Meet the fourth book in the Rachel Peng series:
I’ve had this post in the queue for several months.* It’s one of those posts that I’ve needed to write, but haven’t wanted to write, and… Well, here’s the thing: I can be dumb, and insensitive, and I write from my own life’s perspective (which has been pretty darned good). Since I’m a writer, sometimes there are elements in my projects that can be dumb, or insensitive, or come from my own life’s perspective (which sometimes ignores that other peoples’ lives have not been pretty darned good).
GREEK KEY has been out for two weeks, so this is the obligatory getting-my-working-life-in-order post.
Hey! It’s Monday! STATE MACHINE just went live, and I’m going to talk about the plot…ish. This’ll be vague to avoid spoilers, but if you’re familiar with the books or the comic, you’re already aware that one of the general themes I use is real-world superheroes.
This is the part I have fun with, especially in the Rachel books. The
400 *cough*cough* 350 members of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies have a tiny quantum organic computer chip implanted in their brains. This chip allows them to access and, to a lesser extent, control frequencies in the EM spectrum. Since nearly everything within our scope of existence is affected by the EM spectrum to some extent, this is a pretty big deal. Also, having an adaptive, evolving computer in their heads lets the OACET Agents change themselves…within reason. The implant enhances biofeedback, which gives moderate improvements in performance to athletes who practice every day, or some additional mental abilities to those who meditate regularly.
I especially love the autoscripts. Each time one Agent discovers something new, they can package that learned experience in an autoscript and pass it to someone else in the collective. This second Agent can then use that script, modify the script as needed, and then pass that modified script to someone else, who can in turn modify it to their own needs… Think of it as the ultimate form of the collaborative learning experience. In the Rachel books, I had to make Rachel resist fully participating in the autoscript process. If I hadn’t, we’d be following a cyborg who just becomes progressively more and more powerful over time. Rachel is fun to write because she knows shouldn’t be a cyborg–except for her perception and frequency-manipulation skills, she is terrible at it!–and she’s mostly just stomping through her extremely weird life while everyone around her levels up.
Unfortunately, superheroes need villains. Villains are also fun to play with, but much harder to write, especially as the Rachel novels use an entirely different set of rules than the comic to keep it more relatable to real life.
- Rule 1: No koala (sorry);
- Rule 2: Ghosts will never be on-camera;
- Rule 3: If ghosts do influence events, they will never be identified as ghosts.
I can’t avoid the ghosts altogether, not while still being true to the original material, but they’re downplayed. STATE MACHINE will probably be the most “ghostly” book in the Rachel novels, and it still adheres to these rules. But with the ghosts off of the table, where does that leave the villains? Ghosts are a hell of a game-changer, if you think about it. They’re invisible, invulnerable allies, and they have a crazy range of powers (teleportation, mental manipulation, etc.). If they’re gone, how do you write a bad guy who can take on 350 near-omniscient cyborgs who are motivated by self-preservation?
Well, you’ve got to go big. A single bad guy would get steamrolled by OACET. But a single bad guy who knows how to use societal and political systems as a weapon? There are tons of “systems” out there. Government. Public opinion. News cycles. Tax law!
Gaming the “system”, whichever one that is, is the only way a modern super-villain can go toe-to-toe with our heroes. Systems are huge, unwieldy weapons, and it takes ages to position them correctly, but once they’re set up and good to go, very little can stand against them. Societies are imperfect monsters, and are slanted to favor certain persons. If you know how to work that system to your advantage, bam! You’ve now got superpowers.
Now let’s go back to the part where I said I try to keep the Rachel novels “more relatable to real life.” There’s real life, and then there’s fictional “real life”, and these are quite different because one is usually all about the crushing burden of finances and oh no oh no oh NO so many bills all of the time why do they keep coming aren’t I a good person?
And the other is escapism, which is a major reason why we enjoy reading fiction.
If Richard Hanlon et al. wanted to eliminate the Agents, they should go after them financially. The U.S. government has a long history of defunding unpopular agencies, so why should OACET be any different?
(I can honestly see why Lucas spent so much time discussing interstellar commerce in the more recent films and the CLONE WARS cartoons. This makes perfect sense–control the money, control the universe. Personally, I don’t think he went far enough. If you’re going to travel down Financial Plot Point Road, then the Emperor should have defunded the Jedi. “Oh no, you’ve lost your non-profit status! However shall you pay for your spaceships and laser swords now? Principles sorely tested when buy a sandwich you cannot, hmmm?”)
However, while money may be magic, it’s also difficult to turn into an interesting plot. Not impossible! Just difficult, and I don’t know enough about how money works to pull it off. (Follow the money, they say, and I say, What, where? There was money? Did the bills eat it again?) So I usually play around with the more humanized “systems”. In STATE MACHINE, Hanlon’s back in the role of the Big Bad, and he’s not going down without a fight. He’s extremely smart, and since he created OACET, he knows their weaknesses.
The next book in the Rachel series is book 4 of 7. The supervillains are less about working the system, and more about overthrowing it–because if you’re going to have completely balls-out evil villains anyhow, they might as well not bother with pants.*
* My elevator pitch is terrible.
This is a post about self-publishing, and why Maker Space has been available since March in ebook form but took until Thursday to finally become available as an actual book.
I’m aware that some of you reading this are traditionally published authors (hi Jean!), and I am assuming that some of you are self-published (are author-published, practice artisinal publishing, engage in the craft of putting out your own writing…Ugh. Some days you just want to hit the terminology with a baseball bat and use what’s left of the pulpy mess when you’re done.). If you keep up with the publishing community in any way, you’re aware there is some controversy over which method of publishing best benefits the author. This argument can be boiled down to money and control.
Money is a big one. Royalties, obviously, but there’s also who foots the final cost of the product. Self-publishing is not cheap. Rephrase: self-publishing where the end result is a quality product is not cheap. (If you have not yet searched for “dinosaur erotica” on Amazon, please do so.*) If you pursue traditional publishing, the publisher is responsible for taking your manuscript and creating a finished product. They are also responsible for advertising, shipping, and the other elements of successful books.
At first blush, the issue of control sounds fairly simple. It asks: who maintains control over your work? If you are traditionally published, you turn over control of your work when you submit the finished manuscript. Elements of control, such as who holds the copyright and when it reverts to you, are (should be) established in your contract. The publisher is also responsible for advertising, shipping, and… Yes. That. Money and control are entwined.
I come from webcomics, and I’ve been putting out content for the better part of a decade. This has worked out pretty well for me, because I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the process of taking my product from raw, unfinished ideas and shepherding them through the final stages. If you just did that thing where you said, “control freak” and pretended to hide it behind a cough? Thank you! When you’re responsible for putting out your own content, you are your own quality control expert, and nobody’s going to buy your shit if it looks like shit.
There are so many challenges/problems with this I can’t even, by the way. The learning curve is steep and expensive and frustrating… There are products you’re so excited to make that you forget to assess costs (case in point: the saga of the Speedy plush). There are designs you send to press and then, years later, your husband takes That One Shirt out of the closet and now you’re embarrassed that he’d still consider wearing it. To do yardwork! So, yeah, it can be horrible, and if you’re not careful, you stand a very good chance of losing a lot of money on products that won’t sell.
But it also can be wonderful, as you get more flexibility to work within the scope of your own ideas. The Rachel Peng novels were intended as a series. Seven books, with one overarching plot driving events. With that in mind, I wanted a single thematic cover design to carry over from book to book, so they’d look like a set when sitting on a shelf. Rose Loughran, who does the webcomic Red Moon Rising, is the cover artist: each book features a different landmark from Washington, D.C. The jacket design reflects the colors in Rose’s landscape painting. DIGITAL DIVIDE was all reds and golds, with MAKER SPACE in blues, purples, and grays.
Rose does the painting for the cover art, but I do content, text layout, and everything else. The cover layout for DIGITAL DIVIDE was delicious cake, and I had no serious problems getting this first book through printing. Since MAKER SPACE was the same size and on the same thematic template, I didn’t think it would be different.
/casts summon problems
I use CreateSpace as my printer. It’s owned and operated by Amazon, so do with that what you will: hopefully,
all self-publishers–heck, let’s go with absolutely everybody–is aware that using Amazon and its affiliates comes with baggage. Most of this baggage is tiny and maneuverable and needs very little management within the day-to-day of your busy schedule… but then there’s that steamer trunk that’s about to crush your grandma and her local bookstore. I’ve got my reasons for using it, and one of those is that CreateSpace generates high-quality books at a reasonable price. Copies fresh off of the CreateSpace press are as sturdy as anything you’d receive from a traditional printing press, and the cover resolution is high. My husband has a loupe left over from when he used to work in printing which we use to check for DPI resolution on my products, and CreateSpace does right by Rose’s paintings.
So, right before MAKER SPACE was supposed to hit, I submit the cover to CreateSpace and order a proof copy. Cue shenanigans.
I think I ordered eight proofs in total over four months. Each time I got the copy back, there was something wrong with the cover. The color printed dark: the first two versions were purple-blue blobs. After tinkering to lighten it up, some of the colors didn’t match each other. And when I finally got the colors right, the whole cover had somehow jumped a quarter-inch to the left and the spine was misaligned.
These proofs weren’t free, by the way. CreateSpace charges me per item, same as you. I get a discount because it’s my content, but the endless proof-chain did set me back close to $70**. Now, if I were published by a traditional printer, I would have had a nice box of ARCs shipped to me prior to publication, free of charge and to distribute as I want. But I wouldn’t have had any say whatsoever in choosing the cover art, or its design, or the text on the back, or the pull quotes for the cover… Easier, less expensive (for me)? Definitely!
And I would have felt as though I had been excluded from part of the process.
Such exclusion is arguably a good thing. I might enjoy controlling the development of a product, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got specialized skills in cover design, font selection, or so on. I think the final layout of the book cover is solid; it could probably be better. In ten years, I might look back on the Rachel Peng covers like those ratty old embarrassing tee shirts in the back of the closet.
Today? I enjoy what I do and how I do it, and I’m better at it than when I started. Life’s a process, too.
*I am not suggesting that all dinosaur erotica is of terrible quality. I am merely saying that I have judged these books by their hastily Photoshopped covers, and by titles such as Turned Gay by Dinosaurs.
**Always figure in shipping and handling. Always.
It looks as though I’ll be starting a Patreon campaign soon, which I said I wouldn’t do until everyone and their sister had one, and since everyone and their sister now has one, I should really get my butt in gear. This means planning bonuses to entice readers to donate. Here are a few ideas I’ve been playing around with…
The Return of the Joshsmut
Josh has been married eight times (Mare was both Wife Three and Wife Eight… Look, they’re complicated), so there are seven novellas left in the series. I’d love to do these as some sort of serialized incentive program for Patreon donors, then turn these serials into a finished product for everybody.
The Disasterhouse Blog
This house, man. Today–this very afternoon!!!–a structural engineer will conduct an assessment of what must be done to keep the southern side of the house from collapsing. Guys, this house is literally falling down and the problems keep getting worse. We’re also trapped in it due to financial reasons: what was supposed to be an investment in cute structurally-sound fixer-upper has become a freakin’ nightmare. And we’re forced to live in it!So you can forgive me if I load up the home blog, look at all of the topics that would make a great (for you) update, and think, “NOPE.”
In addition to updating that blog at least once a week, Brown and I have been kicking around the idea of doing a podcast. Or, as he says, “I will happily argue with you in public if it means I get to review new tools.” Patreon donors would have access to this podcast before it goes live.
Speedy has over fifty kids throughout the United States, and will soon have a couple hundred more in Australia. None of his offspring can talk, and they aren’t quite as bright as he is, but they still have human-level intelligence. I’ve wanted to do a simple one-panel inkwash comic featuring four of these young koalas on Tumblr for ages… Think Chopping Block, only cuter and much, much darker. Patreon donors would have access to each comic before it goes live.
I dunno. What do you want from me?
None of this will happen immediately. Kickstarter fulfillment takes priority, and I need to also finish the thank-you gift for people who bought the serialized version of Digital Divide before it went live. Which was over a year ago and… ugh. Anyhow. In my opinion, it’s dickish to ask for more money before fulfilling prior obligations, so I’m at least going to get the bonus gift, the Digital Divide audiobook, and League Night (the .pdf of the Kickstarter bonus story) sent out before putting up a Patreon campaign.
Thank you for reading. Please enjoy these owls.
As I sit here, watching the pool we uncovered this weekend slowly turn through multiple shades of green, it occurs to me that the year is already slipping away and I should post a project update.
Big success. Huge. On many different levels. Most of the rewards have been ordered, or are being processed in some way. The release of the bonus story, League Night, has been held up, but for a very good reason that I can’t talk about until it’s confirmed. However, once all this is over, I will be writing up a post about how difficult it’s been to interact with many organizations which work with seeing-impaired persons. Not all organizations, mind! Just almost all.
The JoshSmut series has been indefinitely postponed. Sales of The Russians Came Knocking weren’t nearly as strong as I needed them to be, and it hasn’t earned out its costs, This is sniffles-sad for me, as sex comedies are too much fun to write. I’ll see if it’s feasible to return to the other seven wives of Josh Glassman at a later time.
The Rachel Peng Series
The third book is taking shape. I’m much more hopeful about this one than Maker Space; by this third book, the world’s nicely established and now there’s some adventures to be had. As for when this is supposed to come out? Well. Last night, I realized there was potential for a spinoff novel from this book, but told from Hope Blackwell’s perspective because it involved the ghosts. Since there won’t be any ghosts in the Rachel books (or talking koalas. sorry), this spinoff novel would get shifted back to Hope. So what is essentially a series of books spun off from the comic is now spinning back to the comic’s characters… and now I’m so dizzy I’m going to throw up. The question is, do I write two books and publish them simultaneously? I would love to do this to make sure consistency between events carries over between them. Downside? These novels are now my primary source of income and I will be hella broke by then. Mull, mull, mull…
As of this weekend, Intelligence has been cancelled. We behaved like sensible adults and let the show do what it was going to do, and now we can move on with our lives. I’d love to see OACET on the small screen one day, Scandal-style. Maybe we should see their version of the straight-up cyborg procedural as testing the television waters for what would need to happen with full-on OACET conspiracy theory sexytime weirdness.
Now, have a baby possum.
No no, not “me” “I”. I meant “you” “I” and…
Let’s try this again.
I’m now reading on a Kindle. A friend gave me his Gen 2 Kindle to test the formatting for Digital Divide. I expected to use it once and then stick it on a shelf to collect dust until the next time I had to proof an ebook; instead it has created a fundamental shift in my reading habits. Yes, it’s convenient; yes, it’s portable, but…
Okay, backing up again. I’m an avid reader, and run through at least two or three books a week. Until I got the Kindle, I made a bi-weekly trek to a used bookstore, filled up a shopping basket with whatever paperback caught my eye, and paid about $10 for the entire mess. I discovered a lot of good authors this way, saved a hell of a lot of money, and supported a fantastic independent used bookstore.
Now, I go to Amazon, locate the book I want to read next, download it, devour it, and repeat the process a few days later.
You could argue that changing my habits might have hurt some people: yes, I’m now supporting Amazon instead of a used bookstore; yes, there are repercussions for the publishing industry because fewer print books are in circulation. I would argue that an in-law worked in that used bookstore and I got mad store credit, and that sales of those used paperbacks weren’t tracked by the publishers.
I would also argue that changing my reading habits now means I’m supporting authors. There are (enormous) flaws in the ebook pricing model, but for every traditionally-published book I download, the author gets a cut. For self-published books*, the percentage the author keeps is higher. This was not the case with my used paperback habit: I might have been keeping the stories alive by reading used books, but I was doing no favors to the authors who created them.
There are other hidden benefits in how self-pubbed ebooks are purchased. Speaking for myself, I make the most financial profit through .pdf sales through the store, because the third-party cuts are smaller. However, purchasing my books through Amazon or another online vendor gives me free advertising. Ranking is everything; the more sales that a self-pubbed book gets, the higher it climbs in the lists, so its exposure increases, which results in more sales… It’s a lovely circle of profitability. It’s also an indicator that a self-pubbed book is good–or at least readable–as there is the very real problem of the self-publishing shit volcano.
If you’re a reader of mine and you want to know where to purchase my books, use the purchasing service that best benefits you. I will get different benefits, financial and otherwise, no matter which method you use. But if I were asked about my ideal book-purchasing scenario, I’d say: (1) Download from Amazon; (2) Read, read, read!!! (3) Post an honest review; and (4) Tell your friends if you’ve enjoyed it.
With this in mind, Maker Space should hit on Monday. See you later! I’m off to the Anxiety Pantry for some cake mix, and then I’m spending the weekend in the Weeping Closet sucking that cake mix through a straw.
*Or author-published, or whatever you want to call it. Lately I’ve been saying I practice “artisanal publishing”. Check back in June for my hand-crafted slow-brewed Summer Wheat fanfics!**
**Totally kidding about the Summer Wheat fanfics.