Like Audiobooks? Children of a New Earth is out in Audio!

Enjoy audiobooks? My post-apocalyptic novel Children of a New Earth is out on audible.com now.

Buy it here

Blurb:

For nearly 30 years, since the collapse of society, Freedom Ranch has been self-sufficient, hidden deep in the Rocky Mountains. Amy Beland has grown up hating the small valley settlement and the survivalists that run it. Now it will be up to her to save them all.

Journeying out of the mountains and into what is left of civilization, they discover that much of what they’ve been taught about the collapse is wrong. They don’t find the enemy they expect on the plains beneath their home, which is good because Amy suspects they may have brought a couple with them.

 

Introducing Zoey and the Zombies

Zoey one

The world is overran with undead. Giant hordes are pouring out of the East Coast, threatening the Midwest. The defense of Mondamin Court, a quiet neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa is up to a disabled cop, a fourteen year old boy and a transgender girl. What could go wrong?

Mondamin Court is a typical lower middle class neighborhood in a midwestern city. The people are a cross section of America. Each book starts with the same setting and characters but they face a different apocalyptic scenario.

Release date is: June 20th

Update, it’s out:

Amazon

Kobo

Everywhere Else

What the Media is getting wrong about Kindle Unlimited

Amazon is one of those love em or hate em kind of companies, or so the media would have us believe. The truth for most writers is, I think, a lot more nuanced than that. A lot of indie writers have made careers thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing. And yet at the same time, they know that having all your eggs in one basket is a dangerous mistake. Other writers have made careers in traditional publishing, and when Amazon and Hachette had their dispute it was hard not to wonder how it was going to affect them. Still, at the end of the day we all understand that Amazon is a business with it’s own business interests. It’s an enormously successful business and it’s decision affect every writer, so we pay attention to anything it does.

That said, I am growing tired of how every Amazon related piece of news is spun to either show how much we love or hate the retailer. Kindle Unlimited has become the latest victim to this spin, even when that’s not what the very authors are saying.

According to the spin the Kindle Unlimited program has opened a huge riff with the indie community. We are being treated like second class citizens. Big name authors like H. M. Ward and even Joe Konrath are up in rebellion, leaving the program in droves.

There is some truth to all this. A select few authors have been allowed in the Kindle Unlimited program without exclusivity but most of us have to choose, enroll in select and have our books become Amazon exclusives or opt out. A few publishers have been offered their full cut on each borrow, the average indie gets paid out of a pot.

There are just a couple of problems with the spin. The first is that while many authors are disappointed with the way this program is working out, they don’t hate Amazon because of it. Even those pulling their books from the program aren’t pulling their books from Amazon. Even those praising the program are cognizant that it hasn’t been good for everyone.

The bigger problem with the spin is that it’s missing the central idea, the program isn’t working. It’s not an Amazon-is-a-terrible-company sort of problem. It’s not that indies are being mistreated. The program should be a good tool for indies wanting to get discovered, but it’s not working out that way.

Why isn’t it working? If we screw the spin and go straight to the source we see the problem. H. M. Ward pulled her books for two reasons, borrows weren’t paying enough and her sales were dropping. In fact, her sales plus her borrows were dropping.

I am nowhere near as popular as H. M. Ward, but I can see her point. The first couple of months I saw a lot of borrows and I got paid enough on each borrow that it was close to what my royalties were. Then borrows started to drop. Now, I can’t say that it’s worth it to stay in the program.

This combination of dropping pay out and dropping borrows points to a more specific problem then how Amazon treats indies. I think the issue has to do with the ratio of readers to writers. Most of the bloggers so far have focused on the huge number of indie authors jumping into the program, and the giant pile of books available. Not only is this disingenuous, since none of those writers is going to stop putting their books into the program, it misses the other side of the equation. How many readers have opted into the subscription service? I am guessing the pace adoption on the consumer side simply hasn’t kept up with the number of authors. That would explain the dropping payouts.

And it points to the real issue with a reader subscription service. I am not just a writer, but an avid reader as well. I opted in with the Kindle Unlimited early on. I loved it for about a month. I read a half dozen or more of the big names they recruited into the program, books I’d wanted to read for sometime because of the hype around them (like the Hunger Games books) but hadn’t wanted to buy. Then I started sampling from the large library of available books, many of them by indie authors. I got passed the ten percent mark, where the author gets paid, on many of them. But I didn’t fall in love with any of them either.

A couple months later I realized that I had stopped borrowing books and gone back to buying them. I just got tired of sorting through hundreds of titles that I might possible want to read and returned to picking out, and paying for, the ones I knew I wanted to read. I got tired of passing by books that I wanted to read, because they weren’t free. Just using KU, I could save money. But having some KU books and some bought books, I was losing money. In the end it wasn’t worth it. I cancelled my subscription.

And that is the problem with a reader subscription service. Books are a huge investment of time, even if they are free. That’s why libraries never destroyed bookstores. Readers don’t seem to care that there are thousands of books available for free at the local library. They only care about the few books that they want right now. The bookstore does a better job of providing those titles. So readers go there and fork over cash.

Libraries stay open because they are publically funded. Do you think it’s possible to have a subscription based library with monthly fees? It hasn’t worked so far. I think Amazon will discover the same thing with KU.

I know, Pandora, Spotify, changing the music industry, blah, blah, blah. Maybe Amazon will eventually pull this one off, maybe they will get around consumer reluctance and author concerns and make Kindle Unlimited work.

As a reader, I’ve ditched Kindle Unlimited. I’m not sure what would bring me back. As an author, I’m leaving some of my YA books in the program, and I will continue to monitor how it works. But I am not intending to put any of my new books in.

Contrary to what the media might say, it doesn’t mean I hate Amazon.

 

The End of an Era (and a site)

 

 

Wiredthatwaylogo1

For nearly two years I wrote a column for Accessline Iowa called Wired That Way. The column was about the intersection of technology and the LGBT community. It was great fun to write. It was also my first experience with a real editor and I learned a lot about writing.

I set up a website to go along with the blog and to provide a space for extra writing. I envisioned it leading to a sideline as a tech blogger.

My mother used to tell me, you can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Funny how we never appreciate these tidbits of wisdom until we are older, right?

While writing that column and blogging on that website, I was also working on a couple of YA novels. I never forgot my first love, sci fi and fantasy, either.

My first novel came out and it got decent reviews and sales, enough to encourage me to put more time and focus into fictional writing. The Accessline went to an all digital format and I decided that was a good time to bow out of my column. The website remained and for a long while I continued to post regularly.

Can you make it a business out of blogging? Lots of people do, but it’s a full time job. Can you make a business out of writing novels? Certainly, but again it’s a lot of work. My mom’s words of wisdom have become increasingly important to my writing career. I could do one or the other, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to both. So Wired That Way has taken a backseat to fiction. Contemporary YA novels are slowly taking a backseat to fantasy and science fiction. So it goes.

Wired That Way was hosted through a different company as my other websites. As of December 2014, my hosting account came up for renewal and I just couldn’t justify a two year contract on a website I don’t use anymore. So I’ve redirected the site here for now. This is the site I am most active on, and where what tech writing I do will likely go. Maybe in time I will create a new wordpress site on this host for Wired That Way, but for right now I am going to combine it with this site.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Cover Reveal: The Mage Chronicles

It’s here! The final cover for The Mage Chronicles:

Mage Chron front cover

The Gilded Empire: A magical empire so ancient it’s name has been forgotten to the mist of time. Its citizens believe they are in their golden age, but already the rot is showing underneath the gold veneer.

The Mage Chronicles: A mage level healer, Mary is unprepared when the Council of Mages wants her to intervene in a border dispute in a distant part of the empire. What does she know of nobility or war? Not one to back down, she must confront the harsh realities of life outside the central core, a legion of unstoppable warriors and the ghosts of her own past.

Coming soon!

Check out Aidana WillowRaven’s artwork on her webpage and see all the other incredible covers she’s done. 

 

Nano, Nano…

Nano, Nano, Nano, Nano, Nano, Nano, Nano, Nano…

Wrimo!

How many of you read that to the tune of Batman?

How many of you are doing Nanowrimo?

It’s here! It’s here!

I am at Icon this weekend, Iowa’s oldest Sci-fi Con. I am having a great time, talking on panels, signing books and just absorbing the atmosphere. Still I have found a little time to get started on my Nanowrimo project, a few hundred words. I am excited to be doing it again this year. I can’t wait to get to some write-ins with my regional group next week.

If you haven’t done Nanowrimo or gone to a science fiction convention, I recommend both go on your bucket list. But then again, I might be biased.

 

Icon and Scapple

Icon, the oldest science fiction convention in Iowa, is coming up at the end October. I am going to be one of many local writers in attendance and I am starting to get excited. They are still firming up the activity schedule but I am signed up to teach at least one class and to be on some panels.

The class I am teaching is about word processors, writing software and other programs for writers. Mostly it’s about how to use technology to help, rather than hinder, the creative process.

I don’t teach about the mechanics of writing. I consider myself a storyteller first and a writer second. That means that I dream up stories and write them down. Then I send them to an editor and they come back looking like this:

This is why I don't teach the mechanic of writing

This is why I don’t teach the mechanic of writing

What I do well, is playing around with technology. I can’t resist downloading and testing new software. I have used over a half dozen different pieces of writing software to plan novels and have played around with more than a dozen.

Lately, I have been branching out and learning about new programs that can help organize your writing, help you come up with ideas or help research them. I decided this upcoming class was a great time to really sit down and learn about mind mapping.

Scapple

Scapple is a piece of software put out by Literature and Latte. They are the creators of Scrivener, my favorite piece of writing software and my current go to program for ninety percent of my writing tasks. So I was already a little biased in Scapple’s favor.

Mind mapping is a visual way of organizing information around a chart. On a mind map new ideas and concept spread out from a central core. Mind mapping is not only a great tool for learning (studies show mind mappers have better retention than other forms of note taking) it’s also great for brainstorming. Which is why mind mapping has such potential for the average writers.

Here is a mind map of my upcoming speech. Done in Scapple.

software for writers example

The biggest downside to most mind mapping software I have looked at so far is that new notes come attached to older notes. That’s great if you already understand the central concept of what you are trying to do. Your first note is the key concept and other notes radiate out from that.

However, as writers this is exactly where we most often struggle. Scapple allows you to create notes wherever you want on the page. You can later attach them to other notes, stack them together or move them free form around the board.

For example, November is just around the corner and for many writers that’s Nanowrimo, National Novel Writers Month. Every year writers around the world join a month long challenge to write a fifty thousand word novel in a month. You want to write a blog post about this for October but you have no idea what to write. Scapple can help.

Start by writing a bunch of random things about Nanowrimo on a new Scapple board.Here is an empty board.blank scapple board

Here are some random notes on Nanowrimo:

random nano scapple example

This is a just a bunch of randomness, but now I can click and drag stuff to make some sense of it all.

organized nano scapple example

By clicking and dragging I’ve organized all of these random statements around two main points, reasons for doing Nanowrimo and things I wish I knew before I started. Reasons for doing Nano include getting that first novel written, learning to write fast, learning to turn off the internal editor, and going to write ins. Write ins have several subpoints, there is camaraderie, and support. This is also a great place to mention the website where more support can be found. You also learn at write ins that Nano writers come from all walks of life, they write in all kinds of genres and many don’t even write novels, they use the month to write their memoirs or nonfiction.

Could I have done this in Word or another word processor as an outline? Sure. For some writers that would work fine. But many of us would have spent hours banging our heads in frustration because outlines don’t fit the way we think. This example took me a matter of minutes in Scapple, whereas I could have spent a half an hour or more trying to do the same brainstorming with other software.

If you struggle with outlines, if you spend too much time trying to figure out what to write or have trouble organizing your thoughts around a central concept, Scapple is a great piece of software to check out. It’s deceptively simple and easy to use, but a powerful way to improve your writing.

If you live in Iowa or anywhere nearby, check out Icon. Come down if you can and see what else I have to say about writing software.

 

Shield Maidens, Bell Curves and Strong Women

The recent discovery that half of Viking warriors were women has shaken a lot of people’s world view. Of course, it has also already led to a backlash of why “that’s not what the study really said.” As someone who read The Prehistory of Sex when it first came out in 1997 and who has followed this debate for some time, it’s another in a long string of studies that shows the same two things. Trying to determine the sex of remains by the type of grave goods found with them reinforces gender stereotypes and is highly inaccurate. Secondly, whether the ratio ever hit fifty percent or not, women warriors were not as uncommon as many would like to think.

The assumption of our sexist society is that our view of gender is rooted in ancient history and in practical concerns of those times. In the rugged kill or be killed world of ancient times, men were hunters and warriors and women mothers and gatherers. This is not, we have been taught, because of sexism. Men are simply stronger than women and that makes them better warriors. And yet the Vikings seem to fly in the face of all that.

Are men stronger than women?

The best answer is yes, but…

1. The Bell Curve

Statistics don’t lie, but they are a great way to mislead. Nowhere is there a better example than the relative strength of men and women.

For starters it depends a lot on how your measure strength. Men have broader shoulders and that gives them better leverage. On measures of upper body strength men tend to outperform women by a wide margin in many studies. Measures of lower body strength tend to be much closer to equal.

Men tend to be larger than women, so the average man has more muscle mass. Again this leads to men being stronger in many fitness test. But pound for pound, muscle is muscle. There is no male muscle or female muscle. If you test two people who are equally fit and have the same lean body weight, the difference evaporates.

Back in 1994 Charles Murray and Richard Hernestein raised a lot of controversy by using the statistical method known as the Bell Curve to prove their sexist and racist assumptions about America. I have always found the title somewhat ironic, since the bell curve also shows the real problem with their assumptions.

If we plot a bell curve showing the average strength of men and women, we find the two curves overlap significantly. What that means is that while the average score for men might be higher, a significant percentage of the female population is stronger than the average man.

This is pretty much true of all gender based distinctions. They are true in general but the exceptions make up such a significant minority that it throws the result into question.

What does that have to do with shield maidens?

When people say things like men are x% stronger than women, many of us have this image of lining all the men and women up side by side. And the men will all lift x% more than the woman next to them. But that’s not how it works. Some of the men will be stronger than the woman next to them and some of the woman will be stronger. Once you’ve tested everyone and regrouped them according to strength, you will find more men in the stronger category, but a fair number of women as well. Do you tell this minority of women they must stay home from the war because their sex is, on average, weaker? If you are a smart Viking captain the answer will be no. Take the strong, leave the weak, regardless of gender.

2. Practical differences

The second problem with the notion that men are stronger than women is that no one questions to what extent this statistical difference translates into a practical one. According to this post on the average joe, the average man can bench press 145 pounds and the average woman 60 pounds. That’s modern Americans and that’s a pretty big difference. They can squat 165 pounds for men and 105 for women. There are a number of reasons why ancient Viking men and women were probably much closer in strength.

How important is this strength difference in combat? That’s a fair question.

Here is a list of medieval weapons with their size and weight listed. Looking at the list we see that a scandinavian sword from the ninth century was 30 inches long and weighed just under three pounds. The largest two handed sword on the list runs about 14 pounds. The common fantasy trope of a woman picking up a man’s weapon and staggering under the weight is an exaggeration at best. None of these weapons are too heavy for the average modern female to lift or swing, let alone a shield maiden.

Swing: I am transgender. I am also a hippy. I used to live in the country. We chopped wood and heated our trailer with a woodstove. I got good with an axe. I still own that land and we still go out there on the weekends. Now that I have transitioned and I don’t have the testosterone I once had, I don’t have nearly the same upper body strength. My sixteen year old son is probably stronger than me, but I can out chop him with the axe because I have more experience. The secret is to use the momentum of the axe, rather than brute force.I have no idea how I would fare on a Viking battlefield, but the same dynamic applies with swords and battle axes. It’s not always the one who can throw the most brute force behind an attack that’s going to win. A weaker warrior, with better skill and timing can bring down a stronger one readily.

People who really want to make the argument that stronger (male) is better than the weaker (female) can always look to the late medieval period, when plate armor and heavy sword and shield combinations were common. But to argue that a relative small difference in strength made women unfit to wield a Viking axe or sword is difficult at best.

Stab: So what if women’s upper body strength does translate to a disadvantage on the battlefield? The idea of two Viking men dueling mono a mono with swords is largely a myth, one they themselves perpetuate in their saga literature. Those duels were major events of the sagas, but a minor portion of their battlefield tactics. Many Vikings fought with spears. Spears are a thrusting weapon. It relies much more on lower body strength, especially in a charge. Even if you don’t have them wielding axes and swords in combat, a group of shield maidens charging with spears is just as effective as a group of men.

Shoot:  The Viking bow had a draw strength of up to 90 pounds. The average modern American woman might struggle with that, but a conditioned woman wouldn’t. And shooting a bow is a matter of skill, not brute strength. Here is another place where men and women have a practical equality even if men are statistically stronger.

Think: There is a lot more to fighting and war than charging blindly into battle. A crafty warrior often defeats a bigger, stronger one. Strength is but one factor on the battlefield. If you think women can’t be as crafty or devious as men, you don’t know many women.

Girl in armor with a sword knight

Girl in armor with a sword knight

Survive: History buffs will know this already, but in ancient times it was not uncommon for armies to lose more men from starvation and disease on the way to the war then in battle. Life was difficult in the best of times. For soldiers in the field it was brutal. They marched for weeks on near starvation rations. Poor hygiene led to epidemics of disease. Poor sanitation and no knowledge of infection meant that many of those injured in battle died of infections between battles.While statistics almost invariably show men to have greater brute strength, they just as consistently show women to have greater constitutional strength. In natural disasters women tend to have a higher survival rate than men. (A lot of this can be chalked up to simple estrogen and body fat. Higher body fat gives women a bigger cushion against malnutrition.) If you are considering who to take on a long campaign with you, this might figure into your thinking. The point of all this comes to this: being able to lift more weight over your head doesn’t necessarily translate into being a better warrior, or having a better chance at survival. There are many factors and brute strength is just one of them.

3. Outliers and Modern Athletics

If the difference between men and women are insignificant, why do men outperform women in almost every athletic field today? Doesn’t that prove that the difference is significant?

Not really. The problem is the highly competitive nature of most sports and outliers. Outliers are people that fall outside the statistical norms. Because of the competitive nature of most sports, professional athletes are all outliers, people who score well outside the normal range on any number of physical measurements.

The practical issue is that even a small difference of mean scores can translate into large differences at the end. For example a bench press weight that puts you in the top 5% of men might be the top 1% of women. For a real life example, Becca Swanson, the strongest woman in America can bench press 600 pounds. The number of men who have achieved that extraordinary feat numbers about 58. Becca proves that some women can compete with men even in the arena of brute strength, but she also shows just how outnumbered the women are at that level of competition.

When you are dealing with professional athletes you get a statistical double whammy because the events and results are also at the very edge of the statistical norm. Tiny differences in conditioning and training can equal much larger differences in the end result. The fastest marathon time by a man is twelve minutes faster than the fastest time by a woman. A marathon is over 26 miles, so that man ran about 46 seconds faster each mile. Meanwhile if you compare Usain Bolt’s men’s world record 100 meter dash to Florence Joyner’s time for women, the difference is just a hair shy of one second.

And, yes, at that level of performance biologically driven difference between men and women probably plays a role. Men are larger, on average, and have bigger ribcages and that means more capacity to move oxygen (critical to running). Men have more testosterone and other androgens, which play a critical role in conditioning. However the more research I do, the less conclusive the results seem. The inescapable conclusion seems to be that pound for pound, a conditioned female athlete is equal to a male athlete, there’s just fewer of them around.

 

What does that have to do with shield maidens?

Nothing, and that’s my whole point.

If King Haakon is picking the biggest, strongest warriors in all of Norway to be in his bodyguard, there is a good chance that it will stacked with more men, because men tend to be bigger. But if the average chieftain is deciding who gets to carry a spear and defend the village at need, there is likely to be a more even mix. A one second difference in rushing speed isn’t going to make a big practical difference when both runners are carrying spears and trying to spill your blood.

Conclusion

While this new finding may have shocked many, those familiar with Norse history expected as much. A generation of archaeologists and palaeontologists have been questioning the age old practice of sexing remains based on burial goods. It has created self reinforcing gender stereotypes. We assume that only men are warriors and only warriors would be buried with weapons. Then we assume any grave that contains weapons must be a male grave. As forensic science and DNA testing becomes more important tools, we are discovering these assumptions wrong.

Those of who have read some of Iceland’s great saga literature will know that it was a far more egalitarian society than later medieval Europe. Shield maidens, women warriors  and strong independent women in general abound. Those who doubt that Viking women were as tough as their men, might find an axe buried in their chest.

 

Hiding in Plain View

The Science Fiction community is reeling as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter has come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused by her mother. MZB was a prolific writer, writing dozens of books in the Darkover series alone. She ran a science fiction/fantasy magazine that bore her name and helped an entire generation of writers get started down the road to publication.

The book she was best known for was The Mists of Avalon, a feminist retelling of the Arthurian saga. It earned her a strong following in feminist circles and a cult like following of fans who are now struggling to cope with this news.

I would l like say I was shocked by the revelation. But just a few months ago I stumbled across this thread, now sadly prophetic.

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 10.18.46 AM

This was not the first time that I have seen someone question that one line in particular. Defenders of MZB say she is describing a primitive world where these things did, in fact, happen. She’s doing so with a stark honesty that is rare in any literature. They say this is one line in a book that runs over three hundred pages. How much can we read into one line?

This is not the first such revelation to come out of the Bradley household. Her second husband Walter Breen was a serial pedophile. He spent the final years of his life in jail on eight counts of felony child molestation and MZB faced a civil trial over her enabling behavior. While there are still those who will defend MZB’s literary achievements, almost no one is doubting these new allegations.

The new defense of MZB is that she’s been dead for fifteen years. Hundreds of fans have grown up loving and cherishing her work. She inspired a generation of new writers and helped them start their careers. Should we tarnish that with the details of her personal failings?

I have written before and about good books by bad authors. Much of that blog would seem to apply to MZB. She’s dead. Unlike Orson Scott Card’s homophobia, buying her books no longer puts money in her pocket or indirectly supports her cause. With the exception of that one line in The Mists of Avalon, her personal failings, as heinous as they were, don’t seem to have any obvious connection to her writing. It would be easy to join those voices and say, what she did was wrong but it doesn’t change her books.

There are two flaws in the argument. The first is that while MZB may be dead, her daughter and victim is not. History may be able to separate MZB crimes from her writing, but I can not. To dismiss what she did is to dismiss the very real damage done to real people who are still alive. Moira Greyland, MZB’s daughter, stayed silent about her abuse because she felt her mother’s life and reputation was somehow more important than her own. She deserves to be heard, because her life is every bit as important. If a writer or fan has a positive memory of MZB, that’s wonderful, but let’s not use those memories to silence or dismiss the pain of her victims.

The other problem with separating MZB writing and public reputation from her abuse is that silence is a big part of the problem. The Catholic church shunted pedophiles from one parish to another because their superiors didn’t want to confront the problem head on and in many cases the men had served the church well in other ways. All too often abusers are allowed to resign, quit or retire, rather than face prosecution. For those in charge it offered a quick easy solution to a messy problem, but for society it creates an even bigger problem, where pedophiles escape prosecution again and again.

Shades of the same language crop up in defense of MZB. She was a good writer, a good editor and to some, a good friend. So? Pedophiles can be nice to people who aren’t their victims. Pointing these things out does little but dismiss the victim. When we dismiss the victim, we create an environment where the next victim doesn’t feel safe coming forward. And the abuse continues.

I am raising a son with one foot in science fiction fandom and the other in the neo-pagan community. MZB’s writing has been incredibly influential in both communities and likely will remain so, despite these revelations.

We have a choice. We can use this revelation as an opportunity to discuss abuse openly. We can let other victims come forward, share their stories. We can talk about how to spot signs of abuse, ask what needs to be done to make Sci-fi cons and pagan festivals safer. Or we can dismiss the allegations and wonder later how our communities became havens for abusers.