Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grammar Nazis

Children everywhere are raised to believe in absolutes. There are right ways and wrong ways of doing everything. This is understandable, as you have to start somewhere. However, with age quite often comes experience and a wider view of the world reveals multiple methods to achieve the same results. The value of one over another exposed as merely opinion. Yet, as with all things, some are convinced their opinions are better than others and can’t abide even the existence of a contrary thought.

Recently, my wife who has assumed the role of editor-in-chief of my books has been aggravated over the mystery of English grammar. This is a woman who graduated valedictorian of her high school, graduated in the top 3% of her engineering college class, and worked her way from grunt to president of an international corporation by the age of twenty-eight. Still, commas baffle her. Having an analytical, scientific mind, she wants everything to make sense…consistently. Math is her friend, grammar is more of a stand-offish acquaintance.

Math and I hate each other. Always have. We avoid each other as much as possible. Growing up, teachers and parents insisted I would need math no matter what I chose to do with my life. I proved them all wrong. Math is that disagreeable bastard I only speak to in proxy. “Honey, tell Math I hate him. Oh yeah, and find out how much money I made this month on book sales.” The idea that I needed to memorize all the tables that Math proudly admitted went on to infinity, was insane. But, like most early relationships, it was the Big Lie that broke us up. When after years of telling me you can’t subtract a larger number from a smaller one, Math admitted you could. What else was Math lying about? I could never trust him again and it was time to move on.

I never cared much for English either. The idea that I would have to memorize the spelling of every single word in the language, while not as crazy as the infinity-challenge of Math, it was still too daunting a task to seriously consider. Sure, teachers promised you could use rules like i before e to take the guesswork out, but just like Math, it was all a con. The rules never worked.

Art never asked me to memorize anything. He had no rules so he couldn’t lie. Art made no demands and just wanted to please. I hung out with Art, cause Art was cool. Art was the guy who never went to class, who smoked pot and talked about multiple universes while laying on the grass in torn jeans watching the clouds roll by. He wasn’t the kind you wanted your parents to see you hanging out with. “Why don’t you hang out with Math and English more? They’re nice. You’ll never amount to anything if you keep associating with that Art.”

Thing was, I did have this crush on English. Once I got over the “books have cooties stage,” I fell in love. I wouldn’t admit it at school, but I secretly wrote stories. I knew I didn’t have a chance—not with English. Talk about aiming too high. She was unfathomable and fickle, but I tried anyway. The thing is, I learned she wasn’t as stuck-up, or straight-laced as everyone said. Turned out, when I got her alone, she was a lot more like Art than Math. It was only when she was out with people. People that expected her to be so buttoned-down and perfect all the time that she froze up. That’s when I realized the problem.


I remember an old Barney Miller episode where an English aficionado was distressed by the degradation of the English language by advertising. He freaked at ads with words like “flavorosity!” and “scrumptiousnessity!’ He railed against the affront with all the fervor of a high priest faced with blasphemy. At the time, I thought it was funny.

In the early eighties, an English major I worked with was beside herself when she saw the word “glitz” in the newspaper. “It isn’t a word!” she screamed as if in pain, and ranted for days on the subject, which somehow bled through to the fall of society as we know it. Of course nowadays, glitz is a word. So is muggle, even though my Word spell check disagrees for now.

Living languages, grow. They change.

The word for the tops of multiple buildings used to be written, rooves, just like hooves. Sometime ago that changed to roofs. Why? Because that is how the majority of people preferred it and used it.

That’s the thing about language. It isn’t Math. It isn’t Science. There is no singular authority on the subject. Many people and organizations attempt to declare themselves such, or point to references they feel are absolute, but in reality, the English language has no rules. Latin does, because Latin is dead, but as long as English is alive, any practitioner of the language is an authority on it. Anyone can invent a word, or alter the grammar to suit themselves, and if it proves sound to the general users, it will become chiseled into the framework. Shakespeare is cited as having invented at least 1,700 words and phrases and he was only a lowly playwright not a college professor, Prime Minister of Language, or even the king. That’s what it means to be a living language.

And yet, there are always Grammar Nazis who insist that all writing in English must conform to a set of highly arcane rules that read like a different language in themselves.

“Common introductory phrases that should be followed by a comma include participial and infinitive phrases, absolute phrases, nonessential appositive phrases, and long prepositional phrases (over four words).”

Stereo installation instructions are easier to follow.

This is why it isn’t unusual to find self-accredited authorities on the subject who disagree with one another. Perhaps the most famous being whether or not to place a comma before the “and” in a list. (I frequently leave out the “and” altogether in protest.) But put any two editors in a room, propose a question, and you’ll likely get three answers.

This is what drives my editor/wife insane. She hangs out with Math. She likes an ordered world where the rules never change (let’s not talk about negative numbers, I still have flashbacks.) She feels certain that there must be an answer to all this confusion. If only she was smarter. If only she studied the sacred tomes of Englishosity more she could find the holy grail of comma usage and this would let her sleep at night.

My opinion is different.

Language, like Art, is communication. As long as I get my point across clearly, concisely, consistently, and with as little confusion as possible—it’s good. The rest is pretentious fascism—which, of course, is why I don’t edit my own books. Did I mention I hung out with Art in school?

(While researching the proper usage of the term Grammar Nazi--which apparently I did not coin--I found this. Be advised, while funny, it contains strong language.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview & Chat

This is a bit last minute, but SciFiGuy has just posted an interview they did with me, and are holding a day long commentary chat. I'll be on hand to answer questions and make comments. The cool thing is, if you post a question for me, you are then entered in a contest to win a free copy of The Emerald Storm. So if you have questions you'd like me to put to rest for you, would like to learn more about me, or just want the chance at a free book, drop by SciFiGuy today and say hello.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2009 Book Tournament Winner!

Books, Website Information | Elena Nola | April 20, 2010 at 7:18 pm

The final round of BSC’s fourth annual Book Tournament (best of 2009) came down to Michael J. Sullivan’s Avempartha and Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest. It was everything a year-end best of contest should be: democratically selected, round-by-round from 64 of the most-discussed titles of the year; weighted in favor of informed voters who can argue why their choice is the best; publicly chosen (we know the meaning of transparency around here!); and symbolized with a tight graphic from one of the competitors (thanks, Michael!).

So what was the contention? Traditional sword and sworcery vs. lyrical mysticism. Series vs. stand-alone title. A title no one knows how to say vs. a title no one knows how to spell.

The race was closely matched, with the lead changing hands back and forth several times through the week of voting and arguing. No one appeared to change their vote based on the eloquence of the other team, and both of the competitors dropped in to shake hands and rally their supporters. But, as with the Highlanders, in the end there could be only one…winner. Without any question, based on total number of votes as well as the total points allotted for the vote plus articulate reason, the best book of 2009, according to BSC readers, was…


Congratulations, Michael J. Sullivan! And congratulations as well to Catherynne Valente for falling to only one book and getting herself nominated for a Hugo!

Thanks to all of you who participated in our tournament this year–hope to see you back next year!

(As copied from

Thanks to BSC for giving me the chance to compete. This was wonderful. And a special thank you to everyone who came out to support Riyria. I am not joking or exaggerating when I say this maybe the only contest I have ever won in my life, and oddly enough I didn't do anything but watch. Now I know how Royce and Hadrian feel when they are hanging helpless in a dungeon awaiting elimination only to be unexpectedly saved.

You folks are truly great.

Ink & Quill

This morning I woke up to see who won the BSC Tournament as it was scheduled to end at 8pm last night, only to find people still posting this morning. Unsure what to make of that I went on with my morning ritual of checking mail, blogs and Google alerts. And what to my wondering eyes should I find? A notice that looked to be a review on The Crown Conspiracy by someone or some site listed as Ink and Quill.

There was a time when my heart stopped whenever I ran across a review of my books, but that was hundreds of reviews ago. In many ways, reviews are like diseases that you need to build up an immunity to. The first time you encounter one--a real one, not your mother or girl-friend's opinion--you can either be devastated for weeks or left walking on air. My very first review by a total stranger who was not afraid of insulting me, trashed my book. In retrospect, he didn't, but it certainly felt that way. He was an aspiring writer, and they can be the harshest critics. It was the week The Crown Conspiracy was released, and because this was the only review I had, I assumed everyone would agree. I was demoralized, thoroughly miserable, and wondering if there was a way to recall the books. Then other reviews surfaced, glowing, spirited endorsements of my genius and I felt a bit better. It actually took several positive reviews to offset the one negative impact. But once there was sufficient padding there, once enough authoritative rulings were passed in my favor, I stopped being terrified. Even if one person said it was crap, I knew many more who thought otherwise and this provided me with the immunization to the shocks of opinion.

When I saw the link to this review on Ink and Quill, I was not terribly concerned. After all, Crown has been out for well over a year, and in my publishing schedule that’s a lifetime ago. If it had been a review of Emerald Storm I would have been eager to see what the verdict was. Instead, I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee while the screen refreshed. When I returned I was stunned.

This was no ordinary review.

Most of the time, someone with a personal blog reads my book and writes a few paragraphs on it. By now they are pretty much the same paragraphs. Occasionally, and this has been happening more and more recently, a bigger blogger, or online magazine does a piece on one of my books. Still, it is usually just a few paragraphs running over familiar ground—the same likes, the same criticisms. But what I was looking at while holding my now forgotten cup of coffee was not a blog. It was not an article. I was staring at a podcast—an hour-long podcast all about The Crown Conspiracy.

I punched the play button with my mouse and listened. All of a sudden the old fear returned. This was a new virus. I didn’t have much resistance built up against “hearing” strangers discuss my book. I’ve attended book groups, but that is very different. Few people have the courage to eviscerate an author to his face. So I sat back, cup in hand and listened nervously, feeling much as if I was eavesdropping on the wonderful woman I dated the night before as she discussed me to her girl-friend. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to hear this.

To find out how this story ends click here and listen to the podcast discussion of The Crown Conspiracy by Ink and Quill. For those of you who have not read the book the first portion, prior to the commercials, is without spoilers, but the latter two-thirds after the commercials digs into the story in detail and should be avoided until you’ve read the novel.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Emerald Storm...Ready At Last

While the fourth book in the Riyria Revelations series has been available for a week on Amazon, and longer than that on Kindle, there are some of you who have patiently waited to buy the book direct from me hoping to keep your sets of signed copies complete.

The wait is over. The books are here and the order page is up.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Sorry for the Delay

Life has been hectic.

The Emerald Storm went live a week ago, but from that moment on Robin and I've been slammed. First there was Ravencon, which was immediately followed by a tradeshow, an emergency at Robin's work, taxes, and a dozen other things. (Yes, in addition to editing and publicizing my work and helping other authors, she also has a demanding full-time job--can you believe it?)

The point is, the books are in and the order page for signed copies should be up and active later today, assuming Robin can keep her eyes open long enough to help me with that. She was up doing an all-nighter, but only she knows the arcane magic that allows people to buy my books online.

As part of my sales-pitch to people at signings I jokingly mention that all the books in this series are finished so that even if I were to be hit by a bus, my wife could still put them out and not leave the readers hanging. What I failed to mention is how unlikely it will be for me to put out the rest of the series if anything happened to Robin.

So, sorry for the delay, but think of it this way, you'll have less time to wait for Wintertide once you finish this one.

And thanks to everyone who voted for Avempartha on the BSC Tournament (see posts below.) Polls are still open until 8pm Monday, and this battle is really close. Seems like it is always tied.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Free Giveaway

Fantasy Book Critic is giving away three free copies of The Emerald Storm, and it looks like not a lot of people are entering so you'll likely have a good shot at it. The contest ends on the 16th.

The Final Round

Avempartha won the last fight sending Royce and Hadrian to the final round. In the words of the tournament organizer:
“The dark horse takes the match with a KO victory; only the final match stands between Avempartha and the champion belt.”

Unfortunately, this looks to be the boss round. In the last match-up I was up against Santa Olivia a bestselling novel by a bestselling author. This round Avempartha’s opponent is none other than Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. In case you haven’t heard, only days ago Palimpsest was announced as one of the finalists in another competition…the Hugo Awards.

Go here to vote for the last time.

Okay, let’s face it, I never expected to clear the first round. I’m still not sure how on earth I got into this tournament. I mean look at the list of books and authors in this competition:

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham
The Other City by Michal Ajvaz
On the Edge by Ilona Andrews
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker
The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
God of Clocks by Alan Campbell
Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Regenesis by C. J. Cherryh
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas
The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham
Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson
A Magic of Nightfall by S.L. Farrell
Wings of Wrath by C. S. Friedman
Gears of the City by Felix Gilman
Hand of Isis by Jo Graham
A Madness of Angels: Or The Resurrection of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin
The Dwarves by Markus Heitz
Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
Avilion by Robert Holdstock
In the Valley of the Kings by Terrence Holt
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Buyout by Alexander C. Irvine
The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura
Twelve by Jasper Kent
City Without End by Kay Kenyon
The Silver Mage by Katharine Kerr
The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan
The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald
Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
The City & the City by China Mieville
Magic in the Blood by Devon Monk
Hater by David Moody
The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Red Claw by Philip Palmer
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Ghost King by R. A. Salvatore
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Lamentation by Ken Scholes
Drood by Dan Simmons
Silksinger by Laini Taylor
The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
The Burning Skies by David J. Williams
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

These are huge names, and impressive books! They are all gone now, and it is down to Palimpsest and Avempartha. That’s just crazy. I feel like I should be punching slabs of meat or running up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

At this point, it no longer matters if I win or lose. I’ve already won. BSC isn’t going to give the winner a trip to Hawaii or big publishing contract. The big reward for me is exposure, and just by making it to the final round I will have obtained the maximum exposure possible. Already hundreds of people who wouldn’t normally know about my books are now at least mildly curious. They might not buy it, but they will remember it as that unknown book by that unknown author that somehow made it to the finals in that little book tournament. And that’s actually a bigger deal than it sounds. When you’re living on breadcrumbs, getting a whole slice is a fortune.

Thanks once more to all of you who supported me and for all the wonderful things you said about the book and the series, and for being my voice when I’m not allowed to have one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Emerald Storm Sets Sail

I'm on my way out the door to RavenCon, but I just wanted to make the quick announcement...Emerald Storm is live on Amazon.

It will be a few more days before we get a link up for signed copies, but as of today, the book is officially released. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Final Four

Avempartha moves to the Final Four and now faces Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey.

To place your vote go here. Polls will remain open until 4/12

I keep expecting to post that Avempartha has lost, only once again Royce and Hadrian have survived against the odds. This last battle was a tough one with the third longest thread in the competition so far.

Avempartha took an early lead and it appeared that a landslide victory was brewing then after Sandman Slim’s author Richard Kadrey made a plea on Twitter, his fans came out in strength. There were many thoughtful arguments and good points made as passions ran high both for and against. A great many voters appear to have only read one of the books in the contest—which is expected I think—but doesn’t provide a fair accounting. Likewise, the books while both fantasy, were dramatically different, which made it difficult to compare.

One of the better posts came from a voter listed as btempleton who had read both novels and wrote:

The reality is both of these books are worthy contenders - they are also very different.

Gritty, dark noir fantasy is no longer "new" in fact it seems to be everywhere these days - You can see several in this contest: Sandman, Finch, etc. Someone going to hell and coming back to seek revenge is also not new. War between heaven and hell - also been there done that. Foul-mouthed anti-heroes that "kick serious ass"...need I keep going. All that being said. Sandman Slim has humor and is a fast paced read that holds one interest. For what it is, and what it was does a good job. Ultimately, for me though...I don't like the main character and most of the supporting cast - which is probably the point - so again good job.

Avempartha is also not new. Ancient beasts destroying villages, fantasy archtypes, wizards whose motivations you can't trust also has been done before. But, in Avempartha it feels like a breath of fresh air. The characters are likable, the banter entertaining, the plot engaging. It also is humorous fast paced story that keeps the pages turning. Unlike Sandman I like these characters, I want to learn more about the larger story that is unraveling behind the scenes and bottom line - I'm entertained.

For this particular match up I think both books do what they set out to do Sandman slim, to me, seems like a darker grittier Dresden (whom I actually prefer), and probably one of the reason's I'm throwing my vote for Avempartha -- I'm not a huge fan of the anti-hero. Avempartha returns me to fantasy of my youth, great characters, an engaging world with rich political systems and some twists thrown here and there to keep me on my toes. What makes it all the more engaging to me is this is a new author who has come out of nowhere (published by an indie press) I look forward to the entire series and hope to be seeing more from him in the future.

In the end, Avempartha won out thanks to all of you.

Sullivan's fans continue to positively overflow with energy and enthusiasm, propelling Avempartha into the final four.

Regardless of the future, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to vote and who made this Cinderella story possible.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Emerald Storm

You’re likely wondering what is happening with the release of Emerald Storm. Everything is fine, the book is merely going through some last minute polishing in order to try to make this the cleanest release so far. Additional editors were brought in on the project, and a little extra time has been taken to make a better book. Right now, the release date looks to be around the middle of April. However, for those of you who visit me at RavenCon in Richmond, VA this weekend, (April 9th-11th,)I will be selling a limited supply of advanced copies on a first-come-first-served basis.

Now for the preview…


Ex-mercenary Hadrian Blackwater sets course on a high seas adventure to find the lost Heir of Novron. His only hope lies in confronting the ruthless and cunning Merrick Marius. Fearing his friend is not up to the challenge, Royce Melborn joins his old partner for one last mission. Their journey finds them adrift amid treachery and betrayals forcing Hadrian to face a past he hoped never to see again.

The Emerald Storm is close to 400 pages, making it the longest book in the series to date, almost a hundred pages longer than Crown Conspiracy. The format—now firmly established—is the same as the previous books. The map has changed a bit going back to the single chart cast across two pages of Crown, only the content has shifted to avoid the spine from falling across the sections of interest. In addition, national boundaries have been added and a few mistakes corrected. This was needed because the action on Emerald Storm moves around a lot. Like always, not everything mentioned in the novel is represented on the map, so don’t kill yourself looking for the Point of Man, or Drumindor. They’re too small to appear but you should be able to guess where they are.

The cover is gold—the same color in fact as The Crown Conspiracy, although it might not look like it due to the other colors surrounding it. There is something of an Easter egg on the cover. That is to say a hidden surprise, although it is not all that surprising, and I doubt anyone will likely notice, or care, but I thought it was fun.

In this book for the first time, readers should start to see the various plot threads in the series arc coming together. Elements from previous books that you might have wondered at will begin to make more sense. Up until now, it may have been hard to estimate where the larger plot was heading, and while that will still be hazy, by the end of Storm you should have more than an inkling.

Emerald Storm has more action, more adventure, more intrigue, more characters, more settings and more romance than those that came before. The characters now firmly established, begin to grow. The world is more fully realized on a physical level, if not necessarily on a historical one. That will come later.

Yes, as you can tell from the cover, much of this book takes place at sea. For those history buffs, you may question the Age of Sail vessels depicted. Keep in mind, this is fantasy not historical fiction. I am purposely not staying true to historical facts. That said, the feel of the world should remain consistent and true.

The end of this novel, more than any previous, or those that follow, fails to tie up neatly. I still resist the label of cliffhanger as there is a climax and resolution to the tale, and the series could end here, but I grant that it would be a less than satisfying conclusion. I considered solutions to this problem, even to the point of combining this and the next novel, but that would make it huge. Furthermore, the story has a natural break here. So while I will risk the venom of those who will accuse me of leaving a cliffhanger, the book really needs to end where it does, and when Wintertide comes out I think you’ll understand why.

Early reviews have indicated that Storm isn’t quite the standalone that the others were. I don’t know anyone who has ever read it that haven’t read the previous books so I can’t say for sure. I suspect those who have read the other books will see things they know a first time reader won’t grasp. While this may diminish the impact of the story, it may not adversely affect their overall enjoyment. Nevertheless, I must admit, I am skewing the novels from this point on toward those who have read the series. That is to say, I am still working at keeping them as independent as possible, but if forced to make a choice I do not wish to sacrifice the enjoyment of those who have made the full journey in favor of those who jumped ahead.

I sincerely hope you enjoy The Emerald Storm…the best is yet to come.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Elite Eight (Round 4!)

Avempartha managed to survive its match-up against Boneshaker. I suspect this was due to the distraction of the match-up between Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire VS. Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier which resulted in a tough battle where Rosemary and Rue won by only three points.

Now in order to enter the Final Four, Avempartha must get past Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. Described as: "Darkly twisted, irreverent, and completely hilarious." It looks as if Royce and Hadrian have their work cut out for them.

Vote for your favorite.