Novel sold!

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So here’s my big announcement: my fantasy novel The Wedding of Earth and Sky has been sold to Red Adept Publishing, and will appear sometime in 2014.

I’m really excited about this. Red Adept is a small press with a focus on ebooks and audiobooks, and I’ve been very impressed by the quality of their product and the professionalism of their editorial staff. Here’s hoping for big things.

Blog redesign

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As a result of other changes ’round these parts, I’ve changed the blog theme and the landing page. Now, if you go to jsbangs.com, you’ll see a static landing page highlighting some of my most recent publications, with the blog linked in the sidebar.

The reason is simple: blogging has been sparse for several months, and will probably remain so for the near future. Instead of showing people a handful of very old blog posts, I’d rather show them some stories that I’m proud of and let them click through to the blog if they get curious.

Other big announcements forthcoming…

Soon appearing in Ruined Cities

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Long time, no blog. There are various reasons for that, some of which I may post about soon, but for now, let’s just add some awesome news: my story In the City of No God will soon be appearing in the Ruined Cities anthology from Deepwood Publishing. Read their announcement of the anthology here. The anticipated publication date is Thanksgiving Day, so be sure to pick it up as a delicious after-turkey snack.

My novel outline, in musical form

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This Sigur Ros video basically encapsulates the emotional arc that I try for in all of my novels:

We start of quietly and lyrically, move into a long, slow bit of ominous buildup, and end with a fist-pumping, heart-pounding finale that closes with a massive explosion.

Yeah, that’s basically how my novels work. At least, that’s what I’m going for.

Also, note that the song above is 15 minutes long. That’s the pop music equivalent of a 250,000 word fantasy brick. While my novels aren’t quite that prolix, this is the genre that I’m shooting for.

“Bibliotheca Fantastica” now available

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Bibliotheca Fantastica

Bibliotheca Fantastica is now available from Dagan Books, including a story by yours truly titled “The Typographer’s Folly”.

For the curious, this is the story which prompted A Florilegium of Rejection Notes. I have only had the chance to read about a third of the other stories in the anthology, and I look forward to the rest. Hope you like it—

Assessing the gatekeepers

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Yesterday I dropped two fat manila envelopes off at the post office for the first time in over a year. Yes, I’m back at it: mailing manuscript pages to editors in the desperate hope that one of them will publish my book. (I’ve done plenty of short-story submissions in the meantime, but not a book, and not on paper.)

Things are a little different this time around. The main difference is that self-publishing is a live option, meaning that I’m so confident in this book that if no publisher takes an interest in it, I’m just going to self-publish. The self-publishing marketplace has matured quite a bit, and I have some practice from last time—so I’m pretty sure that I can make things work if I need to.

The major implication of this is that I’m skipping the agent round. I can get an agent after I have an offer from a big publisher, since it turns out that lots of people get their agents that way, and I don’t feel a big imperative to go through the gatekeepers-before-the-gatekeepers this time. I am subbing directly to all of the houses that accept direct author submissions (and some of the ones that don’t), and I’ll wait around for them to get back to me.

The other major implication is that I’m vetting the small presses that I sub to very carefully. My previous experience with a small e-press, while not exactly a negative experience, has made me realize that there’s not a lot which many small presses can do for me which I can’t do for myself. So I’m very carefully going through the small press candidates and weeding out the ones which don’t offer one or more of:

  1. High-quality professional covers
  2. Print editions
  3. Help with promotion
  4. A non-trivial advance (where “non-trivial” is ~$1000)

These are roughly in order of importance. #1 is absolutely non-negotiable, since a big majority of self-pub and small press covers are terrible. I can pay Streetlight Graphics or a similar outfit to do a professional-quality cover for me, so why should I put up with the garbage that most small presses put out? At least half of the small presses that I’ve looked at have been disqualified with the note “Bad covers”.

A print edition is not something that I’d willing to pay for myself (even using the number of high-quality POD services), but it’s something that I consider a positive if a small press offers it. Promotion likewise is something that I can do by myself, but about which I’m largely clueless, and I’ll take all the help that I can get.

And of course, an advance is something which is by definition impossible under self-publishing, which is why I consider it the least important and least significant element of choosing a publisher.

In any case, I’ve time-boxed this process to take no more than a year. Even the slowest of the traditional publishers should have gotten back to me by that point, and if I haven’t gotten an offer by then, to self-pub I will go.

How to make Sanskrit with tools you have at home

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I’m toying with a Sanskrit-esque conlang. At the moment this is likely to be just a naming language, but there’s a good chance that I’m going to need to expand it later, so I want to make sure I get off on the right foot.

But this poses the question: what is Sanskrit-esque? I’m mostly concerned with phonology and mouth-feel, not syntax or morphology—which is convenient, since I know basically nothing about Sanskrit beyond its phonology. A little brainstorming suggests the following characteristics:

  1. A four-way stop contrast, with all combinations +/- voice and +/- aspirated for most places of articulation
  2. Palatal and retroflex consonant series
  3. a as the most common vowel, followed by i
  4. Syllabic sonorants, especially r
  5. Lack of w, but v and y very common.
  6. Onset clusters of the form Cr, but few/no other onset clusters
  7. Vowel length distinction
  8. Relatively few word-final consonants, and those that occur are usually nasals or h

I found this Sanskrit text as a good language sample, from which I drew most of the preceding observations. Obviously some of these are generalizations about Sanskrit romanization and not necessarily about phonology per se, but since my end-goal here is to create a Sanskrit-flavored naming language, observing the romanization conventions is part of the deal.

Now I further complicate my requirements by noting that I already have a decent number of names in use for this setting, which I have to retrofit without completely destroying. Let’s start with the city formerly named Wyrnas, a grotesquely cliche pseudo-Welsh name. My initial concept of this language used the digraph yr to indicate a syllabic [r], so this name can be changed to Vrnas with almost no change in actual pronunciation. But what a wonderful difference in flavor! I’m off to a good start.

Next is Corath. This name doesn’t violate any of our rules outright, but that final -ath doesn’t sit right. Obvious alternatives would be Coratha or Corathi, which are merely okay. While looking at these names I thought of simply geminating the th to Corattha, which seems just right.

On to Gocem. I’m pretty sure that CoCeC is not a possible word-shape in Sanskrit, so we have to change at least one of the vowels. But the most minimal change here seems like the best: Gocam

(Note that I’m editing purely for flavor here, without any concern for the morphology or phonotactics of the target language. This is fine as a first step, though later of course I’ll have to figure such things out.)

I won’t go through the rest of the 20-ish names that would have to be retrofitted, since this is just a preliminary sketch. But I’m heartened that the retrofit seems to be possible.

“The Other City” now at Intergalactic Medicine Show

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I held off announcing this a little because of some weirdness, but I’m happy to say that that has resolved itself, and now I can happily report that my story The Other City is currently up at Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

The man stumbled through the gates of Salem with a bundle in his arms. “Let’s eat him,” the boys said and scampered down the grassy hill to the wall, hooting and hollering and grabbing sharp sticks and stones as they went.

Read the whole thing here.

Fun facts about this story:

This was the first short story that I wrote after I decided to get serious about my writing a few years ago. It took a while to find a home.

My idea for the story involved the ending (which I won’t spoil), and the starting point of a man being expelled from Salem. So I wrote the first line above (“The man stumbled through the gates of Salem”), then thought for a moment. The next line (“‘Let’s eat him,’ the boys said”) was a moment of inspiration, and this wound up driving the rest of the story. My advice is that when your subconscious gives you cannibalism, you run with it.

A Writer’s Lent: Love

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(Part of a series applying the Prayer of St. Ephraim to the writer’s life, and considering where I can improve.)

Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of humility,
of patience,
and of love.

Love is the last of the virtues that this prayer seeks, which means that it is presented as the opposite of vain speaking. This makes sense. Writing which comes from love cannot be empty and self-serving as vain speaking is. This is the highest virtue, and perhaps for that very reason, I believe it’s the easiest.

Love your characters. Don’t be afraid to hurt them (remember that they aren’t actually real people), but realize that if your characters are not gripping and fascinating to you, they’ll be even less interesting to your writers.

Love your stories. If your story isn’t keeping you up at night with ideas, then maybe you should write something else.

Love the fact that you get to be a writer. Be grateful that you live in a time and place where “writer” is an actual job that people get to have, even if it isn’t actually your job yet. Even if you don’t actually want it to be your job—I don’t actually aspire to be a full-time writer, but I’m still thankful and a little awe-struck every time I see a story with my byline.

I don’t think that most of us would be doing this if it weren’t for love. Let’s not forget that.

Next time: Seeing your own flaws

A Writer’s Lent: Patience

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(Part of a series applying the Prayer of St. Ephraim to the writer’s life, and considering where I can improve.)

Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

But bestow upon me, Thy servant,
the spirit of chastity,
of humility,
of patience,
and of love.

My story The Lion and the Thorn Tree was under submission at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly for six months before they finally got back to me to let me know that the story had been accepted. I say this not to complain about their response times (there are plenty of other markets that are worse), but to illustrate the kind of patience that any writer must have. Publishing moves glacially. Short store markets are on the fast side of the tracks relative to book publishers, many of which have response times exceeding a year. You can avoid some of this slow-down by self-publishing, but even that doesn’t remove the real need for writerly patience, which is waiting for the money to come in.

This is the place where I find myself now. I’ve accustomed myself to the response times of most short story markets, and I’m quite happy with the notion that a story may need to be shopped around for years before it actually finds a publisher. My patience now is tried with knowing how long I have to wait before I’ve “arrived”. At the moment I’ve sold a number of short stories, but never a novel. Am I a professional yet? When do I start winning awards? When do people start recognizing me at cons? When do I get to become geek-famous?

(This is the point where I stop and check myself for humility and the lust for power, as discussed in previous installments.)

Of course, becoming famous, even geek-famous, is not actually my goal. It sure would be nice though. And here, I have to recognize the fact that these things take time. Lots and lots of time. Most of the “overnight” successes in the writing world are from people who have been writing for a decade or more. If I really want success, I have to (1) continually improve my craft, and (2) wait.

Perhaps you can tell that this topic is a bit of a sore point for me. I do not want to be patient. I want to exercise my lust for power (the vice which is paired opposite patience), and seize recognition and fame now. But I can’t—because that power isn’t actually mine, and because it would be bad more me even if I had it. Instead I’ll wait. I’ll keep working, and I’ll wait.

Next time: Love.