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– David Farland, award-winning author, international bestseller

 

Keeping Writers as Pets

Sequence 2, 0-45, bookish writer

This might not be an article for you, but it is for those that know and care about you.

Very often, I get asked, “What can I do to support my son/daughter/spouse as a writer?” Of course, each writer’s needs are different, but here are some things you might think about.

A) Time to write. When I was young and newly married, I used to sit down to write, and my wife would immediately think that “since you’re not doing anything, let’s have a conversation.” That’s a frequent problem for those who work from home. It might not look like I’m busy, but sometimes I really am busy.

In order to write, I have to get into what I call my “writer’s trance,” a state where I’m vividly dreaming about my world (with my right brain) while composing and analyzing my prose (with my left brain). So I have to work with full mental capacity, and it can take about ½ of an hour to get into that state deeply enough to get some good work done. So, if I’m in the groove, don’t bother me. I need time to focus completely on my work.

However, you might be interested to know that both halves of the brain are not always awake and functioning clearly. I do my best work in the mornings now. (When I was young, I sometimes worked best at night.) For some reason, the right side of the brain, the creative side, shuts down at about mid-day and takes a nap. I literally can’t compose most of the time at mid-day. At about two in the afternoon, my writing skills tank, so that’s a good time to talk to me.

The point is, you need to learn the biorhythms of your pet writer, and try to allow that person to be productive.

B) Let your writer out of his cage. Very often, we think of writing as a completely solitary art form, and it can be. If I’m deep at work on a novel, I will often try to isolate myself. I don’t talk, go to parties, or go to movies. I’ve known some writers who literally become hermits.

But recognize that writing isn’t just about composing works. Writers need to get out, do research, study, and mingle. In other words, part of the pre-composition phase of writing requires that your writer get out once in awhile.

Sometimes that means that I do pretty exotic things. In researching novels, I’ve stayed out all night in the bayous of Louisiana, castle ruins in England, and walked the Great Wall of China. In fact, I got stuck on a novel years ago, and I told my wife, “You know, if I’m going to get past this part of the story, I really need to go to Shanghai and work on a screenplay with some other fantasy writers.” A few weeks later, that opportunity came up, and my wife said, “Go to Shanghai for three months.” It turned out to be a great opportunity.

As far as research opportunities go, sometimes I just go to the library or bookstore and browse. I might pick up books on writing, costuming, or life in the Middle Ages. But at other times I may want to take a writing course, which may require travel. My wife has sometimes questioned why I would want to take a course when I already know so much about writing, but I like to hear the latest theories and discoveries of those who apply original thinking to the craft.

In the same way, writers often get fired-up by attending writing conventions or conferences. Going to them allows your writer to meet like-minded people and explore new ideas about how to run their career. So make sure that your writer attends.

C) Think about your writer’s physical health. Writers tend to get chunky from sitting in their chairs all day. They scarf down cola in order to stay awake. Their health habits are often terrible. Make sure that you take your writer out for walks on a regular basis. Force him or her to help around the house, or take them to the gym. After all, you’ll want the writer to support you in your old age.

D) Let your writer make friends. Writing can be a very lonely profession. I write lots of dialogue in my tales, but sometimes I get tired of talking only to myself. Very often, writers will find that writers’ groups help give them a connection to the world, or that a particular writer friend 60 miles away is helpful to talk to. Don’t be jealous if you’re writer makes friends.

E) Keep your writer comfortable. This might sound silly, but having a good writing space—a decent room, a comfortable chair, and a computer equal to the task—is all pretty essential. When I was young, I used to work in a dusty basement. My allergies made me sick all of the time. I used to have a chair that made my back ache. I got rid of it. I still have problems. I don’t have a little table next to my chair to hold my diet drinks. Someday, someday. . . .

Not all writers need the same thing. I used to like to listen to music when I write, but over the years, I’ve changed and now find it distracting. So I don’t need a stereo in the room like I once did, and if I do want a little mood music, I put in my earbuds. Some writers like inspiring vistas. I tend to look inward, not outward.

The point is, some people think that you should have to suffer for your art, but I don’t get any more work done by suffering for it. When I was in China, my back got so messed up from bad chairs that I had to walk with a cane. Did I get more work done? No. Did I get better work done? Not at all. I was in constant agony, and as a result, I’m sure that my work suffered in quality.

F) Your writer is insane. Remember that your writer spends a great deal of time in a dream world, talking to imaginary people, visiting places that don’t exist. Shakespeare often lamented about his poor mental health, wondering if he was a genius or a nut. He was obviously both. I once heard a psychologist say that “most writers are provably borderline schizophrenics.” I know that I am. I’m a science fiction writer, and being spacey is a job hazard.

If you’re writer is very lucky, he’ll also be paranoid, too. It proved a great boon to Lord Byron, Philip K. Dick, and Theodore Roethke.

So help ease your writer through his or her mental problems.

G) The sex lives of writers . . . is best not discussed in detail. It can be creative, shocking, wondrous. Of course with dull and unimaginative writers, it’s no better than sex with an accountant.

Beyond that, the care and feeding of writers is pretty mundane, much like the care and feeding of humans in general. Your writer will need to be washed, groomed, and pampered–just like any other exotic pet.


I’m giving away four cyberpunk story bundles on Facebook. Just like or share the giveaway post on my page (do both to enter twice). And I’m giving one away on Twitter. Just favorite or retweet this tweet (again, do both to enter twice).

Alternatively, you can simply pick up the story bundle here.

Cyberpunk Story Bundle–Pick Your Price and get 13 Novels

All Covers Wide Large

Over at StoryBundle, you can get six cyberpunk novels, including my On My Way to Paradise, for whatever price you want to pay (as long as it’s over $2.99). If you choose to pay at least $15, you’ll get seven bonus books for a total of 13. Money will be donated to these charities: The ALS Association, Mighty Writers, and Girls Write Now

A quick visit to Wikipedia will confirm that “cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting. Noted for its focus on ‘high tech and low life,’ it features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.” But for some it’s always been about the radical change in social order over the high tech. It’s been about hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations, and tends to be set in a near-future Earth that’s absolutely dystopic, not some far-future setting in a galaxy far far away. What’s important is the extraordinary cultural impact of the technology being twisted in ways its creators could never have imagined.

It’s dark. It’s gritty. It’s exciting and the books included in this bundle are designed to showcase that very trend. The bundle available September 10th through October 1st. You’ll find a vast and dizzying array of ideas here—important ideas, because that’s what this kind of science fiction is all about. There’s social commentary. There’s angst. Heartbreak. Heroes. It’s a grim near-future we’re facing. We see it in the news every day. So it’s hardly surprising that some of our best writers have taken this bleak future and laid it bare.

StoryBundle’s Cyberpunk bundle is curated by bestselling author Steven Savile, a man who certainly understands the genre. His brand new novel, as yet unreleased (it’s debuting here in StoryBundle first, a month before it will be available anywhere else for sale!) is a heartbreaking example of a future you wouldn’t want to live in, brought about by choices no man should have to make. He’s just written a cyberpunk computer game for a major studio, too. Joining him are New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, Kevin J. Anderson, and myself, David Farland; Kindle sensation Michael Bunker (whose Pennsylvania will challenge the way you think about SF); Rob MacGregor and his writing partner, Billie Dee Williams – none other than Lando Calrissian himself – Melissa Scott & Jo Graham (with a collaborative novel and a solo novel from Melissa), brilliant British novelist Keith Brooke and one of the founding fathers of science fiction, Frank Herbert. There’s a complete trilogy of incredible novels from David Bischoff and something really special, a debut novel from an exciting new writer, Milo Behr. If Wordsworth had written cyberpunk he might have done something like Milo Behr’s Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus.

Says Savile, “Some of these writers are among my favourites in any genre. I can honestly say I adore each and every one of the books in this bundle. I’m incredibly excited to share them with you, especially the opportunity to help launch what I think will be a dazzling career for Milo, one of David Farland’s students. Why do I think you should pay attention? David’s other students include Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, oh, and Stephanie Meyer. He knows a thing or two. More than anything, I think the books here do a fantastic job of showcasing the dark cities and darker edges of where this world is going and can’t help but capture your imagination in the same way that Philip K Dick and other great writers captured mine. I really hope you enjoy them.”

The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $3 to purchase) are:

Resurrection, Inc. by Kevin J. Anderson

Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham

The Infinite Battle (Star Hounds: Book 1) by David Bischoff

PSI/NET by Billy Dee Williams and Rob MacGregor

The Accord by Keith Brooke

On My Way to Paradise by David Farland

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you’ll get another six books, including the next two books in the Star Hounds series!

Immortal by Steven Savile

High-Opp by Frank Herbert

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

Dreamships by Melissa Scott

Galactic Warriors (Star Hounds: Book 2) by David Bischoff

The Macrocosmic Conflict (Star Hounds: Book 3) by David Bischoff

Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus by Milo Behr

The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books.

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to their gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle?

Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

• Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.

• Pay what you want (minimum $3): You decide how much five fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of thrilling titles.

• Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.

• Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. We’re currently featuring the ALS Association, Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

• Receive extra books: If you beat our bonus price, you’re not just getting seven books, you’re getting thirteen!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, Tweet us at @storybundle, Like us on Facebook, and Plus us on Google Plus. For press inquiries, please email press@storybundle.com.

The World’s Most Important Book Reviewer

All Covers Wide Large

A few months ago I booked a hotel in a small city. The hotel was fairly inexpensive and had hundreds of nice reviews online, but when I got there it seemed . . . a bit shabby, considering the rave reviews. Still, I checked into my room and slept well, but I woke in the night for some reason.

I went to the lobby and noticed the night clerk typing away at her computer. I’d come up behind her, standing only a few feet away, and she hadn’t even noticed me. I saw her type the word “cockroach” and immediately wondered what she was up to.

I stood quietly behind her for a moment as she wrote a review for a neighboring motel—talking about the cockroach in her room and a broken door.

As I waited, I felt rather surprised that she hadn’t heard me, but I watched as she closed the file and picked another neighboring hotel, where she complained about moldy smells in the bathroom.

Then she went on to blast another competitor. She left seven bad reviews about neighboring motels and one good one about her own. It was an effective use of her time, during a period when night clerks generally have nothing to do.

So I’ve learned not to trust the reviews at hotels.com. Instead, I look for chains where I know there are some minimal standards.

This practice of placing fake reviews isn’t restricted just to hotel owners or authors. In the past week I’ve heard from dozens of you on the topic:

A woman who makes apps for phones reports that in her business, when you finish an app and register it, it’s not uncommon to immediately have two or three companies contact you to find out if you would like to buy good reviews.

A man who distributes indie movies reported that indie filmmakers commonly trade rave reviews with other filmmakers and use sock puppets to promote their work, and so on.

A business major reported that they were taught to do these illegal techniques in college, where it is just considered standard business practice.

And so it goes . . . through every industry.

Maybe that’s why recently a poll of readers found that those who read indie books said that they bought half of their books based upon recommendations they saw on Facebook from friends that they trust.

That’s important. Real reviews from real people.

In other words, the most important reviewer in the world, as far as your friends are concerned, is you!

I was at my booth at the Salt Lake Comic Con last week when a fellow came up and looked at my first Runelords novel. Now, he was reading through some of the cover quotes about the book—from the likes of Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, Publisher’s Weekly, and dozens of other illustrious authors and reviewers. Just then, a fan came up and thanked me for writing the books and said how much he loved them, thanked me again, and asked to shake my hand.

I knew immediately that the fellow who was on the fence about making a purchase would buy a book. It seems that whenever a potential buyer hears a heartfelt endorsement from a non-interested party, the purchase follows within seconds.

In short, your endorsement of a book is the only one that matters to your friends and acquaintances. If you really love a book, then talk about it. Mention it on Facebook, tell a friend.

So here are a couple of quick reviews. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read a couple of books that I liked. I just finished John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars. Now, I liked the movie, but I loved the book even more. It allowed me to savor the story in a way that the movie couldn’t. Dare I say it? This was perhaps my favorite book of the last thirty years. It was brilliant and beautiful both in concept and execution. I’m going to have to pick up everything else that John Green has written.

I also read a cyberpunk novel three weeks ago by new writer Milo Behr, called Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus. It too was brilliant and beautiful—an epic poem written as a fiction narrative. The rhythm of the piece was mesmerizing in the way the Edgar Allen Poe developed a hundred and fifty years ago, though few writers have mastered the technique since. This was my favorite cyberpunk piece since I read William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

What I liked about it wasn’t just the luscious prose, the mesmerizing effect of the poetry, but also the profundity of the piece. Milo Behr’s work comments on economics, justice, morality, and politics in ways that are thought-provoking and brilliant. As I read, I kept thinking, “If Wordsworth were alive today and writing cyberpunk, perhaps he would have written something like this.”

I kept wishing that the author had submitted part of his novel for the Writers of the Future contest that I judge. I suspected that he would have won the grand prize for the year. I wondered why he hadn’t decided to take this to a major publisher, and so I asked him why he was going indie. He said, “I like the business model better.”

So, I pulled a few strings for him. My novel On My Way to Paradise is in a bundle of cyberpunk novels that are going on sale today, along with books by a number of other outrageously talented authors:

Resurrection, Inc. by Kevin J. Anderson

Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham

The Infinite Battle (Star Hounds: Book 1) by David Bischoff

PSI/NET by Billy Dee Williams and Rob MacGregor

The Accord by Keith Brooke

Immortal by Steven Savile

High-Opp by Frank Herbert

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

Dreamships by Melissa Scott

Galactic Warriors (Star Hounds: Book 2) by David Bischoff

The Macrocosmic Conflict (Star Hounds: Book 3) by David Bischoff

Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus by Milo Behr

I asked the curator of the bundle to include Milo’s book for you. This gives you a great opportunity to discover a major new author while supporting some others that you may already know—or wish to discover.

You can get six of the novels for as low as $3–you get to pick the price. But in order to get all the novels, including Milo’s, you have to pay at least $15. If you are interested, head over to StoryBundle.com.

MICE

story mastery, 3-40, analyzeMany new writers struggle with characterization. If you’re trained in the literary mainstream, you’re taught that stories are about characters. In other words, the character is the “focus” of the story. That’s simply not true. Some stories do focus on characters, but many of the best tales don’t.

Orson Scott Card pointed this out eloquently in a book years ago with his “MICE” quotient. He suggested that when we tell tales, we often aren’t interested in the characters in a story at all. If you look at classic science fiction stories, for example, sometimes it is an “Idea” that is being explored rather than a character. What if you had a mirror that showed your reflection—but only from fourteen years ago? That was the idea behind a series of tales about “slow glass.” What if aliens invade the earth, only to discover giant creatures called humans? You may have seen the episode on a sci-fi series, where a child finds a “toy” spaceship and promptly destroys it. Is the child the focus of such a tale? Of course not. And he shouldn’t be.

What if a comet was about to hit the earth and destroy it? What would you do? In such a tale, you really want to focus on a character who is an “every man,” someone that the reader can relate to, not a character who is strange and obtuse.

Another type of story often focuses on the “milieu” of the story, the time and place that tale is set. Certain readers love reading medieval fantasy, for example. It may not matter if your wizard is pretty much just like Gandalf. If you create a milieu that is intriguing, it will draw readers. You’ve seen milieu stories in historical novels, in romances, in gothic horror, Westerns, hard-boiled detective novels, and so on. Some critics will often complain that modern stories often seem more like “travelogues” than real novels, and they’re right. Set a love story in Rio, or Rome, or Moscow, and it’s likely to sell well even if your protagonists ain’t all that riveting.

Of course, there are stories where the character is central to the tale. The movie Forrest Gump really is about the character of Forrest Gump, with his simplistic mindset, his naïve optimism, and his heart-breaking loneliness.

Scott Card created his acronym MICE to help readers remember that not all stories can or should focus on character. In his acronym, he uses “idea” and “event” for two of his acronyms, but I personally don’t see them as being much different. However, there is a type of story that I see as vital that he doesn’t mention, and I’ll call that the “Emotion” story. We buy tales based upon the emotions they trigger—romance, adventure, horror, humor, wonder. Sometimes, the tale is more about arousing that emotion than anything else. Years ago, the novel The Bridges of Madison County was a big hit. I read it to see what the fuss was all about. I don’t recall the names of the protagonists. They weren’t that interesting. I don’t recall the milieu, a single bridge, or even what state Madison County was supposed to be in. The milieu didn’t come to life. But the emotion triggered in the tale, the sense of romance and loss in that story, still lingers.

So you can have stories where the characters are only of minor importance. Or you can have tales where only some things are important. You might have a mICe story, for example—where a man finds himself in the center of a bank as it is being robbed, and because of his unique skills and mindset, he becomes central to what happens. Or you might have a MicE story, one where the milieu and the emotion are woven together inextricably.

The real point here is: Don’t get brainwashed into thinking that every character in your story must be fleshed out. Sometimes the doorman in your tale is just the guy who holds the door. I’ve read a number of books and articles over the years about how to write characterization, and while I’ve found a few gems of advice, the truth is that most of the advice that I’ve gotten was just gravel.

There is a fundraiser going on to help Rachel Ann Nunes in her case against plagiarism. The money raised from this box set, Unseen: United, will be donated to her cause.

Author Mette Ivie Harrison, whose adult mystery The Bishop’s Wife is about a Mormon bishop’s wife in Draper, Utah who solves crime by baking bread, offering to babysit people’s children, and then gets into filing cabinets and searches for secrets to solve crime, is offering a chance to meet with her editor, Juliet Grames, from Soho Press. The one-day writing retreat will take place Saturday September 27 in Layton, Utah and will cost $100 for a 10 page manuscript review by Juliet and a private consult, as well as other programming about writing. If you’re interested in getting on a list for more information, contact Mette at mette@argonautfilms.com.

How to Give an Honest Review

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Over the last few days I’ve been talking about some of the tawdry practices that go on in our industry, and I’ve been wanting to talk about rules of conduct when giving reviews. Too often online I’ve seen instances where people are buying reviews or selling them or trading favors.

Here are a few rules that I think you should consider adopting:

1) Don’t review every book that you are asked to do. In the course of your career, you will most likely get thousands of requests for reviews. On an average week, I get two requests for cover quotes. Unfortunately, reading a long novel (say 800 pages of manuscript) can take as a much as 20 hours. If I were to read two novels a week, I wouldn’t have time to write anything at all. So, here are some basic reasons why you must turn things down.

a) If you don’t have time to give a quote, just be honest. There have been times in my life when I really wanted to give a quote and just couldn’t. For example, one of my students, Brandon Mull, asked for a quote a few years back for his novel Fablehaven. I felt terrible, but his timing was just bad for me. (I’ve read the novel since, and I loved it.) He’s gone on to have a great career (#1 New York Times Bestseller), but every time that I see him, I just feel crummy. Now that he’s in my shoes, I know that he understands just how hectic life can be.

b) If you give too many reviews, then it devalues your reviews. Many authors set a limit of say, 2 per year. That’s a wise thing to do. Years ago, when Terry Brooks gave me a nice cover quote for The Runelords, I felt grateful. When I later learned that Terry almost never gives cover quotes, I felt even more honored. (I think that he has only given a couple of quotes in his life, as I recall.) So lend some credence to your quotes by restricting the number that you give. More importantly, if you really want to give a quote to a novel, make it a priority.

c) If the novel is not in the genre that you write in, then most likely the publisher won’t want your cover quote anyway. I write fantasy. If someone who writes horror or romance or mainstream or young adult asks for a cover quote, then I don’t feel that it does them much good to give them a cover quote. In fact, I’ve given a couple quotes that the publisher has never used, so aside from heartwarming the author, it really didn’t help.

2) Never give a quote for money. I know a couple of authors who, in an effort to cut down on the number of people who ask for quotes, have said that they charge a high dollar amount for a cover quote. The argument goes like this: it costs me a lot of time (and therefore money) to read a book. If I’m going to read a novel with an eye toward a quote, which may have a huge impact on sales, why shouldn’t I get paid to do it?

The problem is that it causes a moral conundrum. If I get paid for a cover quote, will it be an honest one? Won’t the fact that I’m getting paid skew my perceptions? I think that it would. So I would never pay for a quote. On the occasions where people have asked me to give quotes for a reading fee, I’ve always refused to even read the book. Sorry, it just feels weird. Of course it goes without saying that you should never offer to pay for a cover quote, nor should you offer to give another author a quote in return for a favorable quote.

I do know that some places, like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, do offer to review books for a reading fee. Personally, I wouldn’t do it. I realize that it takes time (and therefore money) for a reviewer to read and critique a novel that way, but I worry that this is one of those practices that gets a little too close to the line.

Please note that there are times when you may have an author that you admire who also happens to like your work. For example, I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson, so I was eager to give him a cover quote on his first novel. In fact, for enjoyment I picked up his novel Steelheart this last Saturday and it is next on my readig list. Brandon recently gave me a quote on one of my novels. I also happen to be a fan of several other best-selling authors. So I wouldn’t feel bad if one of them gave me a cover quote, and I would feel honored if one of them offered a quote. That of course is different from agreeing to give rave reviews to a stranger that you’ve only just met online.

3) Be honest in your review. I’ve had people send me books that I just didn’t enjoy. This is tough. Can you give a plug to a book that you don’t think is really any good? If you read the first chapter, and you really don’t want to read on, you have to stop right there. You can be gentle with the author and say, “This really just didn’t grab me. I’m sorry.”

You don’t have to be brutal about it. Remember that as authors, whether we’re indie or traditionally published, we are all struggling to get better, and we may have different aims and different emotional triggers. A novel that doesn’t interest me may thrill someone else.

When I read, if I suspect that I’m not the audience for that book, I ask myself, “Is there an audience for this book? And if so, can I tailor my remarks to that audience?”

I recall one author who hated Lord of the Rings. When he was asked to review a fantasy novel that he also hated, guess what he compared it to?

That’s a little bit cynical for me, but the concept is sound, so long as your remarks are honest.

4) Phrase your wording carefully when giving a review. Remember that you need to have short bites that can fit on a cover. You can review both the author and the work.

For example, I recently read a science fiction novel that I loved by new author Milo Behr. It will be debuting this week, and I’ll let you know more in a day or two. I could say something like “Milo Behr’s novel Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus was the most exciting cyberpunk debut I’ve seen in twenty years,” and I’d be completely honest about the book. I haven’t seen one that I personally liked as much since William Gibson made his debut.

But what if the author so impresses you that you want to give him or her a quote that could be used for all future novels? In Milo Behr’s novel, he did something both brilliant and nearly unthinkable. He wrote his novel as an epic poem, then put it in narrative form. The result is that the novel has a hypnotic effect, unlike anything that I’ve seen outside of Poe and a couple of mainstream writers. So, for example, I might say something like, “Milo Behr’s work is brilliant and mesmerizing.”

5) Remember that as a reviewer, you’re not always right. Many years ago I reviewed a novel that, quite frankly, really bothered me. The protagonist was so reluctant to do anything at all that I just couldn’t relate. I wrote a review for a small magazine, then heard from some fans who loved the book. They said, “When I read that novel, that protagonist was me.” And I realized, that there was a huge audience for the book, but I just wasn’t part of it. When offering a review, you’re making your own artistic judgment. Others might not share your opinions.

What I want to emphasize here is that giving reviews can be tough. It will take time that you may not have to give, it will present moral challenges that you might not want to face, do it with caution.

Registrationg for the Novel Rewriting Workshop in St. George will close this Wednesday. The workshops will take place September 22nd-26th, so if you want to come, get signed up.

Setting Your Own Standards of Excellence

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This past few weeks I’ve been looking at the business practices of many of our authors and felt pretty overwhelmed by just how nasty things have gotten. As a reader, I’ve always been careful about what I buy, but so many authors are misrepresenting their own works, that lately I’ve been considering whether I should stop reading or promoting indie works at all.

I ask myself, “If it is any good, then why doesn’t the author send it out to agents and editors the way that I did when I got my start?”

Well, times have changed, and there are genuinely fine authors who are taking the indie route, and I applaud them.

But there are still some huge problems with the way that some authors are promoting themselves. The problem hit the spotlight with the nastiest case of plagiarism that I’ve ever seen. The author Rachel Ann Nunes, whom I’ve known for at least a dozen years, had her work plagiarized by an indie author who then proceeded to try to bully her and attack her reputation online, using fake identities to leave a string of negative reviews not only of Rachel’s work, but attacking her personally as someone who was “self-righteous,” saying that all of her books were trash.

As a result, I decided to put my foot down—right on this plagiarist’s head. We started a fundraiser, got enough money to begin uncovering her many fake identities, and we’re going to sue her. This troubles me. In this case, it appears that the plagiarist is a schoolteacher with three children of her own. Lots of people are going to get hurt. She should have thought about that at some time in her criminal career.

There are plenty of ways for authors to promote themselves that are both legal and ethical. I’ll be talking about those in the next few weeks. But first I think that we need to delineate the problems.

Here are some things that you should never do, and if you do see other authors doing them, let them know that they are wrong.

1) Thou shalt not plagiarize. It used to be that I would see a case of plagiarism every couple of years. Now it seems to be happening online every day. If we’re going to stem the tide, we need to hold plagiarists accountable. That means that when they put things for sale online, then try to slink away when caught, we need to uncover their identities and hit them with the full penalties of the law.

Don’t just report plagiarized works online—attack the thieves who are doing it.

The worst of the plagiarists are creating “Frankensteins,” books cobbled together from one chapter here, another chapter there, so that technically the author can’t be held accountable for breaking copyright laws. The reader doesn’t know that he has been swindled until he gets a few chapters into the book.

We need to figure out how to catch and prosecute these kinds of criminals.

2) Thou shalt not create sock puppets. A sock puppet is an online identity devised so that an author can promote his or her own work, often by blogging. Authors who do this are guilty of false advertising, whether they are promoting their own work by giving themselves great reviews, or going online to attack the work of their rivals.

Some authors create dozens of sock puppets in an effort to promote their work. Let me give you a clue: spend your time writing better books, and I think it will help more in the long run.

3) Thou shalt not buy favorable reviews. There have been some online businesses where you can buy positive reviews for your books, getting dozens of them for a small fee. In one case, an author purchased a thousand. These businesses are illegal. If you find out about one of them operating, report the criminal who runs it.

However, in a related practice, some of the big traditional reviewers will now review your work—for a fee. While the reviewers that they use are pretty good at trying to be even-handed, the truth is that when a reviewer is being paid by an author, he is put in an untenable situation. He wants to say nice things that maybe he wouldn’t say otherwise.

I have never paid for a review from a major reviewer, nor will I. It’s just a tad too desperate.

4) Thou shalt not “trade” reviews. Now many people are getting positive reviews by giving positive reviews. I’ve seen them swapping openly on Facebook. This is just as illegal as buying reviews any other way, and it’s just as bad.

Some authors are even doing it in groups called “author rings,” where each author is sworn to promote the works of other authors in the group. Now, there is nothing wrong with promoting the work of an author that you really know and admire.

But even reliable authors on occasion produce works that stink. Don’t promote them. Don’t ask other people to promote your stinkers. A real friend will tell you when you have B.O.

5) Thou shalt not disparage the work of other writers for gain. A few years ago, we heard about a mainstream author who had gone online and attacked well over a hundred other writers, giving their novels lukewarm reviews, then telling the readers that the books were nowhere near as great as his own. I see this happening in reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.com. You don’t need to do it.

Now, if a book really is a piece of crap, you can be honest about it, just don’t sing your own praises at the same time.

I’m sure that there are plenty of other practices that I could warn you against, but my point is this: If we’re going to clean up this industry, we need to start with ourselves. We need to examine our own standards and practices. If you’ve done any of these things in the past, resolve to go clean. If someone suggests a course of action that you find questionable, don’t say “Yes” immediately. Take some time, think about it, and resolve to do the right thing.

UTAH SCHOOL TEACHER CHARGED WITH PLAGIARISM, CYBER-BULLYING

In perhaps the most shocking case of plagiarism I’ve ever heard of, an elementary school teacher in Utah has been named in a lawsuit for allegedly plagiarizing the work of other authors, adding porn to the stories, and then using false identities (called “sock puppets”) to threaten and attack those who uncovered her schemes.

Few people ever commit the crime of plagiarism. It’s too easy to detect. Those who are caught generally just try to slink quietly away, perhaps to try again later. But in this bizarre case, it takes a darker twist.

Vs.

The accused, a woman named Tiffanie Rushton describes herself as a Utah school teacher who has worked for the Davis County School District for 20 years, where she supervises elementary children, primarily in the third and fourth grades. She seems attractive and innocent, but online she takes on a bewildering array of dark identities.

As we reported three weeks ago, bestselling romance author Rachel Ann Nunes recently discovered that someone operating under an alias had taken one of her christian romance novels and revised it, adding pornographic elements, and was planning to release it online under the pseudonym Sam Taylor Mullens.

But when Rachel tried to get a copy of the suspicious work, she immediately found herself bombarded by a barrage of implausible lies as, under different identities, Tiffanie Rushton alternately claimed that a) the novel had been the product of her writing group, b) a man who was the coauthor had asked her to do it before he died in a car wreck, c) she was the coauthor of the work because she was the niece to Nunes and had given her the ideas, and so on.

When Nunes didn’t buy those excuses, Tiffanie Rushton began to attack Nunes using her different hidden identities. First Rushton accused Nunes of being the offending party and threatened to report her to her aunt, the CEO of Nunes’s publisher. Then Rushton threatened a blogger that she suspected would turn over evidence of her plagiarism. Then Rushton began attacking Nunes herself, writing blistering reviews of her work online on Goodreads and Amazon.com in an attempt to discredit Nunes and ruin her career.

When I suggested to Nunes that we start a GoFundMe campaign in an attempt to uncover the real name of her attacker, Rushton went to the GoFundMe site. Using various aliases, she tried to dissuade other authors from supporting Nunes by claiming that the campaign was a fraudulent attempt to get money, and in one case she said that Nunes was overreacting to another writer who only wanted to “settle the matter quietly.”

Now, let me be clear about this. This isn’t an attack on an indie author. Real authors come up with their own story ideas and slave over their work. I respect that. What Rushton did was something different. In one online chat, Rushton described herself by saying simply, “I write smut.”

There is nothing illegal in writing smut, of course, but it is illegal to steal someone else’s work and then pass it off as your own. It is illegal to cyberbully. It is illegal to create false identities to promote your own work. It is illegal to try to destroy the careers of your victims.

Oh, and while investigating, researchers found that Nunes isn’t the only victim of plagiarism here. There is an earlier novel. And under her aliases, Rushton is currently out soliciting new authors, asking them to send copies of their work for her to “review.”

Rushton has dozens of identities. Maybe you’ll recognize some of them as your own online “friends”:

Update: names have been removed by request.

Please do not send your works to her. In fact, you should be leery of anyone who goes online and solicits your novels. Ask yourself, “What will they be using them for?” So who is Tiffanie Rushton? Allegedly, under one identity she describes herself as a heroic Mormon woman who teaches disadvantaged Indian children and only writes porn by night. Yet using another identity she appears to be a bigot who disparages Mormons in general and says, “I’m glad I’m not one.” In one identity she is a teacher who tells children not to copy other’s work and not to bully. Using other identities, she’s a writer’s nightmare.

Having worked as a prison guard with a number of sociopaths, I think I know exactly what she is.

Rachel Ann Nunes has asked that you not attack or harass Tiffanie Rushton in any way.

But if you think that it is important to hold plagiarists, cyberbullies, and liars who use false advertising accountable, the best thing that you can do is to help support Rachel in her stand against plagiarism. Here is the site that is set up for this purpose. (You will notice that you can also learn more about the incident at this site.) http://www.gofundme.com/StandingAgainstPlagiarism

Please be aware that this funding campaign is mostly a symbolic gesture. We don’t know if any monies will ever be recovered. But personally, I think that this is an important step to take in order to crack down on this kind of criminal behavior.

Here’s another excellent article on the topic: http://johndopp.com/plagiarism-sam-taylor-mullens-busted/

I’d write more, but I’m on my way to the Salt Lake Comic Con this weekend. If you happen to be in the area, we will be having a special panel Saturday afternoon at the convention. The panel, “Authors Against Plagiarism and Theft,” will feature several New York Times Bestsellers; author participating include Margaret Weis, Brandon Mull, Tracy Hickman, Richard Paul Evans, Kevin J. Anderson, and myself. We will be passing around a donation jar to fund Nunes’s cause for this event.

Matt Harrill’s Hellbounce Book Launch

This Saturday, join me and others as we celebrate Matthew W Harrill‘s book HELLBOUNCE at this Facebook event. I will be donating 100 copies of Nightingale and 100 copies of After a Lean Winter. Maybe you can get one. https://www.facebook.com/events/611192022321330/

You can redeem your coupon here:

After A Lean Winter Kindle
After a Lean Winter ePub
Nightingale Kindle
Nightingale ePub

Dave In The News!

Dave was in the news today. KUTV, a Salt Lake City-based television station, ran a spot on him in the evening news. You can find the video here:

To Grow or Not to Grow

If you want to understand how vital character growth is to good fiction, take a look at a few classic movies. Study such films as Good Will Hunting, As Good as it Gets, Orange County, and The Silver Linings Playbook. In each of these films, every major character grows during his or her time on camera. It’s a motif in Hollywood. Having a character grow as a person is practically a requirement for any comedy, any feel-good movie. But it’s not a new thing.

In fact, this pattern of growth remains consistent through nearly all great works of fiction ever written. (I only say “nearly” because as soon as I say all, someone is going to come up with something that doesn’t have growth, like Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and then we’ll have to argue all day about whether it was great literature.)

Note that in literary fiction, it is often said that the characters should merely “change,” not grow. But it is not nearly so enjoyable watching the demise of a protagonist as it is to watch one succeed. Change may intrigue, but growth inspires.

Indeed, here’s a key not only to understanding characters, but to understanding people: look at anyone who is feeling anger, depression, or sadness. Look at anyone who is acting out or trying to attract attention, and you will nearly always find one common factor: the person feels frustrated. He’s not growing, not progressing. It may be that he’s frustrated with his economic fortunes, his love life, his health, but somewhere these feelings of sadness, worry, and anger are rooted in frustration.

As organisms, we feel driven to constantly progress.

A pattern emerges in many of the world’s most popular stories. Consider for example A Christmas Carol, Lord of the Rings, and Ender’s Game.

In each of the tales that I mentioned, the protagonist starts out like a child, viewing evil as something outside himself. Poverty is not a problem that Scrooge normally worries about–it’s something that happens in other counties. Frodo’s Dark Lord is in lands far away. The Buggers are on another planet.

But evil soon strikes closer to home. The protagonist discovers that it’s in the people around him. Scrooge discovers that his best employee is suffering. Frodo confronts his Boromir. And young Ender Wiggins discovers that children who should be fighting evil are cruel and divisive.

Eventually, the protagonist of course discovers evil in himself. Scrooge sees himself as a moral pauper, to his own dismay Frodo claims the Ring at the Crack of Doom, and Ender finds that he is guilty of genocide. When the protagonist recognizes that evil is not a distant thing, that it’s something within him, he is forced to either accept evil, or to change.

First he must find the strength to change himself; only afterward can he hope to affect change in the people around him and the world at large. That’s what these popular tales are all about—the journey from moral darkness to enlightenment. This enlightenment is the goal of the mythic journey, and that’s what growth literature boils down to. Growth tales can be very compelling.
But you should also know that all literature isn’t growth literature. Much literature—even some very popular literature, is about stagnation. It may let us retreat from issues of growth, and return to that safe place we all occupied before we had to grow up.

In stagnation literature, the protagonist is almost always stuck at the adolescent level. He never grows up. He doesn’t engage in adult activities—such as marriage, the raising of children, taking a day job, or caring for an elderly parent. Instead, he remains an adolescent, without responsibilities, without ever recognizing his own need for change.

Let’s take a look at a classic: Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. The name suggests a growth novel, but in this one, aliens who look curiously like Christian devils invade the world. They’re brilliant and they teach mankind a great deal. Eventually, the whole world becomes a hive-like organism in which people are but drones, and human society evolves into something new——and mankind leaves the planet. The only person left on Earth is the protagonist who refused to participate in the exodus. He remains alone and damned, the perpetual adolescent—and apparently unsure whether he has won something or lost.

In the same way, Heinlein’s characters never grow up. They like to go around saving the world, but have no day job. They recognize that everyone around them is wrong, but they’re . . . well, they’re supermen. They don’t fall in love, they just have lots of sex. In essence, his protagonists too are always trapped in the adolescent state, and they have no desire to move beyond it.

In short, growth is unimportant in these tales simply because this is “escape” literature. The story transports the reader back to a safe time in his life, to a time when the reader did not have to worry about the complexities of life, and that is a major appeal of the tale.

In case I make it sound as if only science fiction literature offers adolescent/stagnation literature, let me assure you it’s not. In fact, if you look at literary stories—the kind you read in The New Yorker—you’ll find that much of it is stagnation literature. Oh, sure, the college professor may be burdened with a wife and child, but he’s also usually out exploring sexually, discovering that his life is meaningless, and wallowing in sophomoric angst. In short, he’s an adolescent trapped in a world where he doesn’t want to grow up.

In every genre there are plenty of stagnation stories around, simply because so many people read in an effort not to confront their challenges, but to evade them.

These readers don’t want to grow up while reading fiction. Such challenges are too discomforting—the conflicts can become too personal, strike too close to home.

Think about it: ultimately, when your character reaches adulthood, he accepts personal responsibility for the world’s state of affairs and then spends the rest of his life in service to his community. In essence, he accepts a kind of death, the death of his selfish desires and dreams.

So, my challenge as a writer of growth literature is to figure out how to get beyond that. How do I sell the message that growth is good and necessary and beautiful?

That’s easy. You simply show that the community is good, that family is necessary and beautiful, so that when your protagonist sacrifices himself for these things, we as an audience see the nobility in it.

As you consider your tale, it will be up to you to decide: do I want my characters to grow or not?

Registration for my online writing workshops closes today. If interested, you can do register here