Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

Everyone knows the scene, there is a run on the bank, and George Bailey has only a handful of cash standing between him and the demise of the old building and loan. “Now tell me, how much do you need to tide you over until the bank reopens?”

It is only Christmas Eve but the holiday season has already been very good to me. Sales of The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, and Nyphron Rising have been phenomenal.

“This is a very interesting situation!”

While I have no means of determining how many copies of The Crown Conspiracy have sold, I’ve noticed that the Amazon rank for the book has been doing amazing things. This could be due to holiday shopping, or people waiting until book three came out to start the series, or word-of-mouth hitting a certain critical mass, but whatever it is, the books have been flying out of the warehouse in unprecedented numbers. Then this morning it suddenly stopped.

“I’ve never seen one, but that has all the looks of being a run on the bank.”

Amazon is out of stock. Book Depository is out of stock. Powell’s is out of stock. Barnes & Nobles is out of stock. Abe's Books is out of stock. Everyone except rare booksellers—who are offering the book at outrageous prices—are all out of stock.

“Can't you understand what's happening here? Don't you see what's happening? Potter isn't selling. Potter's buying! And why? Because we're panicking and he's not. That's why. He's picking up some bargains.”

I’ve seen this happen before due to distribution glitches, so I contacted Crown’s publisher and learned that the warehouse was empty. The first printing of Crown Conspiracy has sold out. While this is great news—few books sell out their first printing, and even fewer independents, but it poses a problem—no one can buy the book at a time when everyone appears to want it and it will take months to reprint.

“I feel like a bootlegger’s wife.”

After the last distribution hiccup, Robin and I bought three hundred copies that I keep in cardboard cases in my bedroom closet—ten heavy boxes that make getting to my slippers and clothes a bit of a problem, but are there in case…well, in case something like this happened.

“That’s your own money, George.”

As a result, we have a small supply that we hope will last until the book can be reprinted, but we have no idea how long this little supply will last.

“A toast! A toast! A toast to Mama Dollar and to Papa Dollar, and if you want to keep this old Building and Loan in business, you better have a family real quick.”

It is a problem, but it is the kind of problem writers dream of, and it could not have happened without all of you. Every day I hear of people referring the books to friends. They loan them to parents, or buy them as presents to nieces and nephews. Recently one person ordered eight full sets—twenty-four books to give away as Christmas gifts! You can’t buy that kind of support. In addition, reviewers such as Fantasy Book Critic, Dark Wolf, David Brendon, King of the Nerds, and Speculative Fiction have been doing a wonderful job of keeping the books in the minds of the internet community. People have been discussing it on random forums and on their own small blogs, and each time I see readers commenting how the review has convinced them to try the series. The Riyria Revelations is only halfway out, but already I feel I have made scores of friends—friends I’ve never met.

“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

So if you, or your mother, father, brother, sister, neighbor, would like to get a copy and start the Riyria Revelations series without waiting for the second printing in March you can order from this link. I can't offer the whopping 28% discount that Amazon gives, but I will give you 15% off and throw in a signature and dedication to boot. You have made it a very merry holiday season for us, and I wanted you all to know how much my wife and I appreciate it.

So from Robin and I…Happy Holidays, and thank you.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Going Somewhere

I think I mentioned previously that I am involved with a number of writer’s groups populated by aspiring novelists, that I recently attended a college workshop on creative writing, and work with several novice authors mentoring them on their books and short stories. In these groups, I read submissions on a range of topics and styles and for some time I’ve noticed a trend. A large number of aspiring writers have a fascination with plotless stories. It might not be a trend exactly, but it is new to me. This usually manifests itself in the short story form rather than the novel, yet I've known a few.

What I mean by plotless is that the story begins at a random point and ends at a random point without any noticeable conclusion or reason for the tale. An extremely condensed example might be: “I went to the grocery store on a Monday. I picked up a gallon of milk and mused on how it came from cows. I bought the milk, put it in a plastic bag, and left the store.” The story would be several thousand words long and filled with beautiful, poetic phrases, but the plot remains anemic.

Reasons for this phenomenon are legion. Here are only a few:

1. I don’t want to write a predictable story.

2. It’s about the writing not the story.

3. It’s true.

4. It has a plot! The character goes to the store and buys a gallon of milk. That’s the plot.

5. I want the reader to decide for themselves what it’s about.

6. Real life does not tie up neatly, so why should stories?

7. The plot is just subtle. The milk represents “enlightenment,” the plastic bag is “society” and the store is the “world.” You just don’t “get” it.

It might just be my sick and twisted bias here, but I am partial to stories with plots. And while I don’t mind stories that leave some aspects open to interpretation, I feel that it’s the writer’s job to do the work and not leave the reader to fill in the blanks. In most other industries, such an attitude might be considered lazy, if not negligent.

What I am most struck by is that authors of such stories would never interrupt a dinner conversation to tell this kind of tale. When people talk, when they relate something that happened, or something they heard about, it invariably has a point. No one is likely to present an ambiguous account and leave their audience to decide what it means as the result would be an immediate and awkward silence—and perhaps a reduction in dinner invitations.

Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Good stories use what is presented in the beginning to add meaning, justification, or emotion to the end creating a greater sum than the parts and providing a form of circle tying up the whole. They can be surprising, ironic, touching, sappy, frightening, thought provoking, even totally expected and horribly clichéd, but at least they are stories and not mere writing. My thought is that if you can’t imagine telling the story (not reading it) to a group of friends (not writers,) with the expectation of interest, laughter, shock or knowing smiles, then you don’t have a plot. And writing without a plot is like a car without wheels…it doesn’t go anywhere so what’s the point?