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#IAmNotYourBitch

Friday, September 19th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin
SHE might be your b*tch.  I'm not.

SHE might be your b*tch. I’m not.

Hi, this is Sarah. One of my friends who, I think, hopes to see my head explode and my brain showered all over the walls some day (um… maybe I should revise the notion that he’s a friend) sent me this link: Authors United vs. Amazon, a primer.

Now to make things clear what I object to is not the link itself, but the site/movement it righteously mocks. Or to put it another way, I’m linking that site, because if I linked the original, there would be blood, possibly even someone else’s, as I mutated into the other form of Sarah, the one who walks around saying “Sarah smash.” (They won’t like me when I’m angry!)

Reading it once was bad enough.  (The things I do for you.)

The letter in the bad site, the one you can get to from the good site, but which I wouldn’t advise if you prize your sanity, is full of strange and wondrous claims that made me wonder what kind of world these people live in, and whether it has swiss cheese for a sky.

Take this gem for instance:

books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to another country. Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers.

First of all, there is the counterfactual: Books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply nor can authors be outsourced to another country.

Really?  Fascinating.  The first one is particularly interesting in view of the fact that just in the time I’ve been a professional – since around 1998 – the average advance on a book has gone down from five thousand to – I hear, now – two thousand. If the books are not being written more cheaply, they are certainly being bought more cheaply by traditional publishers.  And few of these books get royalties. No matter how much the statements/royalties have to be tweaked to avoid it. (Used to be that books were taken out of print on the day they earned out the advance. I know. Happened to six of mine. Now they just go into a sort of limbo, and you get zero sales reported, which considering that I sell more than that on my backlist on Amazon, I call shenanigans on.)

The second one is also fascinating, since I know people in several other countries who write, such as Dave Freer, for instance.

Then comes the tautological: Books are not toasters or televisions.  Indeed.  They’re also not peanuts, computers, wooden shelves or automobiles.  This is not an exhaustive list of what books aren’t.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the great minds of Author’s United to provide the exhaustive list.

Then comes the interesting: Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers.

Oh…  You mean like those books that traditional publishers routinely send back with the instruction to “make this more like Fifty Shades of Grey” or whatever the latest manufactured mega-seller is?  Or, wait, wait, wait, this is why publishing executives refer to books as “widgets.”  Or it is why publishing houses routinely fail to “push” or do much of anything for midlisters, thereby leaving them to not sell at all, and thereby “firing” them after two books? (Or making them change names.)

Yes, siree, it is the way that traditional publishing respects the act of book creation and the uniqueness of the book that means we need to support traditional publishing against Amazon at all costs.

Or, this is an idea – we could stop being supine mats on the floor begging for traditional publishing to give us validation and love – and support Amazon, a company that pays authors on time, that pays any author who is willing to work hard enough a living wage, and that deals fairly and openly with its providers.

At some level, you know, I think the good folk of Author’s United is aware of this.  There are sentences in this letter that read like what we novelists call “Signal from Fred.”

From Turkey City Lexicon, one of SFWA’s decent creations:

  • Signal from Fred

A comic form of the “Dischism” in which the author’s subconscious, alarmed by the poor quality of the work, makes unwitting critical comments: “This doesn’t make sense.” “This is really boring.” “This sounds like a bad movie.” (Attr. Damon Knight)

Our position has been consistent. We have made a great effort not to take sides. We are not against Amazon.

Which given they’ve been agitating against Amazon from the beginning can only be read to mean “Help, the publisher is holding  our books hostage and demanding we come down on amazon good and hard. We have made a great effort not to take sides. We are not against Amazon.  Help! Help!

In fact this letter sounds rather familiar. Like those hostages forced to tape messages condemning their country, but signing with their blinks “I’m being coerced.”  Only, since I think these authors are also lying to themselves as hard as they can.

Which makes the situation very familiar. Look, I’ve had friends in bad relationships, before.  Arguably I was in at least one very bad relationship when I was very young.

You lie to yourself.  You tell yourself he really loves you, and he wants what’s best for you.  And you turn against friends and relatives who tell you he’s no good for you.

Only with publishing, this has been going on so long, that writers are treated like no other profession on Earth. In fact, we’re not treated like professionals at all. We’re treated like sluts. (And not the kind who hold slut walks.) “You’ll do this for near-nothing because you like it.  We’re so nice, that we’ll give you a little gift to make you happy, even though you write because you love it, you dirty girl, you!”

It’s time for those poor souls in Authors United and the others like them to realize that because you love to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for it. Arguably tons of people love their jobs.  But we never say “Oh, teachers love to teach, so we shouldn’t pay them.”  On the contrary, it seems the teachers Union (Teachers United!) is always agitating for higher pay.

And the publishers, do they ever say “I love publishing, I’d do it for free!”

No. They don’t.  They do it for money.  And there is money in publishing, because they have offices in Manhattan and publishers don’t have day jobs to support their publishing habit.  It’s writers who must have day jobs to support their writing habit, because they love writing, and they don’t deserve any better.

Is that what you’re thinking?

Well then come off it. You know what we call the person who takes the money someone makes by doing something they love, and then abuses that person? A pimp.  An abusive pimp at that.

Publishers like Hachette are evil pimps browbeating their authors into submission and making them give it up for next to nothing while they grow fat on the writers’ efforts.

It doesn’t have to be like that. I got rid of all my pimp-like publishers and kept only Baen books, who treat me with respect.

But what if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy, which is the only thing Baen publishes.  What if you can’t find a house that will treat you with respect?

There’s an Amazon for that.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do the occasional freebie for a friend or a cause you love.  It’s okay to do things for free for people you like. But love it or not, your craft is worth money and you should be paid.  If other people can sell it, what makes you think you can’t? (Witchfinder has now made me my regular advance from Baen, which is far more than two thousand dollars.)

But those publishers who hold you down? Who pay you nothing and blame you for their failures?

Stop carrying water for them and writing whiny letters to Amazon.

Dear traditional evil pimps: #IAmNotYourBitch.


[Charlie here:] This is the section where I remind you to let your friends know that you can mail book.plug.friday@gmail.com for submission guidelines, which say to send me your AUTHOR’S NAME, TITLE, a BLURB of close to 100 words and no that doesn’t mean 100 words each for every story in your story collection, and an AMAZON LINK, preferably to the Kindle book although if you’re doing paper only for some reason I’ll cope, grudgingly.

I thought it might help if I were to explain how I do these. When you send me a plug, I copy and paste the pieces into an HTML template. One reason I prefer the Kindle version is that, for inscrutable reasons of their own, Amazon makes the cover of a Kindle book easily hotlinkable, but puts covers of print books into some goofy encoded form that’s a pain to cope with.

When you don’t include the author’s name, and send it from, say, Frederick Xavier Ample’s email account, I have to dig around to find out that it was published under Fred X Ample, or worse, Mary Worthy. This doesn’t help me get it right.

Similarly, when you send me a three page excerpt as the blurb — don’t laugh, it’s happened — then I end up having to edit it down, write a blurb for you, or depending on how egregious it is and how cranky and pressed for time I am, simply send you back the guidelines with “about 100 words” highlighted.

Finally, if you have a promotion coming up, remember that these things are published on Friday. That’s why it’s called Book Plug Friday. (Even on the days I’m late and it ends up on Saturday.) The theoretical deadline in the Tuesday of the preceding week to give some slack, but recently I’ve been able to get things published the week they come in. HOWEVER, it happens fairly often that I get a plug for a book with a promotion running from Monday to Thursday on the preceding Saturday or Sunday. It is a theorem in the algebra of rings on the natural numbers modulo 7 that if I get a blurb on Saturday, for a promotion running the following Monday through Thursday, and I publish on Friday, that your promotion ain’t gonna make it.

Now, on to the plugs.


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U.S. Army Mage Corps: SWORD
By John F. Holmes

What if … magic were part of every day US Military Operations? In a backwater Central Asian Country, a threat to Western Civilization is growing, unnoticed by the world. The men and women of the US Army Mage Corps, feared on the battlefield and despised back home, enter into a struggle which may cost them their lives and their country.


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Starship’s Mage
By Glynn Stewart

Starship’s Mage is a serialized adventure set in a future we would never have predicted: where humanity’s far flung interstellar colonies are tied together by the Protectorate of the Mage King of Mars and the magic of the Jump Mages.

Damien Montgomery is a newly-trained member of this elite order. Unable to find a ship to take him on, he joins the crew of a freighter as desperate as he is – without looking hard enough at why they’re desperate.
Thus begins an adventure that will take him to the edges of known space and to the limits of his own magic.

Starship’s Mage: Episode 1 is a 20,789 word novella, the first of five in a serial story.

(Charlie here: I’ve got to admit I was a little puzzled how to handle this: it’s a serial, and the author sent me links to episodes 1 and 4. So I’m linking episode 1, figuring no one wants to start a serial on episode 4.)


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Impossible Odds
By Jenna Vincent

Impossible Odds contains a pair of stories involving everyday people, making difficult choices in uncertain times and coming out ahead, despite the odds.


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Appalling Yarns
By Dutch Heckman

An anthology of truly bent surrealistic vignettes. There is the one about the bear in Yellowstone Park who wakes up one morning with human desires and tastes, playing off of both Hanna-Barbera and Franz Kafka. And then there is the one about the television broadcaster who sells his soul to the devil, with an unusual codicil . . . and then gets found out:

“The public reaction to the revelation that Apache and the rest of the entertainment industry were pawns in thrall to the Dark Master of all Evil was remarkably subdued…. It really didn’t surprise many people; they felt that unholy powers most likely held sway in the programming suites of most networks already, and clearly the basic cable channels had already fallen or verged on tumbling into their grasp. The fate of the premium channels troubled many.”

There is the one about tortoise, the ant, and the country mouse, who achieved success in the world of fables but grow into dreadful drunken bores later on in life.

The book posits a hilariously amoral universe with no happy endings, and yet places on display the brokenness of human nature, in all its warty glory, for Heckman’s readers’ amusement.


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Auntie Jodi’s Helpful Hints
By Jodi Adler

In a world where small children are often allowed to run wild, snatching at strangers’ phones, someone has to stand up for adulthood. Auntie Jodi’s hints are partly a life guideline for negotiating parties, partly a sendup of cosmopolitan life—and all very funny. Auntie Jodi holds the line against political correctness while fighting rudeness, all without putting on a cape.

People who live on the coasts and big cities will especially recognize the awkward and dreary social situations Auntie Jodi addresses. Some of the hints are serious, and some are comic hokum: the reader has to decide which are which.

A sample hint:

“When in public, if you should be engaged in a mad, passionate, or achingly sweet embrace or kiss, be sure to slyly check for surveillance cameras, drones, or snoopy neighbors…. However, if you should be lucky enough to observe a high-profile A-lister in such a situation it’s best to snap your photos quickly—so that you can be first in line to collect a high finder’s fee from a tabloid, website, or government agency.”

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Great Writing For Understanding Scary Writing

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 - by Andrew Klavan

There is precious little intelligent writing about ghost stories and horror but you know who’s doing some? My pal John J. Miller. I don’t just say this because he’s a friend, but because the last two pieces he did on the subject were absolutely terrific. The piece he wrote recently for the wonderful Claremont Review on H.P. Lovecraft — The Horror, The Horror — was so good I actually had to write the guy a fan letter. Sure, I knew he’d use it against me some day but what could I do? Reading his essay was like eating some kind of confection. Try this bit:

The biggest barrier to Lovecraft’s mainstream acceptance had been his status as a writer of horror fiction—a field of literature that suffers from the suspicion that its readers take a perverse delight in graphic descriptions of torture and murder. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding, brought on in part by the sad fact that some horror books and movies really are no better than this. In its practical application, however, the classification horror encompasses a wide range of creative expression, from lowbrow penny dreadfuls and shilling shockers to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Much of the confusion is semantic. Strictly defined, horror is a blend of fear and disgust, the revulsion we feel in the face of cruelty and decay. Although Lovecraft certainly exploited this emotion—read the final paragraph of “The Rats in the Walls,” for instance—most of the time he aimed higher. The finest horror fiction is really about terror, which combines fear and awe in a powerful sensation that haunts rather than startles. Lovecraft sometimes used the term supernatural horror, but as a thoroughgoing materialist, he didn’t really believe in the supernatural. If a phenomenon appeared to violate the laws of nature, he argued, it was only because we didn’t understand the science of the laws. Much of Lovecraft’s work originally ran in a pulp magazine called Weird Tales, with weird meaning eerie or uncanny. Yet that promising word never really caught on as a label. So we’re stuck with calling it all horror, and cramming slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and its interminable sequels into the same broad category as the most refined ghost stories, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Vane Sisters” and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Dude! That’s what good writing about genre fiction looks like when it’s at home. The rest is here.

John did another great one on the ghost story writer Robert Aickman — one of my favorites — for the WSJ, but it’s behind a paywall. But there’s more good stuff on his website.

*****

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

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10 Things You Should Know About the Comics Code

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Karina Fabian

cca-seal

The Salt Lake Comic Con is more than just a chance to parade around in costumes and squeal over the chance to see your favorite star. The panels cover some interesting and serious topics. This year, Batton Lash, Steve Kent, Chad Hardin, Steven Grant and Joey Majdali discussed free speech, censorship and the Comics Code of 1954. The code for decades reinforced the impression that comics were for kids. It died a quiet death in 2011, but is an important part of the genre’s history. If you love comics, here are ten things you should know:

1. It wasn’t government censorship.

The Comics Code was developed by the major publishers of the time in response to societal — and governmental — pressure. In the 1930s, teachers claimed comic books decreased literacy. They were joined by those who worried about the morality of the illustrations. Finally, the mental health industry threw in its hat, claiming that comic books led to desensitization to violence and a desire to imitate the characters. (Sound familiar?) The comic book companies determined 41 areas, covering nudity as well as the depiction of violence and horror.

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Why Everyone Isn’t Special, as Told by the Iliad

Sunday, September 14th, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan
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From God of War

For the past three weeks, I’ve been dusting off the one of the West’s oldest thrill rides: the Iliad. I’ve looked at the best, the worst, and the bloodiest parts of what it means to be a hero in the legendary war stories of Homer. This week, I’d like to put it all together and see if I can’t find some of Homer’s heroism wrapped into the ideas that made this country, our country, what it is. In short, I’d like to make the case for why democracy is the government of heroes.

The Greeks invented democracy, but their bible was a poem about kings. To read the Iliad, you’d think the common man shouldn’t be trusted to tie his own shoelaces, let alone make complex political decisions. Homer composed the poem in the 700s BC, and it’s about a war between bronze-age monarchies. In it, kings are the god-appointed rulers of men. Everyone else is born to obey. That’s what the Athenians were reading when, for the first time in Western history, they handed the government over to the people. So where on earth did they get that idea?

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15 Great Lists Debating Comic Books and Pop Culture by Pierre Comtois

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

This summer Pierre Comtois, a nonfiction author with several books on comics and culture and a novelist for Liberty Island, began a series of articles exploring the comic book world. (See an interview with him here about his influences and goals.) After a really strong run with comics he’s going to start exploring more subjects across pop culture in the coming weeks.

Do you disagree with any of Pierre’s comics conclusions? Do you have counter-lists to his choices? Or perhaps you have suggestions for subjects you’d like to se him write about in the future. Please get in touch with me at DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com to build on the foundation Pierre built and carry on the comic book conversation. With Pierre focusing on cracking open the discussion on other subjects now more voices analyzing the medium’s past, present, and future would be appreciated.

  1. The 10 Lowest Points in Spider-Man’s Career
  2. 10 Heroes and Villains Not Yet Featured in an X-Men Movie But Who Should Be
  3. The 10 Greatest Comic Book Writers Of All Time
  4. The 10 Most Interesting Super-Hero Alter Egos
  5. The Top 10 Best Super-Heroes Of All Time!
  6. The Top 10 Most Overrated Super-Heroes Of All Time
  7. The 10 Most Successful and Controversial Comic Book Publicity Stunts
  8. 10 Reasons Why Howard the Duck Is Poised for a Comeback
  9. Top 10 Most Influential Comics of the 1980s
  10. The 10 Best Super-Heroines in Comics
  11. The Top 10 Most Evil Comic Book Villains
  12. The Top 10 Most Disturbing Moments in Comics

Three Lists on More Pop Culture Subjects

  1. 10 Too Close for Comfort Similarities Between Harry Potter and the X-Men
  2. The 10 Most Underrated Classic Science Fiction Films
  3. The 10 Best Fantasy Novels and Series of All Time

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Christopher Buckley: Eating to Write

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 - by Rich Tucker

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Most writers, truth be told, write to eat. It’s not an easy way to make a living. But it’s a living.

In his new collection of essays, But Enough About You, Christopher Buckley goes in a slightly different direction. He eats to write. Or at least eats and then spends a fair amount of time writing about it.

The book, which features writing from the last two decades, is divided into several sections. There are general essays (funny), funny essays (funny), travel essays (he doesn’t go hungry or thirsty whilst on the road). He also includes pieces on statecraft, criticism, obituaries and several more categories that could be labeled “other” or “miscellaneous.”

But what stands out is that Buckley doesn’t seem to miss many meals, and he certainly never misses a chance to describe one.

“We dined that night by candlelight, with bats flitting overhead, on roasted sweetwater langoustines, Zambezi bream, and rabbit pot stickers,” he writes about his first night in Zambia. I have no idea what any of those foods are; nor, I’m certain, do 99 percent of Zambians. His first breakfast in Hanoi would feed most Vietnamese for a month: two bowls of pho, followed by “a plate of fried rice with bok choy and chili sauce. Then had at the croissants.”

Even his days as mate on a small boat involve food and drink. Buckley recounts how he once dumped four steaks in the Atlantic while barbequing at sea; two remained edible after they were fished out.

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In Which I Admit My Crystal Ball IS Broken

Friday, September 12th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin
Managed Economies, Comrade!  Always the future of the past.

Managed Economies, Comrade! Always the future of the past.

(Hi, this is Sarah.)

Making predictions is hard, particularly when they’re about the future.

If you’d asked me in the mid nineties what was wrong with the book business, I’d have told you.  It was the top down, planned-economy model, where the big chain stores stocked according to the whims of their business managers – whims that were mostly based on degree of “confidence” (read supposed print run and ability to pay for better shelving) from the publisher.

I had reason to know that more often than not no one in that chain, from acquiring editor to bookstore manager had read the book.  In fact, while editors read proposals, often the only person who’d read the book was the copyeditor.  (Who was a just out of college kid, more often than not.)

So, how were books stocked?  Mostly they were stocked on feel, on blurb, on general “sense of what should sell” and on – of course – prior numbers.

Only prior numbers were often a matter of GIGO.  For instance, if you only got stocked two books per store, it was known it would sell at most 50% (because of the low visibility and also shoplifting) and then the next book would only print that much, and in three books your career was dead.  (Though often not, it’s just they got to reset your name and take you back to the beginner level advance.)

With one of my books, I was told my best shot at a good distribution was if someone made a movie about the historical period.  Then all the bookstores would stock me.

Think about this.  This was an industry that was, almost exclusively, relying on another industry to do its publicity for it.  And who was stocking not on the basis of quality of the written word, but on the vague feeling that the subject was trendy and therefore people would want to see it.

If you’d asked me in the mid nineties what that would mean for the book business, I’d have told you “nothing. Chains are now the only game in town.  So they’ll keep on keeping on, selling a little less each year, and when they go under in 20 years, they take all of the book business with them.”

I should turn in my crystal ball right now.  Oh, wait, I don’t have one.

Because Amazon came in and everything changed.

For clothing and electronics and automobiles, that workflow is in sync with consumer behavior. Consumers want new fashion, the newest flat-screen, the latest model car. Book consumers aren’t the same. Yes, new titles can drive sales, but book buyers also look for forgotten classics and hidden gems. That means poring over shelves, and that requires old inventory. The chains and their management could have tried to set investors’ expectations for higher unsold inventories as a healthy part of the specific business of buying and selling books. But they didn’t. They treated old inventory as a drag rather than an asset and began to trim their shelves of titles. (Alternatively, they could have tried to position themselves as larger, better-stocked versions of the independents, focusing on the particular desires of book customers.)

Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection—an inventory of old and new books—was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage. In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.”

Or, in other words – readers prefer buying from other readers, and books aren’t pieces of fruit that go bad after two weeks.  Also, books (and authors) aren’t fungible.  Who knew?

Not I.  I could have told you five years ago to go long on Amazon, but the last thing I expected was a resurgence of indies.

So I’m not going to make any predictions – I’m merely going to say I’m very glad the misery and failure results of a managed economy have been curtailed for my field by disruptive technology.

And that these are interesting times to be alive in.


And interesting times to publish an independent book and get it plugged on Book Blug Friday! Send an email to book.plug.friday@gmail.com for submission guidelines


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The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin
By L. Jagi Lamplighter

Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts—a school of magic like no other!

Who knew so much could go awry in one week?

Rachel Griffin has one goal. She wants to know everything.

Arriving at Roanoke Academy in the Hudson Highlands, she discovers that her perfect memory has an unexpected side effect. With it, she can see through the enchantment that sorcerers use to hide their secrets.

When someone tries to kill a fellow student, Rachel investigates. She soon discovers that, in the same way her World of the Wise hides from mundane folk, there is another more secret world hiding from the Wise. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel finds herself beset by wraiths, embarrassing magical pranks, a Raven that brings the doom of worlds, and at least one fire-breathing teacher.

Meanwhile, she’s busy learning magic, making friends and, most importantly, finding romance!

Curiosity might kill a cat, but nothing stops Rachel Griffin!


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Portals of Infinity: Book Two: The God Game
By John Van Stry

Will’s life has definitely changed since that day he went hiking in the woods. Learning about the portals opened his eyes to the wider reality. Being setup to become a God’s Champion was an even more startling event.

Now it’s time to pay for his ‘recruitment’. While Gods on a single world maneuver for power, the older Gods from the infinite spheres play a larger and more complicated game. The Goddess Aryanna has a quest she needs completed, and five Champions are needed to do it. Leaving Will to wonder, what could a Goddess possibly need?


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Memories of the Abyss
By Cedar Sanderson

Free novella from Sept 12-16

Violet is trapped in the prison of her own mind. Her body is dwelling in the insane asylum, but when her friend Walter is killed, she must make a decision to avenge his death, or stay safely locked in her own broken soul. He’d drawn her out of her shell, and she finds she still has honor left… But will anyone believe the crazy woman?


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Chosen of Azara
By Kyra Halland

Lucie, a pampered young noblewoman, has no idea of her true heritage and the power she holds to restore a lost land to life. When a handsome stranger appears at her father’s house, claiming to be a long-dead king and telling tales of a beautiful, mythical land, she fights to deny what he says and cling to the comfortable life she knows. But in her heart, she knows she must find the courage to believe Sevry and join him on his quest to defeat the evil that destroyed Savaru and bring the land and its magic back to life.

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116 Articles Exploring American Culture by Chris Queen

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

With Herman Cain

(Chris with Herman Cain at Smart Girl Summit, which he wrote about here.)

Back in May I edited together “10 of Chris Queen’s Greatest Hits,” a collection featuring several of my favorite pieces exemplifying the output from one of PJ Lifestyle’s strongest contributors. Today I offer a broader survey of Chris’s work. Here are links to some of his best articles across many subjects. If you haven’t yet discovered Chris’s thoughtful writing and warm spirit then here’s your place to dive in. Here are pieces going back to 2011. Also take a look at my article from last weekend, an open list-letter to Chris offering ideas in our Walt Disney research: “Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution.”

The South

  1. 10 Bands That Define Southern Rock
  2. What Do Southerners Think of Paula Deen?
  3. Hollywood’s Terrible Southern Accent Syndrome
  4. Smearing the South: First Honey Boo-Boo, Now ‘The Angry Ginger’?
  5. The Southern Tourism War of 2013: Enterprise, AL vs. Covington, GA
  6. Paula Deen’s Turnaround
  7. 3 Great Southern Novels You Probably Haven’t Read…Yet…
  8. Southerners Read The Bible More Than Any Other Area Of The Country
  9. 10 Things Everybody Gets Wrong About The South
  10. 14 Fascinating Inventors and Innovators from the South
  11. The 10 Most Overrated Destinations in the South
  12. The 10 Most Underrated Destinations in the South
  13. 10 Decadent Classic Southern Dishes

Disney: The Man, The Films, The Company, The Theme Parks

  1. The Ten Things You Must Do at Disney World
  2. Walt Disney’s 5 Greatest Innovations
  3. The 10 Best Disney Songs by the Sherman Brothers
  4. Disney’s Rich Ross: The Rise And Fall Of An Entertainment Mogul
  5. The Pixar Canon: 4 Misses And 8 Hits
  6. No Redheaded Stepchild: Brave Innovations Pay Off for Pixar
  7. It’s So Good To Be Bad: What Drives the Disney Villain Fascination?
  8. The Most Controversial Disney Classic You Probably Forgot
  9. 10 Must-Read Books for Disney Nerds
  10. Walt Disney’s Fascinating Political Journey
  11. 5 Examples of the Value of Faith in Disney’s Classic Films
  12. How Disney Culture Values Excellence
  13. 5 Disney Films That Define Key Family Values
  14. Patriotism, Disney Style
  15. Walt Disney’s Optimistic Futurism
  16. Horizons: Walt Disney’s Lost Futuristic Legacy
  17. Forgotten Walt Disney World: River Country
  18. Roy Disney: The Not-So-Silent Partner
  19. Forgotten Walt Disney World: Discovery Island
  20. Forgotten Walt Disney World: If You Had Wings
  21. Walt Disney’s ‘Boys’: Beautiful Music, Brotherly Disharmony
  22. How Interactive Lines at Disney’s Parks Make Waiting For Rides Not So Bad
  23. The 5 Most Underrated Walt Disney World Experiences
  24. The 5 Most Overrated Experiences at Walt Disney World
  25. Disney Parks’ Fascinating Running Subculture
  26. Has Disney World Fulfilled Walt’s Dreams For His Florida Project?
  27. Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!
  28. RIP, Diane Disney Miller
  29. The Top 5 Christmas Season Traditions At Walt Disney World
  30. The Disney Family’s Real Life Soap Opera
  31. 3 Ways Walt Disney World Can Improve Transportation Around The Resort
  32. Disney’s Tasty, Controversial Turkey Legs
  33. Debunking the Disney Disinformation
  34. 5 Attractions I Wish Were Still At Walt Disney World
  35. How Glenn Beck Wants to Shape the Culture
  36. 5 Underrated Disney World Attractions You Shouldn’t Skip
  37. 10 Books Every Disney Fan Should Read
  38. Disney and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, Part 1: ‘The Kind Of Service We Can Offer’
  39. Part 2: ‘Something No One Has Seen Or Done Before’
  40. Part 3: ‘I Won’t Open The Fair Without That Exhibit!’
  41. Part 4: ‘At The Intersection Of Commerce And Progress’
  42. Part 5: ‘It Says Something Very Nice’
  43. Part 6: ‘A Living Blueprint Of The Future’
  44. Mary Blair: Unsung Disney Artist
  45. 10 Free Ways To Have Fun At Walt Disney World
  46. The 10 Most Overrated Disney Animated Films
  47. The 10 Most Underrated Disney Animated Films
  48. 10 Ideas For How I’d Build A Star Wars Land At Walt Disney World
  49. The 10 Most Overrated Live-Action Disney Films
  50. The 10 Most Underrated Live-Action Disney Films

TV

  1. Recreating the ’60s: Mad Men and Its Pale Imitators
  2. Five Reasons Why I Love To Watch BBC America On The Telly
  3. Person Of Interest and the Paranoia of the Digital Age
  4. Forgotten Christmas: Five Lesser-Known Holiday Specials
  5. Five TV Shows That Didn’t Get the Chance They Deserved
  6. Reimagining Fairy Tales: Grimm, Once Upon A Time and Their Modern Spin On Fantasy
  7. ‘When The **** Hits The Fan’: The Eccentrics of Doomsday Preppers
  8. How the History Channel Transformed into Conspiracy Theory Central
  9. 5 Scenarios You Can Always Expect on Hell’s Kitchen
  10. Jack’s Back! 5 Reasons to Get Excited About 24: Live Another Day
  11. 6 Contestants To Watch On The New Season Of MasterChef
  12. The 10 Funniest Episodes of Seinfeld
  13. 10 Observations from Season 12 of Hell’s Kitchen
  14. 12 Questions with Monti Carlo, MasterChef Season 3 Star and Host of Make My Food Famous

Books

  1. Book Review: The Forest of Assassins by David Forsmark and Timothy Imholt
  2. Hope & Change… And Disinformation & Glasnost
  3. Book Review: It’s Kind Of A Cute Story, by Rolly Crump & Jeff Heimbuch
  4. Book Review: Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms
  5. A New Way Of Looking At The Civil War

Self-Improvement

  1. How I Lost 25 Pounds without Having to Run

Movies

  1. Essential Christmas: The 10 Best Holiday Specials And Movies
  2. 5 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait For Skyfall, The New James Bond Movie
  3. Oscar’s Only Human: The 10 Biggest Academy Awards Blunders
  4. The 5 Best and 5 Worst James Bond Theme Songs
  5. 4 Surprises from the Academy Awards
  6. Robin Williams’ 10 Best Performances

Music

  1. 5 Reasons Why I Always Say I’ll Never Watch The Grammys Again
  2. The Civil Wars: The Power of Music and the Hope of Restoration
  3. Meet The Least Likely Songwriter to Have A Top Ten Hit
  4. It’s Time For Christian Music Artists To Step Up Their Creative Game
  5. 4 Quick Observations from the Grammy Awards
  6. What’s Wrong with Country Music Today?
  7. 9 Questions On Music And Faith With Singer-Songwriter Melanie Penn

Exploring the Judeo-Christian Values in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania:

  1. The Spiritual Journey Of Billy Corgan
  2. Yes, There Are Judeo-Christian Values in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 1: The Seeker
  3. Yes, There Are Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 2: The Name
  4. Yes, There Are Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 3: The Dispenser of Wisdom
  5. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 4: The Unfaithful Lover
  6. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 5: Hope From Despair
  7. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 6: Unfailing Love
  8. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 7: Repentance
  9. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 8: The Way
  10. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 9: Faith
  11. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 10: Contentment
  12. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 11: The Lost Son
  13. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 12: In The Presence Of God
  14. Judeo-Christian Themes in the Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania, Part 13: Freedom

Religion in America

  1. How Far Should Churches Go to Appeal to Men?
  2. The Difference Between Happiness and Joy
  3. Finding Mr. Righteous: A Single Christian Guy’s Perspective
  4. 15 Questions About the Challenge of Finding Mr. Righteous
  5. Sean Astin Opens Up About His Faith
  6. 5 Idols that God’s Followers Allow to Get in the Way of Their Relationship with Him

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The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

Dear Adam Bellow,

I’d like to congratulate you on building and launching Liberty Island. You’ve assembled an extraordinary team of writers — 25 so far profiled at PJ Lifestyle – with several of them beginning to contribute blog posts and freelance articles here. I’ll call them out, these are some really great writers and fascinating people: many thanks to Pierre Comtois, Jamie Wilson, Roy M. “Griff” Griffis, Michael Sheldon, Clay Waters, David Churchill Barrow, and  David S. Bernstein. And Karina Fabian too is about to make her debut shortly with a wonderful piece that I’m scheduling for tomorrow. Updated: don’t miss “10 Excuses For Why We Don’t Get More Done (And Why They Are Excuses).”

I can’t wait to get to know more of the Liberty Island writers and continue collaborations.

I appreciated your recent manifesto, “Let Your Right Brain Run Free,” at National Review and really only took mild issue with what seemed to me your overemphasis on the novel and pooh-poohing of film’s greater power to hypnotize viewers:

What about Hollywood? Many conservatives talk about the need to get into movie production. I agree this is very important, but it requires a massive investment of capital, and more to the point, I think people on the right are over-impressed with the power of film. To hear some conservatives talk you’d think movies were the Holy Grail, the golden passkey to the collective unconscious. This gets things precisely backwards. Sure, a successful Hollywood movie can have a major impact. But as a vehicle for political ideas and moral lessons, movies are simplistic and crude compared with the novels on which many are based.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis both produced big-budget movies that reached millions of people with what most of us would probably agree is a subtly conservative message. Yet both of these successful movie franchises ultimately pale in comparison with the impact of the books. Even at their best, movies are essentially cartoons and their effects are superficial and fleeting. Books engage the reader much more deeply, at a level of identification with the characters and plot that can instruct the soul and edify the mind. A hundred years from now, moreover, these classic books will still be read all over the world in dozens of languages when the films on which they are based are long forgotten or superseded by new forms of entertainment.

In short, conservatives should remember that mainstream popular culture is still largely driven by books. Fiction therefore is and will remain the beating heart of the new counterculture. This is not just my bias as a publisher. It is a practical reality — and a fortunate one for us, since there are hundreds if not thousands of conservative and libertarian writers out there today producing politically themed fiction. The conservative right brain has woken up from its enchanted sleep and it is thriving. Instead of banging on Hollywood’s front door, a better approach is to go in the back by publishing popular conservative fiction and then turning those books into films.

I will write novels someday. And I still enjoy reading good ones. Recently my wife pushed on me her newest obsession, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Here's the new book my wife has been obsessed with lately.... I'm going to try reading it. Americanah, a novel about a Nigerian #woman coming to #America. She says that it has a lot to say of value on the subjects of racial identity and cultures, which I am researching for my book.

The vivid narrative is a fictionalization of the author’s life and tells the story of a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to America and develops a career blogging about her discoveries among races and cultures. A wise excerpt from Page 273:

"What I've noticed being here is that many #English people are in awe of #America but also deeply resent it," Obinze said. Page 273 of #Americanah, a knock-you-on-your-ass great novel by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. #literature #culture #Africa #England #UnitedStates

The movie rights have, of course, been acquired, with Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt starring. I can’t wait to see it.

So real life inspires blogging, blogging inspires a novel — the highlights of which are the blog posts in it — which in turn inspires a movie. I wonder how they’ll depict blogging in the film. Maybe they’ll update it and make her a vlogger on YouTube instead? Part of my wife’s enthusiasm for the novel was because the character was also part of the online “natural hair community,” black and mixed race women who share YouTube tutorials about methods for giving up straightening their hair with destructive chemicals and switching to natural styles and products instead. From page 13:

No wonder my wife loves the hero of this book so much. She's a #naturalhair #counterculture activist too. Page 13 of #Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, a Gen-Xer from Nigeria who is an astonishing writer. Almost done with first chapter. She also writes like my wife does with long, flowing sentences and wry observations...

My wife in her art has called them a counterculture:

My interdisciplinary work concentrates on the Ebony woman, Gen-X leaning Millennials, and our hair. Social media and video-based tutorials have influenced many Millennial women to embrace natural representations of their ethnic hair. These young women have become pioneers of the Millennial Natural Hair Movement, an expanding and informed counterculture responding to painful trends that date back to the early twentieth century.

Here’s an example of a video she made depicting the kinds of tips that circulate on YouTube amongst Natural Hair vloggers (she gave it an artsier spin):

I think this is an expression of the paradigm for today — that the various mediums of novels, film, and online media are blending back and forth together and the line between fiction and non-fiction blurs more too.

Recently when April and I made our move to South LA this summer in our packing and unpacking I had the opportunity to go through the DVD collection I’d accumulated over the last 15 years and assess the titles that still had the most value to me. As we’ve discussed and you know I’ve written about, so many of the movies and filmmakers that I once loved as a nihilistic postmodern college leftist I now regard with varying levels of disdain, disgust, and embarrassment.

But these are ones that I continue to regard with affection, that I still return to, and that I think can offer inspiration for your growing team of counterculture crusaders looking to change the world with their art. Some of them I’m a little bit more critical of than I once was, but they all still have some usefulness in some capacity or another…

(Note: this is a version 1.0 of this list, future editions will incorporate newly discovered films and suggestions from readers…)

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The NFL Borrows from the Iliad’s Playbook: Ray Rice and Achilles

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did a rare thing earlier this month — so rare it’s hardly ever been done since the 1200s BC. In cracking down on Ravens running back Ray Rice for a savage act of domestic abuse, Goodell (begrudgingly, after getting backed against the wall by public outcry) plunked for morals over talent. That, as the ancient Greeks knew from reading the war stories of their cultural icon, Homer, is easier said than done.

It shouldn’t have been a hard choice. Rice seems to have been caught dead to rights on camera, beating his fiancée senseless in a public place. Even the snippet of the video that’s been publicly released by TMZ is difficult to watch: with the casual unconcern of a man used to being treated like a demigod, Rice drags the unconscious woman out of an elevator like a rag doll. He takes his time, as if daring anyone to stop him.

Worst of all, no one did stop him. Rice was right to assume that starting running backs with Super Bowl rings and solid rushing averages can do what they want and get away with it. Rice is a star; he sells seats. So for an offense that may put him behind bars, the league suspended that naughty, naughty boy for two whole games. It looked like Rice was in line to join the ever-growing complement of suspected criminals and potential felons to be slapped gently on the wrist before returning to their adoring fans and multi-million-dollar contracts. Ray Lewis, Leonard Little, Andre Smiththe list goes on.

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The Top 10 Most Disturbing Moments in Comics

Monday, September 8th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

For decades, the comics industry proceeded at a relatively sedate pace when it came to pushing the envelope of good taste. To be sure, comics were considered mostly entertainment for children and low brows (soldiers serving during WWII don’t count as they were more or less a captive audience), never achieving the status that its newspaper comic strip cousin had. Although, there too, early strips more often than not, featured more slapstick material than intellectual. But it was regular comics’ lowly status that initially allowed the industry to fly beneath the public radar so that when Lev Gleason Publications published Crime Does Not Pay in 1942 followed by Avon Publications’ Eerie Comics #1 in 1947, the first horror comic, no one but readers took notice. It didn’t take long however, before other publishers took notice too and soon, magazine racks became crowded with violence and gore culminating in EC Comics’ various early to mid-1950s titles such as Crime Suspenstories and Crypt of Horror.

Following numerous local attempts by public crusaders to draw attention to comics they deemed unhealthy for youngsters to read, the industry attempted to regulate itself but early attempts failed when the larger publishers refused to associate with the smaller, more disreputable companies. Finally, the outcry against violence in comics became so great that Congress took notice and held hearings on the subject. That was enough to scare the publishers more than any story they ran in their comics and they ended up forming the Comics Code Authority whose strictures against horror and violence were finally accepted.

Such was where things stood in the late 1960s when Marvel editor Stan Lee published an issue of Amazing Spider-Man dealing with drug abuse (a subject banned by the Code) without the Authority’s stamp of approval. That event led to a loosening of the Code that would eventually unwind the whole ball of yarn.

Fast forward to the 1980s. Comics had grown into a major mass medium through the early 1960s and then began a steady retreat as first television and later, video/computer games dominated more of children’s time. Soon, youngsters became all but absent from comics fandom leaving only a small but hardened coterie of young adult enthusiasts. Comics mostly disappeared from public view, abandoning local newsstands and drugstores for the comics specialty store, usually tucked away in forgotten storefronts in empty downtowns or open air shopping plazas. Recognizing the shift in readership, the few remaining publishers changed their marketing tactics and began to concentrate on direct sales to comics shops. There, away from the prying eyes of the general public as well as impulse-buying youngsters, decades of caution was pushed aside and adult content was reintroduced to comics.

Of course, such content had always been present in underground comics cranked out by driven creators with a beef against the prevailing culture, but now it began to creep into mainstream comics and when there was no real backlash, the pace increased. By the new century, Marvel and DC had publicly broken with the Code Authority and the Authority itself was finally disbanded in 2011 leaving the door wide open for publishers to do whatever they wanted in their comics.

Companies adopted their own ratings systems for comics (largely useless for the discerning parent) as figleaves for the widespread inclusion of material that even the most sanguine of 1940s publishers would ever dream of putting between two primary colored covers. But for the purposes of this list, we’ll divide the kinds of adult material being presented today into two categories: material that is simply shocking and subject matter that goes beyond shock to downright disturbing on a deeper, psychological level. A level that perhaps says more about the creators’ psyche than the tastes of the readers who buy such material.

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10) Sise-Neg/Genesis

It happened in Marvel Premiere #14. In that issue, Dr. Strange pursues a wizard from the future who has discovered that there’s only a finite amount of magical energy in the universe and that there wasn’t enough to go around in the future age where he lived. So, traveling back in time when there were progressively fewer and fewer users of magic, Sise-Neg would accrue more of the energy to himself becoming more and more powerful until finally, arriving at the end of time, he destroys the universe. But being a god, his ego demands that he create a new universe in its place.

That’s when he discovers that the former universe had already been a perfect creation and so decides to recreate it just as it was declaring himself the God of Creation…Genesis…in the process. A pretty shocking ending for a comic published in 1974, and disturbing as well for the average reader who likely held basic Christian beliefs about God and the universe. It was an ending that held certain meaning for the state of the Marvel Universe that many readers preferred not to contemplate as well. From its very start, the MU had always been presented as a realistic milieu whose inhabitants looked and acted pretty much like people did in the real world. But in a way, the Sise-Neg story pointed in a direction that the comics industry would eventually follow, one that would eventually hold its own most cherished creations in contempt.

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The Challenge of Writing A Short History of Christianity

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 - by Rich Tucker

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Mention that you’ve read a short history of Christianity and people may assume you mean the New Testament. Or, perhaps, simply one of its books, Acts of the Apostles. But those are how-to manuals, not true histories.

Into this gap steps Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey with A Short History of Christianity.

Blainey’s created a cottage industry for himself out of this sort of thing. He’s also penned A Short History of the World and A Short History of the Twentieth Century. His Christianity book falls squarely in the middle of those tomes. Christianity is, in many ways, synonymous with what we used to call “Western Civilization,” at least the last 2,000 years of it.

His book belies its title because it’s anything but short, clocking in at some 550 pages. But that’s to be expected considering the scope and sweep of the topic. It’s not beach reading by any stretch. But this book, like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time or Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, was probably meant more as a reference manual than an offering to be read and discussed in book clubs.

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How Accountants Created Civilization

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 - by Rich Tucker

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Your mother probably told you — many times — to eat your peas. That’s because, while they don’t taste that great, peas are good for you.

Governments don’t eat. They devour, perhaps, but they don’t eat. Still, like eating peas, there are things that government needs to do but doesn’t want to do. At the top of the list is accounting.

In his new book, The Reckoning, Professor Jacob Soll of the University of Southern California reviews the history of accounting and shows how the rise of double-entry bookkeeping has made people wealthy throughout the centuries. He also explains why government doesn’t much care for applying those same accounting principles to itself.

“Those societies that have succeeded are not only those rich in accounting and commercial culture but also the ones that have worked to build a sound moral and cultural framework to manage the fact that humans have a regular habit of ignoring, falsifying, and failing in accounting,” he writes. “This book examines why a lesson so simple has so rarely been learned.”

But what he ends up showing is it’s not so much that the lesson hasn’t been learned. It’s that the lesson has all too frequently been ignored.

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Learning Liberty

Friday, September 5th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin
Give us your poor, your rejected, your tired writers yearning to publish indie.

Give us your poor, your rejected, your tired writers yearning to publish indie.

Hi, guys.  This is Sarah. Some time, now about two years ago, I realized that I was now free to write whatever I wanted and that I could sell whatever I wrote, without having to go through a publisher.

To explain what this means, I have to tell you how I used to sell.  The process went something like this: I had an idea.  My first procedure, when confronted with an idea is to try to forget it. You see, I already have … a lifetime worth of ideas.

When this didn’t work, I’d sit down and write the first few chapters. If the idea still wouldn’t die, I would then write a proposal for the book, explaining why it was marketable, (in my opinion) and what the rest of the plot was.

Then I would send it out.  And wait.

One summer, while I was unemployed, I wrote seventeen proposals. Of those I sold eight, but not all at once.  I sold one that summer, and then the sales trickled in.

The most time that passed between a proposal and an acceptance was eight years, and finishing that book was fun, since the long-dormant characters no longer were pushing to be written and I had other projects I wanted to do.

In case this doesn’t come across in the description, this was far from a normal process for writing, particularly for someone like me who, while not being a pantser, approaches books like all-consuming obsessions.  (I’m very lazy. I’m also obsessive.  I use the obsession to write.)

But for ten years, that’s how I made a living.  There was no virtue in finishing books the publishers wouldn’t buy, and I had to write books as fast as I could to survive.

So the realization that from now on whatever I wrote I could sell directly to the public, felt like… like utter relaxation.

And then the writing stopped. Not just on indie, but on the books due at Baen. For a year and a half now.

Now, part of this was that I was doing a weekly column for Lifestyle, and trying to work at other things, and it was simply too much.

The other part, though…  Ah, the other part.

I realized, sometime ago that part of my problem was that I had a lot of novels in process of completion that needed to be written now.  The problem … is not a problem.  I can write six novels a year. Though the last time I did that, I was also homeschooling and that’s a bit much. I can do it – have done it – while also writing five or six proposals which easily take the work of half a novel.

So, why the stop?

And then today I realized I was stopping myself.  You see, while my front brain KNOWS that the novels can be sold – by being put online and sold to the public – and that, in fact, Witchfinder is close to earning out a normal advance for me, the other part of me, the backbrain taught through years of experience in the field, tells me that I can’t do that.  I’m just wasting my time and no one will buy this and wha—

And the fight between me and the backbrain is stopping everything, even novels already sold.

Do I know how to solve it?  No idea.  I’m hoping writing this helps.

Sometimes it’s hard to be free. I understand tigers kept in tiny cages and then moved to large, more natural habitats have been known to pace within the confines of imaginary cages.

The way the book business is changing, we’re going to need to learn to tear down a lot of cages and teach ourselves we’re free.


Remember: Tell your friends to send an email to book.plug.friday@gmail.com for submission guidelines. For submissions, please include author’s name, book title, a short blurb (no more than about 100 words) and a link to Amazon, preferably to a Kindle book as those are easier to list. Please don’t bother with fancy formatting, shortened links (like amzn.co), review copies (neither Sarah nor I have the time right now) or cover art (I get it directly from Amazon in the HTML.)


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Survival Test
By David L. Burkhead

War!

A series of diplomatic crises precipitate a limited nuclear war on Earth. Missile defenses block access to space. Nothing goes up and nothing comes down.
The people of the various space stations, the moon base, and a space colony whose construction had just begun must find a way to survive until the war is over.
The ultimate survival test.


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Witchfinder
By Sarah A. Hoyt

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.


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Nocturnal Lives (Box Set)
By Amanda S. Green

Special price of $2.99 though September 5th.

This “box set” includes the first three novels in the Nocturnal Lives series.


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Gentleman Takes a Chance (Shifter Series Book 2)
By Sarah Hoyt

Shape-Shift Into Adventure!

Shapeshifters Kyrie and Tom try to live a normal life in a small Colorado town—normal, that is, considering one of them is secretly a panther and the other a dragon. But now a primeval Shifter feud grows infinitely more deadly, and Kyrie and Tom find themselves warriors in an ancient struggle for Shifter destiny itself!

Quick-witted fantasy doyenne Sarah Hoyt continues the brilliant contemporary fantasy “Shifter” saga begun in Draw One in the Dark.

At the publisher’s request, this title is sold without DRM (DRM Rights Management).

“An engaging main character, and the book . . . romps along.”
—Publishers Weekly on Sarah Hoyt’s delightful Ill Met by Moonlight.

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The Top 10 Most Evil Comic Book Villains

Monday, September 1st, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

Everyone knows that villains have to be evil, but some villains are more evil than others. Some, for instance, just want to rob banks, or get revenge on the hero, or steal state secrets, or force his attentions on a woman, or just get the better of his peers. All negative qualities to be sure, and all involving, to one degree or another, a choice: the conscious choice by the villain to do something he knows to be wrong. Which will be the criteria for those top super-villains included on the following list. All must be in a position to understand the difference between right and wrong and still choose to do wrong. Those who are insane (Joker) or robotic (Ultron) need not apply…for now!

And what is the nature of evil? Of course, our churches have helped define good from bad and so have our civic laws, or at least the laws of democratic societies. Laws under authoritarian governments, mostly designed to oppress the ruled and prevent any challenge to the established order, don’t count. Western civic laws based on say, Roman civil law or even Canon law, presuppose certain universal beliefs about the nature of man; that no matter a person’s background, thou shalt not steal or covet thy neighbor’s wife or take another life can safely be considered common ground no matter a person’s religious beliefs or political persuasion. It follows then, that true evil must knowingly and willingly threaten both the fundamental moral order held in common by all men as well as the very root of civilization itself. And to do so on a grand scale makes for the most vile of villains or in our case, not necessarily the best villains, but the Top 10 Most Evil Villains in Comics!

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10) Mr. Mind

One of the most evil super-villains in comics history was also one of its smallest. But don’t be fooled by Mr. Mind’s glasses or old time radio looking voice box hanging around his neck, or even the fact that he looks like a worm! In fact, Mr. Mind possessed one of the most powerful brains of all and used it to try to concur the universe until stumbling over the inconsequential-seeming Earth. There, in a lengthy serial that ran in Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46, he assembled a Monster Society of Evil and battled the Marvel family to a fare thee well. Although defeated, tried, and convicted for the deaths of 186,744 people, Mr. Mind survived the electric chair and has remained a threat to the Earth ever since.

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Read All You Want, the Forces of Writing Darkness Will Write More

Friday, August 29th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin
An accurate of the villainous indie writing tying the publishing industry to the train tracks.  Don't it just break your hearts?

An accurate representation of the villainous indie writer tying the virtuous publishing industry to the train tracks. Don’t it just break your hearts?

Hello ladies, gentlemen and creatures not yet identified by science.  This is Sarah Hoyt, once more missing Dragoncon to bring you these pearls of wisdom.  Okay, fine.  I’m missing Dragoncon because I’m broke, so I might as well bring you these pearls of wisdom.

Over this weekend, forcibly away from my colleagues who are having way too much fun starting right about now, I’ve been giving some thought to the whole traditional and indie model, which, as you know, is something I never do – coff.

Cons and publishers and the whole enterprise of publishing as I entered it, oh, thirteen years ago or so with the publication of my first novel, was very much a social thing.  What I mean is, from the outside, it looked like a collegial and harmonious enterprise.  All the authors seemed to know each other and at least superficially get along.  And you read – at least in books published a long time ago – that all the authors helped each other.

Was this true?

Well, now.  Some of it was.  Some number of my colleagues were always big-hearted professionals, willing to help a newby who kept her nose clean and worked really hard.  I’m minded here of Kevin J. Anderson who unbent from his Olympian heights to keep me sane and keep my hope alive after the publishing world shut its doors in my face when my first book series failed, back in 2003.  I’m thinking of Dave Drake, who gave me my introduction to Baen.

But these were, at the time, almost acts of exceptional courage.  When I found myself on the outside looking in, the people who helped shine by their exceptional courage. It was a whispered truism in the field that you shouldn’t stand too close to someone the gods of publishing disfavored, because, you know, the publishers might think you were tainted.

This made perfect sense in an oligopsony that could control your fortunes not just what they did, but with what they failed to do (such as promote your books) and when you had no way to make a living through these at best indifferent gatekeepers.

The oligopsony created a finite pie, too.  There were so many slots for so many authors, so many spaces in the shelves of bookstores.  Even if it were your best friend being picked up and promoted, you felt a twinge of … not quite envy, because that slot couldashouldamighta have been yours.

This precluded the amity between writers from being quite as it appeared in public. As did the often random preferential treatment given to those with connections and publishing contacts.

My dentist once told me he knew I was a novelist because I had tooth grinding problems. (This worried me a little.  How many novelists are there in my neighborhood?)

How much things have changed. Nowadays, despite certain people at Teh Grauniad lamenting the “reactionary” and individualistic tendencies of indie publishing, where it’s apparently a writer eat writer world, in fact, I’ve found a lot more cooperation, a lot more help in the new model.

And why not? After all, in the new model there is no finite pie. If any of you falls madly in love with my historical mysteries, it doesn’t mean you’ll buy fewer historical mysteries, but rather more, as I can’t write as fast as anyone reads, and you’ll need more books to feed the habit.

There is also a sort of spontaneous cooperation.  For instance, I said on a couple of facebook groups “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could have a labor day sale?”  And lo and behold, there is a Labor Day sale, with writers who don’t even know each other, but who all figured that there is … sales generation in numbers.

So – at this link are a bunch of books, all of which are 2.99 or less.  Some of which are advertised below.  And some of which are mine. And it all happened spontaneously, through a bunch of authors, cooperating and stuff. Indie authors, you know, those reactionary forces of darkness. (If I’m going to be a force of darkness I must have a cloak and a moustache!)

Have a good Labor Day weekend and read a lot.  Don’t worry about finite pies, either. We’ll write more.


Congratulations,for this week’s links, every last one of the submissions wins the “Authors who can read as well as write” No Prize for submitting the TITLE, AUTHOR’s NAME, BLURN of less than 100 words, and AMAZON LINK to book.plug.friday@gmail.com. Tell all your friends, let’s see if we can keep the run going.

Well, okay, except for one. If your blurb looks a little abbreviated (by which I mean massively cut) you’ll know who you are.

Remember, send your entries to book.plug.friday@gmail.com. In return you’ll receive your very own copy of the guidelines for submission.


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SKORPIO
By Mike Baron

Vaughan Beadles, Professor of Anthropology at toney Creighton University, is on top of the world. Married to the beautiful Betty, Beadles has just taken possession of the largest uncatalogued Amerindian collection in the US. For years Beadles has theorized that the previously unknown Azuma were among the conquistadors’ first encounters. But when one of Beadles’ students dies from a scorpion sting his world comes crashing down. Betty leaves him and the University charges him with grand larceny and manslaughter.

Beadles’ only hope for redemption is to prove the Azuma were real and find the epicenter of their civilization, a journey that takes him from Illinois to Arizona and a fateful encounter with a monster literally from his own nightmares.


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Monster Story
By McCarty Griffin

After years of self-imposed exile, Christy McCauley finally returns home, unaware that the hollows of rural Augusta County where she grew up have become the hunting grounds for an unknown creature that has authorities baffled as it grows ever bolder and more savage. When Christy finds herself caught in the beast’s path, she must choose between fleeing her home to save her own life or standing her ground, and with the help of her friends, hunting down the predator before it kills again.


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Half-Inch
By McCarty Griffin

On a lovely spring day in April, he finally pushes her that tiny bit too far and she snaps. Deep within her, a cold, cruel voice she barely recognizes as her own pronounces those fateful words, “I’m going to kill you, Bobby Hilts.” Ride the crazy train along with Pammy as she gleefully plots her soon-to-be ex’s demise and the diabolical means that ensure that his body will never be found.


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ELSINORE CANYON
By “J.M.”

Madness, morality, murder, revenge, and unrequited love: A modern take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, suitable for adults and older teens.


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Gods and The City
By Steve Statham

For a thousand years, the new gods of mankind have protected the remnants of humanity. Reduced to a handful of survivors after a devastating alien invasion, a desperate human race accepted these gods as defenders against the terrors of a hostile universe. But when the greatest of man’s redoubts, The City, is assaulted by a power rivaling even that of the guardian god, the burden of protecting mankind’s future will fall to others. And what can mere men and women do against forces that can reshape and manipulate the universe itself?


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The Morning Which Breaks (Loralynn Kennakris #2)
By Jordan Leah Hunter & Owen R. O’Neill

For eight years, Kris was the property of a brutal slaver captain.
Now she’s free and a cadet at the League’s military academy. All she brings
to this new life is a unique set of skills, a profound ignorance of
‘civilized’ society, and a large chip on her shoulder.

But if Kris isn’t quite sure what to make of the Academy, the Academy isn’t
at all sure what to make of her. The medical staff thinks she’s homicidal,
her fellow cadets think she’s crazy, and her instructors don’t know what to
think.

So when she’s asked to help capture a terrorist warlord, she’s more than
happy to leave the halls of academia behind for awhile. Kris knows she’s not
signing up for any pleasure cruise. What she doesn’t know is that the key to
the mission’s success is reliving her very worst nightmare . . .


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Urdaisunia
By Kyra Halland

Urdaisunia, once favored by the gods above all other lands, now lies defeated and in ruins. The gods, displeased by the Urdais’ weakness, have turned their backs on the land and left it to die.

Rashali, a widowed Urdai peasant, has vowed to destroy the conquering Sazars and restore Urdaisunia to greatness, but her people are too broken by famine, plague, and poverty to fight.

Prince Eruz, heir to the Sazar throne, is driven by his conscience to do what is best for all the people of Urdaisunia, Urdai and Sazar alike. His father the King views his concern for the Urdai as an unforgivable weakness, and Eruz must walk a dangerous line between loyalty and treason to do what he believes is right.

When Rashali and Eruz meet by chance, the gods take notice. As Rashali struggles to find a way to free her people and Eruz risks all to bring peace to the land, a divine wager sends peasant and prince on intertwining paths of danger, love, and war in their fight to save the land they both love – Urdaisunia.


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Across Four Realms
By James Young and Anita C Young

Across Four Realms is a collection of short stories that introduces the reader to four disparate universes, with the sole constant that chaos knows no boundaries…and pain is a companion to all.

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The 10 Goriest Deaths in the Iliad

Monday, August 25th, 2014 - by Spencer Klavan

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Let’s get one thing clear: this is not your grandmammy’s Iliad. You’ve probably snored through a few excruciating lectures about “the subtle mastery of Homer’s poetic scansion.” Please. This is not some prissy love sonnet. This is a poem in which 12-foot-tall he-men use rusty bronze spears, devastating serrated blades, and boulders the size of tractors to rip each other to shreds over a stolen girlfriend in the most brutal and gratuitous cage match known to history. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reclaiming the Iliad in the name of awesome, with a series of posts designed to brush the dust off of Homer’s epic proto-action-movie. First up: the 10 most stomach-turning kills in the war between Troy and Greece, from least to most disgusting. All the translations are my own. All the bloodshed is Homer’s.

1. Twelve Sleeping Trojans: Gutted by Night

The fact that this is the least gory item on this list should tell you something about the upcoming mayhem. When the Greeks lose their star fighter, Achilles, they’re playing at a serious handicap. In desperation, they send two undercover operatives, Diomedes and Odysseus, to slaughter the Trojans in their sleep. It’s a low blow, but it gets the job done: while the Trojans are cuddled up all snug, the two Greeks eviscerate twelve of them, spilling their guts on the ground. “Unholy shrieking rose from them as they died,” Homer says, “and the ground ran red with their blood.”

(10.483-93)

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The 10 Best Super-Heroines in Comics

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

Is there a difference between a hero and a heroine? Should there be any difference? Comics more than any other form of media have presented the widest set of examples in the way of female heroes (as the politically correct term goes) from the demure to the overly aggressive. But in such creations as Power Girl, Wonder Woman, Thundra, and She-Hulk, all attempts at kowtowing to the feminist ideal, the industry might as well have made them male characters for all their busty bosoms and flashing legs. In fact, by powering up these females in the way of physical strength, male writers have done a disservice to women, falling into the feminist trap of equating men with women, in effect merging the two as if they were interchangeable.

Why do women need to be defined by such male qualities as physical strength? Why not have them defined through their own particular strengths and play up to that? Aren’t their own unique qualities as valuable as those of men? Women are no less courageous than their male counterparts of course, but where men are likely to be aggressive and bombastic, women are kind, caring, protective. Because they are not as physically strong, they frequently have the advantage of being able to hold back and think a situation through before barging ahead. In reality, men are physically stronger than women so giving them super-strength for instance, is a believable extension of an existing condition. Not so for women. For them, powers that are more passive in nature such as invisibility, telekinesis, or probability altering fit their more reserved natures better. As such, the heroes and heroines that work best are those whose super attributes are extensions of their basic masculine and feminine gifts. Not that super-heroines cannot have super-strength, but those that have that power ought to use it in different ways than a man would.

Many have seen the various Marvel Studios films starring the Black Widow character. Her ability to lay low dozens of male combatants crosses the line and snaps our ability to suspend belief for the duration of a two hour movie. With her around, who needs Captain America and his apparently useless super soldier serum? But in overdoing the Widow’s physical abilities, the producers have robbed her of her essential femininity (her physical appearance not withstanding!) She’s essentially just one of the boys: serious, tough, distant. Her polar opposite, and the perfect reconciliation between physically capable and retention of feminine qualities is the Emma Peel character from the 1960s-era Avengers television show. There, Mrs. Peel is totally capable in any number of areas including physical ability and yet nothing about the use of her skills detracts in any way from her femininity. Unlike the movie Widow–or current depictions of Wonder Woman or She-Hulk–she could never be mistaken for a man!

In that spirit, the following list includes the most successful examples of the super-heroine ideal. Heroines who rely less on aping their male counterparts than exercising power in ways that allow them to succeed while retaining their feminine qualities.

(Caveat: This survey of super-heroines does not take into account changes in the characters instituted in the post-1980s dark age)

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Lies, d*mn lies and publishing

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin
This is not the tsunami you're looking for.

This is not the tsunami you’re looking for. 

It never fails. (Sarah here.)  I find myself on some forum with traditionally, indie and hybrid authors, and someone brings out two old canards:

1-      You’ll never get there by your wits alone.  I.e. indie is all very well, if you want to sell a 100 copies of your precious little effort, but to make the big bucks you need traditional publishing.

2-      Indie publishing is submerged in the proverbial tsunami of cr*p.

Do I need to tell you that not only neither of these are true, but that they’re almost the opposite.

Yes, you can do very well financially from indie.  And I’m not talking the big name cases like Amanda Hocking, or Hugh Howey.   No, everyday people who have been publishing indie for five years or so and do well enough to make six figures and are considering quitting their job.  This might seem like nothing to you, if you think that every traditionally published author plays poker with Stephen King and has his own swimming pool filled with gold coins, like Uncle Scrooge, but “making a living from writing” has been impossible for most writers for the last forty or fifty years.  Ten years ago the average income from writing of the members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America was five thousand dollars a year.  And most people in the professional organization made less than that.  (And it’s probably worse now.)

What about the tsunami of cr*p, then?

This rings true, especially to many writers, because, well… we’ve most of us had to read for contests, or even have downloaded ebooks that are appalling.

But is there a tsunami?

I can tell you that whatever it was, tsunami or gentle rain storm, it was much worse back when ebooks started.  Either I’ve got better at picking books, or the really seriously bad ones have given up and gone home. And I think a lot of them have.  The people putting up a book in hopes of being millionaires tomorrow get disappointed and stop writing.

There is another factor too.  Almost every hopeless “die trying” case of wanting to write I’ve ever met doesn’t want to go indie.  They want validation and “books on the shelves” and to do the morning talk shows and…  In fact in the indie versus traditional battles they’re the loudest pro-traditional voices.  Hope springs eternal, I guess, and it prevents their ever coming to grips with their shortcomings.

Mind you, there are plenty of awful books out there.  I just returned one to Amazon, something I don’t remember doing with a free book, ever.

First, the main character had gender dysfunction issues he didn’t seem aware of. As in, I was in the head of a six foot something male and he was reacting/thinking/viewing people as though he were a small female. This is something that can/does happen when women write first person (or third person close in) males. Yes, it’s worse than men writing females, because then she just comes across “Strong” and “independent” because she’s not afraid to be out at night. But a tall, strong man doesn’t go all feely over “there’s a knot of people ahead. Oh, my, are they aggressive?” unless he’s wounded or otherwise incapacitated.

Second – I thought “maybe the character is a very swishy gay male. Whatever.” BUT it kept pulling me out. I kept seeing a petite female and then being told this was a male.

Third- the knot of people turned out to be a “disturbance”. There’s a man screaming at someone else in a square in Regency England. A guardsman shoots him, and then says “He was just a peasant” and there’s no consequences. France, before the revolution? Sure. England in the Regency? No. Yeah, it could happen in a riot, but if the guard weren’t lynched, he’d be tried. I thought “Oh, boy, someone read too much Marxist theory and knows no real history” but kept reading.

Fourth-The man goes in and has a pointless discussion with the alleged villain in which they explain all the social rules of Regency England and half of them are WRONG or at least the writer has no clue what she’s trying to explain having got the smell but not the taste of the thing.

Fifth- Our hero goes home. There’s a woman (ravishing, natch) waiting in his rooms and she makes sweet sweet love to him. Look, it’s not even the “why would she” it’s the SHE made love to him. I.e. he was utterly passive in a way I’d find hard to believe for most women, and I don’t think the most passive of men can be. The book got deleted.

Yes, yes, it was an indie book.

Now the kicker and the chaser. THE KICKER: it was an indie book republished by the author AFTER rights reverted from…. drumroll … Berkley Prime Crime. THE CHASER: It’s third for historical mystery and VERY high for historical romance.

This brings me to my final point: Look, we’re in unknown territory here.  For longer than any of us has been alive, the publishing houses have been publishing not what sold (if they even knew what that was, through their arcane accounting system) but two things: the correct politics and something to impress their colleagues.  So we got leftist litrachure.

We also got a whole bunch of things that editors decided was “good” and lost a lot of things they decided was “bad.”  When indie started, despite the fact that most golden age sf/f was first-person, the publishers were well on their way to banning first person.  Other things have been banned that were part of the story teller’s art forever: omniscient viewpoint, male action heroes, things that have nothing to do with quality but with the echo chamber of NYC publishing.

And what we’re finding with indie is that those often sell.  Because we’ve been trained in a certain type of market/storytelling, they often strike us as bad, but the public likes them.

So, if you’re a writer, indie or not?  Try things.  Your first book probably won’t sell a lot, but keep writing.  In indie, there’s a virtue in volume.  I hear there’s a huge increase in all numbers after your fourth indie novel.  Just get it out there. Write the best you can, and put it up.  If this is what you want to do, strive to improve and don’t lose faith.

Go indie, young man, go indie.


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Crawling Between Heaven And Earth
By Sarah A Hoyt

Only 99¢ through tomorrow.

A collection of short stories by Prometheus Award Winner Sarah A. Hoyt. The first edition of this collection was published by Dark Regions Press in paper, only. This updated edition contains two bonus short stories: High Stakes and Sweet Alice.
It also contains the stories: Elvis Died for Your Sins; Like Dreams Of Waking; Ariadne’s Skein;Thirst;Dear John;Trafalgar Square;The Green Bay Tree; Another George; Songs;Thy Vain Worlds;Crawling Between Heaven and Earth


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Trophies of War
By Christopher Remy

Fighting in over 100 countries.

Economies shattered, empires dissolved.

More than 60 million dead.

The Second World War was the most destructive conflict in human history, but it was more than just a battle of ideologies and nations—it was a war on culture. As they marched across the continent, Hitler and the Nazis looted the art of occupied Europe for the glory of the Thousand Year Reich as well as their own personal collections. Many artworks are still missing today, while others are the subjects of modern treasure hunts as survivors seek to bring their property home.

In Trophies of War, David Lyon discovers a family mystery in his mother’s basement that takes him across a former war zone where the secrets of the 1940s—and those who would do anything to keep them hidden—are still alive today.


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Portals of Infinity: Book One: Champion for Hire
By John Van Stry

William is just your typical engineer fresh out of college with a stressful job, a boring life, and not a lot of prospects of anything better in the future.

Until one weekend while hiking in the woods he stumbles across a portal to another time, or perhaps another place. The more he investigates this new world the more he realizes that it may just be able to offer him a lot more than the one he’s been living in.

However, there are forces at work beyond anything that Will has ever come across before and the local Goddess seems to have taken a liking to him. Will may soon find himself getting an offer he cannot afford to refuse.


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Genesis (Idolatry Book 1)
By Quent Cordair

In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adoptive son. Part I of the *Idolatry* series, an epic story in five parts.


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Marie’s Tale
By Alma T.C. Boykin

Duchess Marie von Starland, wife of the great Aquila von Starland, mother of Princess Miranda Sobieski, tells her side of the story of the war against the Turkowi and the Siege of Vindobona.


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The Warrior and the Holy Man
By Kyra Halland

The Path of Haveshi Yellowcrow: When ill fortune strikes Haveshi’s clan, the remedy is devastating for the young wife and mother. Guided by the Yellowcrow, god of the forsaken, she sets out on a path to regain what she lost.

The Path of Latan the Clerk: Latan, a lowly clerk in service to the magical Source Tiati, has discovered a historical document of great importance, and is summoned to present his findings to the high priest of the Empire. Accompanied by the warrior named Haveshi Yellowcrow, he embarks on the journey of a lifetime and finds unexpected danger and self-discovery.

A novella-length duology set in the world of Chosen of Azara.


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Stories from Arisa – A Short Story Collection
By Davis Ashura

Arisa: a world of loss and hardship; of legend and wonder; the world of A Warrior’s Path. Return there now with Stories from Arisa, a short story collection featuring four wonderful new fables from that mythic place; each one a polished gem; together, an assemblage spanning the realms of hope, humor, tragedy, loss, and love.

Stories: Received Wisdom, The Prank, A Lesson Learned, The Missing Diamond

Also included are the prologue and chapter 1 of A Warrior’s Knowledge, Volume Two of The Castes and the OutCastes.


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Bloody Eden
By T.L. Knighton

Ten years after a nuclear war forced Jason Calvin to fight his way across Georgia and through a brutal warlord, life has settled down a bit in a town called New Eden. As the town sheriff, Jason keeps the peace.

After saving a family from a horrible fate, that peace becomes threatened when a sadistic military man shows up, claiming the family are fugitives from his draconian justice system and they’re coming back whether anyone in New Eden likes it or not…and maybe some of New Eden’s own as well.

Unfortunately for him, Jason isn’t about to just let something like that go.


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The Pericles Conspiracy
By Michael Kingswood

99¢ through the weekend.

Josephine Ishikawa’s last shift as Captain of the starliner Pericles changed the course of history, but no one knows about it. The powers that be took charge as soon as she got back to Earth, with only a select few permitted to learn about the beings she encountered during the run from Gliese, or the eggs they entrusted to her care.

Satisfied that the government would make good on her commitment to return the eggs home, Jo returned to her job of getting Pericles through a major maintenance overhaul and then back out to the stars. But when she learns that the authorities reneged and have begun experimenting on the eggs instead, she faces a difficult choice: keep the life and career she loves or embark on a quest to rescue the eggs and keep the promise she made to their dying parents, out in the depths of space. That quest could cost her more than she ever imagined as it plunges her into a shadow war against a planetary government that will stop at nothing to keep its secrets.

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‘Don’t Go to the Movies with Strangers’

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

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A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Lisa de Pasquale’s memoir of life and love in Washington, D.C., Finding Mr. Righteous.  Her honest, sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking tell-all about dating life in the conservative world struck a few chords with me, so I asked her some follow-up questions. Keep reading to find out how she’s dealt with people trying to figure out who’s in the book, the current status of her dating life, and the latest steps in her spiritual journey.

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Meet the Knight Who Was Misplaced in Time

Monday, August 18th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

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We’ve talked about a lot of things together, here. What to read, how not to date jerks, why the internet loves to hate Lana Del Rey, that time I dodged bears in West Virginia, and much more. I’ve really enjoyed the heck out of sharing these episodes with you, and I look forward to continuing to do so. If you’ve enjoyed the heck out of following my adventures, it’s time to join me in my latest big one: the launch of my second novel, Bulfinch.

Bulfinch is a whimsical tale about a history student whose imagination is so powerful that the knight from the book she’s reading pops out of her head and into real life. But he’s no fairytale visitor — he’s a very medieval fellow indeed, and our heroine Rosie is forced out of her reclusive bubble as she sets out into Baltimore to track him down and put him back into history where he belongs. Bulfinch is appropriate for readers aged 14+, and entertaining for all. By turns funny and tender, it’s a book you won’t be able to put down.

Bulfinch was released last Friday, to my delight! Don’t miss another day in ordering your copy, in paperback or Kindle formats. Buy it here.

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Top 10 Most Influential Comics of the 1980s

Monday, August 18th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

Ever since the earliest comic books appeared on newsstands in 1933 they followed many of the precepts laid down by comic strips: square bordered panels arranged in a left to right pattern, use of onomatopoeia for sound effects, different shaped borders dialogue balloons indicating thoughts or words spoken aloud or whispered, captions to set a scene, and a down to earth realism even for such fantastic characters as Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers.

With minor exceptions, comic book publishers kept to these tropes for many decades making an exception early on for the newly invented super-heroes whose outsized antics needed bigger and bolder presentations. Enter such figures as Jack Kirby who used tricks of foreshortening, full and half page panels, and breaking panel borders to convey a sense of furious action.

For almost thirty years, little changed until the advent of artists Neal Adams and Jim Steranko both of whom entered comics from outside the field bringing with them new ideas about how to tell stories visually. In the 1970s, though many of Adams and Steranko’s tricks were abandoned, the idea of breaking open the comics page remained with artists like Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, and Frank Brunner who continued to experiment with page layout.

In the 1980s, artist Frank Miller did the same with his work on Daredevil but now adding a new attitude to the storytelling to match the radical inclinations of his art. Influenced by film noir and later Japanese manga, he built an atmosphere of oppression and brutality to DD that only grew more intense issue by issue. No one realized it at the time, but Miller was leading the industry into uncharted territory, one that in time would become completely divorced from the strictures of the Comics Code Authority.

At the same time, across town at the offices of Marvel competitor DC, a British writer named Alan Moore was also doing his part to shake up the status quo. There, taking over the Swamp Thing comic, Moore immediately began to explore the dark side of the human psyche with tales that were increasingly unsuitable for young readers. Other writers from across the water would soon follow Moore’s example including Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman. Together with Miller at Marvel, they would succeed in transforming ground level comics into an adult oriented playground where children were not welcome.

It was a transformation that the comics industry perhaps needed as prices climbed and readership shrunk with children abandoning comics (and reading in general) for other pursuits. With a fan base now comprised mostly of adolescents and young adults, the industry could proceed full speed ahead with a program of increasing violence, sex, and darkness. The line between heroes and villains became blurred so that by the end of the 1980s when Marvel and DC found themselves challenged by a host of upstart companies with no allegiance to the Comics Code, they were forced to adapt to the new sensibilities or continue to lose ground.

The following is a list of the top 10 most influential comics or series that acted as sign posts in this transitory period between the last years when comics were accessible to readers of every age and their current form appealing to an extremely narrow band of young adult fans who often require stories that feature the extremes of human behavior in order to be entertained.

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10) Punisher Limited Series

Created by writer Gerry Conway in 1974, the Punisher was inspired by similar characters that had been appearing regularly in paperback for years including the Executioner, the Destroyer, and the Avenger. All derived their popularity in part from the Dirty Harry films of the early to mid-70s which capitalized on the frustrations of Americans with the apparent inadequacy of the law in dealing with criminals. By the 80s, such sentiments had trickled down to the younger set who soon took a shine to the Punisher who really began to take off after writer/artist Frank Miller featured him in one of his Daredevil stories. A limited series by writer Steven Grant and artist Mike Zeck followed which proved to be a huge sales success. In succeeding years, the Punisher would star in numerous series, each more violent than the last helping to redefine what it meant to be a comic book hero all the while pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in comics.

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The 10 Best Fantasy Novels and Series of All Time

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 - by Pierre Comtois

With the few remaining store shelves groaning under the weight of fantasy series whose authors must crank them out with the regularity and efficiency of a printing press (and with the same lack of originality), not much room is left for preserving the classics of the genre. Over the last several decades, fantasy has gone from a niche market to mass acceptance, and with the success of such series as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, it’s also gone mainstream. Unfortunately, interest in those series hasn’t translated to interest in other fantasy worlds. Potter and Thrones have their fans but those fans seem to be parochial in their tastes, refusing to explore beyond the walls of Hogwarts or come out from behind the Iron Throne.

But fantasy is about more than dragons, swords, spells, and now sex. It’s also about the craft of writing and somehow capturing a sense of wonder and of faraway lands and climes that readers may not even be aware that they’re yearning to experience. It’s that deep, unsuspected tugging against the bonds of the here and now that the best works of fantasy create. And (dare I say it?) once upon a time writers did succeed in doing that when fantasy written for the older person (as opposed to children) was somewhat rare in a late nineteenth and early twentieth century era of limited media coverage and that frowned upon the man or woman who refused to let go of what were considered childish things.

However, those childish things began as somewhat serious tales told around Grecian campfires before they metamorphosed into mythology. But what is understood as modern fantasy, that is, fantastic stories meant for entertainment and that no one is expected to actually believe, began in the nineteenth century when authors such as William Morris and George MacDonald formalized the genre. It was they who took elements of myth and folklore and transformed them into extended-length novels that could be enjoyed by both children and adults. And through their skill with the written word they molded individual statements on the fantastic, creating worlds that spoke to the human heart in voices with which readers could identify.

In those worlds, combat and strife were often relegated to the background or were non-existent, and though there could be magic, it was limited. Most important to these authors was the human element, often expressed in the form of a quest which was actually a search for love, wisdom, or understanding — elements that will largely be the criteria upon which the following top 10 fantasy novels and series have been judged.

(Note: many of the books listed here have been reprinted as paperbacks in the late 1960s/early 1970s Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series and are still available at decent prices.)

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10. The Chronicles of the Deryni

The only “modern” fantasy on this list, Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Chronicles antedates such newer fantasies as Game of Thrones with their palace intrigues and veiled diplomacies. Published in 1970, Deryni Rising was the first of a long series of books (usually written in threes) chronicling the history of the kingdom of Gwynedd, a medieval land roughly akin to Great Britain. There, two-faced diplomacy, palace intrigue, arranged marriages, warfare and the occasional regicide are further complicated by the existence of a race known as the Deryni. Possessed of various powers from mind reading to psychic healing, the Deryni were once powers in the land until the Church and its secular allies declared them tools of the devil. They are driven underground, and most of the series is about the Derynis’ struggle to survive and regain their legitimacy. It is told in a straightforward, extremely detailed, but engaging style. The Chronicles of the Deryni is likely the most fully realized, convincing fantasy world created in the modern era.

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How to Be A Special Snowflake (Who No One Reads)

Friday, August 15th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt and Charlie Martin

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Ladies, gentlemen and writers, this is Sarah speaking, and today I’m really, really, really myself.  I have, in fact, allowed myself to fall under my own influence. You may blame it on Pat Richardson who, under the amiable illusion that my blood pressure was too low, sent me the following article: Why I Will Never Self-Publish.

Now, first of all, I have to confess I looked at the title in wonder and puzzlement because I’ve been a professional in this field for going on sixteen years, and all along I’ve stuck to the principle I first heard from Kevin J. Anderson at a Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference around 1998 or so, which was “Sure, I can do that.”  In the ever-changing publishing landscape, I’ve seen arguably more prolific, harder working and far more talented people become lost along the way all for lack of “Sure, I can do that.”

I had a friend who refused her first contract for a YA series in England, because her lawyer said not to take the perfectly normal clause in the contract.  (Yes, I know, but back then the contracts weren’t even that bad.)  She didn’t get a second opinion.  She waited for the better contract that never came.  I’ve had friends who stopped writing because their advances weren’t increasing, friends who refused to write original mass market paperbacks, and friends who refused to write different series/short stories/other characters/different genres.

Sometimes you get lucky when you do that, but most of the time you just get abruptly retired.

But I thought, well, maybe this person is just under-informed.  After all, five years ago I’d have said the same thing, because my image of self publishing was Publish America or worse.  Yes, yes, in the days of Hugh Howey and after Amanda Hocking there is no excuse for that, but who knows?  Maybe he hasn’t heard that indie is viable and a perfectly respectable avenue for writers these days.  There’s no shame in indie, there’s shame in not selling.

And I’ll also confess I wouldn’t bother eviscerating this blog post, except that lately I’ve run into a number of people with the exact same ideas who will look down on those of us who write for a living.

So I started reading.

I sold my first novel to Unbridled Books without an agent and then, at my book release party at Watermark Books, during the Q&A section, someone asked me why I had self-published. I was crushed. I’d spent two years writing and rewriting the book, another six years trying to find an agent before giving up and submitting it to a few small presses.

Oh. Oh! You sold your book to Unbridled Books, did you?  Which is, exactly what? And you’re surprised people thought you self published?  And you had a … release party?

At this point it became obvious to me that I was in the presence of that ubiquitous creature in writing circles: the precious flower.

The precious flower is convinced his efforts at putting wordage on paper are going to make the world bow to him and explain their lives were empty – empty – until he came along.

The precious flower will clutch at a publisher like Unchained Unknown Unbridled Books rather than face the big, cold world alone, because, well, they’re a real publisher and they’ll do wonderful things for him.

The truth is, if he took two years to write his first novel, and six years to shop it around without (I presume) writing a second novel, the bigger publishers couldn’t have done anything with him, other than perhaps put him in the literary and little niche which doesn’t sell.  Rightly, wrongly or confusedly, to maintain a career as a traditionally published writer, you needed to have a book every year.  (Indie likes them rather more frequently.)

….Invariably there are the same old comments about keeping all my rights and getting to keep more of the money from sales. There have even been a few who have taken the semi-business based, utilitarian approach – just put your “product” out there and see if people will buy it. Most of the time, I let it slide because, frankly, I don’t have the energy to explain the publishing world to them, nor the difference between a utilitarian object – something used to accomplish other tasks and that has an objective, determinate value – and an object of art – something that is experienced for its own sake and has a subjective, indeterminate value.

Oh, my. You can’t explain the publishing world to them?  Dear ducky, you wouldn’t know the publishing world if it bit you really hard in the fleshy part of the buttocks.

The publishing world does make interesting noises like those you are making about Objects d’Art and “literachure” but in fact it runs on two things: prestige and cold hard cash. For prestige you need to be something special: a celebrity in another field; someone with an interesting life story or a particularly fascinating job. I see no evidence that you are any of these. And if you’re not going to be a prized status author, then you are there to make money. And if your book Object d’Art doesn’t make the house a sh*tton of money, they’re simply going to drop you after one book.  The value is neither subjective nor indeterminate.  Your book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and that’s not only true for the person paying the cost of a good carton of beer for it, but even more so to the publishers.

But I’m going to give it a shot now because, honestly, some people just won’t shut up about it. So, here it goes. First with the obvious: When a writer decides to self-publish, that writer then stops being a writer and becomes a publisher, which requires an entirely different skill set . . . and money.

largest publisher in the world, a small independent like my publisher, Unbridled Books, or Bob, from next door:

1) Editing and Proofreading
2) Book Design (yes, it’s even needed for ebooks)
3) Printing (optional if only doing ebooks)
4) Marketing and Publicity

And now I can’t read anymore.  You have just proven, dear ducky, that you know absolutely nothing about how the publishing world works.

1)      Editing and proofreading – at most publishing houses (I worked for a lot of them, and Baen is the only exception so far) the only person who ever reads your book start to finish is the copyeditor.  And most copyeditors, at least those I used to get at those other publishing houses, were recent high school graduates who knew less grammar, composition and style than I did.  For the love of … duckies… hire one of those.  Ten bucks and all the pizza she can eat ought to do it.  Or pay a real copyeditor. I recommend Jason Dycks though I’ll be danged if I can find his address right now, who does a better job than any of the “professionals” at the big houses. I think – and he can correct me in comments if I’m wrong, he will do your average sized novel for $500. Or you could, if you need more substantial editing, hire Pat Richardson who will even undertake some structural edits and will probably not cost you more than $1000.

2)      Book design – yes, we DO know it’s needed even for ebooks.  You could do worse than hiring Cedar Sanderson to do your cover design and she will hook you up with decent art, too, at a modest cost, the cost for the total package, purchased art + design being around $500 unless you really drive her insane. In traditional publishing houses, this usually defaults to a junior assistant, who gets some guidance from the art director.  I doubt that Unobtrusive Unbridled Books is hiring a top-of-the-field cover designer for you.  Most of the freelancers working for small press imbue their books with “literary and little” kind of clues that will ensure you never sell.  Oh, and most of them work for between $250 and $500.

3)      Printing.  Um… indeed.  But you do know that printing is only part of the package, right?  The real service of the big publishers is distribution.  And frankly they only really exert themselves for the darlings.  Mostly midlisters (which, trust me, is what you’d be) get hit or miss placement on store shelves.  Yes, that’s better than nothing.  And that’s better than Unfound Unbridled Books can do for you. If you go with a small or medium publisher, mostly you’re going to be stocked in a few small independent bookstores where, if you’re lucky, the publisher has contacts, or you’ll sell through Amazon.  For this, you can have your book on print on demand on Create Space for the grand total of zero.  And even technically illiterate me has learned to typeset books in three hours or so.

4)      Marketing and publicity.  Oh, doctor, really, it only hurts when I laugh.  Marketing and publicity!

I get some – not tons – from Baen (Not complaining.  It’s more than I got elsewhere.)  But for most publishers?  Ah!  Unless you’re the movie star du jour who just “co-wrote” a book, these days your marketing and publicity run something like “Will be listed in your catalogue.”  If you’re really lucky you’ll be part of a mass ad in some trade publication.

Most publishers and agents expect you to do your own marketing, anything from a blog/FB page, to your own self-paid tour.

Any substantive marketing from a publishing house other-than-Baen is pretty much an illusion designed to keep the writer happy.

And those are your reasons for not being self-published?  My dear Petunia, it’s time to wake up and smell the roses.  Come down off that unsteady pedestal you built out of your own ignorance and some really convincing cardboard boxes, and look around.

No, the world isn’t going to stop for your masterpiece, even if it really is a masterpiece – I don’t know.  It might be – and it’s not because most people are jealous of your genius.  Most people don’t know you exist. And that’s ultimately your problem.

If you write a book a year for a traditional publisher and make it good and it sells enough for them to keep buying you, your audience will grow.  Or if you write a book every six months for indie, and invest a very little, you could make a living in a couple of years.

Or you can continue being certain of your superiority and make nothing.

The choice is entirely yours.  Just remember if Shakespeare had written Object’s d’Art of indeterminate value, right now we’d consider Kit Marlowe the most important Elizabethan Playwright. Instead, old Will gave them what they wanted and plenty of it, with the funny bit with the man and the dog thrown in.  And centuries later we can ascertain that he did touch enough of eternal humanity for us to consider his books object’s d’art.

The rest, all the rest – your pride, your moral superiority, your ignorance about how publishing works or what the value is… is so much sound and fury.  Signifying nothing.

[Charlie now.]

Dear Precious,

You’re clearly an example of why MFA graduates aren’t hired for accounting jobs. Sarah, I think, has already soundly skewered your pretentious academic notions, so let’s just look at your arithmetic.  We’ll take as given your numbers — though I know some top New York copy-editors and they don’t get $40 an hour, you must put me in touch with that company.  But observe:

In this model, using the Scribe Freelance’s in-house editor, you can save some money, but it looks like you won’t get to choose your editor. I prefer to have a personal relationship with my editor, so I’d go with a separate freelance editor whose references and work I could look up and I’d end up spending the following:
$1,640 +$375 + $250 = $2,265

Now, I’m involved with some self-publishing, and I can tell you there are lots of people writing lots of things they self-publish for one helluva lot less than $2300, but as I say, take that as given, and let’s assume you were to publish it as an ebook at Amazon’s upper limit for the good royalties, $9.95.  You’d then make about $7 a book, which means you need to sell about 315 books to break even.

If you have a conventional publishing contract, you get a 25 percent royalty on ebook sales, and perhaps 10 percent on hardcover.  Let’s keep looking just at ebooks.  Whatever your publisher’s costs, we know they’re less than that $2300 — plus any promotion you get, but I haven’t noticed your name on any book tours recently — because the prices you quoted are all for contract labor. Those people have to charge more for each job to account for the risk they won’t have a job this week. For those services, you’re paying $4.48 per book.

Sell 314, and you are paying $1406 for that and netting $781. Sell 628, and you’re paying $2812. Sell 942, and you’re paying $4418.

Sell 2000 and you’re paying damn near ten grand.

What you’re really telling us is that you’re not a professional writer; you either have no actual pretensions of ever making a living from your writing, or you haven’t done the arithmetic. Writing is a hobby, and by refusing to self-publish, you’re paying even more than a “vanity press” would charge you for the privilege.


cover

The Alecto Initiative
By Jordan Leah Hunter and Owen R. O’Neill 

Life was never easy out in the Methuselah Cluster, but when her alcoholic father found her a ‘job’ while he went off-planet to look for ‘work’, 11-year-old Loralynn Kennakris began to learn just how ugly it could get. Within a year, her employers sold her to a brutal slaver captain, who took from her the last thing she owned: her name.

Most girls in Kris’s position last a year or two. The strong ones might last four. Kris survived eight before she was set free, thanks to the League Navy.

Unfortunately, eight years growing up in hell prepared Kris for nearly everything but freedom, and her new life isn’t at all what she imagined. Not only must she find her way in a bewildering society full of bizarre rules, but the very people who rescued her think she’s a terrorist plant, a beautiful interstellar celebrity is complicating matters in more ways than one . . . and now someone is trying to kill her.

But Kris hasn’t stayed alive by obeying rules, and her adopted society is about to find out what it’s like to collide with someone with no concept of a no-win scenario.


cover

Climbing Olympus
By Daniel Golliher 

Until now, humanity’s potential has been limited by its physical capability: of its body and its brain. In the middle of the twenty-first century, the mind itself is upgraded.

Three individuals hold humanity’s next stage in their hands:

Nikolas Rodrick, CEO of Rodrick Industries, oversees the largest corporate empire in the world. Grace Taylor holds the Earth casually on her shoulders as the aide-de-camp to Rodrick Industries. Both change when they meet Leo Apollus. Leo loves humanity, and sees its proper end above the clouds. Along with Grace and Rodrick, he takes it there.


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Sarya’s Song
By Kyra Halland 

Sarya dyr-Rusac has risen from her destitute childhood to become a respected arranger of musical magic rituals – until a wedding ritual she wrote results in tragedy. In exile for her failure, she hears powerful new music in the wind, heralding natural disasters like none ever before known. In hopes of learning what this strange new power is and finding a way to end the disasters, she returns to the musical service she left in disgrace.

There, she confronts the mistakes she made in the past and resumes her complicated relationship with the gloriously talented singer Adan Muari. Sarya believes that she and the wealthy, privileged Adan can have no place in each other’s lives. But, facing official resistance to her research and threatened by someone who is desperate to protect the secret of the mysterious music, she finds herself relying on Adan’s unwavering support – and increasingly unable to fight her attraction to him.

As the disasters worsen, a beautiful, nameless man in chains appears in Sarya’s dreams, begging her to sing the music she heard in the wind: the music that will free him. He could be a god with the power to save the world from destruction, or a threat to everything she knows and loves. With time running out, Sarya risks all, including her growing bond with Adan, to discover the chained man’s identity and the meaning of his song before the world itself is torn apart.


cover

LOVE in the DARK
By Isabel Pietri 

NYPD surveillance expert, Detective Millie Angeles has made a name for herself working in the elite TARU unit of the New York Police Department as the go-to girl for surveillance and tracking. However, when tragedy occurs, she finds herself casting about for a new chapter. That all falls into place when she lands a job at a private company, which dispatches her to the West Coast to work for Adrian Zaragosa, a blind, and strikingly handsome owner of a winery estate in the Napa Valley. As the plot thickens and their passion sparks, Millie finds herself in the throes of both extreme danger and overpowering desire. Millie’s talents seem to be just what Adrian needs. Or is he simply manipulating a situation to have her near?

A romantic thriller for mature adults only, please.

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