Bradley P. Beaulieu The Straits of Galahesh Giveaway

This one’s been on my TBR list for a while, and I might not get to it until next year, but the cover of book one, The Winds of Khalakovo caught my eye as soon as I saw it. Anything that is clearly not standard hack and slash swords and sorcery or medieval epic fantasy draws my interest, and airships are awesome, so here’s my plug for extra points to win free copies.

Anyway, he’s got a draw for free copies here, so if you’re interested, enter. This is an author from the Online Writing Workshop, so it should be awesome.

The Art of Bad Titles or Words I Swear Never to Use in a Title

There are certain words that make catchy titles, and certain words that make my eyes glaze over if I see them in the title of a book. Basically, if one of the following words is in the title of the book, you’ve got one strike against you in convincing me to read it:

  • Heart
  • Moon
  • Star
  • Crystal
  • Blade
  • Shadow
  • Quest
  • Dream
  • Dark/Darkness

If I ever am tempted to use two of the before mentioned words in a title, somebody please shoot me.

I mean, I’m not the best at titles, but skimming over a list of amateur fiction titles in a workshop, I found at least four to seven titles containing each of those words. I read a couple out to my husband, and he said, “I think I’ve read that book. Like, five times.”

Really, if the best title I can come up with for a story is The Crystal of Dreams, or The Moonblade, or Heart of the Whatever the Hell, then maybe you need to rethink your story. If that really, honestly is the most appropriate title, then, well, I don’t know what to say.

But chances are, it isn’t. Chances are, there’s something more unique and intriguing to your story than the name of the object of power that’s going to save the day when your hero acquires/uses/destroys it. What titles like that tell me, is that this story is about a thing, that’s probably some kind of gimmick that makes the story go, and little more than that. Doesn’t tell me about characters, or anything like that.

Titles that attract me are ones that have more, you know, unique words. Actually, I think the word I’m looking for is specific. Words that refer to something specific, rather than vague ideas. The first thing that comes to mind is the one I keep looking at, and I’m not sure if I’ll read, but the title grabs me, is “Whitechapel Gods.” Whitechapel is a district in London. It has meaning to me. It gives a lot of context to the word “Gods.” The words in my list, they could mean a hundred million things, in context, and paired with another one of the words in the list, it’s even worse, because then you have no context provided by the second word.

Which reminds me, there’s a clause in my vow never to use those words that states that those words may be used freely if they are being used literally. Peter S. Beagle’s story “Two Hearts” refers to the two hearts that a Griffin has, in the world of the story, because both must be pierced to kill it. If a character’s actual heart has been replaced with clockwork, then I’m good with a title like “Clockwork Heart.” I reserve the right to use “Moon” in my title, if the characters are actually traveling to the moon. “Star” and “Dream” would be reserved for sci fi only. The rest, I can’t really think of a good excuse for.

Just my two cents, and just my opinion. Anyone else have anything that makes their eyes glaze over when they see it in a title?

Why I Have Never Bought a Self Published Book

I’ve been busy with the revision, but a discussion on a forum I watch has brought up some thoughts.

I have never been able to bring myself to buy a self published book. It’s not because I don’t think that there are good books out there – I’m sure there are. I’m sure there are authors out there who are just too adventurous or unorthodox for traditional publishers to take a chance on them, or some other reason they’ve chosen to self publish rather than go the traditional route.

Self publishing doesn’t mean someone’s a bad writer, but it does mean that there’s been no quality control involved in the publication of the book aside from what is under the author’s control. There’s been no one read over it and decide that yes, this is good enough that it won’t ruin our reputation if we publish it, aside from the author. The reader has no guarantee that the author can string two sentences together. Or for that matter, that it’s not a recipe for chili copied and pasted three hundred times.

Again, a self-pubbed book might be a great book, and I think the odds have been getting a little better, that it will be decent, in light of the fact that more authors are getting frustrated with the traditional publishing world, and self-pubbing rather that waste their time with trying to sell to the traditional publishers. The bigger publishers have become less and less willing to take a chance on something (which is why they ended up going wtf when small press book “The Windup Girl” won the Hugo and the Nebula a few years ago.) But it’s that lack of some minimal quality assurance that is the reason I have yet to purchase a self published book.

Apparently there seems to be some people who think that books that are only available in e-book format, are the same thing as self published books. E-pubbed books may be self published, but not necessarily – there’s lots of small presses out there that are taking advantage of the e-book to get books out there. As far as I’m aware, self-pubbed books are not eligible to even be nominated for the hugo awards, but e-pubbed books are. In my mind, that’s a huge jump, but the main thing is that there’s been an editor who’s agreed to put their reputation on the line by putting their brand on that book.

This is the value of brand, in my opinion. Not just the money put into formatting the book and finding an artist to do cover art, and whatever else goes into a book. It’s the same as I tell my customers at work at the day job (internet tech support) – buy Toshiba or Asus if possible, if you’re looking for a good machine that will last, but whatever you do, dear lord, don’t buy a Dell, you’ll be sending it back for repairs before the warranty is out. What a publisher, even a small press offers me, as a reader, is that guarantee of quality, and if I read one book by them and like it, then there’s the promise of similar quality in other books by the same press. That’s valuable, and as a reader, I’m willing to pay more for that, or, for that matter, willing to pay at all.

See, as a reader, that editor is doing me a service aside from the formatting and commissioning a cover artist, and whatever else is involved in putting out an e-book, and that’s possibly more valuable to me than any of the rest. That editor is going through hundreds of manuscripts and picking out the ones that he or she thinks are worth anyone’s time. My time is valuable to me; with the writing I do, most of the time I spend reading is time I could be spending writing, so I’m loathe to waste it on a book that’s not worth reading. And I don’t want to spend hours and hours reading to find out that the ending sucks. I don’t care if it’s free, if I’ve wasted my time not enjoying a book, I’m pissed. It’s not even about the money, it’s about my time. I’ll do that for another writer, if I’m critiquing their work, but the point of that is to get it ready for publication, I’m not reading for enjoyment then. And sure, I’m willing to pay more for that service – for an editor to read sluch for me so I don’t have to sift through hundreds of self published books and go over reviews hoping that the reviews aren’t just posts from the author’s friends and family patting them on the head.

So that’s my reservations as a reader. Next week I’ll do up a post on my reservations as a writer.

Book Review: Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor

This is one that caught my eye a long time ago, I think though a blog, and I’ve been meaning to read it. The setting intrigued me, and the book has not disappointed. I bought it  from the Sony Reader Store over my uncle’s wifi, because I was amused at the convenience of being able to buy a book with my new e-reader without having to go home and hook it up to a computer, even to set it up. So, I got it on Christmas Day, when I got the reader, and finished it exactly a week later, on new year’s eve, at a party, huddled in a corner, going OMG there’s only 20 pages left, I can’t stop! Best book I’ve read since The Windup Girl.

What follows may be triggering – the setting is post apocalyptic africa, where the genocides and other activities related to genocides in africa have not stopped. Given that, I should not have to explain what sort of topics this review may contain that may be triggery.

Ok, that’s out of the way.

The story centers around the genocide of an entire people, and how rape is used as a weapon to destroy their spirit. It’s a heartbreaking story, but inspiring, because the main character is so driven. I was interested to see non-erocentric fantasy, and it’s a rich and ugly world that these characters live in. A world where a woman can scream for help to a crowd of onlookers as she’s dragged into an alley to be raped, and the onlookers stand there and watch. They are different people than we are. When Onyesonwu sets out to find her biological father who raped her mother, to stop his bringing his soldiers to rape her people, her mother doesn’t try to stop her, doesn’t try to make her stay home to protect her. No, she looks at her daughter and says, when you find him, kill him.

After some of the recent blog posts complaining about authors dealing with rape poorly, it was good to see it treated as it should be. The author never refers to it as sex, and doesn’t shy away from using the word rape to describe it.

The main character herself is sympathetic, and yet never wallows in sorrow, or if she does, the narrative doesn’t dwell on it. She’s a woman of action, and doesn’t allow herself to indulge in self pity, however lousy her lot. She fights to change it, and I find that the most engaging of character traits.

Onyesonwu also has a relationship with a young man, and it’s a rare one – a healthy one. It’s not that there is never any conflict between the two – not at all, there’s plenty of angst. It’s just not angst that tears them apart. They may argue passionately, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need each other, or that they aren’t right for each other. It’s refreshing to see such a believable couple.

As for the main conflict, nothing is black and white there. As I said, it’s an ugly world, and an ugly war. There can be no victor in such a war. Neither side is innocent, and the story goes into child soldiers, even.

And it will take a miracle to stop it. That’s the sad thing. Much as I liked the book, it makes me sad to think that even in fiction, the author couldn’t find a way to end such atrocities without resorting to magic, which is something that we can’t hope for in real life.

It’s a book that really goes there. It’s very dark, but it’s beautifully written, and paced precisely. I feel like I’ve learned something about being human, that I’m ashamed to know.

On the resolution to read more female authors: recommendations welcome

I have  a huge to-be-read list. I don’t have the actual books; I mostly buy the book once I’m ready to read it, and I’ll do that even more now that I have the new Sony e-reader I got for christmas. The fact that I can buy a book anywhere I have wifi, means that it’s easy enough to buy a book that I don’t feel the need to stock up on books to be ready when I finish one.

Anyway, I want to make sure I get myself caught up on what’s going on with awesome female authors these days. It seems, when I go to grab a book, it always seems to be the male authors that I pick up. I’m not sure if that’s because the male author is more hyped, or the covers tend to be more action oriented, and covers of books by female authors seem like they’re going to be about catty women, or what it is. Even though I know that there are lots of awesome female writers out there. I don’t really know why this happens.

Anyway, I want to change my own habits, because, as I said, there’s a bunch of authors I’ve been wanting to read, so I have a list so far:

  • Who Fear’s Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  • Something by Holly Lisle
  • Something by Elizabeth Bear
  • Shadow Magic, by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
  • His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Honestly, that would likely get me most of the way through the year – I don’t read fast these days, I’m too busy writing. But if anyone has suggestions on others that should be on this list*, please make them. I’d like to catch some of the new rising stars in fantasy and science fiction.

(I picked up Who Fears Death, though, on christmas day, and sadly it did not last into 2012, as I devoured it obsessively and finished it on new years eve while at a party, because omg, I can’t think about anything but this story and there’s only 20 pages left….)

*Keeping in mind I hate superheroes, and don’t read sword and sorcery or urban fantasy. Epic fantasy is a possibility, but tends to go to the bottom of the pile in favour of shorter, more succinct books.