Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Obligatory Hugo Post

I've done a few eligible things this year, but I'm only going to mention one of them here, because I like the magazine a lot, and I think other people would like it if they had a chance to read more of it, at the scale of the Hugo Awards. There's this story I published in 2013, called "I Will Trade With You" and it is viewable here: [quote] The north star is still in my palm. North, I keep on, but there’s no way to know how far I walked before I stopped to rest on this lump of sand instead of that one. I need to rest to keep walking with these old, uncertain bones. When I’m ready to move again, I crawl a little, and wait for my legs to work right below me. When I can’t walk anymore, I drink my own blood from my boots and joints. I was not put together well, nor will I ever be again. I do not know how many days there were before this, but it has only been a few days while I walked, and then it was night, and I slept sometimes during the night. Then it was day again and I kept on, where my hand still leads me. My old right hand is still mine. It was my first trade. My legs are shorter than I remember and it is hard to walk on them when they are this worn down. The sand slips through the cracks of very old boots. I’m bleeding somewhere in there, but most of it stays in my boots and I can sip it later when I rest. It’s all I have to drink. Let this body be numb and unknown to me. There was little I could do about it in the middle of a desert. I licked what I could reach of my blisters and sores and ill-fashioned joints, drinking back my own fluids. It hurt, but it had to be done. [/quote] If you're aching to nominate something by me, there it is. If you hadn't seen it before, well, now you have. Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Price Wiggling Is Not a Strategy, Glitz is not a Strategy, Shotgunning is Not a Strategy

The thing about books and eBooks is that there are tried and true methods of advertising that seem to reach diminishing returns as more people do them and more people do them and too many people are doing them. Being free on Amazon meant something, when there wasn't really that much that was free on Amazon. Now there's so much free stuff on Amazon people don't need to buy anything if they aren't particularly discerning. Most people aren't. Remember, Duck Dynasty is the most popular show on television, right now. Also, print ads used to mean something, and a presence at book fairs. But there's too many places people go to read things, now. It's impossible to return the investment outside of a few, very expensive, and very specific sorts of markets. Genres narrow interests down into tiny corners. Comics go to comics. LitFic goes to LitFic. Romance to romance. True consumers of wide ranging media are not spoken to by marketing folks, yet most of us are true consumers of wide-ranging media. The manliest biker dude will sit through and try to enjoy the girliest romance movie if their significant other gets to pick this week. In fact, many romances, when well-done, are enjoyable no matter how macho one happens to consider oneself. How does anyone get the ubiquity of saturation necessary to get people to pick up a book? At the moment, films seem to be the deciders. This is where the marketing is narrowed to a point where instead of shotgunning out a whole bunch of books in huge wads with boxes and boxes of books arriving at marketing centers, the few movies that are released are targeted like laserbeams and positioned to maximize revenues both spent and earned. But, there's a huge limitation, of course. For all the good that Hollywood does at marketing, and cross-platform saturation, the moment the limelight looks away, there are crickets in an empty wasteland of forgotten VHS bins in piles at the dollar racks, and DVDs on sale that are all so easily and quickly forgotten. Nothing works. The great challenge that needs to be solved, then, is how to narrowly target over time a core set of folks who would like a book. Let's say a book about redheaded teenagers surviving in the poor, rural Midwest, from upscale New York exists. This imaginary book would appeal to people who shared that experience. It would also appeal to parents of redheads looking for a book their kids can relate with. How do you reach that group? How do you do it once? How do you do it for forty years straight, refreshing the message continually that this thing exists, and the audience of redheads and new midwesterners might find it appealing? How do you find that same set of tools for marketing when the book's subject matter is obscure? Who can relate to the Demon Children of Dogsland? Who would even want a literary cut-up epic fantasy novel about worlds that never were? There's something missing in all the noise and techniques that used to work. There is precision that is missing. I work at a Christian Book Store, but you wouldn't know it from the promos that show up. It doesn't look anyone really knows what we're doing, and who are demographic is, no matter how much we tell people that we are a specialty retailer, we get the latest YA thing that we don't know what to do with because our audience is much older than YA and buys a lot of books about the Eucharist and spiritual journaling. Bird by Bird is our kind of book. Teen vampire romps are not. Anyway, beyond just shotgunning books. Fidgeting with pricing will only work until everyone does it. Then, the audience will grow wise, and it will face the same problem that free giveaways have. What's the actual target? Fidgeting to drum up business seems to have no relationship to the target desired, at the moment, most of the time. And, there's simply too much of it happening to have any impact beyond confusion, for me, as a consumer. Internet advertisements are a flashing, red and purple noise in my eyes. They don't really work most of the time. Nothing works. Technology, build me something that works. Build me a marketing mechanic that is better than just shotgunning giveaways on GoodReads. Let me make a list of traits of likely consumers. (For example, readers of my books are probably interested in art installations of the grotesque and surreal, enjoy Wes Anderson movies, and drink oolong tea.) How could I build a target for my readers out of that? How could I make the marketing as persistent as the file for sale on eBook servers? Our eBooks never go out of print. Our marketing efforts dissipate quickly when our advertisements roll over and another book or another author stands blinking in the limelight of the world. How can we make our marketing as persistent as our eBooks and books?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sunflowers to Save the World

Sunflowers are beautiful. They are also kind of huge, a little bit woody, and a favorite for all sorts of bees and bugs and birds impacted by climate change. Seriously, they are beautiful. They are amazing and beautiful. Just look at them.

(source: Now, look at the world around you. Everyone knows of a patch of ground. This patch of ground could be the corner of your yard. It could be a scrap of dirt left bare after some construction disaster. It could be just wild ground, hard-scrabble and rough. Sunflowers are rough. They like disturbed soil. Grab a shovel, disturb some soil. Plant some sunflowers. Seeds are cheap and plentiful. Soak them in rainwater for a few hours before planting, and then place them about one finger joint down into the soil. They have deep taproots that reach down and pull up nutrients all up and down their big stalks. They have big, wide, nitrogen-rich leaves that provide shade in hot weather, and shelter for bugs and small birds. Now, once the sunflower is done, and the seedheads turn down to the earth, and the plant begins to brown, chop it off right at the root line, leaving the roots in place to decompose inside the soil. Then, take that big, slightly wood-y stalk, and bury it in another patch of dead ground. Right there, in that disturbed soil with the buried sunflower stalks, plant more sunflower seeds. Where the sunflowers were once planted, nature will find something useful to do there. It will probably involve generations of sunflowers. This is a good thing. It is a beautiful thing. And it spreads. It spreads, and the decaying sunflowers provide shelter to worms underground, and the roots release all those deep nutrients as they decay. Bring back the soil, and save the world. Desertification is the enemy. Do your own little thing. Be the sunflower ninja. Bring beauty and peace and healing to the world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WE LEAVE TOGETHER set and loaded for June 2014

“Readers will be eager to return to Dogsland.” —Publishers Weekly I n a city where the rich stage decadent parties as the poor suffer in squalor, where assassins prowl and kings men keep order with truncheons and force, where gangs of children run like dogs and addicts die in the streets, a demonic strain has taken hold. The shape shifting priestess and priest of Erin have come to Dogsland stalking a fugitive, half-breed Senta Rachel Nolander, and plot to burn her to cleanse the world of her demon-tainted blood. Led ever onward by Rachel’s corrupted lover’s crying skull, Erin’s agents seek their hapless quarry, a frightened girl guided by one promise, one hope, one prayer... We Leave Together. News broke first on Twitter:

Watch for ARCs in the wild, people...

Spider in a Tree by Susan Stinson

The Great Awakening in American history was this moment in time, before we were a nation, before we were manifest destiny, where we found religion and it set our course all the way until today. In other lands on this planet, religion does not hold so much sway over public discourse. In ours, it does. For this reason, it is a very good idea to travel back and trace the source of the influence to those tiny towns in New England, that experienced a religious fervor that resonates with familiarity even to us, today.

Jonathan Edwards, famous for his sermon about sinners in the hand of an angry god, a fire and brimstone, unforgiving purist towards a faith that is fearful and trembling, and his tenure during the height of his fame at Northampton, Massachusetts. The little town of farmers and traders, at first, adores their famous preacher. Then, after the strict theology pushes too hard on the town's sense of public order, Edwards and his family are cast out. These are historical facts, not spoilers. Jonathan Edwards will be rejected by his parish. He makes bad choices that are theologically correct.

The light of this novel is not Jonathan Edwards, but the women of the town who endure the weight of the men upon them. Sara, the wife of the famous minister, is maybe holier than him. Their daughter, Jerusha, doomed to die young from consumption, embraces fully her father's faith. Martha Root, a young woman in the town, is seduced and abandoned with twins by a relative of Jonathan Edwards, who will not marry her. Their endurance, and acceptance, and quest for joy and union with God are magnificent in contrast to the arrogance of the men. Also, Jonathan Edwards was a slave owner. His slaves are the soul of the novel. Leah, Saul, and Bathsheba are all wrestling with faith in their own way, survivors of the middle passage and trapped between worlds. Leah converts with great faith and feeling, and carries her mother's memories in Africa, her painful middle passage, and her place in Northampton, while also falling into the realm of the spirit and faith. Saul quietly and stoically longs for freedom, and until the death of someone he loves, he does not find it. He flows out into the vast woods beyond civilized places, and is assumed by many in the novel to be going native with the Indians. Bathsheba remains with the family, enduring all that she has lost along the way, living with that haunting past inside of her, of her good friends gone, her place in the world narrowed, her future a stark and unforgiving place, without freedom from her burdens.

The men form the plot of the novel with posturing. In religious fervor, Edwards' brother-in-law commits suicide, and this man's sons become the future of the country, each betraying the Edwards clan that ultimately caused their father's darkness consumed. For this reason, I will not discuss them here. Just know that it is well-done, in the text, and forms what I would consider an excellent example of the "Great American Novel" form, wherein a hefty tome about America, containing a multitude of characters each representing some influence or direction of things to come, speaks to us from the shadows of history, illuminated by brilliant writing.

And, when Jonathan Edwards speaks to the world, steals the natural world for his metaphors and his certainty, the world itself looks back and speaks. Spiders correct the sermon, unheard. A mayfly speaks. Everything speaks. The clumsy tool of Edwards' theology is not enough to contain the wondrous beauty of the world, and his greatest failure is his inability to see exactly that. A tragic, beautiful novel, and highly recommended to anyone interested in American history, religious fiction, and/or fantastic writing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A New Digital Short: VAST AND UNBROKEN

From the future, we travel back. We are not supposed to do it, but we do. When we do, we cannot be human, because it would put the future at risk. We have to do something else, then. We have to be something else. What's the point of all of this, in a vast and unbroken darkness?

Watch for it from your preferred eBook vendor...


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two General Announcements, and One Announcement to Come

First, my gratitude goes out to Jason Sizemore and Sigrid Ellis, who have been so kind as to include an excerpt from MAZE in the latest issue of Apex Magazine's digital editions. If you are a reader of Apex, and a reader of here, which is terrifically likely, you do not need to know these things. You have MAZE, and you have Apex Magazine, and you are happy! Good for you! For those of you that do not have either of these things, pick up an eBook edition of Apex Magazine, with stories by Cat Hellison, Mari Ness, Sunny Moraine, Jacqueline Carey, and Claire Humphrey from the fine folks at Weightless Books for DRM-free eBooks. ( If you do so and encounter MAZE, and wonder at reading more of it, there is a simple way to do such a thing. Again, from Weightless Books, pick up a copy of MAZE DRM-free! (

Second, my story "Dolores, Big and Strong" is available in the latest April/May 2014 issue of Asimov's Magazine! I'm writing there as Joe M. McDermott, in part because I am going to need a new author name, soon, and, in part, because I'm tired of people calling me "Jim" when I'm out and about. I may have announced this already, but I am excited and it bears repeating!

There is a third thing. If you sign up for the newsletter, you will hear about it first, and even receive a special code of special-ness!

You still have time to sign up!