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Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Sharon Lee/Steve Miller’ Category

Thoughts on Comfort Books

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Folks, over the past several weeks, I have been struggling with a wide variety of things.

To wit…does my writing matter? Does what I’m doing as a person matter? Are my perceptions accurate, and will I be able to turn them into some decent-to-better quality writing in the not-so-distant future?

I don’t know if these questions would’ve hit me quite so profoundly without the ongoing housing crisis, mind. (That remains unresolved, by the way. I probably will be writing about that again…but not today, yes?) But they have…and in a big way.

That said, I have found a lot of comfort reading and re-reading my favorite books and authors. Some of the books I’ve read over the past couple of weeks include Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s Night Calls series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s THE CURSE OF CHALION and PALADIN OF SOULS, Patricia C. Wrede’s CAUGHT IN CRYSTAL and Enchanted Forest chronicles…and, of course, my go-to standby, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s wonderful Liaden Universe (TM), most particularly the stories featuring Daav yos’Phelium and Aelliana Caylon.

What reading these stories tends to do for me is twofold. One, it takes me away from my immediate problems and reminds me that others, too, have faced adversity (even if fantastical and unusual — then again, I like that sort of thing, as you might’ve guessed). And two, these stories are life-affirming, they often make me laugh, and they always make me feel better after I’ve read them.

In short, these comfort books remind me of why I started writing, oh, yea many moons ago…I wanted to tell stories like that, that made people laugh, and maybe gave them an hour’s ease from life’s burdens…and if I did my job superbly well, maybe someone would find my stories life-affirming, too.

I can’t be certain I’ve done that as of yet. But I’d like to think that in the not-so-distant future, I may well yet attain just that…ah, well.

Anyway, what are your favorite comfort books, and why? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments section.

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Edited to add: Mind, there are so many great storytellers out there, and I’m only naming a fraction of the people I’ve read over the past few weeks that I’ve enjoyed…so if your name isn’t on this list (yet), please don’t despair. (No need for that.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 1, 2016 at 3:51 am

Two New Reviews Up at SBR Over the Weekend

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Folks, I had a busy weekend with regards to reviews, which is one reason I wasn’t able to write an after-action report right away with regards to Friday’s review of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s newest novel in their ongoing Liaden Universe, TRADE SECRET.

You see, my latest review, up as of a few, short minutes ago, is for Vera Nazarian’s haunting and compelling COBWEB EMPIRE, the second in her Cobweb Bride series. Her series is dark fantasy, yet there’s somehow an underpinning of optimism that carries you through nearly unimaginable suffering . . . in Ms. Nazarian’s conception, Death needs a bride and has refused to go on taking souls until he gets one. But he can’t have just any bride . . . oh, no. He needs a specific bride he calls the “Cobweb Bride” (hence the name of the first book of the series, COBWEB BRIDE, and the series itself, natch), and nothing else will do.

This universe is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is rich, dark, menacing, yet there are plenty of good people who populate it, including the couple at the heart of all the chaos, Persephone “Percy” Ayren and her own dark knight, Duke Beltain Chidair. (Note that Beltain hasn’t yet accustomed himself to being the Duke as his father is undead and certainly doesn’t wish to give up the title, being as distressing a personage as can be imagined . . . at least until an even worse one, Sovereign Rumalar Avalais of the Domain, shows up.)

I have enjoyed reading Ms. Nazarian’s conception thus far, and can’t wait to dive into COBWEB FOREST . . . which is why I plan to read and review it this week. (I’ve already skimmed it, but there’s many, many more things to discover by reading it multiple times.)

At any rate, I also enjoyed Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s TRADE SECRET quite a bit. It’s told in an unusual way that I likened to a mosaic, as nothing really fell into focus for me until right before the end — then I understood it completely.

Why a mosaic? Well, with a lot of mosaics, you can’t really tell what’s going on until you can stand outside and ponder them. And as that was definitely the case here, it seemed to fit.

So there you have it: Two new reviews are up at Shiny Book Review for two interesting and thoughtful books that both delighted me enormously, albeit in radically different ways.

Hope you’ll enjoy the reviews — then, if they intrigue you anywhere near as much as they did me, go buy the books. (Hours of reading enjoyment await. And the re-reads . . . did I mention the re-reads yet?)

About Self-Publishing from two examples; Kiana Davenport and Ric Locke

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Today it’s time to talk about self-publishing — the good, and the bad.

First, unfortunately, is something bad that happened due to self-publishing (which is, in and of itself, a generally good thing writers do when they’ve exhausted all other avenues of getting their books or stories out).  Kiana Davenport, a writer with many awards and sales to her credit, had a novel scheduled to come out in 2012 with a “Big Six” Publisher (she doesn’t, or can’t, name which one), but that contract was canceled after Ms. Davenport self-published two collections of short stories the very same publisher didn’t want.  (Hat tip to Sharon Lee, who posted about this on Twitter and Facebook.)

Here’s the link, and a relevant (unfortunately quite lengthy) quote from Ms. Davenport’s blog:

In January, 2010,  I signed a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York for my next novel.  I understood then that I,  like every writer in the business, was being coerced into giving up more than 75% of the profits from electronic sales of that novel, for the life of the novel.   But I was debt-ridden and needed upfront money that an advance would provide. The book was scheduled for hardback publication in August, 2012,  and paperback publication  a year later.  Recently that publisher discovered I had self-published two of my story collections as electronic books.  To coin the Fanboys,  they went ballistic.  The editor shouted at me repeatedly  on the phone.  I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of ‘blatantly betraying them with Amazon,’ their biggest and most intimidating  competitor.  I was not trustworthy.  I was sleeping with the enemy.

My lawyer  quickly pointed out that the  first collection, HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES,  had been e-published  in December,  before I signed the contract with the publisher,  so they immediately targetted the second collection, CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II, published recently in July.

Most of the stories in both collections had  each been published several times before,  first in Story Magazine,  then again in The O’HENRY AWARDS  PRIZE STORIES anthologies,  the PUSHCART PRIZE stories anthologies,  and THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 2000, anthology. And, over  several years  both collections had been submitted  to each of the Big 6 publishers in NY.  I still have their rejection letters,  including one from the house I was now under contract with.  So you might say these stories were, in a sense,  recycled,  sitting  in my files rejected.  Yet,  as published collections,  this Big 6  publisher  suddenly found them threatening.

So, here  is what the  publisher demanded.  That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms.  Plus,  that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS.  Currently,  that’s about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?)  Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback.  In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer,  in a state of  acquiescence and, consequently,  utter self-loathing.

Note that Ms. Davenport is fighting back, as well she should.  Because to my mind, this sort of attitude makes no sense whatsoever; if Ms. Davenport’s short story collections do well in any format, anywhere, that can only help raise the name recognition for her novel in 2012.  And while I realize the “Big Six” publishers are nervous and don’t seem to completely understand the e-book revolution, why on Earth don’t they realize that any publication in any format, especially from an award-winning writer, can only help them down the line?

This is a short-sighted, self-serving attitude at best, and completely stupid at worst, from the “Big Six” publisher in question, which is why I’m making sure that anyone who reads my blog knows about this as a possibility with regards to self publishing, even though I hope it will not happen again to anyone else due to the utter stupidity of this happening at all. 

Ms. Davenport has the right to earn a living; it is absolutely, positively wrong for any publisher to try to keep her from doing so.  Period.  (And if you want to help her earn some money this quarter — I have no money or I’d throw some her way — go buy one of her short story collections, here or here.  That’ll help her, and spite her idiotic “Big Six” publisher, all at the same time — the very definition of a win/win.)

My hope is that by writing about this, and all the discussion of it (here, at Ms. Davenport’s blog, at Passive Voice, by Sharon Lee, and by many, many others) has to help get the word out that some publishers are just plain crazy.  And that “sisters have to keep doing it for themselves.”  (Or brothers.)

Now, on to a very good example of self-publishing that has worked well.

Ric Locke, who was a good friend of my late husband Michael, self-published his novel, the milSF TEMPORARY DUTY, at Amazon.com and other places.  (Here’s the link to his book at Amazon.)  Locke dedicated it to Michael, which I greatly appreciated once I found out about it (through correspondence with Locke, which I didn’t see for months due to not checking my e-mail as regularly as I should).**  I’ve read Locke’s novel — it’s excellent, and I don’t say that lightly — and believe it should’ve been picked up by someone in the mainstream, mainline publishing world.  But since it wasn’t, I’m glad he published it himself.  So far he has around 11,000 downloads since he put it up at the end of May of 2011, and that’s great.  98 reviews to date at Amazon.com, too — most of them positive.

All of that said, I’m still a bit leery of self-publishing even though I have seen it work for Ric Locke and have seen it work for a few other friends.  But it has become a worthy option for many, and it’s much better to have good novels like Locke’s coming out somehow rather than being forced to the sidelines because none of the “Big Six” liked what Ric was doing.

So, there you have it.  Self-publishing is how more and more authors are making a go of it to attempt to pay the bills, and it’s here to stay.  So let’s hope that whichever publisher Ms. Davenport was dealing with will get with the program and realize that, as the old adage says, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

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** Note that Michael helped to edit Ric Locke’s novel.  (Which should tell you how long Locke tried to get his novel published before finally taking the plunge and publishing it himself, as Michael has been dead for nearly seven years.)  I read it and commented, too, but compared to Michael’s comprehensive efforts, it was nothing.

Just Reviewed “The Agent Gambit” by Lee and Miller

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Folks, if you haven’t read Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s speculative fiction yet, you really and truly should.

But in case I haven’t convinced you yet by my several previous blogs and reviews upon the subject, here is my latest review for THE AGENT GAMBIT, an omnibus put out by Baen Books that combines Lee and Miller’s very first Liaden Universe novel, AGENT OF CHANGE with their third novel (and direct sequel to the former) CARPE DIEM

http://shinybookreview.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/the-agent-gambit-excellent-a-great-intro-to-liaden-universe/

Enjoy!

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm

My favorite “comfort books”

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After several extremely trying days, I read some of my favorite “comfort books” in order to feel better and be able to keep going.   And that got me thinking about what, exactly, is a “comfort book?”

To my mind, a “comfort book” is one that will give you a positive feeling time and time again.  It’s a book that gets your mind off your troubles, or at least diverts you from them somewhat.  And it’s a book that you tend to admire for some reason — maybe due to how well the writer in question uses language, maybe because the characters “speak” to you, maybe because it has a bright and lively feel to it, or maybe just because these characters have survived something terrible but have lived to tell the tale.

These books all inspire me to do more, be more, and to keep trying, no matter how hard it gets and no matter how long it takes.  Though the plotlines are disparate, and the situations all over the map, they all have in common one thing — they reach me, no matter how awful I feel, and no matter what sort of chaos is going on all around me.

So in no particular order, here are my favorite books that I turn to again and again when I’m feeling the most down and out:

MIRROR DANCE, Lois McMaster Bujold — Mark Vorkosigan’s story goes from anti-hero to full-fledged hero, has huge peaks and miserable valleys, and contains some of the best writing of Ms. Bujold’s career to date.

CORDELIA’S HONOR (omnibus of SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR), Bujold — Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan’s story is humane, interesting, revealing, and engaging.  Cordelia makes her own life her own way, yet realizes she’s as fragile down-deep as anyone else.   Finding a mate as extraordinary as she is in Aral Vorkosigan is half the fun — watching what they accomplish together is the rest.  This is my favorite of all Ms. Bujold’s novels/novel compilations; it also was my late husband Michael’s favorite work by Bujold.

Poul Anderson, the “Dominic Flandry” series (two outstanding novels in this series are A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS and A STONE IN HEAVEN) — Flandry is an interstellar secret agent, a literate and erudite man with impeccable taste who still manages to be a flawed human.   He’s also a bon vivant with an alien valet and a romantic heart buried beneath his cynical exterior.  If you haven’t read any of these stories yet, you should.

André Norton, FORERUNNER FORAY and ICE CROWN — Note that Miss Norton wrote many, many outstanding novels in the science fiction, fantasy, romance and historical romance fields; these are my two favorites.  The former novel has a heroine in Ziantha who goes from unwanted child to highly-trained psychic, albeit in thrall to the latter-day version of the Mafia; how she breaks free and finds friends and companions is well worth the read.  The latter features Roane Hume, an unwanted cousin forced to do her uncle’s will on a backward planet that knows nothing of space travel or advanced societies; Roane finds her own inner strength and throws off her shackles while finding the right man for her (more alluded to than delineated, but there), proving that knowledge indeed is power.  (Note that André Norton was Michael’s all-time favorite SF&F writer.  He had good taste.)

Stephen R. Donaldson — A MAN RIDES THROUGH.  This is the second book of the “Mordant’s Need” duology and is a rousing tale of romance, mistaken motivations, political intrigue, and contains an unusual magic system dealing with the shaping and control of various mirrors.  The two main protagonists, Terisa and Geraden, go from not knowing anything to being supremely powerful and confident in and of themselves while maintaining their fallible, undeniably human nature in a realistic way that reminded me somewhat of medieval epics (albeit with magic).  Excellent book that works on all levels, and as always, Donaldson’s command of language is superb and worth many hours of study.

Rosemary Edghill, TWO OF A KIND and THE SHADOW OF ALBION (the latter written with André Norton) — the first is a hysterically funny Regency romance, the second is an “alternate Regency” with magic.  Excellent books.

Mercedes Lackey, BY THE SWORD and Vanyel’s trilogy (MAGIC’S PAWN, MAGIC’S PROMISE, MAGIC’S PRICE) — both emotional and well-conceived, these books draw you in and don’t let go.  Ms. Lackey is one of the most popular novelists in fantasy literature, and it’s easy to understand why.

KRISTIN HANNAH, WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES — I go back to this book again and again because of the strength of its romance between contemporary woman Alaina “Lainie” Constanza and the outlaw John Killian in 1896; this is a paranormal, time-traveling romance that gets everything right.  The characters are engaging though deeply flawed, and have had terrible things happen to them in the past but manage to overcome all difficulties by believing in the power of their love — but taking time to get there, which makes things far more realistic.

Linnea Sinclair, AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS.  I enjoy all of Ms. Sinclair’s work, but it’s the story about psychic priestess Gillaine “Gillie” Davré in the far future (she’s a Raheiran, is also a soldier and member of the Raheiran Special Forces) that always draws me back.  Gillie is a complex heroine that, despite her special abilities (of which she has many), still remains a flawed human being.  (The Raheirans think of themselves as human.  Other types of humanity, such as the Khalarans Gillie works with, tend to think of them as lesser Gods and Goddesses, which discomfits Gillie no end.)  Her love story with Khalaran Admiral Rynan “Make it Right” Makarian, a man as complex and interesting as she is, holds my interest time and time again.

Jane Austen, EMMA and MANSFIELD PARK — these are my two favorite novels of Miss Austen’s output, partly because the first is a biting satire and the second a morality play in addition to the “comedy of manners” Miss Austen seemingly could write in her sleep.   I appreciate Miss Austen’s work more and more as I get older; her craftsmanship was outstanding and her eye for detail even better.  (Note that Jane Austen, like André Norton, was one of Michael’s favorite writers.  It was because of Michael’s insistence that I re-read EMMA and realized the fluffy nature of it concealed biting wit and savage satire, then I went on to re-read everything else.)

Finally, there’s the writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and their entire “Liaden Universe” series.  I can’t say enough how much I admire these two writers, how much I appreciate their fine series of books (twelve or so to date), and how much I’m looking forward to GHOST SHIP, the sequel to both SALTATION and I DARE.

These books are all emotionally honest, they get the issues right, they don’t play games with the reader and the way these writers use the English language is superb.   I gain more every time I turn to these authors and their books, and I believe you will, too, if you give them a chance.