And the winner, she is ….

The world of science fiction has changed. When my father introduced me to his favorite books decades ago, there was not a female author to be found. Not long after, I discovered Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and Vonda McIntyre on my own. So, women could write this stuff. Well then, that was what I was going to do someday, because I ‘d already been told my first career choice of becoming an astronaut was “not realistic.”

It wasn’t many years at all before women did go into space. As I grew into adulthood, the list of women who wrote speculative fiction grew by at least an order of magnitude. In fact, it has now increased to the point where five of the six 2019 Hugo nominees for best novel were women. Wow.

One of the presenters was artist Afua Richardson, comic book illustrator for Marvel’s World of Wakanda

Check out the list of nominees below.

It should also be noted that Artificial Condition by Martha Wells took best novella this year; If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho won best novelette; A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow won best short story and best series went to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books. Yes, they are all women.

The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Winner
Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik
Nominee
Revenant Gun
Yoon Ha Lee
Nominee
Record of a Spaceborn Few
Becky Chambers
Nominee
Space Opera
Catherynne M. Valente
Nominee
Trail of Lightning
Rebecca Roanhorse
Nominee

It’s hard to find a simple explanation for this change. One could guess it is because the world has become more welcoming to women pursuing dreams of all kinds. But that should result in something more like woman being half the nominees, not most of them.

It is true women that as a group tend to be more verbal than men.  (Yes, men tend to be more mathematical. I’ve no quarrel with statistics, only a quarrel with extending those generalizations into making assumptions about individuals, or to making assumptions about why the tendencies exist in the first place. Life is complicated.)

Anyway, today’s world of SFF writers could, in part, reflect the fact that women make up a larger percentage of the writing and the reading community in general.

Another theory is that society is more supportive of women then men who write variations of speculative fiction that shade into romance. This gives women writers (for once) a larger menu of styles and subject matter to chose from. I can see this perhaps accounting for a larger number of female SFF writers over all, but few if any of the female-authored pieces nominated for awards could be considered part of this hybrid romance genre.

Maybe it’s this simple. Most of the best SFF last year was written by women, and that’s that.

I was happy that my particular favorite, The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, won best novel. For those of you not familiar with it, it is part of collection of stories (and two novels) set in an alternate world in which women were admitted into the USA’s initial space program. Guess you can see why I’d have a fond spot in my heart for this premise.

I watched Mary Robinette Kowal’s acceptance speech from my perch in the spotlights. (I was a volunteer running the spotlight for the show.) Astronaut Dr Jeanette Epps was on stage with her and it was a one of those weird maybe-all-is-right-with-the-universe-after-all moments. I loved it!

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!,  at Feeling at home, at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

Now for something different …

I thought I knew what I was going to do next. It was going to be a clever combination of crime novel and speculative fiction, with a main character sleuth who has been growing in my head for over a year. I  called the project “Next” and made folders for it on my computer and in real life. “Next” was about to happen.

Then I got a day at a spa for mother’s day.

It was six hours of relaxing with cucumber slices over my eyes while people massaged my feet and poured me champagne. Yes, it was as wonderful as it sounds.

It was also the longest I’ve gone in a long time without prodding my brain to do what I wanted it to do. (Wait. Aren’t I and my brain the same thing?)

The point is I, or some part of me, went ahead and used this wonderful time to make up a story. A rather good story, really. It didn’t surprise me because making up stories is what I’ve always done when I relax, and there was no doubt I was relaxing. I was kind of surprised at how complex the tale got, however.

By the time I’d driven home, I knew what I had to do. You see, the only time I struggle with writers block is when I (okay, some part of me, let’s call her the adult manager in charge of my head) insists I write whatever Ms. Manager has decided I must.

No matter how hard Ms. Manager insists, it doesn’t happen.

The little kid in my head who makes up the stories simply stops making them up until she is once again allowed to tell her stories, in her way. I’ve learned that if I want to be a writer, I let this little kid do as she damn well pleases. The editor in me (who I suspect is in cahoots with Ms. Manager) can clean up her mess later.

And this little kid really, really wants to tell the story she made up at the spa. So ….

I’ve drawn her a map of the imaginary realm where it will take place.  She named the characters during the full body massage, but I fleshed out several important secondary characters for her, provided a rough timeline, and created a few new words to describe concepts she came up with that don’t have a word in English.

My best friend and chief research associate (who also carries the title of “husband”) has agreed to watch a few old movies with me to provide background I know I need.

Three other people I’m close to have been nice enough to listen to a verbal version of my story. I find that telling it aloud helps me clarify it and hang on to it better, sort of the way describing a dream to someone else helps move it into the conscious mind.

Now, I’m ready to start the messy, emotional process of writing a raw draft. It generally involves yelling, crying and laughing aloud on my part, so I tend not to write first drafts in public places. It’s a scary process for me, yet it’s an exhilaration beyond any I know.

Later, all the adults in my brain will take over, and hopefully turn it into a book. We’ll see …

 

 

 

Where did all those genres come from??

I began this adventure in marketing my books armed with good advice and two how-to books literally walking me step by step through the process. I put one of them aside fast, when I realized I couldn’t afford my learning curve with Facebook ads.

My how-to book for successful Amazon ads had problems, too. It was written back when Amazon offered something called Product Display Ads, an option my source highly favored. By the time I got to following his advice, this type of ad had been discontinued. (Thank you Amazon.)

The replacement for product display ads was like handing a chain saw to someone who wanted to use a stiletto.  I could use the power of ads displayed on a kindle, but could only select my audience using broad genre types like Women’s Fiction. These are called Lock-screen Ads and I am selling books with them, just not nearly enough to be actually making money. At least so far.

Amazon’s other options for me is something called a Sponsored Ad.  My mentor/author didn’t think much of using these, but I bravely tried the concept of picking keywords from my books and bidding for clicks. Every time, it failed miserably, but the good news is if hardly anyone clicks on your ad, it doesn’t cost you much.

A little poking around showed me I had another choice called Individual Products. It involves picking products (books) similar to mine, and advertising to those who buy them. It took forever to seek out these books, although it probably was a good exercise for me to get to know more about what was out there. None-the-less, all this effort yielded even fewer clicks and cost almost nothing.

Then recently a new option emerged. I could bid to advertise based on genre, just like with my Lock-screen ads, but the ads would appear to all Amazon users. So I tried it. And oh my goodness.

The stiletto was back, just not on Kindle where I needed it. I still can’t pick my audience by demographics like gender or age, but I can specify my ideal reader using genre divisions I never knew existed. With Lock-screen Ads, my tale of a 40-something female telepath who gets involved rescuing a kidnapping victim gets advertised to readers of women’s fiction, fantasy, and adventure.

Here women’s fiction alone offers more options than I’d ever heard of.

So I’m trying it.  Will this turn out to be the magic bullet that sells my books at an actual profit?

There is no one in this world more hopeful than a self-published author.

What makes it a romance novel?

It happened again. I was reading along, really enjoying a novel described as science fiction. Then about three quarters of the way through, a side romance, previously hinted at, took over the plot, and much of the remainder of the story involved making sure these two hot people ending up having sex and, in this case, living happily after. Other threads were dropped or swept aside.

So. Let’s be blunt. I think sex is wonderful. I agree love is the greatest thing in the universe. I like it when people live happily ever after, or at least I’m allowed to think they will.  However, romantic love (in all its trials and tribulations) doesn’t carry a plot for me.

I like action, intrigue, and surprises. I enjoy puzzles, and profound thoughts.  So why do I end up reading so many romance novels and then complaining about it in the reviews?

It took a bad review of one of my own books to get me to understand. This reader found my novel Shape of Secrets on Net Galley. I had to pick a couple of categories for it, and I chose Fanatsy and LGBT novels. The story is about a gay human chameleon who has a romance with another man who struggles with prejudice his home country. The categories seemed reasonable. Coltostallion didn’t agree.

I’m going to start by saying that I didn’t like this book. I’m still giving it three stars because the issue is not that it wasn’t a good book, it’s just not a book I liked. I will also say that I, personally, would not consider this an LGBT book so much. Some might say any LGBT character means the book deserves this tag, but while the book contains romantic relationships I would not consider it romance and this is the same reason I would personally not consider it LGBT.

As for the story itself, it was well written and the plot is very interesting.

I understand. (I also appreciate the compliment.)

For although my main character falls in love and makes himself look like other people in order to save the day, the last part of the book … the climax if you will … is all about who murdered his boss and framed his friend. It’s about catching this person and bringing them to justice. Whether I like it or not, I didn’t write a fantasy novel or an LGBT one.  I wrote a murder mystery, and the people who will enjoy this book are people who like crime novels. The other parts are window dressing. My mistake.

I think other authors are having the same problem.

I’m trying to do more reviews on my blogs, and I wish to encourage and support independent speculative fiction writers, especially women, who historically have not been given as much of a voice. I also like strong women protagonists.

So I’ve been signing up to review any fantasy or science fiction I think fits that niche.

I know the biggest chunk of online book sales goes to romance novels. Primarily written by women and for women, they take place in ancient Rome and on Alpha Centauri. They involve murders, politics and philosophy. However, the climax (by this I do mean the most intense action in the last quarter of the book or so) is primarily about two beings realizing they are attracted to each other and overcoming obstacles so they can act upon that knowledge.

Little of that ending has to due with slave revolts, halcyon beams or lawyers’ closing statements (except as it furthers the ultimate hook-up). It doesn’t matter if they are vampires or live in feudal Japan. The emphasis makes it a romance novel, no matter where it takes place or what else the author calls it.

So why are so many women authors leaving the word romance out of their descriptions? Perhaps there is some stigma attached? There shouldn’t be, but maybe women prefer to tell themselves or others they read some romance, and some historical fiction. A little sci-fi. Does it feel more well-rounded?

Or is the story of two lovers finding each other so compelling to many women writers that they assume it is how all readers want the story to end?  Get rid of that pesky dragon revolt and let’s move on to the good stuff? The story’s not over till the two hot people f**k? Maybe it is simply how they view a story.

The sad result of this, as least to me, is that my average rating for women authors is well below my average for men. Even though I’ve sworn to read the blurbs carefully, and avoid romance novels in disguise, they keep creeping up on me.

On the flip side, I’m taking a harder look at my own novels, forcing myself to define what it is I’ve written. Sure there are blends and grey areas, but when it comes down to the action at the end, every novel reveals it’s reason for being.

What is it the main character wants more than anything? Justice? Freedom? Understanding? Health? Enlightenment? A second chance? The universe is full of things to crave, and I’ll keep seeking out books about women, men and imaginary creatures who want things that fascinate me.

 

 

Layers of Light is here!

Wahoo. The rewrite of c3 is complete, and the shorter, softer version of my story has been packaged with a gorgeous new cover and a far more catchy name.

Layers of Light is currently available for kindle, and so far it has retained its 14 Amazon reviews. The bad news is it is still linked to the old, out of print copies of c3 that somebody out there is trying to sell.

Who are these people? Why do they have copies of my book? And why is one of them actually trying to sell a new copy for $116?

I guess I’ll never know …..

It doesn’t really matter. The new and improved story is also available in paperback, under a new ISBN number (required with the title change) for $9.99 plus shipping.  I have to hope anyone who wants to read my book in paperback will choose Layers of Light.

As of this writing the Kindle and paperback versions are not linked together, so you don’t yet see both options on the same page. Hopefully that will be fixed in a few days.

So that’s what she really looks like?

My vision of main character Teddie was always ethereal, much like the triplicate vision of her on the first cover. She was 17 and attractive, with curly black hair and dark eyes, but that was about all I knew.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the main character, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Teddie really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

When we started the cover for Layers of Light, we’d just finished the long and sort of painful process of doing many iterations of the cover (and main character Alex) for the previous book, Twists of Time. Lucky for all, the fine folks at DDD had a way to deal with people like me, who didn’t know what they wanted till they saw it. They sent me six potential Teddie’s to choose from.

I ruled out the three on the right without hesitation. These young ladies weren’t Teddie, and in general they had a little more angst than I wanted. Model #2 was a little too glamorous, so I went back and forth between the sweet innocence of model #3 and the slightly more worldly model #1. In the end, worldly won out.

The brown haired, blue eyed model needed some changes in coloring. They turned out to be trivial for my book cover designers.

Teddie got high praise from my own personal focus group, though one critic pointed out she had a bit of a “Tomb Raider vibe” to her, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Teddie to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately many of them had to do with selling beauty products.

I needed the new tough Teddie, fully aware of her superpowers and ready to kick butt. The selection wasn’t promising. We ended up with a pose that wasn’t all that different from the one used on Layers of Light, but it was different enough and it worked.

When I saw Teddie standing there with the rest of her family, I knew I’d gotten it right. This was what Teddie really looked like.

 

A New Look

I’m so excited about this new cover. The original one was probably my favorite of the six, perhaps because I love the color green. And moonlight.

This one has taken it to a whole new level, with a beautiful new Teddie, an appropriately intimidating-looking Lhatu, and a Buddhist convent tucked into a cliff in the Himalayas. Just like in the book!

I’m also particularly pleased with the title of this one, and the way the fine people at Deranged Doctor Design added light to represent what Teddie insists on calling the world of mist.

Now, my job is to make sure the story itself is worthy of all this.

The first round of editing is complete and I’m pleased so far. It’s almost 15,000 words lighter and, more importantly, 15% better. (I’m joking. Obviously I have no way of knowing how many % better it is, but the point is I can see the improvement.)

It will get one more edit in March, followed by two passes at proofreading by two different people, then hopefully be released for sale around the middle of April. Wahoo.

But first I have to get Shape of Secrets out there this weekend, and Twists of Time next month. It’s going to be a busy spring.