Friday, July 13, 2012

Blog Hopping 7/13/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, independent author. My first book, Bonds of Fenris, is currently available at Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other fine ebook retailers! Link on the sidebar, get 'em while their hot! It's been making a big splash on the internet, check out the reviews on Goodreads.

I was absent from the blog hop for a few weeks, partially due to some real-life drama, but also because I've been busy working on some short stories, which I hope to be able to reveal to you soon. In the meantime, I posted an analysis of the issue of recycled content in e-publishing (springing off from an earlier post which caused some degree of drama between me and the people of Tin Man Games). On a less dramatic note, I also hosted a guest post for the Wolf Girls Blog Tour!

In addition to this blog, I also have a separate blog for reviews, Lupines and Lunatics. Latest review is Taken by Storm. Check it out!

Happy hopping!

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"What drove you to start book blogging in the first place?"

My writing career, essentially. At the time, I was hoping to build cachet as an expert on werewolves in literature, which I thought would make me look good when It came time to attract an agent for my work. Well, it didn't help too much. Might actually have hurt, since agents specifically shy away from authors who review other people's books -- the risk of creating drama is too great. But I stuck with it, and it seems to have actually gotten me noticed on the internet, which is a very good thing for an indie author.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

From Snow Queen to Wolf Girl (Guest Post from Jeanette Greaves)

Today I have a special treat for you all. Hannah Kate of indie publisher Hic Dragones recently released a new anthology, Wolf-Girls. I'll be reviewing it soon, but for now I've been asked to host a guest post for the blog tour. So it's my great pleasure to introduce Jeanette Greaves, author of "The Cameron Girls", who is here today to talk a bit about how she came to writing as a profession. Sit down and have a listen. When you're done, check out the rest of the tour on the Hic Dragones website, or visit Jeanette at her blog. Now take it away, Jeanette!

My grandmother used to tell me fairy stories at bedtime, some from Grimm, some from Andersen, some that I'm sure she made up because I've never heard them before or since. She didn't tell them every night I spent at her house, but it was enough to make me long for the brilliant dreams that came afterwards. It was enough to sow the seeds of wonder and curiosity, and make me want to believe in something different, something wild and wonderful.

Thanks to my mother, who realised that I was capable, and that reading would keep me quiet, I learned to read at a very young age, and was given several books, mostly educational, but one was a beautifully illustrated story book with just one story in it. Just one.

The Snow Queen has a lot to answer for. I read it again and again. I took into my soul the idea of the female hero, the female villain. I learned and believed that women and girls were powerful beings, capable of great acts. I learned that people could change, and change again.

As I grew older, I sought more of the same, and was disappointed that there was very little out there. Female characters sought marriage, or salvation, they were victims, or bystanders. I discovered science fiction and fantasy, and sank into the arms of the genre. Joanna Russ, Anne McCaffrey and a small tribe of women writers gave me what I hungered for … women who fought, and loved, and were the architects of their own lives.

To be honest, I wasn't attracted to the paranormal. I read and enjoyed stories about vampires and werewolves when I couldn't get hold of the hard stuff, but nothing stood out for me until I read Suzy McKee Charnas' brilliantly dark and funny "Boobs" in an anthology. If you've not read it, find it. The basic story has been used many times, but never as well as in Suzy's tale. I started to look for werewolf stories. I found George RR Martin's "The Skin Trade", and this too lodged tightly in my brain. Again, if you've not read it, look for it. It terrified me, and I'm not even a werewolf. The idea of the werewolf as a victim intrigued me.

For all my love of books, I didn't write. I'd put it aside, like most people do, after primary school. We didn't write stories at secondary school, we studied other people's. With the exception of a few narrative poems which I doodled out in the sixth form common room, my well of ideas filled and filled, without every gaining an outlet. That's how things go stagnant.

I started writing by accident, riffing on funny, erotic stories for the amusement of my friends. One story escaped from me, and grew and grew. It didn't stop. It was about a female werewolf, and I was in love with my own creation. She was (is) a green eyed, red haired, short lady, by no means beautiful. She appeared in the passenger seat of my car as I was driving, and started to tell me her story. She never introduced herself, which meant that at first I had to write from her point of view, because I didn't know her name. It took two years of coaxing before she admitted to "Diana". Since then I've been writing about Diana and her friends and family. There's about a million words of it, some about wolf-girls, some about wolf-boys. I love them all the same.

"The Cameron Girls" has been rattling around for several years, and the version in Wolf-Girls is pretty much the original version. It's a Cinderella story for werewolves, set in a 21st Century where shapeshifters have come out of the closet and are very much part of modern society. The story came about because I wanted to step outside the box, to take a break from the company of werewolves, and to look at how the rest of the world was coping with the revelation that there was a small but influential group of shapeshifters living amongst them. How would the tabloids react? And how would the 'shifters themselves protect and care for those of their kind who were still alone and scared, or unaware of their powers?

When Hannah-Kate put out her call for submissions for the anthology, I wondered if my shapeshifters fit the bill. There's nothing paranormal about my werewolves, they are no more influenced by the moon than any other human, they wear silver jewellery without a care, and they are passionately interested in being a part of human society, rather than apart from it. Some of them even change into other animals than wolves. Hannah made it clear that her brief ranged wide, so I submitted two stories, and "The Cameron Girls" was accepted. It's not my first published story; that honour goes to "The Brane", a tale of rock stars and voodoo which was in Writers' Forum magazine in 2009.

Having read the Wolf-Girls anthology from cover to cover, I'm delighted to see my story in such great company, with so many different takes on the Wolf-girls theme. The mixed-author short story anthology is a brilliant book format … you're sure to find something you like, and may even find a story that you love. Go on, dive in, and don't mind the howling.

Jeanette's first job involved boiling up pig heads to make dripping. She moved on, quickly, to take a Saturday job gutting and filleting fish. She is now a vegetarian who likes to write about people being torn apart by werewolves. Never doubt the formative influence of weekend work. Read her story, along with 16 others in Wolf-Girls, out now from Hic Dragones!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On content reuse

A recent post of mine started some e-mail/twitter drama that I'm uninterested in continuing. I may need to at some point, but for now that kind of dialog is beneath mention. Lost in the discussion, however, was the real issue I was trying to bring attention to. It's something that the audience for indie publishing should be aware of, because I expect to see more of it in the future.

Long story short: some time ago, a Fighting Fantasy fan named Kieran Coghlan wrote a FF-based gamebook called Hunger of the Wolf and distributed it for free on the internet. A few years later, Tin Man Games licensed the book from Coghlan and reworked it into Revenant Rising, one of their Gamebook Adventures line of e-gamebook mobile apps. Changes were made to incorporate the Gamebook Adventures combat system, and to change the setting from Titan (the world of Fighting Fantasy) to their own Orlandes setting. Changes were also made to the plot, though in broad strokes it is the same: Hero is betrayed by comrade, saved from death by not-quite-benevolent wizard, tracks down betrayer via long cross-country trek, has various adventures along the way, confronts and kills betrayer in single combat during a larger army vs. army engagement, is betrayed again by wizard, and must finally escape wizard's control with the help of a more trustworthy ally. The text, likewise, has been changed as little as practical. I'd estimate that between one-third and one-half of Revenant Rising is copy and pasted from Hunger of the Wolf, with the entire middle being nearly identical.

By all accounts, this was done legally. There was no violation of copyright law or anything like that. However, it was a very questionable move from the perspective of Tin Man's customers, who were asked to buy something that, unbeknownst to them, was already available for free. Again, this is legal, and I can't really think of a reason it shouldn't be, but it leaves a very, very sour taste in my mouth.

As I noted in my previous post, there is some precedent for this. A chapter of Arthur C. Clarke's 2010 is lifted wholesale from it's more-famous predecessor. Nobody made this an issue, and Clarke himself even joked about it, because the chapter in question was dry exposition with little to do with the story. Silver Age Superman comics recycled plots every few years, but because back issues were hard to find and the audience was expected to "grow out of them", it wasn't a big deal. Garfield has become notorious for reusing punchlines, and nobody cares because they get the strip for free with the daily paper. Hell, Tin Man will be rereleasing the old Fighting Fantasy books on their platform soon, and people are psyched. What makes this any different?

Two things make it different. One is dishonesty. When people buy Tin Man's Fighting Fantasy reissues, they'll know exactly what they're getting, and they'll be cool with it. But Revenant Rising is sold as a new work when it's nothing of the sort. Digging through the hype, I couldn't find a single mention of the fact that Revenant Rising is, at its core, a book that I'd read before. You pay for something new and get something you already had and didn't need. If they had just released a Hunger of the Wolf special edition or some such with alterations to remove the Fighting Fantasy references, there wouldn't have been any trouble. But they tricked their audience, and their audience has a right to be miffed.

The second thing is disrespect, both for their audience and themselves. By pulling a move like this, and then expecting their customers to come back, they beg the question of how they expected to get away with it. There are two possibilities: one is that they expect that their readers will be unfamiliar with gamebooks. Their success, in other words, is based on their readers being naive. The other is that they expect their readers to catch it and come back anyway, because they don't care. Under this logic, they are under no compulsion to produce good work.

And that's the really concerning issue: their disrespect for their own writing. By doing this the author is saying that their books are nothing but a product to be sold, repackaged, and resold as they wish. They have commoditized their work and undermined their own artistic integrity.

If you read my blog because you like books, rather than gamebooks, you might not care about this little tempest in a teapot. But consider this: whenever you buy a new e-book, you're essentially making a blind purchase. What do you have to make your buying decision? A cover image, a blurb, and the name of an author that you may or may not recognize. Sometimes a sample of the first chapter or so. What's to stop an unscrupulous author from making some marginal changes and then pushing the same book out under three or four different titles? Maybe under three or four different pen names? He hasn't broken any laws in doing so, but he has broken the unspoken trust to provide his readers with the best storytelling he can. The reader can't be blamed for taking exception. Nor can the reader be blamed for swearing off an author, a genre, or even reading itself. Nobody is going to indulge themselves in a hobby that has them constantly cheated out of their money.

When authors pull stunts like this, it doesn't just harm their own reputation, but the reputation of honest authors doing honest work. And it means newcomers have to try even harder to overcome the skepticism of an audience who thinks they're probably just another sock puppet pushing another cloned book. Buyer beware in this brave new world of e-publishing, and readers and authors alike beware of recycled content.