The Importance of Local Bookstores for Authors–and the Reading Public

Long ago, in the dark days of my early-to-mid-twenties, I was a bookseller at Books, Inc. in Sacramento.  It was an odd job; very “Empire Records”-like in the way the staff interacted.  I kind of miss it sometimes, even though I rarely worked more than 20 hours in a week and I had to eventually leave it for a better-paying job.

But what I loved was helping people find books they would love.  I eventually ended up in charge of the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, because people knew that I was the guy who knew the genre well.  So anyone looking for SFF was quickly pointed my way.

Even in these days of Amazon and other websites that let you buy books, physical bookstores are important.  For one thing, Amazon is good for getting the book you already know you want, but it’s utter crap for browsing.  It’s much easier to walk the shelves in a real store, perusing the titles and author names, looking for something to catch your eye.

In addition, bookstores pay attention to what sells, and they log requests.  If people make the time to come in and special order a book, there is a better-than-zero chance the store will order a second copy for the shelves.

If enough people request or order the book, the bookseller is more likely to read and then handsell the book to people who want something new, but don’t know exactly what. This is what I did all the time, and if the bookseller liked the book, they’re going to push it.  This is why my store sold completely out of Ian MacDonald’s Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone.  We had ten copies, and not one sold until I got intrigued by the cover, read it, and then hand sold it to nine other people who came in looking for good SF.

A book on the shelf has a greater chance of being picked up on an impulse buy than a picture online, thus widening the audience.

Finally, if you shop at a local, independent store, you’re adding money to the local economy and helping a local business stay open.

Support your local independent bookstore. 

The Widening Gyre Now Available For Pre-Order!

Exciting news!  The Widening Gyre, my debut novel coming in March from Flame Tree Press, is now available for pre-order (in some formats)!

NB: Only the hardcover, paperback, and non-Kindle ebook are currently available to order.  If you want it as a Kindle book or an audiobook, you’ll have to wait a bit longer to pre-order.

Hardcover, Paperback, and Ebook can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Paperback can also be ordered from Amazon in the US.  All other formats WILL be on Amazon US eventually, but of course you can also order them direct from the publisher.

Amazon UK has both the hardcover and paperback available.

You should be able to preorder from book stores, as well, but I’m not sure if it’s percolated that far yet.  The ISBN for the paperback is 978-1787581432. That might help. If anyone does successfully preorder from a brick & mortar, please let me know!

So far the book isn’t on B&, Kobo, or iBooks, but as soon as it is I’ll post that information.

What it’s Really Like, Part 1: Getting an Offer

Ever since I got the offer on my novel, I’ve felt a mix of exhilaration and crushing fear.  I thought it might be fun to write a series of posts explaining the process and how I’ve felt during it.  I’m going to call this series “What it’s Really Like,” because when we’re working towards publishing professionally, many of us get an idea in our head of what it will be like, and while I’m only completely aware of my own experience, I’m willing to bet a lot of it is universal.

Despite that universality, however, there are some caveats:

  1. My experience is mine alone. While I know authors who are further along the path of pro writing than I am, some of them significantly so, and many of them have reported similar experiences, there are also some differences that are pretty important.
  2. I am publishing through a small press. By definition, this means my experience will be somewhat different than an author who publishes through a large publishing house, and it will also be different than someone who is working as an indie author, self-publishing their work.  None of these things are better, but they are different.

I’ll post each entry when it’s time, by which I mean as things happen.  Right now I’m in a sort of limbo, waiting for the next step in the process to begin.  So I’ll start by telling how it began–or, rather, how I went from “aspiring novelist with a finished book but no contract” to “author with a book contract.”

In 2016, Flame Tree Publishing, a company that had been publishing themed science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies for several years,   announced that they were going to open to novel-length works at the end of the year.  I submitted my novel, The Widening Gyre, on 10 December 2016.

And then I waited.

The response window had been claimed to be about four months, but I’ve been submitting works for publication long enough to know that was not going to be the case.  But eventually, I just about forgot about it.

In March 2018, I remembered I’d submitted the work, and I queried the publisher, expecting that I’d missed a rejection email in spam or something.  But I was informed by a helpful staff member that the book was still under consideration.

Then, on 11 May 2018, I checked my email at lunch.  I noticed an email from someone at Flame Tree, and I could see in the gmail list that it began “Thank you so much for letting me read The Widening Gyre, and please excuse the delay in getting back to you.”

Now, “Thank you for letting me read…” is how pretty much every rejection I’ve ever received began.  So when I saw those words, my heart sank a bit.  But I knew I had to read the rest of it at some point, so I clicked to open it.

The next words were “I enjoyed the manuscript quite a bit…” Now, you’d think that would be a good sign, but I’d had a couple of nice personal rejections (as opposed to form rejections), and some of them began with “Though I enjoyed the book,” so I was still convinced it was a rejection.  But then I read “… and I think it would make a great addition to the Flame Tree Press line…” and my brain went “Wait, what?”

And then the last part: “… And so I’m happy to make an offer for the book.”

There followed some business stuff to let me know the terms of the offer, but at that point my brain was still stuck on “make an offer for the book.”

In my reply, I tried to play it cool in my response, but the truth was I was practically dancing.  My mood had gone from sour in the middle of a bad day with my students to jubilant.  Someone liked my book–the same book I’d taken to calling the damned book when discussing it with friends–enough to buy it.  It’s really the ultimate “Yes, you are a writer” moment.

Next time, I’ll talk about the boilerplate and the contract.

The Panic of Having Sold a Debut Novel

So, I sold the book.  Began writing it in 2012, finished it in 2015, submitted it to the eventual publisher (among many agents and another publisher) in 2016, sold it in 2018.

Now what?

Well, as it turns out, what happens now is I panic.

I mean, not entirely.  But the book is scheduled for release in March 2019, and I’m expecting the edits in August or September 2018.  Maybe later. So now, I write book 2 and hope the editor likes it enough to add it to the schedule.  But… how can I? After all, I’m a fraud and I’ll never manage a book as good as the first one.  Look at these crappy words I’m making!  GAH!

Which is prime, grade-A bullshit, but it’s what my brain is feeding me lately.  I plotted the book out, broke it into scenes, wrote a synopsis, and then wrote 1300 words of the first chapter.  And then I deleted them, and wrote 1900 words that were marginally better, in both craft and structure.

Every pro writer I know has said at some point that they deal with this, too.  They fear not being able to write another book.  They feel the cold and nasty tendrils of Impostor Syndrome. So I know it’s not really unique.  But digging out of it?  It’s not easy.

In fact, the only thing I can think of to do is to keep my head down, ignore the news, and continue to write.  The first draft will be horrible, but the second will be better, and the third better than that.  And hopefully it, too, will become a book.

So for now, I avoid the siren song of video games and movies, and continue to plug away at this book.  I mean, I already plotted it out and broke it; I guess I ought to go ahead and write it, yeah? And I trust that eventually, I’ll break out of this stupid brainspace and be convinced my stuff is worth reading, again.

Stupid brains.

My Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is dead.

It seems almost impossible.  I’ve been reading Ellison’s work for almost as long as I’ve been reading adult books–and I began reading them when I was about 9 years old.  I know I read Paingod and Other Delusions right after my 10th birthday, because that’s when I picked up the collection from where my dad had left it and began reading it. I was hooked from page one. The man who wrote “Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktock Man” can’t be dead… can he?

I don’t mean page one of the stories.  I mean the beginning of his introduction.  My edition is the one with “Your Basic Crown of Thorns,” which is a meditation on the nature of pain.  It’s glorious and heartbreaking and beautiful.  It brought me to tears, then and several more times over the years.  Harlan Ellison remains the only writer who has ever done that to me.  And I’ve loved him for it.

Harlan Ellison is part of why I don’t speed.  I read his story, from that introduction to Paingod, about having to go to traffic school, and seeing–and hearing–the scream of a mother who had just lost her young son to a traffic accident.  He said that five days later he could still hear it, couldn’t stop hearing it.  That imprinted on me.  I don’t speed in residential areas.  I get angry at those who do.  Because I read Harlan’s “viscera” in his introductions.

He was always a man who stirred up controversy.  Growing up in fandom means hearing endless stories about him.  I assume most of them are BS, but a few have the ring of truth.  He was acerbic, to be sure.  And that, too, I loved.  Harlan Ellison was a man who wasn’t afraid of telling anyone his opinion, even if he knew it would be unpopular or would anger those he was talking to.

When I found out that my father had died, my sadness was because it hit me that now I’d never know him.  It was the death of dreams. I feel a similar sense of loss regarding Harlan Ellison; I had so wanted to meet him, but could never get to where he was.  And in recent years, I’d begun to realize it wasn’t going to be likely–he was getting older, and had stopped going to cons.  But I held out a little hope.  Now I’ll have to make do with the words he left us. He’d probably think that was as it should be.

Of course, he made mistakes.  We’ve all heard, I’m sure, of the incident in 2006 with Connie Willis, which I won’t repeat here–Google is there, you know how to use it.  I’m sure he made many others–he was, after all, only human.  I’ve seen many people today focusing on those aspects of Harlan.  I don’t think that’s right.  Acknowledge them, yes.  But remember that this was a man who could smith words like very, very few can.  Let’s not try to take that away from his memory.  Let’s stop eating our dead, and instead honor what they did well, and resolve to do better than they did where they fell down.

As for me, “my” Harlan Ellison was a deeply honest man who wrote about the horrors and the triumphs of life, and made me think about who I am and what I’m doing here.  He taught me to know the facts behind my opinions, and if the facts didn’t fit the opinions, to change them, and not the facts.  He taught me principles.  Most of all, he taught me that I am not alone, and that sharing my fears and my very self with others would benefit me more than it would harm me.

He also, if I’m being honest, taught me how not to behave as a professional writer.

And now he’s gone.  Goodbye, Mr. Ellison.

A Few Books That Have Made Me Cry

FandomCryI saw this image floating around Facebook recently, and it got me thinking about the power a good story has.  There are many books that, over the years, have made me lose my composure—sometimes privately, and sometimes in public.

I’m leaving some books out, here–I mean, practically everyone cries when reading The Diary of Anne Frank or Where the Red Fern Grows.  These are mostly the genre books that have done me in, with a few literary bits, as well.

In no particular order:



Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

When I moved back to Napa after living for a year in Modesto, I attended Napa High School.  I immediately befriended the librarian, and asked her if there were any more Pern MoretaPern(1stEd)novels (I’d recently read the first three of them and loved them), as I’d heard there was another book.  She showed me that not only were there more, there were four more (this was 1983), and she had them all.  I devoured the Harper Hall trilogy, and asked for Moreta.  She had just got a new copy to replace a destroyed one, and I was the first student to get to check it out.  She assured me it was amazing.

I had an hour-long bus ride to get from my home on the rural outskirts of Napa to the high school, which is in the middle of the city, and I read the final chapters one morning during that ride.  The chapters where Moreta dies, and the survivors of the plague discuss her death (Not really a spoiler; Moreta’s death is broadcast in earlier books).

And every time someone mentioned Moreta’s death, I would start crying.  Over and over again.  When I got to school, I took the book back to Mrs. Sward and told her what had happened.  She apologized for not warning me, but also I could tell she was trying very hard not to laugh. In future, whenever I checked out a book, she would warn me if it was likely to make me sad.  I adored that woman.

Skybowl, Melanie Rawn

Skybowl is the final book of the Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies.  The Dragon Star trilogy concerns a war, and there is a LOT of death.  This isn’t the only book in the series that has made me cry, but it is the one that consistently does so, nearly 20 years after I first read it.  All that has to happen is thskybowl-coverat I read through the book, and when I get to the first line of chapter 37, “It took [SPOILER] five days to die,” it is over.  I am in tears.  And I didn’t even like that character!

Traitor, Matthew Woodring Stover

Yes, the Star Wars tie-in book.  What can I say?  Stover is amazing, and the death of Ganner Rhysode is one of the best moments in the entire Yuuzhang Vong war, which I loved.  I cried for the guy.  Sue me.

The Mageborn TraitorMelanie Rawn

Book 2 of the still unfinished Exiles trilogy. It is the perfect middle book of a trilogy—the heroes whose future looked so amazing in the end of the first book are on the run, in hiding as their enemies have risen to power.  They have no idea how they’ll go on, what they can do, or if they’ll even survive, and one of the best of them has fallen.

220px-Mageborn_Traitor-smThere’s a reason Rawn’s fans still live in hope that book 3 will come out someday, even as most of us acknowledge it probably won’t.  Sadly, none of Rawn’s recent work has thrilled me as much as her first eight books did, but I live in hope and keep trying them.

Incidentally, the cover of this book is one of my all-time favorite book covers.  The scene depicted never really happens in the book, but it’s thematically perfect.  One of my favorite Michael Whelan paintings.

Magic’s Price, Mercedes Lackey

As an adult, I see the huge problems in Lackey’s world, but I still love the Last Herald-Mage trilogy, and the endings of both books 2 and 3 get me every time.

Book two ends with Vanyel having a conversation with Death, and learning what his future will bring him—he is given a choice, and full knowledge of the consequences.  It’s so well-written, the poetry and beauty of the moment reduce me to tears.

Book 3, of course, as it had to, ends with Vanyel’s sacrifice, and that, too, gets me very time.  The very end is sappy as hell, but before that is sorrow and rage and unfairness, and it pushes my buttons still.

Jumper, Steven Gould

It’s no secret that I love this book.  I first read it when I was 22, the year it was released. I’ve loaned it to damn near all my friends, I got my wife into it, I’ve loaned copies to many JUMPER_Steven_Gouldstudents.  My original copy, in fact, is probably in Russia now, as I loaned it to a student in 2010 who was on vacation in Russia when his family abruptly decided not to come back to the US.  I’ve used it in my American literature class when we get to the 20th century popular fiction unit. I’ve used an excerpt from it to teach units on stereotypes and how harmful they can be.

There is a moment when Davy thinks he’s lost everything, and he breaks a cup by accident, then loses himself in smashing every cup and dish in the set.  I know that guy. I’ve been him.

I’ve read all the books in the series, and enjoyed them all, but it’s Jumper I reread periodically.  For me this is one of those books that, once read, becomes a part of you.

Teckla, Steven Brust

TecklaThis is, so far, among my favorites of Steve Brust’s Dragaeran Cycle.  This is the book where Vlad Taltos begins the long and painful process of growing up.  The emotions of a man on the edge, whose life appears to be falling apart, and who has to look long and hard at himself and what he’s doing with his life, come across so well that even before I’d met Brust and learned the background of this one, I knew there was truth in the writing.

An honorable mention goes to Brust’s apparently non-canonical short story set in the same universe, “A Dream of Passion.”  Didn’t make me cry, but is very emotionally affecting.



And, lastly…

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I didn’t want to include this one, because there is SO MUCH I dislike about this book. But I, like many others, spent the last 20 or so pages crying.  For all this book’s problems (which I admit might be personal opinion more than craft), it was affecting and well-written enough I devoured it in a weekend.