Monday Bullets

  • I hadn’t realized the Find Smudge contest was going to be quite so frustrating for folks.  I apologize for that.  I think I miscalculated the Challenge Rating on ol’ Smudge.  We did have four people who managed to find him, and the random number generator has picked a winner.  Congratulations, Sean!  I’ll e-mail you about your book.
  • For everyone else who wants the answer, go to your web browser and type in the following URL: www.jimchines.com/[Your Name], replacing [Your Name] with — well, you get the idea.
  • As noted on my Facebook page, the bright side of your dog eating all the crayons is that it’s much easier to find and scoop what she leaves in the lawn. (This discovery brought to you by our dork dog Jasmine.)
  • As of Saturday evening, Red Hood’s Revenge 2.0 is finished, at 74,000 words and change.  Woo hoo!  Time to read the manuscript, write a short story I promised to do, memorize a big ol’ tome about desert life, and then start in on Red Hood 3.0.
  • Finally, what better way to celebrate progress on book three than by giving you all a sneak peek at book two, which comes out in just under four months.  The first 5000 words or so of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] are now posted at: http://www.jimchines.com/Files/MM.pdf

Workshop Wisdom

Okay, “wisdom” might be an overstatement.  But at Penguicon this year, it occurred to me that I’ve been doing writing workshops for a long time.  As a participant, I’ve done creative writing class discussions, the Writers of the Future workshop in ’99, Critters, and then several years with a local group until they dissolved.  Eventually, I started cofacilitating workshops, helping to run them at ConFusion, ConClave, and now Penguicon, among others.

That’s a lot of fiction feedback, and after a while, you start to notice patterns.  I figured it might be helpful to list some of the more common feedback I’ve given and received over the years.  Like all “rules,” some of these can be bent.  Others can be broken.  Our job is to learn them well enough to know when and how.

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Contact Form Fixed

Booya!  The contact form is fixed!!!

I am a sexy, shoeless god of PHP!

Ahem.  Don’t mind me.  I’m just feeling way too smug about this right now.  (The fix required a manual tweak of a php script in the plugin.  Since I don’t know PHP and this is, as far as I can tell, a completely undocumented issue, I think I’ve earned some smug points.)

So, way too many hours fighting with this plus more hours getting through another chapter of the book means it’s time for ice cream!

Real post coming soon, I promise.

Busted Contact Form

So apparently the contact form on my site isn’t working. I’ve done some preliminary troubleshooting (with several different plugins), and I’m guessing either my own PHP broke it or else it was the permalink change. If you’ve used that form lately, I didn’t receive your message.

Unfortunately, this includes any contest entries from yesterday.  I’ve had one correct entry so far (that I know of).  If you found Smudge, please e-mail me at jchines42 -at- hotmail.com.

My apologies, folks.

Free Book & New Books

For a while, I’ve been using the gift certificates from Amazon to fund my book giveaways.  Readers click on my Amazon links to buy things, which leads to gift certs for me, which I turn around and use to have Amazon send out free books.  Sounds great, right?

Only I had a minor case of dumb.  Shipping one book from Amazon runs $3-4 in shipping, so every winning copy of The Stepsister Scheme eats about $11 from one of those gift certificates.

It suddenly occurred to me that I could use Amazon’s 4-for-3 deal, which also qualifies the order for free shipping.  Suddenly each book is $6.  I order the books to me, and even with paying shipping myself to send them to the winners, it’s still cheaper than buying them individually through Amazon.

So from here on out, I’ll be ordering those in batches and shipping prizes myself.

What better way to celebrate my triumph over the dumb than by giving away another book!  When I was still setting things up in WordPress and playing around with layout, some of you said I should find a way to keep Smudge on my web site.  As of this week, I’ve done just that.  All you have to do is find him.*  It’ll be just like Where’s Waldo if Waldo was a spider and would set you on fire.

E-mail me at jchines42 -at- hotmail.com or by using the Contact form on my site.  Include the web address where you found Smudge.**  I’ll pick a winner at random some time next week and send her or him an autographed copy of The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Have fun, and remember, Smudge is pretty good at hiding.

To keep this from being all about me, here are some of the books my friends have released lately.  ‘Cause I have awesomely skilled friends 🙂  And I’m sure I’m forgetting some, so I apologize in advance for that.

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*You’re looking for Smudge as he appears in this post, so the images on various goblin covers don’t count.
**No, this blog post doesn’t count either, smartass.

Canon Fodder

Terribly Twisted Tales [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] came out last month.  This is an anthology of twisted fairy tales, so I’m sure you’re all shocked to learn I contributed a story.  But for some reason, I’ve been nervous about this one.  I wrote “The Red Path,” which gave me a chance to explore the origin story for Red Riding Hood from my princess books, but I wasn’t sure it really worked.  So I was happy to find a review listing it among the best stories in the anthology.  (Kelly Swails also gets a shoutout.)

I’m left with another question, however.  I wrote “The Red Path” a year or so back, before even starting Red Hood’s Revenge.  Now that I’m writing the book, I find myself adjusting details of Roudette’s (Red Riding Hood’s) backstory, particularly when it comes to the hunter’s role.

So here’s the question.  Having published this story and written in the author’s note that this character will appear in Red Hood’s Revenge, how bound am I to keep the details of that story?  Given sales numbers on most anthologies, far fewer people are going to read the short story than will see the novel.  Am I allowed to alter published backstory if it improves the book?  Or am I pulling a major Lucas here, violating my own canonical history?  (Red Riding Hood shot first!)

I could use the unreliable narrator approach.  Roudette was a child at the time of that whole wolf/hunter incident, after all.  She probably missed a lot that was going on.  But even then, I find myself adding wordage to the book to explain why her original account was wrong … wordage that doesn’t need to be there for anyone who hasn’t read the short story, and thus will be dead weight for most of the novel’s readers, and should probably be taken out.

I don’t know.  I think my obligation is first and foremost to make Red Hood’s Revenge the best book I can, and if that means compromising the short story, well that sucks beanstalks but I still need to do it.

What do you think?  How would you feel knowing the hunter in “The Red Path” isn’t the same as he is when we get Roudette’s “real” backstory in the book?  What would you do as a writer, and what do you prefer as a reader and fan?

The Sleeping God, by Violette Malan

The Sleeping God [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Violette Malan is a nifty book.

As heroic fantasy goes, this book has a fair amount going for it.  Well-built world and mythology that fits together rather well, badass mercenary protagonists who are more than just caricatures, a sprinkling of secrets and intrigue, and of course, a sleeping god.  Our heroes are mercenary brothers* Dhulyn Wolfshead and Parno Lionsmane, who take a job escorting a young girl back to her noble house but soon find themselves targeted by an ancient menace.

This is not the nifty I want to talk about.

What I loved about this book is the portrayal of Dhulyn and Parno’s relationship.  This is a partnership in every sense of the word, built around a core of love and trust.  As mercenary brothers, the two of them are bound to one another in a relationship as sacred as marriage.

Most fiction tends to show us the beginning of relationships, the eagerness and the passion and the fumbling and clumsiness as people learn more about one another.  All too often, this leads to fairly predictable tension and conflict, misunderstandings and mistrust.  The Sleeping God brings us a more mature relationship, and one of the healthiest relationships I’ve encountered in fiction.  They talk to each other.  They trust one another.  They’ve got each other’s backs.  They’re romantically involved, but the romance isn’t a neverending font of angst and drama.

I asked Malan about Dhulyn and Parno, and she responded:

“So often relationships, especially in fiction though not limited to that, seem to be based on the people not telling each other things.  This is so often the basis of the relationship in romance novels and soap operas, for example (and consequently on the part of living people who think that’s how they’re supposed to act). My idea was to have two people who simply told each other what was on their minds instead of making a hullaballo about hiding things from each other. Of course, it did mean that the tension and the conflict had to come from elsewhere, but I think the story was the better for it.”

Don’t misunderstand.  Malan doesn’t spend the whole book preaching about healthy relationships.  What she does is show us the advantage of Dhulyn and Parno’s partnership.  Individually, each of these fighters is pretty bad-ass.  But put them together and they’ll whoop anything you care to throw at them.

I also liked that the characters go beyond being “just” fighters.  Dhulyn is also a scholar, hunting for new books and theorizing about the evolution of children’s songs.  Parno is … well, that would be telling.  Suffice it to say, he’s also more than he first appears.

It took me a chapter or two to really get into the book, and the plot itself may be familiar to long-time fantasy fans. Mercenaries and ancient gods, dark priesthoods and scheming rulers … there’s almost an old-school fantasy feel to the book.  But then, I enjoy old-school fantasy 😉  I’ll definitely be grabbing a copy of book two, The Soldier King [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].

For those of you who’ve read Malan’s work, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  To the rest, what do you think about relationships in fiction?  What are you tired of, and what would you like to see more of?

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*Brothers is used as a gender-neutral term.  Dhulyn is female, while Parno is male.

Why Books as Children is Just Plain Creepy

From a random author interview:

“My books are my children.  I love them all, and could never pick a favorite.”

Same author, different interview:

“Oh yes, I trunked several of my children back when I was starting out.”

The author at a booksigning:

“Psst.  Hey, you.  Want to buy one of my kids?  Take two, the older one and the newborn!”

The bookstore staff three months later:

“Time to clear some shelf space for the new arrivals.  Get out there and start stripping children.”

The library, where anyone can–  On second thought, I should probably stop.  I think we all get the idea.

WordPress 101

I’ve gotten a few questions about WordPress lately, so thought I’d share the bits and pieces I’ve learned as a relative newbie. For those of you who aren’t into web stuff, feel free to skip this one.

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Is Your Book Appropriate for My Child?

This is one of my least favorite questions, and the one I’m asked most often.  The best times are when parents tell me they’ve read the book, but still ask me whether it’s appropriate for children.  Yes, this has really happened.  On more than one occasion.

Should your kid read my book?  How the frak should I know?  Some parents let their kids read the pop-up Kama Sutra at age six.  Others think The Cat in the Hat will turn their children into drugged-out hippies.  (Some of Seuss’ more adult works, on the other hand … but that’s another topic.)

I understand parents are busy, and don’t have the time to prescreen everything their children read.  Heck, I wouldn’t have wanted my parents to limit me to books they had read first.  But as an author, it’s a lot easier for me to answer the parent who asks “Does your book have any graphic sexual imagery in it?” than it is “Should my kid read it?”

The first parent is asking about my book.  The second is asking me to make a parenting decision for his or her child.  I have no problem trying to help, but for all our sakes, please don’t be the second parent.

Clear enough?  Groovy.  Because now it’s time to list all the answers I’d like to give, but probably shouldn’t….

“Should my child read your book?”

  • Can you prove that’s really your child?
  • Yes, but only the odd-numbered pages.
  • You mean the kid standing there playing Grand Theft Auto on his Nintendo DS?
  • No!  She should read my books, plural.  How do you expect me to quit my day job if your lazy kid only reads one?
  • Yes.  When he’s finished, he can let you know whether or not it’s appropriate for grown-ups.
  • How do you feel about nose-picking injuries, pixie pee, and gay fire-spiders?
  • I’m sorry, Jim left an hour ago.  I’m his decoy.  His protection.  His loyal bodyguard.
  • Not without a prescription.
  • Wil Wheaton said my book was cool!  If you don’t buy it, he’s gonna march down to this bookstore and start throwing critical hits on your ass.
  • Make sure she reads it backwards so she gets all the subliminal Satanic messages.
  • You must be this tall to read Stepsister Scheme.  But he can read the goblin books.
  • Print is dead.
  • Everyone knows kids prefer to read books about younger characters.  Here, try this one by Nabokov.
  • Sweet Zeus, what are you saying?  Nobody can read these books!  We have to keep the words trapped in the pages.  Can’t you hear them screaming?  Always screaming and plotting their horrible, horrible revenge.  Don’t open that book!  Don’t let them see you!!!

Please feel free to add your own.

Jim C. Hines