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Dragon or Spaceship

Sunday, 3. March 2013 14:40

I have been neglecting this blog for too long, so, starting this week, I’ll be posting a new blog post every Sunday. Woo!

(Full disclosure – these posts all originally appeared on Night Shade Books’ Night Bazaar Blog, but I don’t think too many people saw them there, so I’m taking the liberty of republishing them here.)

Right. Here’s the first one. Enjoy!


I once worked part time in a friend’s bookstore, and one day she gave me a box of used books she’d just purchased and told me to shelve them while she went to lunch. No problem, I said, but when I looked through the box, I found myself in a quandary. They were all paranormal-ish, with covers full of brooding, half-shadowed guys and tough chicks with swords and knowing looks, but I wasn’t quite sure where to shelve them.

Well, I didn’t want to be a pest and call the boss while she was eating, so I took the initiative and tried to decide for myself. Did they go in fantasy, because they all featured werewolves and vampires and travels to magical lands? Or did they go in Romance, because they featured strong love stories?

In the end I picked a completely arbitrary, but I thought pretty safe, indicator and used it as my guide. If the books had men’s abs on the cover they went into Romance. If they didn’t, they went into Fantasy. Boom. I was done in five minutes.


JaneCarverofWaar_CoverHaving sold Jane Carver of Waar to Night Shade Books, my agent asked me what else I had lying around that he could read. I sent him a novel I’d written a few years back about an ex-cop who is asked by the ghost of his dead ex-partner to solve her murder. He read it in a weekend and wrote back to tell me he loved it, it was a really great story, but… he wasn’t sure how to sell it.

Why? It wasn’t scary enough to be Horror. It wasn’t romantic enough to be Romance. It didn’t have vampires or werewolves or a kick-ass female paranormal investigator, so even though it was an urban fantasy, it didn’t fit this year’s definition of Urban Fantasy. And it wasn’t straight enough to be Crime Fiction.

Yeah. He’s still working on it.


So, there you go. I’ve been on the bookseller’s side, and I’ve been on the writer’s side, and I sympathize with both.

The bookseller just wants to know where the book goes. Defining what category a book fits into is vital to sales. She can’t sell a mystery if she hides it in the fantasy section, and she can’t just lump everything into general fiction. It would all be a mish-mosh and nobody would be able to find what they wanted at a glance.

The writer just wants to be true to his muse and tell the story he has in his head – at least he does if he’s the naïve kind of writer I was back when I wrote that novel – and he doesn’t worry about what category of story it is until after he’s written it. (Which drives his agent crazy.)

Of course an older, wiser writer is aware of this problem, and begins to tailor his stories to the market. If someone says to him, “I’ll take a look at anything you got as long as I can put a dragon or a space ship on the cover,” he goes home and comes up with a story that fits the bill.

But that’s kinda sad, isn’t it? That kinda guarantees that we will all work in a very safe, homogenous genre. It doesn’t allow for wider, wilder flights of fantasy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with writing inside the lines. I’ve been writing gaming tie-in fiction for the past six years. Have laptop. Will travel. That’s me. I’m the last guy to say that one must be true to one’s art, and that commerce has no part in deciding what to write next. I’d sure as hell rather write to measure than spend eight hours a day in a cubicle farm so I can maintain my high ideals.

But sometimes even a hack like myself comes up with a story that doesn’t fit one of the preset genre pigeon holes. Sometimes he has an idea for a fantasy with no magic in it. Sometimes he wants to write a science-fiction story that features a pair of star-crossed lovers. Sometimes he comes up with an idea that defies the standard “It’s X meets Y meets Z” pitch. And sometimes he can’t ignore it. Labels be damned, he has to write it.

What I’m saying is, that once he’s written it, there should be a way for publishers to accommodate it, and for marketing departments to sell it.

And maybe, now that we live in the future and all, there is.


Cross-genre fiction’s problem with brick and mortar stores is sections – the Romance section, the Mystery section, the Fantasy section. On-line booksellers, aping their predecessors, have adopted this model too, with sub-menus that read just like the section headers in a store.

But there are other ways of discovering books on those pages as well. There is the “customers who bought this book also bought…” list. There is the list of tags or keywords that can be used to describe the book. There are links to author pages. There are store-hosted forums where buyers can discuss books of all genres. And away from booksellers’ sites, there are all the social media hubs, blogs, message boards, fan forums and youtube channels where readers can share book recommendations.

All of these are ways to alert potential readers to books they might not find if they only searched through the genres they’re familiar with. They are the word-of-mouth and hand-selling of the digital age.

A well-tagged book, with keywords highlighting all its potential hooks – two-fisted heroines for example – might lure someone from romance to mystery, from fantasy to historical, from science fiction to thriller, or from any genre to a book that has elements of one or two, yet fits none. A word in the right forum or a review from the right blogger can get people talking about the story of the book – or the heroine – rather than its category, and maybe make it something people will cross borders to read.

And that’s the goal, isn’t it? To make potential readers aware of the stories we tell. That’s what I think this new #tag model of categorizing will do for the genre-breakers among us. It’s not as neat and tidy a system as shelves and sections, it’s harder work for publisher and author, and it’s kinda amorphous and intimidating to people used to the old way, but I think it just might save us. I think it just might be the thing that makes a book’s story more of a selling point than the dragon or space ship on the cover.

Category:Jane Carver, Life, Reading, Warhammer, Writing | Comment (0) | Author:

Interesting Times

Monday, 31. December 2012 17:35

I know 2012 was a rough year for a lot of people and in a lot of ways, and it certainly had its ups and downs for me too, but – at least for me – it ended up on the plus side, so much so that I’m kinda waiting for the banana peel and the punchline and the wah-wah-wah trombone.

The first down-swoop of the year was losing the Gotrek and Felix franchise. Then the up-swoop of getting my first original novel, Jane Carver of War, published and garnering a host of positive reviews.Then the down-swoop of being so broke I had to go back to working for a messenger company in order to pay the bills, and thinking I was going to start my fiftieth year working for less than minimum wage.

But then, round about the middle of the year, all the swoops were ups.I started working for my pal Steve Wang as a shop assistant at his special effects shop, which didn’t make me a rich man, but paid better than delivering packages, and was infinitely more fun. I got to work at a monster shop! Who could hate that? Next, through the mysterious offices of my pal Kitty, who tipped me to the job opening, and to my pal Mike Stackpole, who gave me the nod, I started working at my dream job, writing scenarios and dialog for a computer game called Wasteland 2 at InXile Entertainment. On top of that, my second original novel, Swords of Waar, came out in November, just in time for my 50th birthday, and I’m playing in a band with musicians so talented I feel like I don’t deserve to be in front of them.

And to crown it all, I am still the world’s luckiest boyfriend, the guy who gets to love the beautiful and talented Lili Chin, who has stuck with me through all the up-swoops and down-swoops and loop-de-loops of my unstable, unpredictable life.

Thank you, Lili, and thank you, 2012, which like a good novel, had a lot of cliff-hangers and drama, but ended on a high note.

Here’s to another happy ending next year, with maybe a few less bumps along the way….

Category:Jane Carver, Life, Reading, Rock, Writing | Comments (10) | Author:

Come to my band’s first show!

Monday, 9. July 2012 2:21

My band, The Magnificent, the Hardest Working Band in Show Business, are playing their first show at the Echo in Echo Park in less than two weeks! Visit the Facebook Event Page for all the details. The most important thing is, come early! Doors open at 8pm and we have to be done and gone by 10 before Funky Sole gets started, so get in and get on the dance floor. We’ll take care of the rest!

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Magnificent Songs from My Magnificent Band

Monday, 11. June 2012 14:29

Well, I woulda put these up on our band website, but the free version of WordPress is being weird and won’t let me post, so the debut will have to happen here. Here are a couple of songs from my stormin’ soul band, The Magnificent. That’s me and the Professor belting it out. He’s the one with the growlier voice. I’m the one with the higher voice.

Are you ready? Let’s rock!

I’m a Man

What’ll I Do For Satisfaction

Don’t You Make Me Cry

I Gotta Find Me Somebody

Down in the Basement

Category:Life, Rock | Comments (1) | Author:

Memorial Day

Monday, 28. May 2012 9:55

Watched a stupid movie called Stage Door Canteen with Lili last night, as corny and jingoistic as anything you’ll ever see, but here’s the thing. When was the last time you saw a whole movie, or even a whole TV show, the entire purpose of which was to make soldiers feel loved, honored, and good about themselves and the war they were fighting? Maybe it’s because WWII was the last good war, but those were not the last good soldiers. I wish there were something more recent to make today’s soldiers feel loved, honored and good about themselves, but for now, Gypsy Rose Lee taking off not very much at all will have to do.

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My night in Bordertown

Tuesday, 22. May 2012 10:20

Many years ago, I found an online community of folks who loved Terry Windling’s Bordertown series, and we all had a great time discussing the books and creating Bordertown alter-egos for ourselves, but then one night there was a Bordertown party here in LA and a lot of my online friends came from all over the country to attend. Also in attendance were Emma Bull and Will Shetterly, contributors to the series, and later my writing mentors. That’s Emma in the center with the 100,000 kilowatt smile, while to her right are Angel (in the leather jacket), Annachee (silver hair), and Ellie, (blonde hair). And I hope I got all the spellings right.

Not sure whose pic this was originally, but Sabrina McCoy put them up on Facebook, and Jen Walker (on the right) tagged me in them. Thanks to both of them for reminding me of that great night. My only regret is the awful chin beard I was sporting at the time. Oh well, as they say, there is no joy that is unalloyed.

Category:Life, Reading, Rock, Writing | Comments (5) | Author:

All Streams Crossed – The Contest is now closed

Thursday, 1. March 2012 0:06

It is just past midnight here on the west coast, so it’s officially March 1st, and the Crossing the Streams Contest is now closed. No more entries will be accepted as of now.

Thanks to all who entered! It will take me and the other others a few days to figure out our winners, so bear with us. We will announce the results soon.


Category:Contest, Jane Carver, Life, Reading, Writing | Comments (1) | Author:

Jane Carver Sample Chapter!

Friday, 6. January 2012 10:43

I just got the okay from my bosses at Night Shade Books to post a sample chapter from Jane Carver of Waar.

So here, behind the cut, is Chapter Two – In which, having touched a strange gem in a cave, Jane has an unsettling awakening… […]

Category:Life, Reading, Writing | Comments (3) | Author:

New Bloodborn Review

Sunday, 11. December 2011 23:57

A late but lovely review of Bloodborn by Shadowhawk over at Founding Fields. Check it out HERE.

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Wednesday, 30. November 2011 12:17

Black Library have finally posted the cover art to BLOODSWORN, the third Ulrika novel, which will be available in June 2012, so I can at last share the amazing art WINONA NELSON did for the cover. I think it’s her best cover yet!

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