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First Three Chapters of INFIDEL Now Available for Download!

Just dying to know whose head gets chopped off next?

No worries. I’ve got the first three chapters of INFIDEL right here available for download – which includes the first head-hacking scene of the book!





   Download PDF

   Read on Scribd








(then go pre-order! Available October 4th! That’s, like, SOON! Note that there will be a shot at some Special Prizes for those who post reviews online in October [good, bad, or indifferent]. More details soon!)


Free Short Fiction… from the God’s War Universe!

Happy 30-days-to-release-of-INFIDEL day!

To celebrate, I’ve posted two of three short stories set in the GOD’S WAR universe for free here on the blog and hosted in various places. They’re set during all sorts of… interesting time periods, and you can read them in any order, but if you’d like some direction, I’d recommend reading them in the order offered, as they are indeed linked.

(EDIT: I’ve removed Angels &Avengers from this list – it will be out in late 2012 prior to the release of RAPTURE)

Anyhow, enjoy!



Download PDF

View on Scribd

Download from Smashwords 

Purchase on Kindle  








Download PDF

View on Scribd

Download from Smashwords 

Purchase on Kindle  







(Feel guilty for getting something free? I pity you. But if you insist, do pre-order INFIDEL, which ensures the continuation of more fun stuff in this universe )

The Many, Many Faces of Conan, Or: Conan the Schizophrenic

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Conan fan, so though the trailer for the reboot looked awful, I went anyway – naturally.

For better or worse, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Sadly, much of the badness seemed to come from the fact that the writers couldn’t really figure out what Conan was all about.

I mean, was he a mercenary fueled by money? Or a hoity-toity do-gooder who just frees slaves because it’s “morally right”? You can probably guess my answer to this (and the answer of pretty much anybody familiar with the source material). But for some reason, these guys were really working hard to make him ruled by both instinct and… morality?  

Things seem to sort of happen randomly here, and I got the impression that there was some kind of internal war in the making of this film about who the hell Conan really was. It almost felt like they were going for the “noble savage” thing (popular concept in pulp like Howard’s, offensive as it may be), but you know… Conan is not noble. He is ruled by base instinct and the “Now.” This is, to me, what makes this character so appealing to modern day folks, even though the books are spilling over with sexism and racism and great gouts of poor writing and sneering heads. The appeal of Conan is that he drinks, fucks and fights with no care for tomorrow. Everything is about getting through right now – the pleasure of the moment. For people so caught up in the desperation of trying to ensure a roof over their heads and screaming every time they look at their 401(k) portfolio during shitty times, Conan’s utter disinterest in anything but the pleasurable moment (whether that’s the high of fucking or fighting) is really appealing.   

Yes, there are all sorts of other things Conan is – gratuitous sex and violence and magic and more violence – but at the core of it, I think, the true appeal of Conan for those of us stuck in societies where civil behavior consists largely of sucking up and controlling our natural wants and desires while endlessly plodding along at jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need so we can “enjoy” ourselves in our decreptitude for twenty years of failing health and hospital visits, the barbarian life, passionately lived, looks very pretty on paper (dying of gangrene or dysentery is less interesting, but that’s why we enjoy living it fictionally).

This Conan teetered very close to the edge of that, and very close to the edge of not sucking.  But, well. Yeah.

(SPOILERS AHEAD) It opens with Conan’s birth on the battlefield. His mother – heavily pregnant – has been mortally struck down on the battlefield, where she is fighting. Before she dies, she wants to see her son, so her husband eviserates her with a sword, and poof, Conan is born and his mother dies. Which was a better botched Cesarean scene than I was expecting, but ultimately ill-thought-out. See, later on, Conan notes to his “love” interest that Cimmerian women dress as warriors. Which is cool. But here’s the worldbuilding fail and one of the schizophrenic moments– during the first 20 minutes of the movie, in which we see Conan growing up into a warrior, we don’t actually SEE any women dressed as warriors. For that matter, during the pivotal scene when he’s running out with the group’s other warrior-hopefuls, every single one of the other “warrior” hopefuls is a guy.

So here we have this nice update (because really, if you thought women in small tribal groups didn’t know how to defend themselves, you’re stupid. Hence the recent hullaballoo over the discovery that, in fact, many of the Viking folks buried with their swords were not, in fact, men [as assumed by male archaelogists. If women didn’t know how to defend themselves while the guys were gone, Vikings would have died out pretty quickly), but that update is all hosed up because the rest of the worldbuilding just doesn’t jive with what’s *said.* You can *say* something is true all you want, but until you *show* that actually playing out in your world, it’s just so much talk (remember, your audience comes to a show with their own biases, just like those archeologists. It means working harder to remind people that hey, yeah, really, things are DIFFERENT here).

This schizophrenia continues with our first view of the adult Conan, who randomly decides to free some slaves because “no man shall live in chains” despite the protestations of his partner, who reminds him that freeing slaves doesn’t win them any money or serve any real purpose. But Conan does it anyway, because he is just a moral person (?). 


Anyway, it gave them a chance to surround Conan with some bare-breasted slave girls, so maybe that’s what it was about anyway. If he’d done it to get gold and freeing the slaves was an afterthought, that’s one thing, but since when was Conan all about doing things just because they’re “right”? There is no “right” in Conan. There is only “right now.”

But anyway, the schizophrenia continues when we meet our heroine for this romp, who is in some kind of monastery, all dressed in white like she’s some kind of Vestal Virgin or nun or something. When the bad guys come to the monastery to kidnap her, we find out she’s actually some kind of fighting monk, who is passable with a knife and kicking people.  Trouble is… well, again. Is she a Vestal Virgin or fighting monk? She vacillates between maiden-in-distress and passable-with-a-knife the whole time. To add further confusion, we learn that she’s the last of some bloodline, and is going to be delivered “Home” by Conan (per some prophecy) but we never learn why she was there in the first place, if she even knew her parents or even remembered “home” or if it had any significance whatsoever to her. In fact, she had no real goal or ambitions at all except to go home as her master had decreed would happen via his prophecy. She was, in essence, a blank slate around which the rest of the plot (such as it was) moved. She was, basically, just a McGuffin, and a very badly fleshed out one. It probably doesn’t help that Hollywood is moving more and more toward casting female leads who all look alike. She could have been anybody.

Her non-desires-except-as-dictated-by-plot were also on display when she goes ashore at one point and just randomly has sex with Conan. OK, it’s Conan, I realize we need a sex scene, but there is no lead up to this and no real serious interest given on either person’s part (except Conan’s statement that she looks like a “harlot” I guess, which is apparently as close as he gets to foreplay). It’s just like, “Hey, ship isn’t sailing until morning, so we might as well have sex!” And here’s the deal with that. She’s, like, a Vestal Virgin/Monk, right? So wouldn’t sex be a big deal for her? Wouldn’t there be more angst/talking about it, like “Hey, now that I’m not a Vestal Virgin/Monk anymore I want to get it on” or some crazy lame crap like that? Can she have some kind of desire/motivation for anything at all besides, “Well, you’re here… and I’m here… and the plot dictates that Conan gets some action, sooooo….” One of my favorite scenes in the first Conan was between Conan and Valeria after they’ve had sex for the nth time, and she waxes on a bit about perhaps abandoning the life of thieving and excess and maybe, you know, hooking up for realsies, because she’s gotten envious of those couples would have somebody to come home to every night. And though this could have been a typical she wants to commit/he’s a barbarian thing, it ended up being a nice little moment – she was a hardened thief with a hankering to settle down, you know, maybe. It happens to the best of us.  It gave her a little more depth.

In this one, the female lead isn’t given anything to want or wish for at all, not even a for realsies relationship with Conan, which is never even broached (in fact, it would have been a great conversation where she was all like, “You know, dude, I just want to have some sex! I’m a Vestal Virgin! No strings attached!” and she really meant it). At the end of the movie, he just dumps her off in front of a city somewhere, and she looks wistfully after him.


Anyway, there’s a plot in here about bringing this McGuffin love interest to some place and spilling her blood into a mask so she can be possessed by some demon Queen. Ho-hum. Rose McGowan is underused here as the daughter of the main bad guy who’s less than interested in her mother coming back because she feels she’s powerful enough to rule the world with her dad. But, just like our other female lead, she doesn’t really take actionable steps to get what SHE wants. She just says she wants something (which is nice – at least she HAS wants) and then backs off and once again backs dad’s plan. Which is not only lazy, but bad storytelling, because it reduces a lot of tension at the end.

Oh well?

At any rate, Conan cuts off some heads and hands and gets revenge for the death of his father and village (not his mother, this time, as she was already dead). Blah, blah, you know the rest.

In the end, I thought maybe they would do something with the sword stuff they were doing throughout, about Conan not being ready to pick up a Cimmerian sword, and then he gets back his dad’s sword at the end, and revisits his village, and I thought for SURE he was going to put the sword back, implying that he was not yet ready, and giving us something unfinished for another day. But instead he just picks it up and yells a lot, and The End.

And I was kinda left with this weird feeling like, “Um, what did I just watch?” Was this a story about a barbarian, or a do-gooder? A fighting Monk or a vestal virgin? An evil witch child or jealous daughter? It was like they were trying to merge these archetypes into actual fleshed out characters by simply smooshing them together – but it just didn’t work. You can’t take complete opposite archetypes and just slap them together and call it a character. They just don’t smoosh right.  You have to sit down and create real, fleshed out people with real wants, desires and motivations that spring from the world and situations they’re involved in. If you just throw a bunch of crap in willy-nilly to please everybody, you end up pleasing no one.

If I had to guess what happened, I’d guess it was this: trying to please too many people. Trying to make Conan progressive/yet traditional, without having any clue about what drove him or the people he associated with. Trying to make the female lead both a damsel in distress/fighter, without creating an actual person (they even randomly threw in this thief character who didn’t become a companion, just was there briefly, basically said, “Come find me for the climax of the movie!” and then appeared later to break him into a fortress… for the climax of the movie).

And the problem with trying to please too many people is that you end up with something mediocre. During the final epic battle scenes, I found myself kind of spacing out. I realized I wasn’t really attached to any of the characters – not Conan, not the Vestal Virgin, not the witch girl, and not the big bad guy. I just really couldn’t care less about what happened to them, because I wasn’t allowed to be truly invested in their stories because they really weren’t invested in them either. About the only interesting character was Conan’s initial fighting companion, who – again – just kinda showed up randomly throughout the movie instead of acting as a constant. I was more interested in the first 20 minutes of the movie where we’re actually learning about Conan and his world than the other 2 hours or so in which we’re just kind of running around after McGuffins without doing any kind of character work (in some ways, I think pairing Valeria and the thief with Conan helped in the first one, as both were allowed to emote – another good scene is when Valeria and his thief companion try to save him from the wind demons. They are allowed to feel things and be invested in them because he is not – but SOMEBODY has to feel things. Remember when the thief says, “I cry because he cannot?” Pure gold, there).

This is a classic pairing when you want to do a character as unemotional/distant as Conan. It’s like Holmes/Watson. SOMEBODY has to be there for the audience to relate to, or to help us sympathize with our rather unsympathetic lead.  But Conan in this movie just kind of wandered around randomly, sometimes alone, sometimes with other folks, but with no constant, nobody with any drive, and certainly nobody I could care about (again, the closest being his warrior-second, who was really underused throughout).

To sum up, no amount of schizophrenic storytelling will make us love a Conan who is not even fleshed out well enough to be truly loved by his cardboard companions.

Ignorance & Lies: Why I Hate Going to the Doctor

When you have a chronic illness like mine and you go to the doctor – any kind of doctor, really – you inevitably get The Lecture.

I am a type 1 diabetic. This is an immune disorder that hit me 5 years ago when I was 26. Basically, it’s triggered by some kind of event that convinces your white blood cells that the cells in your body that produce insulin are now Evil and must be eaten. Over time, your body ends up eating all of them, so you no longer process sugar anymore. Eventually, your body starves to death, because the blood cells no longer receive sugar (food). Most people who get it are kids. It’s rare to get it after your early 20’s, but it happens. And, importantly it is NOT the one generally linked to high carb diets and lack of exercise – you know, the one that’s ALWAYS in the news and so everybody thinks they know about (people are just as woefully ignorant about that one, yet I still find myself enraged when they mistake me for a type 2 and assume I will just “get better” someday)

In fact, I make no insulin. Not a lick of it. I have none. Give me 24 hours without a shot of synthetic insulin, and I’ll die. And unless somebody figures out how to reprogram my white blood cells to not attack my insulin-producing cells, I will never get better. No amount of diet or exercise will ever “cure” me.

Them’s are the bald facts. It sucks. It’s unfortunate.

What this means is that no matter how many miles I run, pounds I lose, or how much medication I take, I still won’t produce any insulin.  I will still not get any better.

Got that? OK?

It is also a chronic condition. That means that it will eventually wear me down and kill me, because even if you’re living on eggs and cheese, your blood sugar is never going to be 100% “normal”. Oh, you can get it pretty close if you test about 10 times a day and never, ever, ever deviate from an eggs-and-vegetables diet, but any amount of strong exertion will send you low, and one mistimed or incorrect dosage of insulin could send you low or allow you to get too high, and when your blood sugar gets too high, it slowly starves and damages all your nerves and organs.

A normal person’s blood sugar is about 80. Your body’s always going to regulate your system back to 80, unless there’s something hosed up. When I was wheeled into the hospital five years ago, passed out and vomiting, hallucinating about little black dogs and how I should be doing my taxes in May, my blood sugar was up over 800. For nearly a year beforehand, nobody knew what was wrong with me. I mean, after all, I was an otherwise healthy young adult who ate right and exercised! Surely all the weight loss and exhaustion and infections and blurred vision and urinating and thirst and extreme hunger were just due to stress!  (my non-diagnosis was just the first step in my extreme distrust of doctors)

Anyway, after 20-30 years or so of irregular sugar numbers, your body just starts to fail.

So…. yay!

But what’s often most aggravating about chronic illness (really, any chronic illness, let’s be honest) is that nobody fucking understands how it works. And especially not how it works for me.  


I am so often confused with a type 2 – and, worse, an uneducated type 2 – that I try very hard never to use the word “diabetes.” It inevitably leads to lectures.  As if I don’t know that vacillating sugar numbers are bad for me. Like I don’t know my feet could get chopped off or I could go blind due to overly high sugar numbers.  Like I don’t stick to a stupidly low carb regime and exercise routine to mitigate these effects as best I can.

When my eye doctor asked me yesterday what my lowest low and highest highs were ever (no, she is not a new doctor. I have been there 3 times. And I always get THE LECTURE), I told her I’d been anywhere from 22 (after miscalculating the carbs in a croissant in Spain – I’m more insulin resistant in the morning [like most people], but my internal clock was still on evening, so when I dosed myself the way I would in the a.m. for this carb count, it was too much. I saw black spots and nearly passed out) to 435 (that was an unfortunate night in which my 2 a.m. sugar check alarm didn’t go off, so I missed a correction, which can be dangerous after eating pizza – this is one food I allow myself very rarely).

Are these numbers generally what I’m at ALL THE TIME? Of course not. My lowest lows are usually in the 50s and my highest highs in the 230s. On average, I’m clocking in at about 130. And that’s with regular (planned) exercise, low carb living 6 days a week, and testing my blood sugar 5-7 times a day.

But my eye doctor was shocked (shocked!) that my sugars vacillated between lows and highs like that (ever!), and decided to give me the usual lecture about how eventually I would go blind and have my feet chopped off if I didn’t control my blood sugar, and even though my eyes looked fine, you know, diabetes is a chronic illness and EVENTUALLY YOU WILL DIE HORRIBLY.

Oh, she said it much more nicely than that, with a very chipper smile on her face. And I just nodded my head sagely like it was the first I’d ever head of such amazing things and she knew what the fuck she was talking about. Then I proceeded to lie to her about my numbers the rest of the session.

I wanted to see her work out her diet and exercise and insulin calculations for two full days, let alone five full years, before she started telling me how crazy it was to have a 242 number at 2 a.m. after eating nothing but green beans, chicken, and sugar-free whipped cream mousse for dinner (hint: all the fat in the dairy makes it slow to process the carbs both in the dairy and the rest of your meal. So you may go to bed with a number of 90 and four hours later, ta-da! You’re at 240. The same thing happens with pizza, which means that if you want to eat a lot of it, you have to test your blood sugar and dose yourself with insulin every 2-3 hours or so for about 10 hours if you don’t want to hit that 430 number. Yeah, eating is tons of fun!). Yes, I have learned everything I have about how I react to carbs, certain foods, different types of exercise, and how the time of day affects my insulin doses through very hard, frustrating, scream-worthy, world-raging trial and error.


I had surgery earlier this year, and the surgeon insisted I call my endocrinologist for “special instructions” about how to manage my blood sugar before surgury. She gave me strict instructions not to take ANY Novolog insulin that morning, and to take half my dose of Lantus (my 24 hour basal insulin). I knew she was full of shit. When I get up in the morning and start moving around, my blood sugar can jump anywhere from 60-80 points in an hour. It just… does.  Which is why I generally take a half dose of Novolog at 6:30 a.m. on weekends to correct for this spike (even if I’m not going to eat until 9am. On weekdays, I just dose immediately upon waking for breakfast, planning for a breakfast and a.m. workout routine which is always exactly enough insulin to cover 10 carbs). But, trying to be a good little patient, I followed her instructions, and sure enough, come surgery time, my blood sugar was at 160 and then 180, and they were watching it intently, because if it gets above 250 THEY DO NOT OPERATE. So I was in a holding pattern for another 30 minutes to ensure that my sugar was holding steady and not continuing to go up.

Needless to say, that’s the last time I contact my doctor before a surgery. I already knew exactly how my body would react.

But anyway, ignorance aside(I know! You’d think that was the WORST PART!), here’s what really fucking pisses me off about going to the doctor (and when you have a chronic illness like mine, you’re expected to go to the doctor at least 5-6 times a year – 4 times for your endocrinologist, once for the eye doctor, and once for the podiatrist. This is so you can get MAXIMUM lecture time).  What really pisses me off is people telling me how horribly I’m going to die. I’m tired of hearing about blindness, and kidney failure, and congestive heart failure and cataracts, and nerve damage, and amputation, and all the fifty bazillion things that are MOST ASSUREDLY GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME EVENTUALLY.

It’s like, you know what? What the fucking point is there going to the doctor if you’re just going to DIE HORRIBLY ANYWAY? And I swear to fucking hell, if I have to have one more useless appointment where it’s like, “Well, your A1c is fine, but it could always be better! You know, so you can put off having your feet amputated another year or two!” or “Well, there’s no sign of nerve damage… yet!” I think I will fucking punch something.

What the fuck is the point of this? Why am I spending my money to hear all about how I’m “not dead horribly… yet!” And “Yep, still got a chronic illness!”

I am never going to get any better. It’s never going to go away. I’m never going to be able to “get off” my drugs if I want to survive to tell of it.

It will not get better.

So why the fuck am I paying people to tell me how horribly I’m going to die so they can illustrate that they once read an article about how much it sucks to be a diabetic?

You know, if I was a type 2, there would at least be SOME KIND OF CHANCE that I could possibly wean myself off my meds after aggressive lifestyle changes as prescribed by my doctor, but as a type 1, THINGS ARE JUST GOING TO GET WORSE. And yes, thank you, doctor, I KNOW THEY ARE JUST GOING TO GET WORSE NO MATTER WHAT I DO AND THAT IMPROVING MY SUGAR NUMBERS IS SIMPLY PUTTING OFF THE INEVITABLE. It’s just a matter of how fast they get worse.

I am so fucking sick of paying people to tell me what I already know.  

Sometimes I feel like they are giving me these lectures every time because, to them, it justifies me coming in. I mean, what else are we going to talk about? “Yep, things look fine!” is just not going to cut it. They must prove their usefulness. So it becomes, “Yep, things look just fine… but EVENTUALLY HERE ARE ALL THE HORRIBLE THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN.”

Thank you, doctor. I had no idea!

Afterall, I am just an ignorant little bauble head. I never even read a book! Let alone wrote one!

It was really, really hard to stop listening to what doctors told me. You see somebody in a white coat and you assume they know everything. It’s not true. In fact, 90% of them know less than you do about your own illness. There are some good ones, yes, and to be fair my current endocrinologist always tries to be helpful, and has been the best I’ve had for actual lifestyle suggestions (like switching from vials and syringes to pens – this was nice), but for the most part, people are just woefully ignorant, all of them operating on the same knee-jerk assumptions or six-year-old article they read about how you should eat a balanced diet full of carbs if you want to control your blood sugar.

Yes, seriously.

At any rate, that’s why I hate going to the  doctor.


The One-of-a-Kind-Bad-Ass-Woman…. Or the Strong Woman Circus Freak?

Many of my recent fictions are about the dynamic of how to be a strong woman among strong women, and what society and its individuals look like after we’ve already crossed over from the “one! kickass! woman! in! the! world!” place to the “OMG assassins at my door! Yes, of course they’re women!” place.

Note that is not necessarily a BETTER place. But it is a DIFFERENT place.

And that is where my interest lies. Because a world in which that is an assumption is a much different world than ours.

There is no longer any “singular badass woman” in my recent fiction, unlike some of my earlier dabblings with epic fantasy. She tends to be one of many, just like the old feminist SF of old, and a lot less like today’s Urban Fantasy with its singular gifted woman.

There are plenty of real-life examples of female fighter pilots, revolutionaries, war heroes, boxers, martial artists, innovators, heroes, leaders, and spies. But when we talk about them, still, we pretend that those particular stories of women are extraordinary. We celebrate their uniqueness. We trot them out like remarkable circus freaks. We make no attempt to normalize them. When I spoke with one of my academic advisors back in Durban about how I wanted to look into the role of women revolutionaries because so little was ever spoken of them, he scoffed and pointed out that women had always been a part of war. Even Shaka Zulu had an all-female band of warriors.

But what specialized academics in particular fail to see, so often, is that the popular cultural narrative is not one of women warriors and female empowerment (strip tease cardio classes aside). When you turn on the TV or listen to the radio, you’re most likely to hear about men making decisions and doing things and women having things done to them. This is still the case. When your most powerful governments and corporations are chock full of guys (when, indeed, men own the majority of the world’s wealth and certainly our nation’s news outlets), it’s highly likely they’ll be the ones making news. Powerful women are still more likely to make the news due to some fashion faux pas or the fact that their husband got caught dicking around with some other woman.

We do not have a cultural narrative of female power in the way that our culture values power (childbirth is loooooads more powerful than money or movie deals, but we place very little value on it because, well, women do it). In fact, the narrative is largely one of female disadvantage and disempowerment, often to such an extent that I have to turn the news off for fear I’ll get discouraged about my chances of not being raped or killed or sexually humiliated because I was born a woman – stories about women that make the news are, quite often, stories of rape, abuse, cheating, murder… or pregnancy. Because “women” only get into the narrative by virtue of what’s been done to them or who they’re giving birth to, right?

Oh, sure, there are plenty of examples to the contrary – always those Singular Women who are trotted out to prove that All Women are not painted with the same brush… just those whores, you know. There’s Oprah (who, of course, wouldn’t be Oprah without the constant churn of interest in her weight, love life, and abusive past), various other female celebrities (always spoken of in terms of how hot they are, how they lose weight, what they’re wearing, or who they’re sleeping with – very rarely purely in terms of talent), and oft-cited “women now get 56% of all degrees so this must mean men are disenfranchised!” (without noting that, in fact, the difference is a little over 100,000 degrees, and women make up 52% or so of the population, so getting a little more than half of all degrees is certainly nowhere close to the ravenous female hordes of degree-stealing blondes that such terrified proclamations seem to wish you’d envision).

But anyway, all this crap just kinda got to me after a while. I wrote a lot of angry, venomous posts here a few years ago about just these issues, and I still get worked up enough to rant sometimes. But after a while, you know what? All that talk about how shitty it was to be a woman got to me too. I started thinking, “Shit, man, it really sucks to be a girl. I hate being a girl.”

And you know what? That’s bullshit. It sucks.

I wanted to imagine something better. Where me and women like me weren’t victims, but active agents – in our own success or demise. We were the ones doing things, not having things done to us.

I was tired of talking about how shitty things were, because it ended up being at the expense of how powerful people could be – it drowned out all the good stories of how we could make or break worlds.

We needed to highlight the good stories. Yes, we need more good stories, always – but MORE than that, we need to actively promote the good stories. It’s the sensationalist crap that bogs me down. There are plenty of people writing about rape culture, and domestic abuse, and power, and yes, sure, I’ll comment on that stuff sometimes. But when I sit down at the keyboard, I’m not here to imagine a world exactly like this one where I’m getting constant messages about how much it sucks to be a girl.

I want a different narrative.

And oftentimes, if there’s nobody else promoting or creating that narrative, you need to be the one to do it.

By the Numbers: Earning Out the Advance on a First Novel

When I got my offer for GOD’S WAR, I was woefully ignorant of exactly how many copies I needed to sell to earn back my advance, or how to track those numbers. Every writer’s situation is different, so it’s hard to glean any data from other folks online – even the few who are willing to talk about it. Looking back, it would have been smart to simply ask my publisher or my agent directly, but nobody likes to look like a n00b… So there was a lot of worry and gnashing of teeth.

I had managed to find a book numbers post from exactly one author, and her advance was far larger than mine from a bigger press, so it wasn’t really useful for somebody like me with a book from a small press. The runs are smaller and the numbers I need are different. So I’ve mainly been sitting around gnawing on my nails for months waiting on royalty statements to see just how screwed I was writing a feminist science fiction novel with far too much religion and billions of expletives.

I’ve been running in professional writing circles since I went to Clarion in 2001. That’s… well, that’s a decade now. And though I’ve sold some short stories, this was the first experience I had with publishing an actual book of my own. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about never earning out your advance, about selling just 26 books in 6 months, or 300 books over four years. The thing is, every book has a different breakeven point. The advance for Fight Club was a whopping $2k. I’m sure Chuck Palahniuk is still laughing about that, though it wasn’t funny at the time.

When GOD’S WAR launched, I had access to Amazon’s Author Central, which gives you your Bookscan numbers for books. Bookscan says it reports about 75% of sales – but libraries, book clubs, independent booksellers, and most e-books don’t show up here. Still, it’s supposed to give you an idea of about how well your book is doing in a given week. This service is actually more hinderence than anything else, though, because there is, in fact NO ACCURATE WAY TO TRACK YOUR BOOK SALES NUMBERS outside of a royalty statement. The fact that it’s so incredibly difficult to get ACTUAL, real-time updates on what your publisher sold (why don’t publishers have an author dashboard of some sort that streams this data?) is… batty. But anyway.

I did some math before GOD’S WAR launched, and figured that if I was getting about $1.20 a book (my royalty on paper books), I needed to sell about 5,400 books in order to make back the $6,500 advance I got for GOD’S WAR (minus my agent’s 15%, then minus 30% in taxes, etc. Whatever, yes: if you think you will immediately retire on your first book check, you are very wrong. Luckily, running in writer circles as long as I had, I already knew this, so it was not hugely shocking to find that 5 years of work had made me a little over $1k a year… to start). For somebody with bigger, scarier numbers to earn back, your initial check looks much nicer, but I expect that your trepidation is much higher as books hit the shelves.

Believe it or not, I was really terrified about needing to sell 5,400 books. Again – feminist SF, new author, etc. If we could sell 5k over the next few years, well, that would be nice. I honestly expected we’d sell about 3k. My ultimate hope was that we could clear 10k. It was just… that kind of book. And again: I knew enough writers to know that I needed to be realistic, especially with all the economic weirdness going on.

Right before I got my royalty statement for summer, Bookscan said I’d only sold about 2,000 copies (at best) from January to August, and the way your numbers generally work is that you get your biggest push up front, and then they dwindle off into nothing (barring some big movie deal starring Michelle Rodriguez, Isaiah Mustafa, Gina Torres, Vin Diesel, and… what? Oh, sorry). So I went from selling 100 books a week in February to 20 books a week now (says Bookscan). It was looking, to me, like I’d be lucky to earn out my advance in 2 years (two years being the generally accepted time in which I could earn out with any hope of ever getting a contract again). Which was sad, but hey, I figured I could start another marketing push with INFIDEL and that might help get the GOD’S WAR numbers up.

When exactly I would get around to finishing the actual writing of book three while doing all that, I don’t know, but you do what you have to.

So you can imagine my surprise when my agent emailed a couple weeks ago and said I’d already earned out my advanced and was, in fact, owed money for GOD’S WAR.

I honestly didn’t believe this. How on earth was that possible? Had I magically sold 2,000 ebooks (which I get higher royalties on), or what?

When the royalty statement came, I boggled a little at the numbers.

Who had BOUGHT all these books?

According to the statement, I’d sold 5,968 paper copies of God’s War and 521 electronic copies and had not only earned out my advance, but was owed a check for over $1,500 (which works out to having made $1,600 per year of work on the novel. I’m rolling in it, folks! ROLLING).

So I was busily hopping up and down until some other writer folks pointed out to me that this first statement was BEFORE returns.

Yes, that’s right: bookstores often return 25-50% of the books they buy from your publisher. So though my publisher reports that I’ve sold 5,968 paper copies, odds are good that a quarter of those will come back, and I’ll end up -$200 or so in the hole. Which, by the next statement, I will hopefully have made up. That’s why you don’t actually get your first royalty check until nearly a YEAR after your book comes out… it gives bookstores time to return your books.



Even if I end up with some wacky 50% return rate, that’s still more books sold than Bookscan reported – the same Bookscan I’ve been obsessing over since February. When I went back and looked at some other authors’ thoughts on Bookscan, people were saying that it could report as little as 30%-50% of sales (so much for that 75%).

So, if I learned nothing else, it’s to just fucking ignore Bookscan and bide my time for the fucking royalty statement, as nutty as that may make me. I had known this on a rational level – I knew I should only check Bookscan for a general idea on how a specific marketing channel went, not for actual numbers, but Bookscan being Bookscan, I gave it a lot more trust than I should have.

This is pretty good news for the future of GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL. It’s not runaway crazy success talk, it’s just sort of-did-OK success talk (which may not sound sexy but tends to be more the state of things in the publishing world than those $1M advances and 500,000 print runs you see in the news), which means that if anybody wants to see book three, RAPTURE, we should still move a few more copies.

It won’t hurt, folks.

Cowboys and aliens… about what you would expect (with spoilers)

With a name like “Cowboys and Aliens” I should have expected that, yes, really, it would only feature cowboys and aliens, and the appearance of a female character with a gun did not make her a cowgirl, of course, but an alien (obviously. If you aren’t a cowboy you must be an alien).

But, whatever.

This movie was indeed exactly as it was advertised, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing. I mean, hey, cowboys and aliens! But… but… I don’t know what it is about Spielberg and trite storytelling (yes, I directly blame Spielberg for any  movie he executive produces, even if he didn’t write or direct it. I have a gooood feeling that it’s his preferences that often burble to the surface), but at some point he seems to have found The Formula, and now he is proceeding to beat us to death with it. This does not, luckily, detract from the visual/emotional experience of the story as your in it (I was engaged throughout the film), but it does start to bug you as you begin to notice and count the beats, and it’s especially aggrevating when you go to to postmortem posts like this and realize it didn’t all sit as well with you as you thought.

You figure out all the beats early on – all the characters who have spouses/loved ones taken by the aliens will, of course, join Our Hero in getting their loved ones back. The hero is haunted, of course, by the death of his wife, who was killed by aliens (before this, she is referred to as having been a whore – very explicit whore/martyr thing going on there, which annoyed me. Why did he like her to begin with? We never know). For a minute, I actually thought she’d been raped, to boot (which would have fit neatly with this lazy storytelling).

Yet for all that, Spielberg does this other thing that is mooshy-wooshy sentimental and yet, works. He makes you really care for the characters, despite  or because of the pat little plot and easy beats,  because that’s the other bit of the storytelling formula that works.

You wake up in a white room, or a desert, not knowing what’s happened to you, and slowly piecing together the narrative along with your protagonist. Classic and slightly tired SF trope, but it works. Your characters are achetypes, basically, from our Lone Wolf hero to the arrogant rich teen, the plucky young boy, the possible love interest/guide, a grizzled war vet with a heart of gold, and etc. etc. The acting here of Ford and Craig is terribly lovely, and Ford’s character in particular is given that perfect blend of character traits that makes you both hate him and sympathize with him (as with any good villain). Sadly, this often meant skimping on characterization of the supporting cast, which is why everybody else seems to have gotten only the vaguest handwave. The acting and cinematography and effects were so good, in fact, that it was often difficult for me to jive these sophisticated trappings with the rather unsophisticated story. They just did not go together. When are we going to allow our storytelling chops to match our mastery of the visual medium?

Yes, the movie gets points for the “we should all work together instead of fighting” angle, but even that felt terribly contrived. It’s like… it’s like watching a film made for 12 year old. Again. And again. And again. Which is fine. If you’re 12.

For my money, I did actually enjoy the alien tech, though the fact that they wanted gold was… weird. Another heavy-handed clunker of lazy writing, if you ask me. I wanted a whole lot more… non-laziness, I guess. We also get this avenging angel in the form of our only real female character, but  – even though she potentially has the most interesting story – she, too, is given short shrift so we can spend more time sympathizing with Harrison Ford.

Sometimes, I think, a movie is only big enough for so many big egos. Everybody wants their character to be the “star,” and what you often end up with is too much emphasis on the wrong people. I felt like that happened a lot here. I was learning a lot about the people who had the least invested in the story. Which was… weird. Or, would have been weird if one of them wasn’t Harrison Ford.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this movie. There were plenty of clichéd things it avoided – the crazy “bad guy” Indians being a big one – but the story was stuffed with too many people painted with far too broad of strokes. They weren’t people in the end, just archetypes (Ford got the closest to being somewhat rounded). Which is fine, I guess, but not what I was looking for.

The trouble is, I suppose, that now when anybody says, “Cowboys in space,” I think of Firefly.

And this was most certainly not that.

INFIDEL ARC Giveaway Today (8/8) on Twitter!

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The only thing worse than war is revolution. Especially when you’re already losing the war…

Nyx used to be a bel dame, a government-funded assassin with a talent for cutting off heads for cash. Now she’s babysitting diplomats to make ends meet and longing for the days when killing was a lot more honorable.

When Nyx’s former bel dame “sisters” lead a coup against the government that threatens to plunge the country into civil war, Nyx is tasked with bringing them in. The hunt takes Nyx and her inglorious team of mercenaries to one of the richest, most peaceful, and most contaminated places on the planet – a country wholly unprepared to host a battle waged by the world’s deadliest assassins.

In a rotten nation of sweet-tongued politicians, giant bugs, and renegade shape shifters, Nyx will forge unlikely allies and rekindle old acquaintances. And the bodies she leaves scattered across the continent this time… may include her own.

Because no matter where you go or how far you run in this world, one thing is certain: the bloody bel dames will find you.


Check out the teaser trailer. Sound too sweet to leave it to chance?  Pre-order one today! Copies start shipping in early October.