavender-skinned Japanese types as well. I’ll start a few peppers, maybe a couple tomatoes — too early to start those, however. It may be 70 F today, but it’s supposed to get down to freezing shortly and stay there for a good long time. If you start tomatoes too early, they wind up banging their heads on the lights and getting leggy and weak. I might start tomatoes about the beginning of April, even mid-April. I only want a couple.

Probably the upcoming cold will zap most of the magnolias, though the Yulan turned out to have a fine display this year. The saucer and ‘Ann’ have cracked most of their buds and ‘Jane’ and ‘Angelica’ are thinking about opening. They may all have their displays ruined. Well, some years that happens. ‘Ann’ is significantly more cold tolerant than the saucer magnolia, so we’ll see.


I FINALLY opened up No Foreign Sky and the bulleted list I made from larger-scale comments, and made really solid progress. I didn’t put a lot of hours into this over the weekend because the weather was too nice and I was out doing stuff with dogs and plants. But the hours I put into this were good, focused hours. I checked off a lot of items on the bulleted list. I think I should be through the larger scale revision, again, this time for the final time, by Monday of next week. Then I will take a look at the more detailed comments and run through the whole manuscript from the top ONE MORE TIME, hopefully before the middle of the month, and get it finished.

I should therefore get a lot done this week, which is good because I would really like to send No Foreign Sky out to proofreaders around March 15th. That’s because the back half of March may disappear in a blur. A lot will probably be going on in my personal life for a few weeks at that point. Hopefully all that will be more or less resolved by early April.

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Tuyo series sale begins today

I’m sure you know this, but the Tuyo series is massively on sale from today, March 3, through March 7.

UPDATE! The preview jpg files for the paper edition covers just came through. They’re just fine, so I’ve asked for final pdf files. After fixing the half-dozen MORE typos various of you noticed — no one noticed more than three, but there were at least seven altogether — anyway, after fixing those, as soon as the pdf files arrive, I will load the final versions plus the covers and hit publish. They say it can take up to three days for a book to go live, but I expect that will actually happen before that, possibly by the end of the day today, possibly this weekend.

Meanwhile! The ebook of Tasmakat is not going to change in price prior to July 15th because that would be very unfair to people who already preordered it. I’m not sure the price even can be changed prior to the publication date. If I were Amazon, I’d lock the price as soon as the first preorders went through. Besides, I’m not interested in dropping that price. A big, big reason to run this sale in the first place is to push preorders of Tasmakat at that price, which would, in fact, be higher if Amazon didn’t cap the price of ebooks that are entered in KU.

However, the ebook versions of everything prior to Tano has dropped in price, sometimes substantially.

I’m sure you all know this as well, but the main Tuyo series is Tuyo – Tarashana – Tasmakat. This is one story arc.

The “extra titles” in this series are of course Nikoles, a prequel, Suelen, which takes place immediately after Tuyo, and Keraunani, which is concurrent with the first part of Tarashana.

Tano is not exactly an “extra.” This book is, or will be, or I sure intend for it to be, a prequel to a second main trilogy, which will feature Tano as the pov protagonist.

Tano is not dropping in price for this sale. I set the initial price low because it was coming out so close to the sale. The price will probably go up just a bit at the end of the sale or maybe the end of the month, so this is indeed the time to pick it up!

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Creating a Moral Villain

From Writers Helping Writers, this: Creating a Moral Villain

I really appreciate situations where the hero protagonist is opposed by a someone who is also a hero, but has different and conflicting objectives. That’s why this post caught my eye.

That kind of antagonist is not a villain, but maybe the linked post is conflating the terms. That would be all right, although I prefer to distinguish antagonists from villains because they are different in important ways. I mean different in story terms, in writing terms. The shape of the story changes dramatically depending on whether you have an antagonist or a villain.

Let me see what this post says — maybe they are using the word villain, but really mean antagonist.

As readers, what inspires empathy for the hero and makes us root for him? Their flaws? Admirable qualities? Hopeless circumstances? Yes, to all of the above. But none of these elements would be effective without a worthy villain to complicate matters. … This is the real purpose of the antagonist: to make things unlivable for the hero and ramp up reader empathy. … It is fear of this antagonist that inspires empathy in readers, putting them firmly in the hero’s cheering section and ensuring they will keep turning pages. So it’s crucial you create a villain who is just as unique, interesting, and believable as the main character. [Bold in original]

And of course this is not actually true because the admirable qualities of the hero and the hopelessness of the circumstances can and often do make the reader root for the hero in the total absence of a villain, as will be obvious with half a minute of thought.

I mean: The Martian. Who is the villain? Right, there’s no villain. Mars itself is the antagonist, the only antagonist, there’s not a villain in sight, moral or otherwise. That’s quite common, even in novels where the antagonist is not a depersonalized natural force. Let me see. All right, for example, in The Good Shepherd, the antagonist(s) are Nazi submarines, but we know nothing about the crews of those submarines. They are treated exactly like a depersonalized natural force, except with an unseen evil hand behind the whole conflict because they’re Nazi subs.

The Good Shepherd is a very intense novel, by the way, a thriller by CS Forester (of Horatio Hornblower fame, of course!) where all the action is … non-active? I mean, we see almost nothing but the bridge of the American submarine, so that’s the opposite of a flashy swordfight at the edge of a cliff, but it’s extraordinarily tense. And the tension is unbroken. It just goes on and on and on until you’re practically begging the author to let the protagonist take a nap, for heaven’s sake.

But my point is, there isn’t a villain, not an actual personalized villain, far less a moral villain who is “just as unique, interesting and believable as the main character.”

Even in novels where there is a villain, it’s not necessary for that villain to be “just as unique, interesting, and believable as the main character” in order to be a great antagonist. This too is completely obvious with two seconds to think about it. I’m inclined to point once again to my own novels here because it’s hard to be less unique and believable than Lorellan in Tuyo, for example, and I think we generally agree that this is fine, that the protagonists carry the story without needing Lorellan to be complex and unique and have a sympathetic backstory that is explained in detail.

This linked post asks, Who were their caregivers? What were they like in the past? What happened that changed them? Who was kind to them? Who was cruel? Every villain has a backstory that should explain why they are the way they are today. [bold in original] I say, who cares? If the reader’s focus is on the protagonists, which is where it should be, then details of the villain’s backstory are of highly limited interest or importance.

Granted, I’m biased because I don’t like villain point-of-view chapters or scenes, don’t like villain-centered prequels, and really think that important backstory about the villain can and should generally be restricted to about two sentences here and there.

The linked post says:

We don’t tend to think of villains as moral individuals, but they usually are. They just live according to a different set of values than the rest of society. 

Yeah, and sometimes they kidnap girls and torture them to death because they want to and they are able to. I really don’t think that kind of villain thinks of himself as a moral individual. I think that kind of villain thinks of himself as a predator, which is not the same thing. Personally, I think it’s an oxymoron to say “moral villain.” Once you twist the moral code that far, it’s stopped being a moral code. Of course I am still distinguishing here between opponents and antagonists vs villains.

Once more:

While a twenty-five foot shark might keep me out of the water, it won’t keep me up at night. The villains who accomplish this are the ones who feel real. They have morals—albeit skewed—and live by them. Although a nightmare now, they weren’t born that way; life, past events, and the evil of others have made them the villains they are today. They’re terrifying because they were once normal—just like me. … It is this kind of antagonist we should strive to create: moral villain who strictly adhere to their twisted moral codes. [Bold in original]

I do dislike phrases like “we should strive to create,” as though that’s just naturally what we should all try to do all of the time. Please. Superior phrases for this sort of advice might include: Your story may benefit from … Some of the most compelling and memorable antagonists … To balance a committed, selfless hero, an equally committed, selfless opponent … and so on.

It doesn’t have to be a twisted moral code. It can be a perfectly fine and sympathetic moral code, but opposed. We both need This Thing to save others, but only one of us can get it. Either your world will be destroyed or mine will. Of course you want your people to be free, but my people can’t let yours go because we’d be destroyed. Oh, I can think of a good example of that last: That’s the setup in the Medair duology by AKH. That’s definitely a compelling way to set up the protagonist / antagonist conflict. I really love novels with this kind of setup, especially if the author manages to make both the protagonist and the antagonist objectively right.

I will add, the antagonist can have an iffy moral code, or a step-too-far moral code. We get that in, for example, Sharon Shinn’s latest, The Shuddering City. The antagonist, the high priest, is not wrong. As far as he can tell, he’s pursuing a necessary solution to a dire problem. In fact, if there hadn’t been an alternative, he could have turned out to be objectively correct. His aim was very much a good-of-the-many aim, and sometimes those decisions are correct and necessary. We could call that a Cold Equations scenario. It’s not necessary to twist the moral code out of all possible sympathy before it can work for the antagonist.

All right, the linked post finishes this way.

No one’s going to cheer for a hero whose adversary is superficial or unrealistic. Turn your villain into a truly horrific creature by giving them a moral code to live by. Unearth their backstory and show readers that, at one point, they were human. It’s a good reminder that we’re all just one bad experience away from becoming monsters ourselves. [Bold is mine]

Again, this is way too dogmatic. Of course the reader is going to cheer for the hero, if the hero is well drawn and the plot is well designed and the story is well written. Unless the author has screwed up the story somehow, the reader will always cheer for the hero regardless of whether there is a villain at all or how the villain is drawn.

Also, giving the antagonist a moral code doesn’t make the antagonist a “horrific creature.” You have to really viciously deform the moral code before that happens.

Also, creating a detailed backstory for the villain is likely to backfire if the author feels compelled to share much of it with the reader. That way lies the temptation to turn a third of the book into villain pov and boom, you lose half your readers because lots of readers, like me, loathe villain pov chapters.


That is ridiculous. That assertion is worse than silly, it’s pernicious. Once again, thirty seconds of thought should make that totally obvious. Zillions of people have had bad experiences, including really horrific experiences, without becoming monsters. Treating people as though we’re all on the edge of a precipice and one little nudge will send us into the abyss of twisted morality and monsterhood is … … … words fail me.

It also reminds me of The Killing Joke, because this is the EXACT mistake the Joker makes in this story and that this is totally wrongheaded is the EXACT point the graphic novel makes.

I hardly thought it was necessary to make that point in real life. But here we are.

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If you preordered an ebook, I’m sure you noticed that TANO appeared on your Kindles today, and thank you!

If you’re waiting for it to go live in KU, I expect that’s happened, and thank you!

If you’re waiting for a paper copy, I promise I will hit Publish the moment the covers are provided for paperback and hardcover editions! I guess it’s taking a few days to finish the back cover images. Hopefully this week or surely very early next week.

TANO went to 70 preorders in about three days, which means it dropped as about 34,000 in the Kindle store, which isn’t bad. (Basically, above 100,000 in rank isn’t bad.)

The TUYO series sale begins at midnight on March 3rd, which should quickly lift everything in the series well above that level and will hopefully result in a substantial boost that lasts for several months, both in sales and (with a lag, but often lasting a long time) in KU pages read.

I’m not actually sure what will happen, as the sales I ran last fall (August/September) did not yield anything like the good results of every prior sale I’ve run over the past couple years. That was six months ago, and I deliberately have not done any promotion at all since, partly in order to wait for Amazon to hopefully change their algorithms back to something more useful to me, partly to let sales and pages read fall to the lowest level they were going to so that I could see what that level actually is and also most clearly see the results of the sales this month, and partly in the hope that I would be able to release a book right before this sale. I was surprised that last actually turned out to be possible!

What I hope for, in addition to a lasting boost for the whole series, is a sharp jump in preorders for TASMAKAT. I’ve never before run a sale a long time before the release date for a series novel, and I’m really interested in seeing how this works.

Regardless of everything else, I’m happy to have tossed TANO out into the world for readers to enjoy. I hope you love the story and are enthusiastic for another story from Tano’s pov, probably set at least several years in story-future.

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