How I Choose a Book

Instructions: If the total number of points are greater than the dollar value of the book, it's worth buying.

Where did I hear about the book?
Independent friend recommendations: +3 each*
Acquaintance/third-party/some-guy-whose-comments-I-respect-on-that-one-blog recommendation: +1
Advertising or media coverage: +0.5
It's one of those books I'm supposed to have read but never got around to: +1

* If friend A and friend B both recommend a book, the recommendations are independent iff A and B came to hear about the book independently (i.e. not from each other). Such recommendations are cumulative.

Do I recognize the author?
Like the author: +3
Love the author: +5
Think I've maybe heard of the author: +1
I stopped reading another book of theirs partway through: -4

What genre is it?
SF/F: +3
Literary: -5
Romance: -5
(I know, I'm a jerk. Sorry.)

Front cover?
Cool picture: +1
Embarrassing to be seen with: -2

Back cover?
Intriguing plot: +1
Cool SF/F concepts: +1
Critic/author blurbs only: -0.5

Still not sure? Read the first paragraph.
Boring: -1
Insulting: -1
Infodump: -1
Bookstore employee has to tell me the store is closing: +7

How about you? How do you decide which books to buy?

Beta Phase Consensus

* Disclaimer #1: The beta phase isn't "over" in the sense that everybody's read it. I'm still getting feedback from some of the betas, and I hope to get more from those I haven't heard from. Even so, I have to move on or this thing will never be finished.

Disclaimer #2: There is no such thing as a consensus. Nobody ever agrees on anything.*** Quite the opposite in fact, as you'll see. All I can do is take what people think and decide to what extent I agree. Now onto the post.

*** Unless it's something stupid, like when I spelled a name "Lushita" and "Lusheeta" in the same paragraph. I think everybody caught that one :-P

The beta phase is over,* and the results are in!** After spending a day or two with the betas' comments and my own thoughts, here are some of the bigger problems I came away with:
  • Hagai's motivation to keep chasing the stone could be stronger.
  • Dorsey's motivation to stay at home, while Hagai joins Sam's crew, is pretty flat. (For those who aren't beta readers, Dorsey is Hagai's best friend.)
  • Hagai is a little too whiny at times.
  • The first 'Sam flashback' chapter is a bit jarring.
  • Something's wrong with the 'Sam in the Navy' chapter.
Let me talk about this Sam flashback thing a bit. One of the things I did with this novel (mostly because I didn't know any better when I planned it) was to intertwine two stories: the story of Hagai's search for his mother and the story of Sam's past and his search for his father. The first 4 chapters are Hagai's, then every other chapter after that. The odd chapters, 5-27, are Sam's.

The betas had mixed feelings about this. Strong mixed feelings in fact, and it's caused me no end of grief. Some people love the two stories, the way each informs the other, the way it never gave them opportunity to get bored. Some people hate them, getting annoyed each time the story "stopped" to talk about Sam some more.

You know what the worst part is? They're all right.

But it's helped me realize, even more clearly, that I can't please everybody. In the end, I have to decide what I want.

So Sam's story is staying, but I'm thinking of ways to make it tighter, more interesting, and also to clue the reader in early on that Air Pirates is not just about Hagai. I've already made plans to do major rewrites of 3 Sam chapters, and minor changes to 5 others. This is in addition to a massive reworking of the first 4-8 Hagai chapters.

So it might take a while, and I don't even know if it will work, but it will be better. In the end, that's all I can do.

Now, to figure out what's wrong with that Sam-in-the-Navy chapter...

Fighting Monks

This week's sketch is actually 3 weeks' worth, one for each character. I'm getting better at inking, which is to say I'm enjoying it more. The hard part is inking lightly. Things like lips, face shadows, and shaved heads came out more prominent than I'd like, but still better than previous attempts.

Faces are hard, but I'm learning why. Humans are so darn good at face perception. So if a nose is slightly large, or ears are slightly off, everyone can tell it doesn't look right, even if they can't say why.

Conversely, things like hands, feet, shirts, and swords are much easier. People can still tell if they're wrong (e.g. if a hand is too big, or a sword isn't straight), but there's a lot more leeway. After repeatedly practicing faces, it's a relief to discover the body parts I've been neglecting don't require as much practice to get to the same level.

Also, I think I'm starting to like drawing hair. This is a big deal.

I might try drawing from imagination again next week. We'll see. Copying pictures/life is fun and all, especially when it comes out good, but it's not what I want to do. I want to be able to draw whatever, whenever, you know?

I think it's the same desire that causes me to write. I've got worlds in my head, and I want to show them to somebody. I want to show them to you.

Good is Subjective

The Lost Symbol is formulaic. Twilight is simplistic, both in plot and writing. Eragon is ridden with cliches. The Shack reads like it was self-published (oh, wait).

And yet every one of these books sold millions of copies.


For those of us who have devoted a significant portion of our lives to the written word, this can drive us nuts. It's unfair, we say. If people knew anything about quality literature, they wouldn't buy this cotton candy nonsense.

But that's just it. People don't know about quality literature. They don't know you're not supposed to start a novel with the weather. They don't know that the farm-boy-as-chosen-one plot is old. They don't know that adverbs are a Bad Thing.

But people know what they like. They know these books are thrilling, engrossing, uplifting. "But they're not!" we cry. "They don't even follow the rules!"

Okay, so here's the thing. I know this is going to be hard to hear, but... all those rules that agents and editors and critique partners keep telling us we should follow? None of them make a story good.

For those of us trying to break into the business, it's easy to convince ourselves that "good" is objective -- that all we have to do is figure out the rules and follow them. The rules increase our chances, but nothing in this business is a sure thing. Nothing.

So how do you break in? Well, not having broken in myself yet, I'm going to go with the stock answer: Write lots. Write well. Get lucky.

Usually in that order.

Another Look at Revision Fears

When I started writing Travelers, it was just to prove to myself that I could do it, I could finish a novel. Sometime during that process, though, I decided (possibly because other people said so, though I don't remember now) that Travelers might be good enough to get published.

That was before I knew anything about the publishing industry. Before I'd read Nathan's FAQ, the Questions and Face Lifts on Evil Editor, or every single Query Shark query. Regardless, once I got that idea in my head, whatever I was working on became The One That Would Get Me There.

This was mostly a good thing. It made me work hard and write with confidence. But now, as I plan my third novel and prepare to revise my second, I'm discovering this idea has a dark side. The newest novel is the one that will get published (in my head), therefore my old novel -- the one I have to revise -- is not.

I'm wondering if this is the real reason I stopped work on Travelers even though I'd gotten a couple of enlightening personal rejections. Because I'm looking at the work it will take to get Air Pirates to a place I'm happy with, and I wonder if it wouldn't just be easier to write novel #3.

It wouldn't, of course. I'd get to the end of The Cunning, send it to beta readers, and the cycle would start again with novel #4. Nothing will get published if I don't revise it, usually multiple times.

Plus, I really, really like Air Pirates. It's a world I want to write at least a trilogy in, if not more. That, more than anything, is why I will polish that thing until my spit hurts. Really, all this self-doubt is just because I haven't started yet.

Talk Like an Air Pirate

Heyya, mates. Adam asked me to send the post on account of it's Talk Like a Pirate Day, and I reck I'm the only pirate he knows.

Oy, where are my courts? Name's Sam Draper, and I'm what some folks (derisive folks, mind you) call an air pirate. I ain't flailing though; jacks and govvies all stoke the same, so I reck it must be true as truth, aye?

Here, now. I'm supposed to be teaching you how to speak skyler. Speaking skyler's a bit -

What's a skyler? They're the ones sailing the skies, aye? Merchers, gunners, jacks, runners, pirates... anyone working an airship is a skyler. Everyone else is just a groundhog.

Anyway, skylers talk a bit different from the pirates you know. We ain't got a lot of ye's or me's or be's, and there ain't no mizzenmast or foresail on an airship.

A lot of what we do is in the skies, aye? So if you want to ask if someone understands you say, "We breezy?" To tell them no worries, you can say no worries or say it's "birds in the wind." If you mean what you say, tell them "sure as clouds fly" or "I ain't drumming you," or you can quote the JI: "true as truth."

The JI? That's... you know, we ain't got time for that flack.

Another thing skylers billy with is dark water. The dark is just a patch of ocean black as shadow, but it'll pack you, sure as clouds. I've seen big men - men you could stab in the gentlemen and they'd complain of an itch - fall to the dark and scream like a baby girl. It's a fate I wouldn't wish on any man, not even my uncle, breezy? And it colors our speech as much as the sky.

The dark is trouble. You see something's wrong with your mate? You ask him, "What's the dark, mate?" Someone who don't flail much when there's trouble, you might say they'd "float in the dark." It goes the other way too, aye? Say the jacks blow a boiler just when they were on your keel. You'd call that "a spot of blue in the dark" or just "a spot." Can't see the good in something? "Where's the spot in that?" you'd say.

Anyway, that's the whiff of it. I'd give you some words to say for when a merc'ing piker tries to throw you over, or I could teach you how to jape a gobby 'fore he grubs your coin, but I reck I got you shiners scatty as it is. Anyway, jacks are on me like ducks, so I best be blowing. Thanks for reading, aye?

Geek Still Life

Early sketch this week because Saturday is Talk Like a Pirate Day and, as the self-proclaimed liaison between the air pirates' world to ours, Friday has something different.

After I drew the fan art, I wanted to draw something that wasn't a face. I also wanted to try something with complicated shading, as that was the most difficult thing for me to ink properly. So I went and got my dice bag.

Of course it wasn't enough for me to draw just the dice bag. I had to find something that went along with it. Unfortunately, I've given away my D&D books, so instead I found the next best thing.