Roanoke Author Invasion 2017

What a weekend.

So I want to start off with some background, here, before I talk about selling books and such. I came into this weekend a bit like a jetplane making an emergency aquatic landing. That is to say, I belly-flopped right into RAI because I was straight up out of fuel and had been for two weeks. This is in large part because I over-committed myself this spring. What did I over-commit to? You guessed it. The wedding.

Who’s idea was it to get married again? Why didn’t we elope in September like civilized millenials do? I don’t know the answers to this, exactly. I suspect they were “mine” and “because I said so” but….I really can’t face that right now. So we’ll treat those questions as rhetorical.

In any case, mistakes were made, caterers were contracted, and mothers were roused, so now we’re having a wedding. It’s at the end of May, for those keeping track. If you’ve ever planned a wedding, much less planned one while holding down a full-time job with increasingly more robust deadlines, you may be aware of the state of pure dismay that has come to live in my brainpan. There is far too much to do, and not enough focus to do it all. Thus, when I rolled up on Roanoke Author Invasion, I rolled up with a tongue raw from licking envelopes and a brain that was oozing out of my ears. At least the weather is nice around here this time of year and I didn’t have far to travel – just down the road, in fact. Small favors.

I showed up to RAI with two boxes of books, several handfuls of postcards, business cards, and some sweet buttons. As you’ll see from the pictures, I was not so prepared as my fellow sellers, who had great banners and signs with which to wave and attract customers. Goals for next year. However, considering, I think it went okay. I sold a few books, doubled my mailing list, and gave away a bunch of promotional material. My only real goal here was to get my books in front of some new people, and I accomplished that. Of such minor successes are upstart authors made.

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Do I look tired? I feel tired. Luckily I survived.
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My table from above! I love all of my pretty markers. You can see that people had cleaned out a lot of my stuff by this point.
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A wide view of the room. Look at all those authors!

 

I am happy to say I got a hike in this weekend, once everything was over. I needed that hike. With the stress of the past few weeks, I have gotten about zero exercise in. So this hike, needless to say, kicked my butt. But honestly, it’s the best feeling, once it’s all over. You feel strong in ways you can’t usually feel strong during the week.

I was the slowest member of my group, and I lost them right before the summit. They weren’t where I thought they would be, and I spent some time sitting on the trail down, staring down the valley and contemplating things. It was time I needed. There’s a bit of a war going on in my mind most days, as I’m sure is true for many people. On the mountain everything gets quiet. It seems possible.

When my friends caught up with me, we headed back down and started the long drive home. There was dinner waiting for us at a friend’s house. I loaded some major calories and drank five types of home-brewed beer, and generally had a good time. No pictures of that, but here are some from the mountain.

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This is the tiniest dog. My friend Greg brought it, and its brother. They lasted a mile, I think?
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My red face and a tiny dog in my backpack. They were really a bit too small for boulder hopping.
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I was so far behind everyone for pretty much the whole trip. But I got cool pictures.
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A panorama of the valley and some of the boulders we climbed.

Well, that’s it! I’ll catch you next week with some regular content, but until then I hope you get some outdoor time in!

Depictions of AI

Hey, friends. This weekend is Roanoke Author Invasion! I’m bringing a bunch of books and oddments, so I hope to see you there! I promise to take more pictures this time and post them for you next week, but until then please enjoy this discussion of robots and artificial intelligence.

A few weeks ago I finished Lightless  by C.A. Higgins. It was a masterful book that depended uniquely on interpersonal conflict. Yes, there were explosive moments, but most of the tension was constructed through dialogue and interactions between characters. I definitely recommend this book if you’re interested in reading a good example of solid character-driven plot. I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you haven’t read this book, so my recommendation would be to go read it and come back at this point. We also might see spoilers for a few other books and movies going forward, specifically Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, but I will warn you ahead of time.

Still here? Good.

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One of the characters in Lightless was actually a computer. Ananke was originally not sentient, but gains sentience over the course of the book due to some unfortunate or fortunate events. The depiction of Ananke and her decision-making processes was probably my favorite part of this story. Althea, whom she views as something like her mother, grows to simultaneously love, fear, and hate Ananke – understandable when you essentially have a five year-old-who is devoted to you but has the power to asphyxiate you if you piss her off. I always find meditations on the psychology of an artificial intelligence interesting and I wanted to compare and contrast some other, very differing examples of AI from some recent stories I’ve come across.

One of the oldest versions of an AI story that I’ve found is that of the German silent film Metropolis. You may remember me mentioning this movie in my post on Feminine horror and Ex Machina. In that post I focused more on feminist critique, but we’re going to sidestep the gender issue for a minute (I know, shocking) and just look at the construction of an artificial intelligence in the context of the plot for this movie. The AI in Metropolis is clearly a servant of the devil, possibly being the embodiment of that spirit. Its goal is, simply, to destroy mankind and the works that he has built (“he” being used here because, in the world of Metropolis, there don’t seem to be a lot of women building things – product of its time I suppose). Thus, we see an early depiction of AI as something unnatural and to be feared.

In a more recent iteration of AI, we can look at Ex Machina. Again, see my feminist critique of this movie above. In this iteration of an AI, we see something that is still alien and inhuman. It is not necessarily an ethical creation either. Yet there is some attempt to give this AI reasonable motives for harming others – specifically self-preservation. That said, AI are still not presented as equal to human beings per se, or rather, both humans and AI are evil and twisted in different ways. It remains a pretty dark view of AI, if more nuanced.

Yet a third example of AI can be found in River of Gods by Ian McDonald. (SPOILERS)

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In this story, there are various types of artificial intelligence that have evolved from computer programs. They do not need bodies, since they can download and replicate their programming infinitely in the world of data. The one AI that does seek to grasp at humanity or something like it does so in order to better understand humankind. I’ll leave her unnamed in order to hopefully shield you from being too keyed to what happens in the book. (Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, look away now.) This AI is brutally murdered, at last understanding the desperation of humanity all too well. She is represented as nearly saintly, sacrificing herself for the good of her kind and humanity. I have to be honest, this book made me enraged – not so much at our decisions as human beings, but at the rules that entrap our corporal selves. In this case, AI is imagined as an evolution towards something more inherently free and everlasting than humanity. It’s a stark contrast against the demonic robot of Metropolis and the very impermanent Ava.

I would argue that Ananke from Lightless most closely resembles Ava as something that is alien and makes decisions with a logic that is not human. Ananke, however, has managed to include emotions that are not logical in her personality – anger comes to mind. Love, or something like it, is another emotion that she consistently expresses. She is a somewhat unique take on AI in that the implication is that those emotions, such as they are, are real in her. Her development is presented almost as that of a child. In that respect, she may more closely resemble the AI in River of Gods who goes among humans. I particularly like this representation, as it seems very believable to me. It makes sense that an AI would take time to come into itself, and that it might want to model itself off of the other beings around it – specifically, people.

There are numerous other depictions of AI in all different stripes out there, and it is always fascinating to see a new take. Do you have a favorite?

Paperback Publishing: KDP vs Createspace

Today I’m going to talk about my experiences publishing paperback books through KDP Select’s new paperback platform, versus my experience with Createspace.

First of all, let’s talk about the platforms.

For a long time, Createspace was the only game in town when it came to independent on-demand publishing. This made it possible for self-published authors and small presses to print paperbacks at a cost effective rate. There was an option to create an ebook as well, but it was generally acknowledged that said ebook was substandard, so most persons going for ebook distribution did so through other platforms such as KDP Select (previously only focused on ebooks) or Barnes & Noble’s ebook publishing platform. Createspace was an Amazon subsidiary, but it wasn’t Amazon as such, so the finances were somewhat separate. Therefore many bookstores, libraries, etc, would still purchase Createspace books if they had gained enough popularity.

Recently, Barnes & Noble came up with a print publishing platform. It did not guarantee access to brick and mortar stores, the major dream of most indie published authors, but did provide competition to Createspace. I wanted to mention this to provide a timeline for the diversification of the print on demand book model, but we’re not going to talk about Barnes & Noble’s publication models here. I have dabbled but I am no expert and so we’ll save that for a separate post when I have time to do more research. This is about my experiences with different mediums.

So, back to Amazon’s companies.

At some point recently Amazon decided to roll out a new option that seems to be geared primarily towards indie authors with ebooks but no print book. This is the print on demand option for KDP Select. Anyone who has taken a stab at indie publishing knows that creating a print on demand book creates one additional cost that can sometimes be prohibitive – the wraparound cover. A wraparound print cover, which needs to be of sufficient size and quality to print clearly and attractively on a print book, is much more expensive than an ebook cover. It sometimes costs as much as twice as much to get a custom cover design for a wraparound versus and ebook. Understandably, for many indiepubbed authors this is not worth it.

Createspace requires that this wraparound cover be uploaded with the book. It has some truly terrible mock-up covers that you can use to make your own wraparound if you are desperate, and also a custom cover design option – meaning you can design your covers through Createspace. I have never used the custom option, so I can’t speak to its efficacy. I have, previously, paid for my wraparound cover through Design for Writers, specifically in this case for the cover of Mother of Creation. You can see it in its native Createspace habitat here. (link)

In contrast, KDP Select’s new platform allows for a much more seamless cover design if all you have is the front cover, which is all you typically do have when you have published an ebook. You can plug this front cover graphic into their cover generator and then use the software to tweak the colors, etc, of the back to create something functional. While you still won’t have as nice of a cover as one designed specifically for you, it is at least a usable prospect. Pictured below, my book (almost a novella) Child of Brii side by side with Mother of Creation. You can see the quality contrast somewhat in these photos. Forgive that Mother of Creation is dusty, this is my proof copy and so it’s a little dog-eared.

The biggest difference is in the back covers, as might be expected. KDP Select wants an author photo and bio on the back of the book – this is more typical for nonfiction books, I think, than fiction. I am not really happy about that, but it at least breaks up the monotony of the all-black cover. With a little more tweaking, however, their design software could be pretty great.

So, KDP Select offers easy ebook conversion, saving money on your print book, though the quality is not as high necessarily. Createspace also holds an advantage in print on demand in that it offers flexible ordering options. An author can order books for the cost of printing and distribution only, and sell them at price at events. In contrast, KDP Select only allows you to order books at price, just as anyone else would.

I got around this last restriction by doing some price tweaking. I took the price of Child of Brii down as far as I could (minimum price is $5.36) and ordered several copies. Then I raised the price back so that I would get a decent royalty, to $7.99, which is the price on Amazon. The advantage of this method over Createspace, despite having to lower the price on your book, is that Amazon offers free shipping on orders over $25 from their distribution center and so this order qualified. I might actually have ended up paying more through Createspace with shipping. That said, my books ordered direct from Amazon were shipped much less carefully than the books I typically get from Createspace. Which I was lucky and didn’t get any damaged copies, that could have easily been the case with the packaging.

All in all it seems that with a few simple changes (allowing authors to order books at cost, for example) KDP Select will be a better platform. I say this only because, while Createspace offers better royalties for direct purchases, most of my sales of print books come through Amazon anyway, or are hand-sold. That said, the versatility of sales options through Createspace for a larger author (someone who has sold over a thousand copies) may outweigh that minor convenience. Being able to find your way into a brick and mortar store is a huge advantage in terms of sales.

Anyway, I will probably stick with Createspace in the future for full-length books, though I may do a few novellas or short stories through the KDP Select platform if the opportunity arises in the future.

Hope this has been helpful to all you indie authors and publishers!


For those who missed the announcement last week, Child of Brii is now available as a print book!

 

 

Pushing boundaries

Recently, a friend and I were discussing trends in storytelling. We were talking about how, for a while, zombies were the “it” thing to write or make shows and movies about. She argued that now, the “it” thing was exemplified by shows like Westworld. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched Westworld yet, but I’ll take her word for it that the core question of this show is about what it means to be human. She argued that that was the new hot thing to question and interrogate in story, especially in stories in science fiction/fantasy or SFF.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write SFF in the past few days, and about what makes a good story in this grab-bag of a genre. I think that my friend has hit on something here. To me, a good SFF story does one thing especially: it pushes boundaries. It stretches our understanding of the world. One could argue that this is what makes a good story in general, actually, but as I am a reader and writer predominantly of speculative fiction in all of its stripes, this is where I feel safest offering an opinion.

Arguably, this pushing boundaries is easiest in SFF, or at least in the science fiction half of the equation, because the genre requires you to think inventively. Take, for example, the prospect of life on new worlds – an eternal question among those who look to the stars. People will be looking for life in the cosmos until they find it or they cease to exist. You can argue we have been looking forever – angels and demons are certainly otherworldly beings, and some creatures from the heavens appear in most major mythologies across the globe in some fashion or another. Yet, the questions that arise when life is found are the most interesting, and can only be asked through speculative fiction. What will it look like? How will we respond to that life? Will we be kind?

The answers to these questions are not just important because they satisfy our curiosity. They tell us something deeply important about ourselves as human beings. The answers to these questions reveal the heart of our nature.

They are most certainly answers that we are already being provided, every day, through our interactions with other beings on our earth, including with one another. And yet, they are not always satisfying either in story or in life. Perhaps this is the other half of what draws me to SFF, that it may be possible to imagine a world that is brighter than ours on the days when it feels dark. If senselessness might make sense, if we could rise beyond ourselves and the bounds of random chance – that world is the world of story, and sometimes the world of life. Those are the stories I most like to read.

You see this clarity, this neatness to life reflected most often in the fantasy side of the SFF genre. There are dangers in the ease of those narratives, but at the same time there are comforts. These narratives offer an answer to our questions of our own nature and worth in a way that is positive, and I think that positive answer can be very important as a way to move forward as individuals and as a society.

The reason I write speculative fiction in all of its stripes is to explore human nature, the essence of what it is to be human in all of its forms. It is my greatest joy to do so. I hope that you, reader, enjoy it, too.

Some exciting news coming next week! Raffle opportunities, general good things…Tune in to check it out.

MystiCon – A recap

This was a profoundly interesting weekend.

MystiCon 2017 was my first time at a conference/convention as a panelist. I really, really enjoyed being able to talk about some of the many interests that shape my writing to a crowd. It also generated some cool thoughts and ideas that may turn into blogposts! That’s always exciting for you all.

One of the things I found most valuable about this was the ability to connect with fans. I think that as a writer it can be hard sometimes to feel that connection. Even if you have a very active following online, I find that waiting for comments or responses to things posted into the void of the internet can be heartbreaking. You put a lot of your self into your books and into your platforms, and those moments of interaction are rare for most small-time authors like myself.

Going to a convention as an author is the opposite of that. If you have been subsisting on a trickle of interaction, you are suddenly guzzling a fire hose. I have experienced such at World Fantasy Convention and Dragon*Con previously, though to a lesser extent in many respects. Because of that previous experience, I knew to shelter my fragile introvert heart with many breaks and lots of sleep and down time between events. This was especially important for me this year since I was a) required to be certain places and b) am juggling a lot right now. If you need advice on handling conventions, you can check out this post from last year.

With proper care I had a great experience! It was so great to meet people, including authors and readers, at this event! I’ve included some pictures below for your entertainment, though I didn’t take nearly as many as I would have liked.

Until next week!

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One of the Guests of Honor was a Twin Peaks cast member, so lots of Twin Peaks stuff! I really love these little rice crispie trees.
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These guys were only set up on Saturday and I didn’t wear my Vader dress until Sunday so we definitely missed a group photo opportunity. Sorry, imperials.
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Chibi-Usa!! She is so pretty, and that dress is gorgeous!
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I am never going to be able to achieve this level of perfection. So awesome!

Happy Black History Month!

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to do a brief post talking about black authors and media that I’ve been consuming recently. One of the things that I’ve realized as an adult is how separated black and white media and stories can be. My parents made the effort to read me lots of bedtime stories from lots of different cultures, but honestly I grew up in a pretty racially homogenous, white, southern county for most of my youth. There wasn’t a whole lot of education or exposure to any other culture in the broader society I lived in, much less black culture. I figure if I can do a little bit with this blog to make you aware of some really great black creators and histories, then I am hopefully helping to break down some of that cultural isolation. So enough about me. Let’s get to the content.

Fiction

I’m going to guess that most readers of this blog are going to be looking for fiction. I can’t say that the names in this list are not well-known, so if you have any other recommendations, please add them below!

N. K. Jemisin

Jemisin writes the Broken Earth Trilogy, which has made my best-of list two years in a row. She’s also the author of the Dreamblood series and the Inheritance Trilogy. She is one of the major names in science fiction and fantasy right now, having won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2016. She was the first black person to win that award.

Victor LaValle

You may remember my blogpost on The Ballad of Black Tom, which also showed up on my best-of list for this year. That was the first work I had read by this author, but he has a few books out apparently, including one that won the American Book Award in 2010. The Devil in Silver looks particularly interesting.

Octavia Butler

This is an old standby honestly and I almost didn’t put her on here because she’s so well known. But if you’re trying to get into black sff, this is a good place to start.

History

Switching gears a bit, I’ve recently been reading March by Rep. John Lewis and two white dudes who should nonetheless be credited for their artistic prowess, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. It chronicles John Lewis’ experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a great series of graphic novels, well-paced and only a little cheesy at points. It’s taught me a lot about the different movements going on at the time, and works as a good introductory point for those less familiar or younger.

If you are looking for movies, there are two great ones that I can recommend. Hidden Figures is a family-friendly must-see. As a plus, it also has rockets! And Selma, which was released in 2014, parallels some of the events in March, so watching that movie was very interesting as it gave more depth into other conversations that were going on at the time. There are a lot of things about the Civil Rights Movement and the years since which have been fundamentally white-washed in our broader social narrative. If you’re looking for an entryway into that, these three works are my recommendation.

If you are also interested in older history, do I have the resource for you! Medieval-POC is one of my favorite Tumblogs, and is run by an art historian who makes a point of seeking out and showcasing a lot of beautiful old art that features people of color. Seriously, check it out.

Poetry

I could not finish this post without mentioning Warsan Shire. Most people know her for collaborating with Beyoncé on the visual album Lemonade (pictured). She has been making poetry for a while, though. She published her first collection of poems in 2011, and was named the Young Poet Laureate for London in 2014. All that, and she is only 28.

I hope you’ve enjoyed! Please support black artists and creators this month, and leave recommendations for other black creators, histories, and stories below.

Some upcoming dates

Early post this week to update you on some upcoming events! And while we’re here, some discussion of what’s been going on in my life! You’ll get a regular post on Friday about some fun Daughter of Madness inspiration, but stop in with me for a moment to get up to date.

This weekend I will be at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, networking with other local writers. Maybe I’ll come out of it with a new critique group, or a lead on one! MystiCon is also coming up at the end of February, and I’m very excited to be on several panels for that con. I’ll remind you again closer to time. As always, all of my upcoming events are on my events page. Really, this reminder is the reasons for this post! I’ll likely have some books for signing, so if you see me, snag them while I have them!

In other news, things have been busy at the start of the new year, which is perhaps unsurprising. These separations are mostly artificial, after all. I’m happy to say that the house hunting is on the back-burner, for now, leaving me juggling Daughter of Madness (nearly done with a first draft, more on that soon) and wedding stuff mostly, in addition to the day job. This is a welcome state of affairs.

On the wedding front, in fact, we are making great progress. I’ll be getting married end of May in a rather informal affair, but we needed to check some basic boxes for sanity’s sake. A venue for people to gather in, since there wasn’t one big enough in the family that anyone felt up to volunteering, and a caterer to feed folks. Those, happily, are pretty much firmed up. There’s more to do – decorations are a huge thing, rings to order, and just generally coordinating an event like this is a big deal. So there is a lot more to do, but I finally feel like I’m moving instead of just standing still waiting for the train to hit me.

We also had snow at the beginning of the month! Followed by MLK day, it means that I’ve had a lot of time off recently to cook and hang out with folks. It’s been great for my writing productivity, honestly. These are the things that help me make words, after all. Good food, good time with friends, tea and beer and time outside. I even went for a run a few days ago, which was monumental!

 

A picture from one of my snow hikes.

 

In other news, I’ve been reading a lot and watching a lot. I devoured Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire this month, chewed through Earth Logic, sequel to Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks, and have also enjoyed The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. I’ve also been chipping away at Upside Downa collection of short stories put out by Apex Books. I promised them a review when I’m finished, but I forgot how slowly I read short story collections. I’ll have to keep that in mind for ARCs I snag in the future, since it’s not nice to keep folks waiting. It’s just hard for me to digest a story and move on to the next one – I can only read about three short stories in a day at most. The completion is the best part, after all.

Other story consumption has included watching Mushi-Shi with the S.O. He has really enjoyed it. The animation style is very clean, and the stories are eerie and whimsical and sometimes tragic. Some of it has unfortunately gotten stuck in my head – I’ve had a couple of Mushi-Shi inspired nightmares, actually. That said, it’s solid storytelling, and refreshingly original – or, at least, based so thoroughly in another culture that it feels original, which is just as good for a devourer of stories like me. We’ve also been watching Cowboy Bebop still, which is a very different anime of course.

For Christmas I got The Cat Returns, which is one of the few Studio Ghibli films I haven’t seen yet, so that is on our to-watch list. We’ve also got Grave of the Fireflies now, though that’s going to have to wait for the right time to watch since I know we’re both going to cry through it. That movie is so gut-wrenching, but it’s definitely worth watching. It gives great context to the effect of WWII on the Japanese, and it is beautifully done. So those are in the pipeline on the anime front. I’m excited to see what the S.O. thinks of them.

I’m also hoping to read March soon, since I got it for the S.O. for Christmas as well. He says its really good so far.

What have you been reading lately?