The battle at Hardhome was good though, right?

MANY MAJOR SPOILERS for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire!

It was the not-best of seasons, it was the arguably-worst of seasons. But there were a few bright moments, no? Okay, the one bright moment. Hardhome was, IMO, the best set piece Game of Thrones has ever done.The rest, though. Damn, you guys.

Here are my thoughts on the most controversial bits.

Sansa plugged into the Winterfell storyline
I would’ve done the same thing. Sansa is one of the show’s stars, and at this point in the book she’s babysitting the most annoying character George R. R. Martin has ever written. Meanwhile you’ve got a major storyline featuring a minor character the audience doesn’t know or care about. The swap was a no-brainer. That doesn’t mean it was executed well, though. So onward to…

Sansa’s rape
Well, once you’ve put her together with Ramsey, this sort of thing is pretty much inevitable, isn’t it? I don’t object to where the story went. I do object to some sloppy characterization. A great deal of screen time, going back to last season, was spent trying to convince us that we’ve got a new, badass Sansa, one who is going to be a player now. But in That Scene, and in fact most of the scenes leading up to it, she does nothing but tearfully submit to it all. I’m not victim-blaming, I’m writer-blaming. Imagine Margaery Tyrell in Sansa’s position and you’ll see what I mean. Tell me Margaery doesn’t immediately, expertly assess those psychos and begin trying to manipulate circumstances in her favor. (Whether she’d be successful or not is beside the point.) Because she has game. That’s what game looks like.

Shireen
The producers strongly implied that George told them this happens. So… Book-Stannis does this? “No more burnings” Stannis? “If I die, put my daughter on the iron throne” Stannis? Ok, but if that Stannis burns his only heir and brings the House of Baratheon to extinction, it’ll be because he’s sure beyond doubt that it’s the only way to save the realm he’s responsible for from immediate and certain destruction. That is the only way it fits his character, and if he does it for any other reason, I’ll happily call bullshit on George, too. Meanwhile, the show utterly failed to establish those sorts of stakes. The destruction of the realm is hundreds of miles away, neither certain nor immediate as yet. He’s not facing white walkers; he’s facing a few icicles and twenty of Ramsey Bolton’s undersecretaries. He’s not fighting for the realm; he’s fighting for Winterfell. This is a subtask of a subtask on the Save The Realm Gantt chart. Even in the kind of twisted mind where there’s a good reason to murder your daughter in an incredibly painful way, this is not that reason.

The Dorne plot line
Much as I appreciate the screen time for the always-hilarious Jerome Flynn, seriously, why is this here? It was a slowly moving story in an already way too slowly moving season, that accomplished almost nothing in the end. If the whole point was to kill Myrcella, just have a single, five minute scene in which Darkstar leaps out of the shadows, kills her with flair (but limited accuracy), and leaps back off screen again. No need to explain who he is or why he’s done it. He is of the night! That’s all people need to know.

For the watch
Kit Harington says he’s really dead. The producers say he’s really dead. He sure looked really dead. Eh. I still don’t think he’s dead. Certainly not before some big reveal about his mother. Jon Snow is endgame. Maybe not in the show, and maybe Show-Jon really is dead. If that’s the case, I’ll be okay, because at least he died without the whole pink letter and him behaving completely out of character leading up to it.

The scene in the fighting pit
While others are raging over poor Sansa and even poorer Shireen, this is the scene that really convinced me that Game of Thrones has lost it, possibly irretrievably. I’ve seldom seen anything so stupid on television, and I’m including reality TV in that. So you’ve got these horrible terrorists, right? So horrible they killed Ser Barristan! They butcher people randomly all over the arena. Just blood everywhere, no mercy for anyone. They close in on their prey. They’ve got her surrounded! There are dozens and dozens of them! They’re vicious! So they… come at her two at a time. Then when she flies off to reenact The Neverending Story, leaving the people who’ve just been defending her with their lives completely vulnerable, these fearsome, bloodthirsty terrorists… disperse. I just can’t even with this. And thanks, by the way, for ensuring that Limahl song was in my head for three days after. Seriously, I have to end the post here, because there are no words for this badness.

Game of WTF?

Yes, I have a lot to say about Game of Thrones. So much WTF. But I’m going to wait until after the season finale on Sunday before I say any of it. Who knows, maybe that last episode will change everything. Maybe Dany will wake up next to Daario and say, “Honey, I had the weirdest dream! I was jumping over a shark…” And then we’ll get the real story.

#YayIndie

I write for no deeper purpose than to entertain. My words are not going to be the catalyst for some great and meaningful change in a person’s life. But I still positively revel in the freedom to say exactly what I like, exactly how I like, without fear that an agent or editor would never let me get away with it, and without the need to revise toward the type of popular appeal a big publisher requires to make the math work these days.

So I can only imagine what this freedom means to people who are saying something inspired by a higher calling, that might otherwise be censored by the mainstream.

Now, given the realities of population distribution, odds are a fair number of those people are assholes whose idea of a higher calling sucks. We may not be better off for hearing what they have to say.

But we’re all better off for their having the freedom to say it.

What’s your Yay Indie thought today?

When it’s okay to tread old ground

Spoilers for the movie Sinister.

Sinister was on Syfy last night. Funny, the first time I watched it I remember I didn’t find it as scary as everyone said it was. Probably because it was predictable. You knew exactly where this movie was going, and it was frustrating that Ethan Hawke and Deputy Dawg took so long to figure it out. Have they never watched a horror movie before? Because there was nothing new here.

Snuff films: done. The concept that watching the terror on film/video will draw you in and make you part of the terror: done. Shaky, faux-home movie camera work: done. Family moving into a house where another family was slaughtered: done. One parent putting the family in jeopardy while trying to hide it from the other parent: done. Mysterious monster guys with weird white faces: done. Serial killers: done. Footsteps in the attic: done. Ghostly figures walking where the audience can see them, but the protagonist can’t: done. Lots of dark rooms with one light at the edge of the shot: done. Creepy children: really done. Relentless use of jump scares: do we even need to talk about this one?

Honestly, all we’re missing here is a van full of teenagers getting picked off one by one. The only place I’d expect to see this many horror tropes in one place is in a spoof. Which Sinister is not.

But I already knew all that last night when I watched it the second time. I wasn’t looking for anything fresh or new, so I just, you know, watched it. For what it was. And damn if I wasn’t scared. I began to see what all the hype was about, back when it first came out. That is a seriously scary movie, if you let it be.

Because the jump scares, while expected, still made me jump. They were really good jump scares. The creepy children? Some of the creepiest ever. Snuff films? Whole new level. The gore was done right, used frequently enough to be disturbing, but not so frequently as to desensitize the audience to it. The monster guy was monstery enough without being so over-the-top that you just kind of wanted to laugh at him. And the home movie footage did not make me nauseous, which is a huge plus. (Film makers, would you please stop making me feel carsick with that jumpyass camera work? It’s not scary, just annoying.)

A reminder, I guess, that as much as we like to throw around phrases like “a fresh spin on…,” it’s not always necessary for your spin to be fresh. As long as your spin is good.

The devil’s due

Due on your Kindle, that is. See what I did there? Hee.

You can find both the Kindle and paperback editions of Peak of the Devil at Amazon even as I type.

The Kindle edition is on sale for 99¢–that’s 75% off regular price–through April 30 only.

Peak of the Devil will be available at other online retailers later in the week. Watch my sidebar and/or Bookshop page for links if you’re looking for it at iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, or Inktera.

Thanks for checking it out!

Radical action regarding Amazon reviews

I’ve just deleted every Amazon review I’ve ever written, from 2006 to the present.

They’ve changed the language in their policies against review manipulation, and frankly, I just didn’t want to worry about it.

Here’s a quote:


Customers trust that they can shop with confidence on Amazon. Reviews provide a forum for sharing authentic feedback about products and services — positive or negative. Any attempt to manipulate reviews, including by directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited.

We take the integrity of our reviews platform very seriously. If we determine that you have attempted to manipulate reviews or violated our guidelines in any other manner, we may immediately suspend or terminate your Amazon privileges, remove reviews, and delist related products. In addition, if we determine that an Amazon account has been used to engage in review manipulation, remittances and payments may be withheld or forfeited. Misconduct can also lead to legal action and civil and criminal penalties.

We encourage anyone who suspects that review manipulation is taking place or that our guidelines are being violated in any other manner to notify us. We will investigate the concern thoroughly and take any appropriate actions.


 

And some of the examples they give of violations:


A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them


You see a lot of concerning phrases there, and if you go on to read everything they have to say on the subject, you’ll find even more. Some of the things that have been called into question are authors reviewing the work of other authors, reviewing anything that could be construed as your competition, and reviewing the work of anyone you have a “close personal relationship” with. (As defined by who? It used to just say anybody in your immediate family or household, which is a lot more cut and dried.)

I’m sure this isn’t their intent, but the way it’s written, it essentially says they could ban you from publishing with them ever again if you’re an author and you’ve reviewed books. Or if you have a book that’s been reviewed by an author.

I’m very comfortable that I have never done anything unethical where reviews are concerned, either giving or receiving, at all. Like most indies, I’m friendly with some of the authors whose work I’ve enjoyed and reviewed. I’d say that’s all but inevitable, since one of the reasons you’re friendly with a person might be that you share similar tastes and sensibilities. But there’s nothing wrong with that so long as no arrangement was made to exchange positive reviews.

Also, this is a clear strike against people who pay for reviews. (And that’s obviously a good thing.) That’s what it’s about, largely. It’s not about me or my handful of reviews, I’m super small fry, and it’s silly to think anyone is looking at me.

So why be so paranoid?

That’s some scary-ass language, is why. You run afoul of it, and your career as an indie is over. Given the consequences and the potential for broad interpretation, it seems to me that strict adherence to the letter of the law–even the unclear imaginary letters–is in order.

As for my own reviews, I decided to define “close personal relationship” quite broadly, as anyone who is either related to me, or has had a meal or a drink with me. Because, duh, food. That applied to one of the people who reviewed Ghost in the Canteen–the only reviewer I’ve ever met in person–so I asked her to remove it. Nobody but me stands to benefit financially from my sales, and I’ve never offered another author a review in exchange for their writing one for me. So. I should be good.

But, there are some of my blog readers who have reviewed my work. If you’re also an indie and you’re the least bit uncomfortable with that, I’d encourage you to remove your review. I’d rather have fewer reviews and know everybody is sleeping well at night.

Buck Books Part 1: The Controversy

Buck BooksDISCLAIMER: If you click the Buck Books ad to the left, or the one in my sidebar, and then go on to sign up for Buck Books emails, I will earn a few cents. Don’t click it if you prefer noncents. (See what I did there?) But apart from being an affiliate, I do like Buck Books, and they’re worth checking out if you’re a reader looking for bargain books. More below.

The subject of Buck Books caused a little controversy over at the KBoards not long ago. The issue? Their policy is that if they promote a book, the author must agree to promote Buck Books in return. (Hence the affiliate program and the disclaimer above.)

But I’m pretty sure lots of the sites that will promote your book for free ask for some version of the same thing, even if it’s something simple like reciprocal links. And, um, why wouldn’t you want to help make sure any newsletter you’re featured in reaches as many readers as possible? I’ll confess I couldn’t see what the big deal was.

I’ve got lots of promotion planned in April and May for Ghost in the Canteen, as part of the release party goodness for book 2 in the series. That seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore this whole thing further, so I did a little more research. I found that people were having good results with Buck Books ads. I went ahead and applied for one. Possibly because I was really flexible in schedule, I was able to get a spot more easily than I’ve heard some people have. It’s running next week, April 14. Afterward I’ll be posting Buck Books Part 2: The Results over at The Write Stuff for interested indies.

Yes, I signed up for an affiliate account. The ad’s been in my sidebar since I got the spot around mid-March. I’ll be talking about Buck Books next week in conjunction with my promotion, as well as in this post. There’s been nothing sinister about any of this. Nobody is trying to make me spam my Twitter followers every hour on the hour or roam the country in a van decked out with the Buck Books logo, spreading the word to the masses. I simply checked the box that said I’d do some reciprocal promotion when I signed up, and they’re leaving the details up to me.

I find none of this the least bit shady. They’re perfectly transparent about their policy. I’ve been up front about what the affiliate link does. As we’re talking about promotion, I see nothing shocking in the discovery that it involves, you know, promotion. Buck Books ads are free, and they decide whether or not to promote your book before they see how you intend to fulfill your part of the bargain, or what your results may be. These aren’t ads going to the highest bidder. Not that there would be anything wrong with that either. Since that’s how most ads in most industries work.

Maybe it would be different if I wasn’t comfortable promoting them, although if that were the case, surely I wouldn’t want them featuring me either? But I genuinely like Buck Books emails, and I’ll stay signed up for them after my promotion is done and my obligation fulfilled. They’ve got a couple of advantages over some of the multitude of other bargain books newsletters you can sign up for. First, the regular email only promotes a small handful of books, so there aren’t pages and pages to scroll through. Second, they often do events where they promote a single genre or topic together, and I like not having to sift through, say, fifty cozy mysteries and romances to find one fantasy novel. (Although I do find the logo in their emails a little strange. It’s a guy in a tux with a sexy lady touching his shoulder. I guess she’s turned on by cheap books?)

So that’s my take on the controversy. Sound off in comments, and be sure to check The Write Stuff next week for my results!

Suckers

So here is the blurb for Suckers, by Z. Rider:

When worn-out musician Dan Ferry decides to take a shortcut back to the band’s hotel, he picks the wrong dark alley to go down. Within days of being attacked by a bat-like creature, he becomes consumed with the need to drink human blood.

Terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t get his fix–and terrified of what he’ll do to get it–he turns to his best friend and bandmate, Ray Ford, for help. But what the two don’t know as they try to keep Dan’s situation quiet is that the parasite driving Dan’s addiction has the potential to wipe out humankind.

You’ll note two key phrases there: need to drink blood and potential to wipe out humankind. That tells me it’s a vampire apocalypse novel. It takes serious balls to release a vampire apocalypse novel. The only way to write to a more saturated market would be to throw in some zombies. It’s a major challenge, and not for the faint of pen, to pull this off. Justin Cronin pulled it off. Z. Rider does, too.

I mention Cronin because sometimes Rider reminds me of him. Sometimes of Stephen King. Those are both big compliments in my world. But more importantly, she mostly doesn’t remind me of anyone. She owns this story. This story, despite having all the elements a horror story requires, is not one you’ve read before.

The bulk of the credit for that goes to the characters. Dan and Ray are interesting as individuals, but they’re even more interesting when taken together. Their relationship is a big part of the pull that keeps you turning pages when you should be doing laundry. As it’s burdened by greater and greater challenges, you want to know how much it can take. And you root for it not to fall apart.

This is a story about friendship, addiction, and then horrifying blood sucking gore. Don’t get me wrong, the horrifying blood sucking gore is quite horrifying. But it takes all three to make it work. This works very, very well.

And extra points for the mention of coffee regular. It’s been many years since I left New England, but that took me right back to my old morning commute. I don’t especially miss Boston. (Boston is great, but you know. We have sunshine and shrimp & grits here.) I don’t especially miss coffee. But I totally miss that delicious marble cruller. And also the years when eating a delicious marble cruller every day would have zero effect on my weight. Ah, youth.

And the point of that little aside is: it’s a great skill to take one detail like that and use it to evoke a setting so well. This is just good, solid writing.

Go read it.

My newsletter subscribers are more awesome than you

Because they got to read the first chapter of book two in the Lydia Trinket series, Peak of the Devil, last week. Now you can read it here and be awesome too. (Warning! Contains adult language. Reader discretion is advised.)

The Kindle edition of Peak of the Devil will be 99¢—that’s 75% off regular price—April 28-30 only. All editions, including print, will be widely available at major online retailers the last week in April.

Newsletter subscribers will get a release announcement, so you can both safeguard your awesomeness and make sure you don’t miss the sale by joining my mailing list.

And don’t forget that all eBook editions of Ghost in the Canteen have been permanently priced at 99¢, so as to be sure there are no barriers to entry into the series. If you aren’t awesome, I’m afraid you have nobody to blame but yourself.

And I think that’s about all the shameless self promotion we’ll be having around here, until I’ve got the cover to show you all.

Eleven Questions for: Marcia Meara

Marcia Meara is a native Floridian, living in the Orlando area with her husband of 29 years, two silly little dachshunds and four big, lazy cats. She’s fond of reading, gardening, hiking, canoeing, painting, and writing, not necessarily in that order. But her favorite thing in the world is spending time with her two grandchildren, ten-year-old Tabitha Faye, and twenty-month-old Kaelen Lake.

Her latest novel, A Boy Named Rabbit (Wake Robin Ridge #2) is now available at Amazon.

Q:
While writing: silence, music, or white noise?
A:
Silence. Absolute silence. When I’m wandering around in an alternate universe, scribbling down what I see my characters doing, any noise at all will pull me right out of that world, and bring everything to a screeching halt.

Q:
A Boy Named Rabbit deals with The Sight–have you ever had a premonition or psychic experience?
A:
Not really. I do have pretty good intuition about people and their motives or behavior. Of course, where it concerns men, I’ve often ignored it, which didn’t always work out well for me. But that’s a whole ‘nuther story! As for things like The Sight, mental telepathy, telekinesis, and precognition, I’ve never had any unusual experiences myself, nor seen anyone else experience any. However, I’m fascinated by what the human brain might be capable of that we just haven’t realized, yet. Since we only use a small percentage of our brainpower, it makes me wonder what we might be able to do if we ever find out what all those unused gray cells are there for.

Q:
Best beverage for writing?
A:
Earl Grey, hot. (Me and Jean-Luc Picard.)

Q:
Best beverage for not writing?
A:
Earl Grey, hot.

Q:
You’re an indie author. Did you consider going the traditional route? What made this the best model for you?
A:
Simple. I’m also a 70-year old indie author. It seemed to me that the long, drawn-out process of sending out manuscripts and receiving rejection letters over and over, ad nauseum, until (if you’re lucky) being accepted by a traditional publishing company was something best left to someone far younger than I. I don’t have decades in which to make this all happen. And I very much want to tell as many stories as I can in the years left to me. So for me, it was a no-brainer. Self-publishing, all the way. From concept, to draft, through editing, and then publishing, my first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge was “out there” in nine months. (And it definitely felt like giving birth, too.)

I did a lot of reading on the subject, and frankly, I think the traditional publishing industry has some built-in drawbacks for many writers. I don’t mean self-publishing is the answer for everyone, but it should certainly be carefully considered. Am I making millions? No. But I’m making a whole bunch more than I would be if I were still sitting around waiting for a publisher to decide to give my book a chance. And that works for me.

Q:
Rabbit is an endearing little boy who faces a lot of peril. What are your best tips for putting characters you love through pain and suffering? Are you sometimes tempted to go easier on them than the story demands?
A:
I don’t have a problem throwing trouble at my characters, because I believe in them, and their ability to overcome the odds—so I’m never tempted to go easier on them. I’d be more inclined to do the opposite, and make it even harder, I think. I often wonder when I’m done if it’s been difficult enough, or shocking enough, or scary enough to allow the character to prove his or her worth.

I can’t offer a lot of advice, because I seldom know when I start writing exactly how bad the situation might get. The folks in my tales usually tell me, and I write it down. I guess my only tip would be to have faith in your characters and trust that they can do the merely difficult with one hand tied behind their backs. The impossible might take a bit longer, but they can do that, too. Just turn ‘em loose, and they’ll surprise you.

Q:
What’s your favorite thing about publishing besides the writing?
A:
Seeing my book on the Amazon website or in print on my bookshelf. I’m still astounded when I realize I’ve written 3 novels and a book of poetry in less than 2 years. And people are reading them! (Okay, not the poetry, so much, but I wrote that one just for me, anyway, since poetry will never sell like a novel will.) Nothing beats the thrill I get when I open a box from the printer, and pick up that first copy of my latest book. Holy Moly! Reading good reviews is a close second.

Q:
Top three favorite fictional characters?
A:
Surely you meant 33, right? I mean, three? Oh, dear. Who to choose, who to choose…thinking…

Okay, Harry Dresden has to be my first choice, for far too many reasons to list here. Best. Wizard. Ever. Period! And his desire to do the right thing, no matter what it costs him personally has pulled me back for 17 books now.

Second choice is definitely Dorothy Gale who taught me to look for rainbows everywhere I go, and that the best way to kill a wicked witch is to drop a house on her. In fact, pretty much everything I know about life, I learned from her.

And tied for third, this motley crew: Odd Thomas from the wonderful series of the same name by Dean Koontz; Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans; Inman from Charles Frazier’s beautifully profound novel, Cold Mountain; Ada, from the same book. Count Laszlo de Almasy a/k/a The English Patient; the Phantom of the Opera; Tybalt, King of Cats, and Toby Daye, who loves him; the assassin Sicarius from the Emperor’s Edge series…Oh, brother! Somebody STOP me! It’s possible I’ve mentioned more than three, here.

Q:
Is there a genre you don’t write in, but think you might like to one day?
A:
I really enjoy reading good urban fantasy, and I’d love to be able to create a believable world filled with remarkable creatures that roam the streets of our cities. I have no clue how my favorite UF authors do it. I’m in awe of writers like Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Rachel Caine, and Seanan McGuire, to name just a few. I can’t imagine writing the kinds of stories they write, but oh, how I’d love to! In the meantime, though, I’m pretty happy telling tales of romantic suspense, some of which do have some strange elements thrown in for fun.

Q:
You’ve just finished writing a book, or completed some other big milestone. What do you do to celebrate?
A:
Ummm…the happy dance around my chair? Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything special, other than call or email friends and happily proclaim that it’s DONE! I’ve usually already got another story started, and I just sort of switch gears and move on with that one. Sorry to be so boring, but that’s about what happens. Oh, wait. I bought a new purse when I finished Rabbit. Does that count?

Q:
Best villain (books, movies, or TV)?
A:
Villain, with no “S” on the end? Ack. How can I do that? So many to choose from! Okay, here goes. I guess my favorite of all time would have to be Dracula. He’s the first really evil guy I remember reading about, many decades ago, and he still gives me shivers in every incarnation that comes along. (Look! Only one villain! How good am I?)


If you’re an indie author and you’re up for answering eleven questions, email me.