Stephen Leigh

TGM Fundraiser: Autographed Books by Stephen Leigh

Welcome to another Transgender Michigan Fundraiser auction!

Transgender Michigan was founded in 1997, and continues to run one of the only transgender helplines in the country, available 24/7 at 855-345-8464. Every tax-deductible donation helps them continue to provide support, advocacy, and education.

Today’s auction is for a signed trade paperback of the Spectrum Award-winning DARK WATER’S EMBRACE and a signed hardcover of CROW OF CONNEMARA, both by Stephen Leigh.

Cover of The Crow of Connemara Cover of Dark Water's Embrace

The Crow of Connemara is a contemporary Celtic fantasy set primarily in Ireland.  Picking up threads from ancient Irish mythology and folktales, this story is fantasy, drama, and tragic romance all at once, a tale caught in the dark places where the world of ancient myth intersects our own, where old ways and old beliefs struggle not to be overwhelmed by the modern world.

Often compared to Ursula Le Guin’s ground-breaking The Left Hand of Darkness, Dark Water’s Embrace is a fascinating look at issues of human (and alien) sexuality. Stephen Leigh creates a rich world with elaborate care and uses this alien backdrop to delve into issues of survival, sexuality and the meaning of life itself.

This auction is open to U.S. residents only.

How to bid:

  1. Minimum bid is $20. Bidding starts the moment this post goes live!
  2. Enter your bid in the comments. Bids must be a minimum of $1 more than the previous bid. (No bouncing from $20.01 to $20.02 to $20.03 and so on.) Make sure to include an email address I can use to contact you.
  3. Each auction will run for 24 hours, starting at noon Eastern time and running until noon the following day. My webhost was down today, so this auction didn’t go live until 12:30. Therefore, it will run until 12:30 Eastern time tomorrow, December 1.
  4. To discourage last-minute sniping, I’ll wait until 10 minutes after the last bid to close an auction.
  5. If you want to be notified about other bids, check the “Subscribe to Comments” box when you bid.

Winning the auction:

I’ll contact the winner, who will then donate the winning bid to Transgender Michigan. You’ll forward me a copy of the receipt, at which point, I’ll contact the donor to arrange delivery of your winnings.

About Stephen Leigh:

Stephen Leigh, who also writes under the name S.L. Farrell, is a Cincinnati author who has published twenty-eight novels and over fifty short stories. His most recent novels are THE CROW OF CONNEMARA (DAW Books/Penguin, March 2015) and IMMORTAL MUSE (DAW Books/Penguin, March 2014); his next novel, A FADING SUN, will be a July 2017 release from DAW Books. Stephen’s work has been nominated for and won awards within the genre. He has also been a frequent contributor to George RR Martin’s WILD CARDS series. He currently teaches Creative Writing at Northern Kentucky University, and is a frequent speaker to writers groups. You can sign up for his newsletter at his website.


Don’t forget about the DAW Raffle!

My publisher, DAW Books, has agreed to contribute:

6 Tad Williams Bundles: each bundle includes one copy of Otherland: City of Golden Shadow (hardcover first edition, first printing)  plus 1 Advance Review Copy of The Heart of What Was Lost.

6 DAW December Release Bundles: each bundle includes one copy of all DAW December titles: Dreamweaver, Tempest, Alien Nation, and Jerusalem Fire, plus a bonus ARC (dependent on stock).

At any time between now and the end of the fundraiser, donate $5 to Transgender Michigan and email me a copy of the receipt at jchines -at-, with the subject line “DAW Raffle Entry.” Each week, I’ll pick at least one donor to win their choice of either a Tad Williams or a December Release bundle from DAW.

You can donate more than $5. For example, donating $20 would get you four entries. However, you can only win a maximum of one of each bundle. This is separate from the individual auctions. Winning an auction does not count as a raffle entry.

First Book Friday: Stephen Leigh

Welcome to First Day Friday! For anyone new to this feature, I’ve posted submission guidelines and an index of previous authors.

Stephen Leigh (also known as Matthew and S. L. Farrell) is one of the nicest authors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, which left me in a bit of a dilemma. I could write him a straightforward, flattering introduction, talking about how he’s both an experienced author and skilled filker, and has written a ton of books and stories under his various pseudonyms. Or I could make him feel old by pointing out that he started selling his work when I was still in diapers…

Anyway, please welcome Stephen Leigh. When you’re done reading, check him out on LiveJournal or Facebook.


Let’s get rid of the obvious right away. I’m not anywhere close to being one of the New Hot Kids. I had my first professional sale back in the antediluvian days of the mid-1970s, and sold my first novel in 1980. This is a story not of How Things Are Done Now, but How Things Were Done Then.

Back then, the advice that many established writers gave to new writers was this: “Start with short fiction. Experiment with styles, play with different ways to approach a story, and allow yourself to fail. You’ll get lots of rejection slips. Keep writing until you start to find your voice. When you finally have a nice list of published stories and maybe an award or two, then you can use that as cachet to snag an agent…”

That was decent enough advice at the time (though in my opinion some of it no longer holds true in today’s market); I followed it. I collected the requisite ton of rejection slips as I honed my skills—because most of my stories were spectacularly bad—but a few were accidentally good enough that I also managed to sell a story here and there. I also realized that my stories (most of which were not selling, remember( were gradually becoming more complex, and as a result, longer.

Around 1976 or so, I read an article about the Hashshashin, an early band of assassins, which started me thinking about the concept of “ethical assassins”—murderers who would attempt an assassination, but would always for philosophical reasons allow the victim a small chance of survival. I started putting together a world with these ‘ethical assassins,’ which I was calling the “Hoorka.” I suddenly realized, as I starting planning and writing this tale, that this wasn’t going to be a short story or novelette, but a full-fledged novel.

Characters and sub-plots and complications. Oh, my!

Honestly, I rather rapidly became lost in the book. One thing writing short stories hadn’t prepared me for was how complicated novels are, how long they take to write, how difficult it is to hold the details in your head, and the amount of persistence and dedication required to complete them…

I panicked. Instead of finishing what I’d started, I eviscerated the book. I retained only the basic shell of the story and wrote a novelette called “In Darkness Waiting.” I sent the story (still bleeding from the massive surgery) to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Gardner Dozois, who was the Assistant Editor there at the time, liked it enough to send me revision notes and a promise to look at the story again I made changes and sent it back, and Gardner (or George Scithers, who was editor at the time) bought it. It appeared in the October 1977 issue. (If you’re curious, it’s reprinted in my ebook short story collection A RAIN OF PEBBLES.)

I continued to write and occasionally sell short stories for the next few years, but I was realizing that if I ever wanted to have any shot at actually making writing a substantial part of my income, I had to overcome my trepidations and write novels. Why not start with the novel I’d already begun planning? I’d been smart enough—which is honestly a rarity—not to actually trash the notes I’d made. I began to reconstruct the novel, gluing back onto the skeleton of “In Darkness Waiting” all the material and ideas I’d trimmed away, rewriting the story from the beginning.

Early in 1980 I had a pile of paper that resembled a novel, which I titled SLOW FALL TO DAWN. I also had no idea how to market the thing to agents. Here’s where networking (of the pre-Facebook and LiveJournal variety, using letters and phone calls) came in.

Denise and I had begun attending the regional sf cons as well as the occasional worldcon or big east coast gathering. I’d met quite a few writers—most of them further along in their career than me—and become good friends with some. I contacted a select few, asking if they knew of an agent they’d recommend I contact. George RR Martin suggested a relatively new agent he’d met, Adele Leone, and was kind enough to say he’d send Adele a personal recommendation.

Just as good networking can lead to a “real” job, good networking can also lead to work in your writing career. People do tend to help other people whom they know and like.

I will point out before someone brings out the old cliché that “You see! It’s all just about who you know“ that networking only works to a point. Getting an introduction to someone via a friend might crack open a door you thought locked, but your fiction still has to do the heavy lifting—and that’s far more important. You can sell a novel without networking if it’s well-written and compelling; you can’t sell a poorly-written novel no matter how fantastic a network you have.

Fast-forward a few months… Adele, after reading the novel, had agreed to represent me. At the time, I was running a bi-weekly RPG game—mostly AD&D but with lots of rule changes we’d made on our own. During the middle of one of our games late in 1980, the phone rang and Denise answered. She passed the phone over to me. “It’s Adele,” she said. She gave me an eyebrow-raised look as I took the phone.

“I have good news,” the voice on the other end said. “Bantam’s made an offer on your book…” I don’t remember much of the rest of the night, except that I recall it involved more beer than usual and that I happily allowed the characters in the RPG to get away with far too much mayhem and treasure. Everyone went up a level or two.

SLOW FALL TO DAWN  [Amazon | B&N] was published by Bantam Books in October 1981.

That’s a long time ago, as impossible as that seems to me sometimes. Adele, sadly, is no longer with us. After three books with Bantam, I went on to other publishers with other books. I would start writing fantasy rather than science fiction (and acquire a pseudonym along with that genre). The field—and publishing in general—changed rather radically in the intervening decades. Hey, that first contract didn’t even mention electronic rights. The $3,500 advance I got for SFTD is roughly the equivalent of an $9,500 advance now… but the average first-novel advance offered now by the ‘traditional publishers’ is far less than $9,500. Agents now take 15% of a writer’s income, not 10%. We won’t even talk about ebooks and their impact.

It’s a brave new world out there now. It’s not the same one that I started out in, and I’m not certain that the path I took is still a viable one.

Cover Art: Doing it Right

More authors are experimenting with electronic self-publishing these days. I want to point out two recent releases by friends of mine. Aerophilia, a short story by Tobias Buckell, and Fright Court, a serialized novel by Mindy Klasky.  Specifically, I want to point to the cover art.


I love these covers. Aerophilia’s was put together by Jenn Reese, Fright Court’s by Reece Notley. (I’m noting these names for my own use, since I’m toying with the idea of publishing a few more mini-collections of my own.)

ETA: Mindy was kind enough to share her own first draft of a cover. You can see that, along with Mindy’s comments, here.

Remember my post last week about making it look easy? I look at these covers and think, Hey, I could probably do that! Maybe not the artwork itself, but if I found a good stock image, I could slap it all together. Because it looks easy.

Then I remember doing it with Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu]. Big shock: it ain’t easy, and skill as a writer means squat when it comes to visual art or graphic design. I did get professional artwork for mine, and I’m proud of what I came up with, but I think both Klasky and Buckell ended up with better-looking covers.

I’ve heard people talk about covers that “look self-published.” I’ve used that phrasing myself, but I think it’s inaccurate. It’s not that so many covers look self-published; it’s that they look amateur. Amateur isn’t a dirty word, and it’s not an insult. It means the work was done by someone who’s not a professional.

My friend Stephen Leigh gave me permission to pick on him. He’s an author with DAW, and has been doing this far longer than me. He recently released his dark urban fantasy novel The Woods [Amazon | B&N] as an e-book, and did the cover art himself. He used the cover on the left first. After receiving some feedback, he reworked the cover and came up with the one on the right.

I think number two is a better cover — easier to read, clearer visuals — but it doesn’t have the professional vibe I get from Mindy’s or Toby’s.

All of which leads back to the myth that it’s quick and easy to self-publish. Well, it is … but it’s not quick or easy to do it well. Slow down. Either hire people to do the jobs you’re not skilled at, or take your time and do the work Cover art and design are just two steps in the overall process, and there’s a reason publishers hire professionals for most of those steps.

Discussion time — how much attention do you pay to “professional vs. amateur” cover art when browsing e-books? What sort of things make a cover look amateur to you? (For me, I’ll admit to having a bias against most digital art.) And does it really make sense to invest in professional cover art for a small self-published project, given that most such projects probably aren’t going to see huge sales?

PS, All three of the writers mentioned here are wonderful people, and you could do much worse than to check out their books!

New Books!

No First Book Friday post this week, I’m afraid. So I figured we could do New Book Friday instead.

Oof. As it turns out, I know an awful lot of people who write books! I know this list is incomplete, too. I got in trouble for that the last time I posted a new books list, so if you have a book out and I didn’t include you, I’m not being deliberately exclusive. My brain cannot keep track of all the books.

So, anyone read any of these yet? Any you’re particularly looking forward to? And of course, feel free to add more new book suggestions in the comments!

Clicking the covers will take you to an excerpt/preview of the book, where available. (Making this one of the most link-heavy posts I’ve done in ages. I hope y’all appreciate how much work I do for you!)

Deathless [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Catherynne M. Valente.

The Shattered City [Harper Collins Australia] by Tansy Rayner Roberts.

The Woods [Amazon | B&N], an e-book from Stephen Leigh. (Also, B&N really needs to work on their search algorithms!!!)

Con and Conjure [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Lisa Shearin.

Faerie Winter [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Janni Lee Simner.

Fury of the Phoenix [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Cindy Pon.

Kat, Incorrigible [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Stephanie Burgis.

Rage [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Jackie Morse Kessler.

Shady Lady [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] by Ann Aguirre.

Nascence (17 stories that failed and what they taught me) [Amazon | B&N], an e-book by Tobias Buckell.

Jim C. Hines