News and Notices from the Writing Trenches # 153…

Don’t miss out. Books make excellent holiday gifts, so don’t miss the chance to give the avid readers on your list many hours of reading pleasure.

First, all ebooks in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” (seven novels) are on sale right now at Smashwords.  The two NYPD homicide detectives’ cases often start out local and blow up into national and international crises (at least the ones I report on).

Second, The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection bundles together the sci-fi novels that take you from a dystopian Earth dominated by multinationals and policed by their mercenaries to three colonies among the stars…and beyond.  All these books are offered to you at great savings for the holidays.

And, if you’re worried about package delivery schedules, ebooks are immediate downloads, and almost every online site allows you to send them as gifts.  Happy holidays!

Talk. I’m looking forward to my talk at the Montclair Women’s Club on January 26 (82 Union St, Montclair, NJ, 1:30 pm). Female readers outnumber male readers, and I’ll be talking about Scotland Inspector Esther Brookstone, the main character in Rembrandt’s Angel and one of my most interesting female characters. Many of my books feature strong, smart women, so the book isn’t exceptional in this sense, but Esther is one of my favorites.  Hopefully my audience will be happy to meet her too.

Star Wars. “My main reason for making it was to give young people an honest, wholesome fantasy life, the kind my generation had.”—George Lucas.  Note that he said FANTASY.  Star Wars is sci-fi only to the extent that it plagiarized OLD sci-fi masters like Edgar Rice Burroughs (for example, Jedi warriors) and Isaac Asimov (the evil Empire). It also heavily borrowed from Japanese ninja stories. The most original thing about the whole franchise is the music!

The Gabo archive. When the University of Texas bought many documents pertinent to the life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel winner and author of 100 Years of Solitude, among many other fine books, I cringed. The thought that this treasure trove would be in the U.S. was appalling.  I’ve changed my mind somewhat. They’ve digitized over 27,000 documents. I haven’t had the occasion to try it, but I understand anyone can access them online, in either English or Spanish. The Ransom Center probably can provide details. The few documents I’ve seen are fascinating and show the workings of the mind that created magical realism.

The genre myth.  Is The Midas Bomb a mystery or a thriller?  Is Survivors of the Chaos dystopian sci-fi or conspiracy thriller?  Is The Secret Lab young adult, sci-fi, or a mystery?  Aside from its use in bookstores, genre is about as relevant to today’s publishing scene as a mastodon stuck in a bog.  Moreover, it creates immense confusion among both readers and writers.

Readers are used to talking about it, but fans of some of the new and strange subgenres seem to be speaking a foreign language!  We have quantum fiction, for example, which is characterized by use of an element in quantum mechanics, but it’s just everyday life that hinges on some aspect of the quantum nature of reality and doesn’t have much to do with real physics.  We have the various “punk” genres—splatterpunk (horror) and cyberpunk and steampunk (sci-fi).

If you find this all mind-boggling, don’t feel alone—I’m right with you.  It’s best to think of genres as just more keywords that can be used to describe a novel.  Authors can always throw their book in the catch-all bin labeled “literary fiction” if they can’t manage to associate a few of these keywords, but then readers won’t have much indication of the book’s content either.  Readers should always use the blurbs and “peek inside” feature online or page through the novel at the bookstore rather than genre when making book-buying decisions.

PDFs free for the asking. Robert Heinlein, the famous sci-fi writer, made TANSTAAFL (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”) famous with his novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  I’m not offering you a free lunch, but with a few clicks you can have some great reading.  Here’s the list so you don’t have to waste one click going to my “Free Stuff & Contests” webpage:

“Escape from Earth” (free sci-fi novella)

“Portal in the Pines” (free sci-fi novella)

“Your Past Will Find You” (free crime novella)

“The Whistleblower” (free crime/thriller novella)

“Mayhem, Murder, and Music” (free collection of short crime stories)

“Crime, Mystery, and Thrills” (free short story collection)

“Dreams of Revenge” (free crime/thriller novella–a Chen and Castilblanco story)

In addition, you might like to check out the following free PDFs that are informative:

“Writing Fiction” (free short course)

“‘Future History’ Timeline” (free information tool for readers who want to connect up many of my books by placing them on a fictitious timeline—yes, it exists beyond the different series)

“Two Articles for Readers of Rembrandt’s Angel”–for readers who want to know more about how I wrote my new novel.

If you’d like one or more of these, just query me via my contact page.

I don’t (and can’t) publish everything I write—not because it’s inferior (I’m my own worst critic, so the bad stuff just gets tossed), but because it’s usually short fiction, and ‘zine editors are a scurrilous, cliquish bunch who make an author jump through more hoops than other publishers and pay very little, so ‘zines aren’t worth wasting my time on.

Badge of honor. I was amused by the list of 2017’s best books in the NY Times Book Review on December 10—I didn’t read any of them! The Times’ secret and arcane algorithms for determining the “importance” of books (their famous “bestsellers”) has always been suspect because the paper is biased toward Big Five publishers and against indie authors and indie publishers (small presses). Of course, so is Amazon (see below), Apple, B&N, and Goodreads (now owned by Amazon).  Authors not under the Big Five’s umbrella fight the good fight, but we continue to lose the battles with a few exceptions like the books by Hugh Howey and Mark Weir.

Goodbye from a book critic? Ms. Jennifer Senior is retiring from the NY Times’ staff; she decided to go out in style by writing a snarky article called “A Guide to Decoding Name-Checks” (12/14/17). To decode this title, let me explain that she’s going after the acknowledgments authors put in their books. She admires critic Sam Sacks rant in the New Yorker 5 years ago: “The most radical experimentalist [author] adheres to the most mindless acknowledgments-page formula.”

Both these critics are mentally challenged—most critics are, of course, or just plain snarky because they can’t write: “Those who can’t X become critics” is an appropriate morphing for  “those who can’t do, teach”—in this case, X = write applies, but this works for X = act, paint, dance, sing, and so forth works too. (Of course, literary agents are often worse than book critics because they think they’re critics!) Before you accuse me of writing my own rant, let me just ask: What’s wrong with a wee bit of old-fashioned thanks to those who been so helpful to an author in publishing her or his book.  In Ms. Senior’s defense, she does come to her senses and go on to say that she’s basically OK with that.

Tomorrow, in my blog post “The End Game,” I will analyze what I like to see at the end of a book as a reader.  I wrote this before seeing her article, and it’s more general, but I independently repeat some of her points.

Happy retirement, Ms. Senior!

Did you notice something new on my homepage? I have teamed up with the Irish author A. B.  Carolan. I’ve scheduled one of his short stories for a future post.  He will be managing all our young adult books.  He’ll rewrite and reedit a second edition of The Secret Lab to start with, for example, and will write The Secret of the Urns, both sci-fi mysteries for young adults and adult readers who are young-at-heart.  The latter will be based on my short story “Marcello and Me” which appears in the collection Pasodobles in a Quantum Stringscape.  Look for these young adult books in 2018…and welcome A. B. to the team!

Comments? If you are so inclined, you can comment on this post and others. I accept differences of opinion.  I won’t accept foul language.  I try to keep this website PG-13.  Use the contact page to make your comment…and please refer to the specific post.


In libris libertas!




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