A Response to Amazon’s Letter to Kindle Authors

Ugh. Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors makes me physically ill. So much wrong there I don’t know where to begin. Well, for starters a single bookseller should not demand nor have the power to set book prices in the industry, and this is the primary argument authors have with Amazon. The authors, as manufacturers of the work, must be the ultimate arbiter of the value of their words. Authors overwhelmingly choose to have publishers, rather than booksellers, determine what that cost should be, since they are the compositors of the work. To intentionally devalue a book to something below a ham sandwich or even a pack of gum not only harms authors but the expression of ideas in general, since it says those ideas are worth less and less. That is what Amazon is doing: devaluing books.

Second, Amazon presents itself as the victim, as if it has offered gracious terms to Hachette and its authors. But those terms only serve to grant Amazon more power than it already has. And seeing that Amazon is basically lying to its customers by delaying books and suggesting other books instead of those from Hachette, should we trust them with even more power?

Thirdly, Amazon says, “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.” But this is a fallacy that plays into the public’s overwhelming belief that just because something is digital that it must be worth only the electrons used to store it, in other words, cheap and/or free. With an e-book there is the WRITING, and more WRITING, and months and months of WRITING, and this labor should NEVER, EVER be taken out of the equation when factoring price. And then there is the editing and the copy-editing and the graphic design and the layout, and the distribution (even ebooks need distribution) and you have to factor accounting time into that, not to mention publicity. To say that just because something is digital it must therefore be cheaper is to say that the source digitized information is worth less too. The value of a book lies in its content and not in the method the book is delivered to its readers. Amazon would do well to learn this soon.

In Translation.

My Nebula-nominated story “The Sounds of Old Earth” just came out in the August issue of Czech magazine XB-1. Also in the issue are Sofia Samatar’s multiple award-nominated “Selkie Stories are for Losers” and multiple award-nominated “The Political Officer” by C.c. Finlay.

I think the cover is pretty smashing! Also, this is my first translated story, so I’m darn excited. Now for a serious question: can you read Czech? I’m curious to see how my story turned out!

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Some Good News

2014_2_cover_1-reklThe good news this week is that one of my favorite publications, Clarkesworld Magazine, will be publishing a new story of mine called “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs.” Editor Neil Clarke says the story will likely appear this fall. “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs” is in some ways my most ambitious story. I wanted to tell a story without pausing for the usual infodumps and backstories. I take it for granted that the reader is with me, even though she may not be. The world my characters inhabit is complex, ever-shifting. Bewilderment is part of what I want the reader to experience. I’m really excited to see how this one is received as it’s definitely one of my favorites.

The other good piece of news I received this morning is from Belarus. The Belarusian magazine Kosmoport will be publishing my Nebula-nominated short story “The Sounds of Old Earth” in Russian, translated by Togrul Safarov. They have great covers, and they’ve published translated work by Ken Liu.

Article up at SFWA.org

I’ve been away at Readercon (at which I had a superb time and will hopefully blog about soon), so I didn’t have much time for blogging, but I wanted to mention that I have a non-fiction article up at the SFWA.org website published this past weekend called “Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Writer.” Todd Vandermark, the web editor of the SFWA site told me that the Facebook crosspost of the article is already one of the most “liked” SFWA posts they’ve ever done. At first this made me happy, until I thought about all the writers out there doubting themselves. Hopefully my article will inspire them to doubt a bit less.

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s become a cliché, the tortured writer beset by periods of crippling self-doubt. But things become clichés simply because they have been true for so many. Writing, for most people I know, is an experience of few victories and many small defeats. The little victories can make all those defeats worthwhile, but when you’re in the writing mode, staring at the screen or paper, slogging away day after day, without feedback, you can often feel like you’ve wandered deep into the woods without a guide and now you’re lost and it’s getting dark and there are strange sounds coming from that grove of trees, and at this far out no one can hear you scream. (keep reading…)

Also some excellent news to be announced here soon, once the i’s are crossed and t’s dotted!

Mentions in Dozois’ Year’s Best
Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition

Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition

In the The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, my fiction received nice praise from editor Gardner Dozois, Gardner says:

“Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, had a good year, featuring strong work by Jake Kerr, Matthew Kressel, Carrie Vaughn, M. Bennardo, Matthew Hughes, and others.”

Later in the book my Nebula-nominated story, “The Sounds of Old Earth” receives an Honorable Mention. Gardner also lists my name among the acknowledgments.

So three mentions in one book! Now, if I can just get my name into the Table of Contents…

Self-Deception and the Fiction Writer
This is not about Hemmingway.

This is not about Hemmingway.

So by now you’ve heard (and have probably read to death) how two Wisconsin girls conspired to kill their friend because of Slenderman, the fictional eater of children created by a user on the site Creepy Pasta. The most often refrain I read in the comments of those articles echoed something like this: “How could those girls believe this was real?” or “How did their parents not sense this?” People asked themselves, How could someone be so disconnected from reality that they not only believed a fictional character was real, but they decided to kill for him too, and go live with him in his secret castle in the woods?  There must have been some serious issues at home!

This took me back a bit. I was shocked because no one, not one site I read (and granted I did not read the entire Internet, though I tried) mentioned the obvious psychological parallel. I.e billions of people all over this planet believe a fictional character is real and kill in his name. That dude’s name is God.

Oh shit, you say. Here’s another atheist rant, gotta go, bye! But before you theists and deists run for the hills (and even there are you not safe from your omnipotent God) I would like to tell you that I’m agnostic on the God thing. This is not because I have chosen the safe position, but because it is my conclusion after careful consideration of the facts. We posit an all-knowing, all-loving, ineffable deity who ultimately has our best interests at heart. Yeah? Well, he’s got some things to answer for: the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Holocaust, the death of children in Africa from Ebola (or death of children anywhere, really), the earthquake in Haiti, the 20th century — the bloodiest century in history, the Black Plague, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and well, a trillion other horrific things throughout human history. And before you weave your sophistry and wool over my eyes trying to convince me this is “All in God’s plan,” or “It’s human free will,” or “No one can know the mind of God,” I would reply with, “And yet you use God to justify so much of what you do.” Though even some atheists have an agenda, which is why I don’t necessarily side with them either.

But this post isn’t about religion. It’s about how we as humans self-deceive. How is it that most people get appalled that two young girls believe a horror fairy tale is real, i.e. Slenderman, and yet never connect that they themselves have been taught a horror fairy tale from a very young age, i.e. religion? The simple answer is that they’ve been trained not to see this.

Consider cat lovers. I’m one of them. I love cats, I think they’re cute and adorable and utterly alien creatures. Nothing is more comforting than having a fellow feline curl up on your lap for a nap. The Internet is half-cats. Some Google scientists set a computer brain loose on the Internet, and it learned to hunt for cat videos. Humans love cats. How many of those cat lovers, I wonder, eat meat? Seriously? I assure you, this is not a vegetarian or vegan screed against the evils of meat. I’m asking a simple question: How many of those cat lovers, who profess their undying devotion to the feline, thereafter eat their cheeseburger with a slice of bacon? Pigs certainly have higher intelligence than cats. Dogs too. Yet we are disgusted at the thought of ever eating our beloved cats or canine friends. (Some cultures do, and most Westerners think they’re sick.)

And why is this so? Because we’ve been inculcated to think this way. Cats are our friends. They warm themselves in the sun and find the most comfy spot in the entire house. Pigs and cows and birds are our food. Except perhaps cockatiels or parrots. To swap them is anathema. We believe what is culturally accepted and we reject what our culture tells us to abandon. Seldom do we think critically about these assumptions.

Another example: Love. Our culture tells us that love is heart-exploding, it is fate and destiny, it is magical and easy, and if you have to work at it, then woe be to you, because that’s not real love. But then you get a divorce rate in the United States at about 45%. For many people, the moment the relationship becomes difficult, the moment things slip from the Disney fairy tale fantasy of what we’ve been taught to expect, we assume the marriage is broken, the relationship bunk. We look for the next adventure, the next lover who will satisfy our (taught) belief that love should be easy and simple and predestined.  Don’t even get me started on how narcissistic this view of love is.

My point here in all of these examples is to hopefully make you realize how we walk through life with certain unexamined assumptions, and as a writer I find these assumptions immensely fascinating. We are walking contradictions. The politician who rails against prostitution, and yet pays top dollar for them in private. The homophobic politician or writer who openly gay-bashes and yet is discovered soliciting sex from another man in a gas station bathroom stall or has thinly veiled gay themes in his work. The narcissist who holds onto the illusion that one day she will be a famous actress, while her kids languish without a college fund. The person who feels as if she’s helped out children in need in some other country because she bought a watch that donates its proceeds to various charities, without realizing that all she’s done is feed the consumerist engine that is causing so much poverty and wealth-disparity to begin with.

We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves stories to get through the day, and oftentimes these stories are utter falsehoods, and yet either we don’t notice, because everyone else avoids critically thinking about the same thing, or if we do notice, we bury it deep down in our psyche because it’s too painful to face.

People are contradictory. We are walking flesh bags of hypocrisy. This does not mean we are not capable of great, noble, profoundly moving things. But it means that, though we assume we are highly rational, present, moral beings in control of ourselves, we in actuality are far from all of those. Our cognitive faculties are like that little bit of iceberg that floats atop a great undersea mountain. We think we are in control, but vast portions of our psyche have been written for us by our culture and our environment, and they remain hidden from us by the simple fact that everyone else shares the same basic assumptions.

And this leads me back to fiction. When I write a character, I ask myself, What are his/her default assumptions about the world? How does she perceive her reality, and what holes might there be in her perception? In my Nebula-nominated story, “The Sounds of Old Earth,” Abner was unwilling to face an ugly truth: that his beloved Earth was gone, and he had to move or die. But he denies this ugly truth, and so creates the tension in the story.

In my story “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” the Meeker assumes the Eye is an all-knowing, benevolent dictator. A friend. But the Eye is actually a horrific monster. The Eye herself assumes that her own inner psyche is flawless, so she doesn’t even notice the rebellion occurring from within.

In my story “The Bricks of Gelecek,” the demon from beyond the wasteland deserts of the Jeen, like Midas, does not see that he destroys everything he touches, and he desperately tries to connect with the young girl, destroying her.

I’m not saying these are necessarily the best examples, but that by making your characters suppress, deny, ignore and otherwise be ignorant of entire aspects of their psyche, you are in effect making your characters real. Because nothing says “cardboard-cutout character” like a person who says exactly what she thinks, has her feelings on the surface for all to see, and is 100% sincere in all her actions. Instead, most people are guarded, quite protective of their true feelings, and reside on a broad spectrum of human insecurities.

So, if you want to make a character come alive, jump off the page, I believe you have to consider what it is they are not saying just as much as what they are. What are they hiding, even from themselves? As another example, this time from someone else, I suggest you check out the short story “Subduction” from Paul M. Berger in this month’s The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Free Digest. A rather perfect example, perhaps taken to the extreme, of a character suppressing elements of his being in order to survive.


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Sunray Computer

In addition to writing science fiction & fantasy, I maintain a living by working as a freelance developer, system administrator, and graphic designer. If you need a new website, IT services for your business, or a graphic designer, I’m your man.

More info about my services can be found at my business site, Sunray Computer.

News & Updates

  • 08/09/2014 — A Response to Amazon’s Letter to Kindle AuthorsUgh. Amazon’s letter to Kindle authors makes me physically ill. So much wrong there I don’t know where to begin. Well, for starters a single bookseller should not demand nor have the power to set book prices in the industry,…Read more »
  • 08/07/2014 — In Translation.My Nebula-nominated story “The Sounds of Old Earth” just came out in the August issue of Czech magazine XB-1. Also in the issue are Sofia Samatar’s multiple award-nominated “Selkie Stories are for Losers” and multiple award-nominated “The Political Officer” by…Read more »
  • 07/18/2014 — Some Good NewsThe good news this week is that one of my favorite publications, Clarkesworld Magazine, will be publishing a new story of mine called “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs.” Editor Neil Clarke says the story will likely appear this fall. “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”…Read more »