Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Blog, page 9
September 4, 2013
I had a lot of marvelous, thoughtful comments on last week’s blog. I didn’t respond, in part because I was extremely busy this past week, but mostly because I would have been expressing my opinion on the commenter’s life and career choices. I try not to do that, particularly in public.
We’re all different, and because of the new world of publishing, we all have choices like we’ve never had before. As writers, we choose what’s best for us and our circumstance, and that’s our business.
I was stating mine last week: I write this blog for writers who want to make a living at writing or what I called career writers.
Some of the comments, in combination with things I’ve seen in the mainstream press over the past few months, got me thinking. One commenter on another website said something along the lines of “Rusch doesn’t know how many writers are making a living these days.”
That commenter was right: I don’t. Neither does the commenter. We both know that the number of writers making a living at writing is tremendously higher than it was just five short years ago. I’m guessing, but I believe the number is also higher than it was ten or fifteen years ago.
But looking at the percentage of writers who have written something who are now making a living gives an added perspective, at least for me. I suspect—and again, I don’t have the numbers (I’m not sure anyone does)—that the percentage of writers who are now making a living out of the pool of existing writers is about the same as the percentage of writers who made a living at it in the previous two Golden Ages of fiction writing (at least in the US): the 1950s and (weirdly) the 1930s.
What happened in both of those time periods was an increase in venues for work, due to a change in forms. In the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of the pulp magazines increased the number of paying markets so quickly that writers (like Frederik Pohl, who died this week) sometimes wrote entire issues of the pulps all by themselves.
In the 1950s, the rise of the paperback gave a lot of writers the opportunity to publish and make a living, writers who hadn’t had that chance before. New markets, new publishing houses, new everything.
The 1950s boom ended in a severe distribution crisis. The 1930s ended with paper drives caused by the war. (I’m simplifying in both cases.)
In other words, serious change happened that had an impact on the ways that writers made a living at writing.
Now, we’re seeing the same thing. The rise in indie publishing—or rather, the return of indie publishing (it was really big a century ago as well: we wouldn’t be reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, Frank L. Baum, or Virginia Wolfe without self-publishing/indie publishing)—has given writers who never could or could no longer get traditional book deals the opportunity to publish their books. And not just publish them, but do so in a way that will get a wide audience as well as allow the writer a creative freedom she hasn’t had in the past.
This change—the rise of the internet and ecommerce—is hitting all of the arts, and doing so in a variety of ways. The music industry went through it first, and in some aspects, the television/movie industry is just starting into it. It’s so much easier to produce a film now than it ever was—I can do so from my computer in my tiny office if I want to. Distribution is easier too, thanks to places like iTunes and YouTube and a variety of other services I know nothing about.
The changes are happening so fast, especially in our publishing neck of the woods, that it’s head-spinning. Yesterday, Amazon announced its new bundling service, MatchBook, which I’m grateful for as a reader.
Just last week, I bought an ebook version of a book I already owned in hardcover because my old eyes didn’t want to look at the tiny print, and the damn hardcover would have made a better doorstop than reading material. I didn’t want to sit at a table to read it, heavy as it was, but I’m happy to own it. I like having this author’s books in hardcover. I just happened to read her last two in ebook.
I know I’m not alone in this, and I do hope that the bigger publishers sign onto this program. I’ll be urging my publishers to do so as well.
In the trades this week, there’s talk of subscription services like Spotify or Netflix for ebooks. We’ll see if readers go for that. I think pricing will be an issue.
But I can guarantee you this: When we look back on this blog post six months from now, we’ll all frown and mutter to ourselves: Really? Those two things were happening at the same time? Or we’ll say: That was only six months ago? It feels so five years ago.
I’m about to enter a business venture with a writer who is always on the cutting edge of any new publication and any new trend. He mentioned in e-mail that what we’re going to do will probably only last a year or two before becoming passé, so the time to jump on that bandwagon is now. I completely agree, and so we’re jumping, even though we’re both busy as hell.
We recognize the patterns: everything is moving quickly, and we’re going to try as much of it as we can before it changes. We don’t know what impact one change will have on the rest of the industry. We also don’t know what will stay and what will disappear after a few months.
No one does, in any of the entertainment industries.
For example, Wednesday’s The Hollywood Reporter had an article about the changes in the network television pilot season, brought on by cable and Netflix. Apparently, the number of drama pilots offered to the television networks was way down this year, caused by the changes in the way that consumers are watching dramas.
One reason for this is that there are so many dramas already in production that the go-to people, (show runners, producers, and established writers) are already working and don’t have time for something new.
But there are other reasons, listed in my favorite part of the article:
Many writers who are available often are more interested in chasing their own passion projects a la Breaking Bad or House of Cards, say several top agents. Plus, a cable drama doesn’t have to compete against 50 to 70 other hourlong entries in development the way it would in broadcast — and once on the air, the likelihood of survival is considerably greater. Even the traditional advantage network executives have had in being able to promise financial rewards far greater than their cable cousins has slipped with what some are dubbing the “Netflix effect,” referring to the streaming service’s willingness to shell out big money, straight-to-series orders and limited creative interference — a combination against which ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC often can’t compete.
Sound familiar? Writers like the control. Hmmm…
Of course the big networks won’t go away, and they’ll find something else to fill the hole left by the drama pilots, or maybe they’ll go back to developing their own content like they did when I was a kid. But that’s in flux, due to the technology, just like everything else.
And since I’m looking at other forms of entertainment right now, there’s this:
Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times had a fascinating article about the entertainment company, Prospect Park, which had a dream of saving soap operas by continuing them online. Soap operas got their start in radio, and got their name because they “sold soap”—in other words, they sold a lot of advertising.
My mother, born in 1918, listened to soap operas on the radio starting when the soap operas did, and followed them to the new medium of television in the 1950s. If she were alive today, she’d probably be watching online.
But the fascinating thing to me, the writer trying to survive in the new world of publishing, isn’t the history of soap operas, it’s the struggle that Prospect Park is still having in finding the right way to sell the soap operas to the online market.
Going from radio to television meant learning how to have action in soap operas, not just a lot of dialogue and dramatic music. Going from television to online is causing some changes as well. As The LA Times reported:
The producers determined they had miscalculated audience willingness to follow the shows to the Web. They also decided shows had to be shorter, move faster and be available in multiple episodes for binge viewing. They had tried to be more like a TV network, but they realized they had to be more like video service Netflix. And instead of letting stories unfold slowly, over months or even years, they had to write crisp story lines with a distinct beginning, middle and end.
In all of the entertainment industries, it’s about experimentation, and a new learning curve, bringing an old model to a new format.
Commenters like the one I mentioned above say that I don’t know how many writers are now making a living at writing, and I don’t. I also don’t know how many writers will want to keep at the writing career over years and decades. I also don’t know how many of those writers will suffer when something—and I don’t know what—has some kind of impact on the way those writers are doing business.
One thing I do know is that big traditional publishers haven’t died. In fact, they’re reporting record profits even though their book sales are down. Why is this? Because of the terrible deals that publishers offered writers—and which writers took—when e-books became a force five years ago.
Instead of splitting the e-book revenue 50/50 as a subsidiary right (like other subsidiary rights), or paying for e-books based on the cover price the way that publishers do on print books, publishers offered—and writers agreed—to 25% of net (with net usually undefined). That means that publishers are getting a lot of profit on ebooks, even when the sales decline. You can see the effects of this in the Publisher’s Weekly article I linked to above, when you look at the comparison between sales and earnings in the digital sphere in almost all of these companies. You see the phrase “digital accounted for (%) of revenue” over and over again, and that percentage is generally higher than the year before even when digital sales went down.
Big publishers are still searching for the best way to make money. Most of them are confused by the new products coming in like the subscription services. In fact, one online publishing trade journal characterized the Wall Street Journal’s take on this as “The Folly of Netflix for books.”
Right now, traditional publishing has taken the position that everything new is threatening and/or wrong for books. And that attitude is familiar. The music industry had the same attitude years ago.
The real key for those of us in publishing is that we don’t know what we don’t know. And we won’t know it for a while. Seriously. We’re all expounding on what will work, what won’t work, what might work, what everything is going to be like fifteen years from now, and we don’t know.
The fact that we don’t know and can’t predict what the landscape will look like after all this disruptive technological change became really clear to me a few weeks ago, when I read an article in Entertainment Weekly. Titled, “How The Music Industry Saved Itself,” the article looks at the assumptions the industry made way back when, and the reality that has hit since. (Right now, EW expects you to buy the issue, which is the August 2, 2013 edition, so I can’t link to the article.)
We all know that the music industry got nailed by the digital revolution. This article claims that album sales went from 785 million in 2000 to 326 million in 2010. But now, in 2013, “stability is resting comfortably on the horizon” because of the growth in market share for digital music and “the explosion of streaming.” More than 50 billion songs were streamed this year in part because of event albums.
The advent of stability seems so…well… stable that the article’s author Kyle Anderson feels comfortable in giving rules for the new music industry.
1. Give Away A Little, Get Back A Lot
2. Offer Options
3. Embrace Even Older Technology
4. Work Outside The System
5. Don’t Be Like Kanye
Anderson compares what the industry believed ten years ago to what it now knows. For example, he takes on the “free” controversy this way:
When the MP3 became public enemy No. 1, the assumption was that if you offered any music for free, the buying public would never again pony up for an album. But music fans respond to getting an advance taste for free. A number of high-profile artists…made their new albums available as free streams a week before the release dates, and they all enjoyed a significant first-week sales bump over their previous releases.
Notice that this was a free stream. Only the most dedicated could actually figure out a way to keep the album. If you liked it, you had to buy it.
Which brings us to his second point—options—which I fight new indie writers about all the time.
For years, industry executives assumed that people only wanted their music one way, but actually they’re happy to diversify their intake—a streaming subscription here, a handful of iTunes downloads there, and yes, even good old-fashioned CDs.
Not only that, but his third point—embrace older technology—goes to the heart of book publishing. He’s talking about vinyl, which has seen a nearly 4 million piece growth in the past five years, but he could easily be talking about hardcovers or maybe even collectible books. And, you’ll note, that the labels are offering vinyl and a free download of the music as a single package. Sounds like MatchBook, doesn’t it?
Working outside the system is about innovative ways of marketing the music, through apps, through mixtapes, and so on. All creative, all different. And that’s what we’re facing in the publishing industry. All kinds of different choices—some of which will work, some won’t, and some which will work for a while.
The last point—don’t be like Kanye—was about how Kanye West refused to adopt the industry’s new model. For his latest album, he did almost no appearances (very important in music), and had no advance streaming or preorders. As a result, his first-week sales were at a career low for West, and went down 80% in the second week.
Essentially, Kyle Anderson’s point is that the internet, digital downloads, and the availability of all kinds of music broke the music industry and then remade it. The music industry is far enough ahead of publishing that the music industry actually has some long-term data on what works and what doesn’t. The rate of change has slowed. The music industry now believes it’s in the new normal.
The publishing industry isn’t stable yet. We’re still in the disruption part of the cycle. We won’t stabilize for a few years at best.
Until then, I think the only pronouncements we as writers in the industry can make is that we don’t know what we don’t know. And what we do know is that things will change.
We have to pay attention. We can’t assume that what we’re doing today will work tomorrow.
I think the biggest takeaway from the articles about other media that I’ve mentioned here is that consumers want choices. And, like the artists themselves, the consumers want control over those choices. They want TV dramas on demand so that they can binge-watch and they want once-per-week appointment television. They want streaming music and vinyl albums. They want hardcover books and ebooks.
They might even want never-ending print stories that mimic the soap operas of old. Serials, as the pulps called them.
We don’t know.
Someday, someone will be able to say that stability is on the horizon for the publishing industry, just like Anderson did this summer for the music industry. But that day is still years off. If we follow music’s trajectory, we won’t see stability on the horizon until 2022, thirteen years from the start of the disruption.
Until then, to misquote Margo Channing from All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
This blog came into being in part because you guys asked me to continue The Freelancer’s Survival Guide , only focused on the publishing industry. Since things were changing so quickly, I figured a weekly blog was a good way to figure out what was happening.
I don’t know if I’ve figured anything out except that the most unexpected things work in the most unexpected ways. I do know that this blog takes time from my novel writing (about 2 books per year’s worth!), so I want the blog to fund itself.
So, if you learned anything or got anything out of a past blog, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Send to Kindle
September 2, 2013
Because he lost his arm in the war against Napoleon, Nicholas cannot return to Society. The ton will reject him. Now, he lives in solitude in his estate, claiming he prefers it. Then a child arrives. A young boy who reminds him of his past. A boy who threatens his present. A boy who must be dealt with to ensure Nicholas’ own future.
“Controlling The Sword” by World Fantasy Award winner Kristine Kathryn Rusch will be free on this site for one week only. The story is also available for $2.99 on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and in other ebookstores.
Controlling the Sword
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
He preferred the bayonet. A musket shot poorly at best and was likely to blow up in a man’s face. A knife could be knocked free. But a bayonet garroted the enemy well, surprising a man at arm’s length and not giving him time to recover.
But weapons debates were moot now. Nicholas spent his days in the family estates near Kent, hiding from the ton with its missish debutantes searching for a husband and randy widows expecting satisfaction. To them he was a hero. They looked at the poorly healed scar on his cheek, and saw not the edge of a blood-spattered knife that came too close to the eye, but the romantic mark of an untamed rake. They touched his empty right sleeve, pinned to his shoulder, with admiration, wanting the story. But he could not tell a green girl about the heat in Salamanca, the blood lust in the eyes of the Frenchman who slit him from shoulder to wrist, and the awful infection that made his arm swell and ache until the bone surgeons decided to hack it off.
After three nights of witty repartee, he could take no more. He had been in hiding ever since.
He spent his evenings alone in the library, a fire in the hearth, a glass of port clutched in his left fist. He had not realized what a luxury it had been to sit before a fire, a glass of port in one hand, a good cigar in the other—an enjoyment in which he would never again partake. The books around him had been his father’s, Romances and Grand Adventures, monographs from the Colonies, and Histories of everything from the house and family to the Far and Mysterious East. Once he might have read, but these days he did not. He stared into the orange flames burning black against the stone face of the hearth or the two swords crossed beneath his father’s portrait, their red tassels dangling on the dust-covered marble mantle.
The swords frightened him.
At night he would dream that he would hear them clatter against the flagstone before the hearth. Once he had run down the stairs, expecting to see them lying on the floor, dripping with blood, but the library had been as he left it, his empty glass beside the chair and the cherry red embers still giving off a bit of warmth.
The carriage that pulled into the yard was black with a dray horse, obviously hired. Nicholas watched from the large windows in the hall as the young boy opened the door, then hesitated before stepping down alone.
The boy was slight, his hair dark. As he turned, Nicholas gasped. No doubt. This was his brother’s child.
Not that there had been a doubt before. The letter from the solicitor had arrived almost a month earlier, carrying copies of the boy’s birth records. Richard Adam Lucien Worth, heir apparent to the family fortune. Nicholas would act as guardian until the lad reached his majority.
Nicholas sighed. He went to the door, which Simms the butler had already opened, and stood behind it, sinister lord of the manor. Simms was warmer: he hurried down the stairs to help the boy. The cabbie merely waited until the baggage had been removed from the back, then clucked to the horse and drove away, leaving the boy standing in the dust. The bags were two, patched and poor, certainly not befitting a lord’s son.
A lord’s son. Until a month before, Nicholas had thought he had inherited the family estate.
The boy stared at the house, his thin mouth open. He had Randolph’s face—not the face of the man known throughout London for his way with the ladies, but the older brother Nicholas remembered, the one who hesitated before he acted, lest he incur their father’s wrath.
The house, with its wide turrets and branching wings, probably did look imposing to a boy raised on the Scottish moors. His mother had fled to her family upon discovering Randolph’s indiscretions. But her parents had died some years back, and she had followed them with an ague. Neighbors contacted Randolph’s solicitors when they found the boy living alone.
Nicholas hadn’t even known Randolph was married.
Simms reached the boy and immediately picked up his cases. The wind caught most of the conversation, but Nicholas could catch the deferential tone in Simms’ voice, the way he gently said, “Young Master.” Nicholas nodded. Good. The boy would need someone gentle. Nicholas certainly wouldn’t be it.
As they walked up the stairs, the boy kept glancing back at Simms, as if he expected the older man to drop the cases. The boy’s breeches were torn and his hair needed trimming. The wind brought with it the scent of little boy sweat—he needed a scrubbing, had probably not had one since his mother died, if then. When the boy saw Nicholas, he stopped, his eyes growing darker, just as Randolph’s would have.
“Me lord uncle.” The boy’s voice had a touch of the Scottish burr.
The title and the deference rankled. Nicholas didn’t want the boy here. He wanted to be left alone, with his meager fires, his one arm and his port. “You’re to call me Nick,” he said, “after the very devil himself.”
Then he spun on one booted foot and stalked to the library, slamming the door behind him.
Simms and Pratt, the housekeeper, had managed to keep the boy away from him for three whole days. On the fourth, Nicholas trotted down the stairs just after noon, his head thick and achy with the drink he had imbibed the night before. He had planned to go to the stables, to work Midnight, but the idea of sitting astride the big black stallion, reins caught in only one hand was ridiculous. An entire bottle of port had not drowned the image.
Still, he wore his riding boots and coat, and carried his short whip. Perhaps after a bit of nuncheon he would have the courage to mount a horse—any horse—one-handed.
As he passed the library, he saw the boy, standing before the cold hearth, staring up at the crossed swords. The boy didn’t hear Nicholas approach. This time the lad looked not like Randolph, but like Nicholas himself a lifetime ago, when he thought the swords a symbol of his future as a warrior.
“’Tis said your great-great-great—ah, I don’t know how many greats—grandfather used those swords against Cromwell.”
The boy jumped at the sound of Nicholas’s voice, and turned, his body snapping to attention.
Nicholas put his left hand behind his back. He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to speak to the boy. “The old man was named Richard, which is, I believe, your given name.”
“Me mother called me Dickie,” the boy said.
“Here in England,” Nicholas said, “we shall call you Richard.”
The boy licked his lips. “’Taint a boy’s name,” he said, his voice small.
The desire behind the protest was not lost on Nicholas. “Perhaps you’re right. ’Tis too formal for a boy. But Dickie has no dignity. When we sup tonight, you shall tell me which of your given names you prefer to use.”
The boy’s tongue appeared again, over the tops of his lips. They were chapped. “You want ter sup together?”
“Tonight,” Nicholas said, and bowed once, a slight acknowledgment of his rudeness. The boy looked horribly lonely. And why wouldn’t he be? In a strange country, in a strange home, with a man who in a fit of pique had compared himself to the devil?
“Them swords,” the boy said. “Ya ever use them?”
Nicholas permitted himself a wry smile. “Once,” he said. “When I was a boy.”
“Could ya learn me ter use them?” The boy was stiffly formal, his hands clasped behind his back in an unconscious imitation of Nicholas.
“I was right-handed,” Nicholas said. “I doubt I could show you anything.” He slapped his whip against his boots. “Dinner. Seven sharp.”
Then he went to the stables to see if he could mount Midnight.
He had been little older than the boy the afternoon he had tried the sword. He had moved one of the stools close to the hearth, and stood on the top. The mantel—kept highly polished in those days—stabbed him in the chest. He had to stand on his toes to reach the hilt of the top sword. He yanked it up and back from its perch. The sword weighed twice as much as he expected. It nearly dislodged his father’s portrait. He swung it down to save the art, and lost his balance in the process.
The fall seemed interminable. His right arm, his sword arm, led the way, and the sword hit first, its clang echoing through the great room. He landed on his back, knocking the air out of him. The hilt jabbed into the soft skin beside his spine. Pain shot up and through him, making him gasp.
Footsteps echoed in the outer hall, but he couldn’t pick himself up, couldn’t force himself to stand and hide his misdeed. Collins, his father’s man, arrived first, and stopped at the door, his wig askew, his heavy features flushed with exertion.
“Lord, young man,” he said. “You done it now. You damned yourself, ’tis what you’ve done.”
“Don’t fill his head with such nonsense.” His father pushed past Collins. His blouse was loose and his graying hair untied and flowing over his shoulders. His breeches were newly cleaned and in one hand he held a matching great coat. He had been about to go out. “What have you done, boy?”
Nicholas was still gasping for air. No words emerged. He rolled off the hilt and onto his side. Each movement brought him agony. Collins stooped beside him, and pried the hilt from his right hand. “’Tis doomed you are,” he said. “You’ll be a cripple for the rest of your days.”
The pain was enough that Nicholas believed him. He might never stand again.
“’Tis a silly superstition,” his father said, “and I’ll not have you speak to him of it.” He took the sword from Collins and rehung it beneath the portrait without benefit of the stool. “I told you not to touch anything in this room, lad.”
“Aye.” Nicholas’s voice wheezed out of him. Slowly the air was coming back. Cool air touched his bare skin as Collins lifted up his shirt.
“He has a nasty bruise, milord. I think we should send for the doctor.”
Nicholas hated the doctor, a man with dirty fingers and a stained coat. “No,” he said, sitting up. “I’ll be all right.”
“Leave us,” his father said to Collins.
“As you wish, sir.” Collins stood and bowed. He left the room.
His father put a hand behind Nicholas and helped him to his feet. The movement was painful, but not unbearably so, now that his wind was returning.
“What did he mean, crippled?”
His father gave him an odd look, as if for the first time, he were seeing his son as a man. “A wive’s tale,” he finally said. “’Tis scratched into the hilt in Latin: he who cannot control the sword is forever at its mercy. My father couldn’t wield it properly, and later lost his leg in fighting the insurrection in the colonies. There was an uncle who played with the swords and lost a finger. The stories go like that. The superstitious always look for ways to explain misfortune.”
Nicholas nodded. The pain in his back ran up and down his spine. He longed for a chair and a cold compress over his eyes. “Are you going to punish me, sir?” he asked, wanting this meeting to end.
“I think your accident was punishment enough,” his father said. “Just remember: this room is not a place for little boys.”
He had wrestled with the horse and lost. When he came down the stairs for supper, every inch of his body ached. His man had had to clean straw from his hair, and scrub blood from his chin from the time he had bitten his lower lip. He wanted nothing more than a long quiet evening with a lot of port to drown the humiliation from memory.
The boy was already at the table, in what had once been Randolph’s spot, to the left of the master of the house. Head bent, hands clasped in his lap, the boy appeared smaller than he was.
“Heads up, lad,” Nicholas snapped. “This is a meal, not a church.”
“Sorry, sir.” The boy brought his head up, his longish hair falling into his eyes. He brushed it away with one hand.
Nicholas leaned on his left hand as he eased himself into the chair. Each movement made him ache. He was like a child, unused to the saddle. He would be limping for days.
A door banged in the kitchen, then Simms emerged, carrying a silver tureen. Apparently he and Mrs. Pratt had decided to go all out for this meal. Simms set the tureen down and began ladling out the soup. The broth had a savory odor, and Nicholas’s stomach rumbled.
The boy gulped, and bobbed his head, once. “I’ve made up me mind, sir,” he said.
“Yes?” Nicholas watched as Simms set the soup bowl in front of him. Beef, potatoes and carrots floated in the thin brown broth. He didn’t care what the boy had decided. He merely wanted to end the meal and get on with the evening.
“Adam, sir. Do ya think they’ll find it manly enough here in England?”
Simms set broth in front of the boy. Nicholas blinked at him for a moment, confused. Then he remembered the conversation from the afternoon. The boy was choosing his name. He nearly said that anything was better than Dickie, but the boy’s hopeful look stopped him. “I daresay they’ll think it first-rate.”
The boy—Adam now—flushed with pleasure. He dug into his soup, clutching his spoon in his fist and shoveling food in his face like a boy in an orphan’s home.
“Adam, did your mother teach you to eat like that?”
Adam froze. “Nay, sir. She said a lad should eat slow ter enjoy the meal.”
Nicholas nodded. He wished he could dig through the food as Adam had done. “Do as she taught you,” he said. Then he rubbed his remaining hand on his breeches and picked up his own spoon. Eating left-handed still felt awkward to him, and he had never before done it in front of another. His hand shook as he brought it to his lips.
“Did ya kill him?”
Nicholas swallowed the rich soup, and frowned. He set his spoon down. “Kill whom?”
“The man what done it ter ya. Took yer arm.”
Nicholas felt the heat rise in his cheeks. No one had ever asked him a direct question about his injury. Not even the girls of the ton. They had hinted, but never once asked. “Aye.” Nicholas said. It was difficult to get the words past his lips. “I stuck him with my bayonet.”
And the man had screamed before he fell, one more body on top of a pile of bodies in all that smoky heat. Nicholas’s last act with his right arm. He had fainted himself, moments after that.
“Good,” the lad said. “Then yer a hero, like they say.”
Nicholas’s appetite had fled. He swallowed, somehow feeling it important to speak. “No, lad. Killing another man does not make me a hero.”
“But ya made it through one of the bloodiest battles of the war.”
Nicholas picked up his spoon. He had to eat. He made himself dip the spoon in the broth. “Aye,” he said. “And sometimes I wish I hadn’t.”
That night, he dreamed an old dream, one he first had in Spain. He was feverish, lying on a cot in the heat, men screaming around him. Flies buzzed around his face, and the tent smelled of rotting flesh. His arm hurt so badly that each touch sent him into agony.
The bone surgeon stood over him, his uniform covered with blood. “We have to take the arm.”
“No.” Nicholas’s throat was parched and the words were little more than a whisper.
Then Collins came up behind the surgeon, the sword in his work-roughened hands. “’Tis because of the accident, young man,” Collins said. “If you’d not taken the sword, you’d keep the arm.”
“Superstition!” His father’s voice boomed over the screaming men. “My son cannot control the weapon. He deserves to die.”
“Take the arm,” Collins said. “’Tis the boy’s fate. He’ll live, leastways.”
Nicholas made himself sit up. The darkness was oppressive. He could still feel the heat from the dream. The stench of rotting flesh and too many bodies packed too close together remained in his nostrils. But he felt the bed linens beneath him, and saw the familiar shapes of his armoire, fireplace and chair outlined in the thin moonlight streaming through the window.
With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat off his brow, then put his head on his knees.
“Marriage is easy in Scotland, you know.”
The muscles in Nicholas’s back tensed. He had heard Randolph’s voice. But that was impossible. He brought his head up. The moonlight outlined his brother, sitting in the chair that had been empty a moment before. Randolph was relaxed, an elbow leaning on the chair back, and his left ankle resting on his right knee. Typical Randolph, all fluidity and ease.
“The girl was pretty, and Father wanted an heir.” Randolph grinned, as if they were having a conversation over dinner. “When she told me she was pregnant, I wed her and brought her back here. All seemed fine, until her eighth month, when she caught me with Lady Alexander in flagrante dilecto. The girl fled, against the doctor’s advice, and since we never heard, we assumed the child had died.”
It was a dream. It had to be. Randolph was dead. Nicholas sat cross-legged. “You lost your soul somewhere, Dolph. ’Twas not the way to treat your wife and child.”
Randolph shrugged. “We never said the banns. She wasn’t landed. Father said we could get it annulled, if it ever really existed.”
Nicholas rubbed his hand over his eyes. The movement made him feel wide awake. “Strange thing to come back from the grave to tell me, Dolph. I care less about your sham of a marriage than you did.”
“I think not, brother,” Randolph said. “There is no marriage on record. You could cut the boy if you like.”
A chill ran down Nicholas’s spine, as if Randolph had run his dead fingers along Nicholas’s skin. “I have no intention of denying the boy his inheritance.”
Randolph stood. As he turned, the moonlight reflected off his white shirt, revealing a small, bloody hole near his heart. “Don’t lie to me, Nicky. ’Tis why you try to drown yourself in drink, to hide the anger you feel at losing the title yet again. This time to a boy.”
“’Tis not why I’m angry!” The words exploded from Nicholas with a force that he hadn’t known he had. “I am angry at you, Dolph. You died while I was gutting Frenchmen for Wellington. You died in a duel you didn’t have to fight, protecting some woman’s non-existent honor—”
“Actually,” Randolph said, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over the hole in his chest, “I died protecting my own non-existent honor.”
Nicholas was shaking. He had lied to himself so effectively he hadn’t realized there was anger beneath the drink. “I came home half a man to find I had nothing to come home to. No family, no one who cared so much as a whit that I survived.”
Randolph shrugged. “You came home to all this. Without the boy, you could be lord here.”
“I have none of your ambitions,” Nicholas said. “I have my own income and no need for the estate.”
Randolph bowed, slightly, in mockery. “Then I had no need to come here. Forgive me, dear brother. As usual, I have misunderstood you.”
Nicholas placed his hand behind him to brace himself on the bed. His outburst had left him shaken. “’Twas a senseless way to die,” he said.
“’Twas a senseless way to live.” Randolph’s voice had an unusual seriousness. He ran a hand through his hair, and then grinned. “You needn’t worry, Nicky. This will be my only trip. No sense in the neighbors thinking the manse is haunted.”
“They wouldn’t think of ghosts, Dolph,” Nicholas said. “They would merely use it as confirmation of my growing insanity.”
But by the time he finished the sentence, the moonlight illuminated a bare patch of wall and an empty chair. Nicholas took in a deep breath. He was still shaking, and he hadn’t moved, but Randolph was gone.
The dreams were over. Nicholas was awake for the rest of the night.
The next morning, he left his chamber early and went to the stables. He took out the gentlest horse, a mare his father had purchased for guests, and dismissed the grooms. Then he worked at mounting, concentrating each time on retaining his balance. Over the year of his illness and recovery, he had lost much strength. The problem was not really the loss of his arm, but the loss of strength in his body. What had once been effortless now took a great deal of concentration and energy. He mounted on the second try, and controlled the reins with his left, letting the mare set the pace while he relearned how to ride.
He returned to the house at noon, planning to change before nuncheon. As he passed the library, he noted Adam, staring at the swords. The boy stood in the same position he had used the day before: hands clasped behind his back, head up, shoulders back, and brow furrowed as if in concentration.
Nicholas tucked the quirt in his boot, and went into the library. “’Tis truly not a room for boys,” he said, hearing his father’s voice speak through his own.
Adam looked around sharply, as if he hadn’t realized that Nicholas was there. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said.
Nicholas glanced at the swords. They gleamed. Mrs. Pratt kept them cleaned, just like she kept the portrait free of dust. Only the mantel seemed to escape her careful attention. “The swords fascinated me as a boy,” he said.
“And me da?”
Something in the boy’s tone made Nicholas turn. The boy had bit his lower lip in anticipation of Nicholas’s response.
Nicholas chose his words carefully. “Swords were not your father’s weapons.”
“But I thought ya took one each. Ter Spain.” The boy’s face reddened as he spoke. His small body was rigid as a soldier’s before a general.
“To Spain?” Nicholas frowned. The boy thought his father had fought with Wellington. Yer a hero, then. The boy knew nothing of Randolph, nor of his death. “Nay. The blades we use now tip the ends of rifles. I daresay your father was good with a gun.”
But not good enough. Or quick enough.
You could cut the boy if you like.
“A gun?” the boy asked, as if guns lacked romance.
“Aye,” Nicholas said. The air felt fragile between them. The wrong word would shatter the moment.
Adam returned his gaze to the swords. “Me ma did na talk about him, ’cept ter say I got the look of him.”
“In your face,” Nicholas said. “You have the look of him as a boy in your face.”
Adam’s body tensed. “He were a good man, right sir? I asked Father John, and he said he did na know.”
Your father drank too much and cared nothing for you. He made no provisions for you, and probably would have turned you away had he lived. Nicholas licked his lips. One couldn’t say such things to a child. It was hard enough growing up with a real father—a taciturn man who only noticed when a boy did something wrong. Growing up alone in a strange home had to be twenty times more difficult.
“Your father,” Nicholas said slowly, “was the best man he knew how to be.”
The boy whirled, beaming. “I knew it. The old missus next door, she said ’twere a crime the way he treated his family. But she did na know him. Ya knew him.”
“Once,” Nicholas said. A lump had risen in his throat. He had to swallow hard to make it go away. He had been fifteen when he left the house, and already Randolph was lost to him. His big brother had become a man more interested in the gay festivities of the ton than in the political realities of England. Perhaps the ghostly Randolph had been right; perhaps Nicholas had been angry. But it had been the anger of a second son who thought the eldest was squandering the family name. Since Nicholas had made his own name, and had learned that such things were rarely important.
“‘Once?’” the boy repeated. “Then she was right?”
The joy had fled from the boy’s expression. Randolph had never had a face that mobile. Nicholas felt the loss. He hadn’t realized how much he had basked in the warmth of the boy’s emotion. “Ah, lad,” he said. “Men are not saints, no matter how much you want them to be.”
And because he could no longer stand to field the boy’s questions, Nicholas turned and quickly climbed the stairs.
That night, long after the rest of the house fell asleep, Nicholas sat in the library and stared into the flames. He held a glass of port in his left hand—the same glass that he had poured when he arrived. The port no longer eased the ache or prevented the dreams, and he was tired of waking with a muzzy head and a sour taste in his mouth.
He stared at the swords. Superstition. Yet here he was, crippled for the rest of his life, just as Collins had said. Perhaps if he took the swords down successfully…
He shook his head. The thought was silly. Even if he removed the swords, he would still miss an arm. He would always and forever retain a physical memory of that field in Salamanca.
You could cut the boy.
Rich, landed, and powerful. And still unable to hold a glass of port in one hand and a cigar in the other. He had his commission and his income from his mother’s home near London. More than enough for a man who lived as he did.
A man who for another ten years had to raise a boy not his own.
And me da?
Lad, your da was no better than the rest of us. Nicholas stood, leaving the port on the table, and headed up to bed. As he passed the swords, he touched the tassels lightly with his good hand. A shiver ran up his back.
He who cannot control the sword is forever at its mercy.
Aye. There be truth in that.
The next morning, Nicholas was up at dawn. He took Midnight on a canter through the property, noting that the servants had kept it up despite his neglect. He would go over the books in the afternoon, making certain all were well paid. He and the stallion returned lathered. The groomsmen offered to take the horse from him, but Nicholas did the work instead. He needed to stretch his muscles, and he needed to learn to take care of himself with a single hand.
He finished mid-morning, and paused outside the stables to take a deep lungful of air. He hadn’t seen this time of day in weeks, perhaps months. The sunlight cast everything in gold, and gave the grounds a freshness they lacked by midday. He stood for a moment, basking in it, then went inside.
As he passed the library, a movement caught his eye. He went to the door, his soldiering instincts making him move quietly. Adam had pulled a stool over to the mantel—the same stool Nicholas had used years before—only Adam had his back to the door. He leaned across, the edge of the mantel pressing against his chest, as he reached for the hilt of the nearest sword.
Nicholas tried to speak, but the words stopped in his throat. If the boy did not try this time, he would try later. Nicholas remembered that much of his childhood. Instead, he positioned himself only a few feet away from the boy, close enough to use his body to break the boy’s fall.
Adam grabbed the hilt and eased the sword off its perch. Its weight unbalanced him and he swayed. Nicholas took a step inward. His heart knocked against his chest. A remembered pain ran up his back, but still he waited.
Adam gripped the top of the mantel with his left hand and steadied himself, the sword pointing downward.
It was nearly as long as the boy. Adam held his place and swung the sword at an imaginary enemy. The sword made a whoosh in the air. He stopped quickly, the back of his clothes suddenly drenched in sweat.
Nicholas swallowed. He had been holding his breath. Something inside him felt envy at the boy’s prowess. Perhaps if he had had such strength, perhaps then, he would not be standing here, like this.
Adam took his other hand off the mantel and swayed precariously. He braced his right wrist with his left hand and tried to return the sword to its place. But its weight was too much for him to lift above his head, and he started to tilt to the side.
Immediately, Nicholas was beside him. He put his arm around Adam’s waist, holding the boy in place. The boy was warm and too thin. Nicholas could feel the knobs of the boy’s spine through his shirt.
“Lor, sir,” the boy said. His voice was breathless. “Ya scared me.”
Then they were even. Nicholas steadied the boy, then took the sword from the boy’s grasp. The sword was lighter than he remembered, with a more elegant feel than a bayonet. With a simple movement, he returned the sword to its place above the mantel. Then he helped the boy down.
The boy’s face was crimson. He kept his head bowed, hunching his shoulders forward as if he expected to get hit. Nicholas returned the stool to its place.
“’Tis sorry I am, sir,” Adam said. “I should na have touched it.”
What have you done? I told you not to touch anything in this room, lad.
Nicholas’s father’s words nearly escaped his lips. But Nicholas stopped them. He had wanted his father to hold him, to reassure him about the bruise that would plague him for nearly two weeks. His father had said nothing more.
The accident is punishment enough.
“You may do as you wish,” Nicholas said. He swallowed the fear and anger that was threatening to overtake him. “You are lord of this place, after all.”
The boy’s eyes widened. He had clearly never thought in such terms.
“But,” Nicholas said. “I am your guardian, and I think it might be wise if you listen to me.”
The boy bit his chapped lips. “I will na touch them again, sir.”
Nicholas crouched in front of the boy, seeing for the first time the fatigue lines beneath the boy’s eyes, the hollows in the boy’s cheeks, the sores on the inside edge of the boy’s lips. Although the boy now lived in rich circumstances, he still had no one to care for him. “The swords fascinate you, don’t they, boy?”
Adam nodded. His wide eyes stared at Nicholas’s face.
“England has no use for swordsmen,” Nicholas said.
“I do na wish ter be a soldier, sir,” the boy said, his flush growing even deeper. “Beg pardon.”
Adam beneath bodies on the fields of Salamanca: flies swarming overhead, the sun beating down with an intensity foreign to England. The boy flailed with his right hand, trying to get someone’s attention, but he did not call for help.
Nicholas swallowed. “No offense taken,” he said.
The boy took a deep, slow breath, as if he were trying to calm himself.
“If I can find someone to teach you, would you like to learn the sword?”
The boy exhaled. His eyes watered. He blinked rapidly, and averted his gaze. “Do ya think I could?”
“Aye,” Nicholas said. “As long as you take other lessons. We’ll teach you to speak the King’s English and find you a tutor so that you can attend Cambridge when the time comes.”
Adam nodded, willing to agree to anything, it seemed, as long as he could touch the sword.
“Go now, and tell Simms we need an early nuncheon. I’m hungry, aren’t you?”
“Aye, sir.” The boy fled as if the hounds of hell pursued him. Nicholas stood and surveyed the swords. Clean, and polished, shining in the daylight, they still had a menace to them.
The boy would learn to control them. And he would learn the history of their use. Weapons did not cripple. Men did.
Perhaps, in time, Adam would understand that.
Perhaps, in time, others would understand as well.
Perhaps a man would no longer need a favorite weapon, and the bloody fields would become a distant memory.
Nicholas stared at the swords, as he had when he was a boy.
One could only dream.
“Controlling The Sword” copyright @ 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Published by WMG Publishing
First published in Excaliber edited by Richard Gilliam and Martin H. Greenberg, Warner Aspect, May 1995.
Send to Kindle
August 30, 2013
For years, people outside of the United States and Canada have asked me for copies of the first three books in the multiple-award-winning Diving universe, Diving Into The Wreck, City of Ruins, and Boneyards. For a while, selling copies of the books outside of the United States and Canada was impossible without selling those same copies inside of the United States and Canada. Pyr Books has licensed the North American rights only, and if I had published those three books inside of the United States, I would have violated my contract with Pyr. But technology is ever-changing, and as of last year, it became possible to sell outside of North America without offering the same books to a North American audience. Long story short, I licensed the rights to sell the three Diving novels outside of North America to WMG Publishing. It has taken several months, but I can now report that all three novels are available worldwide, in both e-book format and in trade paper format. English only, I’m afraid. You should be able to get the books through Amazon’s Kindle, and through Kobo. I can’t link to the foreign editions from the US (for obvious reasons), but they are available.
Remember, everyone worldwide can preorder the next Diving novel, Skirmishes, in ebook on Kobo as well. It’s also available for preorder in audio. Even though Skirmishes will be in trade paper and on other e-book sites, there are no preorders available in those locations. You’ll have to wait for the September 17 release date to get the book.
The art on all four books is by Philcold.
Speaking of Kobo, for this weekend only, they’re offering another discount on my books. This time, the discount is for the US and Canada only, and is available through Monday September 2. If you use this code labourday30, you’ll be able to order one of these four titles: Smoke-Filled Rooms written under my Kris Nelscott name, The Perfect Man which I wrote as Kristine Dexter, Geek Romance written under my Kristine Grayson pen name, and Bleed Through which is under my real name (Rusch). I do not know if the code also works overseas, the way the last codes did. Remember, the discount only lasts the weekend.
Finally, one more short term thing: WMG offers a free short story podcast every Thursday. I wrote this week’s offering, “The Thrill of the Hunt,” and somehow WMG’s Jane Kennedy managed to talk me into reading it. So you can listen to the podcast story for free until next Thursday. After that, there will be something new. And this one can enjoyed by all of you, worldwide, for the next few days.
Send to Kindle
August 28, 2013
On a gut level, many of you knew that some of us had made careers as writers, but over the years—decades, maybe—the idea that a writer could not just make a living, but spend her life writing without financial support from some other job, had gotten lost.
The fact that so many of you had no idea writers could be in this profession for life while, at the same time, wanting to become professional writers helped me realize something that I hadn’t been able to understand before.
People make different choices when they’re looking at a career as opposed to the choices they make to achieve a single goal.
If all you want to do is be a published writer, then you will give up a lot to achieve that dream.
If you want to make a living as a writer for the rest of your life, if you want a writing career, then you will not (or should not) give up many of those things just to get one book published.
But if you don’t understand that these two things are different—the dream of being published versus the dream of a writing career—then you will bounce back and forth in decision-making, and will often make the wrong decision for both dreams.
Now, I’m going to run into terminology issues. I need to delineate the I-wannabe-published writer from the career writer, but I have no good term for the first kind of writer. Hobbyist writer isn’t quite right, because that term “hobbyist” often diminishes the amount of work such writers put into their books. The actual term should probably be “non-professional writer,” but again, many of those writers are very professional in their craft and demeanor.
So I’m going to call such writers “one-book writers” even though most of those writers will probably write more than one book. I choose the term only because it’s an inoffensive shorthand for what I’m trying to discuss.
The one-book writer wants to be published, to maybe have a book hit a bestseller list or win an award, to be legitimately called a writer who has credentials. The one-book writer believes that he will never make a living as a writer or at least, a living as good as the one he makes at his day job, so he doesn’t even try.
The writer wants to see his name in print, usually through a traditional publishing company, and everything that writer does goes to the goal of one (or two or three) books in print. Not at making a living, certainly not having a lifelong (or second) career as a writer.
The one-book writer wants to achieve a goal. It’s a bucket-list sort of thing. It may be that way because the writer has no idea that a career is possible or it may be because the writer has other interests and would rather focus on them.
So many writers who come into the publishing business are one-book writers. In fact, I would say that the majority of writers I have met over my thirty-plus years in the business have been one-book writers, with other jobs and other interests.
The career writer is in this for the long haul. She has dozens if not hundreds of books in her. She wants to make a living—a good living—from writing those books. Her goals are twofold: to have books in print, yes, but more than that. This writer wants to spend her life telling stories and/or sharing information.
She’s not in it for accolades or wealth, although those are nice side benefits. She’s not in it to get tenure or to show her literary bona fides. She needs to make the rent and do so while pursuing a non-traditional career. That takes planning and foresight, and an ability to roll with the punches.
Some of you have gotten angry at me in the comments section of this blog, or when I give you (requested) e-mail advice about contracts or working with a particular company, and that anger often comes from our differing perspectives.
I always come at things from the perspective of a career writer. I, quite frankly, have only a superficial understanding of the one-book writer. I’ve acquired that understanding by having friends who are one-book writers, being acquainted with a lot of other one-book writers, and watching a lot of one-book writers vanish after a few years inside publishing.
Almost all of the business advice for writers on the web is from the perspective of the one-book writer. Most agents write their blogs to the one-book writer—because the bulk of the writers that modern agents work with are one-book writers. Publishers and editors give advice in conferences to the one-book writer for three reasons.
First, most of the attendees at conferences are either wannabe writers or one-book writers. The career writers generally attend only if they are speakers and they get paid for their attendance. Most career writers don’t have time to attend conferences, any more than those of you with day jobs have the time to attend more than one or two events a year. And since most conferences are geared toward the one-book writer, career writers get little out of a conference. In the past, career writers could meet up with editors and sell book proposals at the conference. Those days are gone, which is why career writers rarely attend.
Second, most writers seeking advice are beginners.
Third, most of the writers that editors and publishers deal with in their careers are one-book (or two- or three-book) writers. These writers have a career trajectory, believe it or not. They get one or two or three book contracts. The one-book writer never leaves their day job. Their books rarely rise above the midlist, so the writer has no opportunity to make a living without a lot of sacrifice. Those writers don’t make the sacrifice, and aren’t nimble enough to survive the difficulties that they will inevitably face. When those difficulties arise, the one-book writers stop publishing novels and maybe stop publishing altogether.
Ironically, the one-book writers who no longer publish still go to conferences. There, they can impress the unpublished with their publications, and they can give advice in how to be one-book writers. So, once again, you’ll get the one-book writer advice.
Most career writers don’t talk about the career in public. We write daily. We put in a lot of time. We write a lot of words. We publish under pen names and/or in a variety of seemingly unrelated genres. If you look at our bibliography—if we’re courageous enough (or organized enough) to have a full-length bibliography—you’ll see everything from short story and poetry sales to articles to essays to novels to nonfiction books to comic books to the occasional movie script and more.
I’ve been writing professionally since I was sixteen, getting my start in newspapers, then supplementing the cost of my own college education by writing for local magazines, and once I graduated, writing for business journals. None of that nonfiction work is in my bibliography. None of my radio work—I co-wrote entire newscasts for seven years—is in my bibliography. Nor are the radio plays I wrote and the educational writing that I did for the Annenberg Foundation (under a different name).
I’m not unique in this. Career writers gain experience by doing a lot of different writing, sometimes under salary, sometimes freelance. Eventually, the career writer finds her niche and tries to settle there, unless or until something goes wrong with that niche and then the career writer finds a new one.
The reason I write a business blog for writers is that business, not craft, destroys a writer’s career. Bad business decision after bad business decision after bad business decision can force a career writer to take a day job or change her name or to write things she knows she’ll get paid for (not things she enjoys) just to pay back debt.
Bad contracts, especially contracts being offered these days by traditional houses, can limit a career writer’s choices on how she can pursue her livelihood. If she gets (and takes) bad advice on signing those contracts, she might be unable to publish enough to make her bills.
These are the things career writers face, and the decisions a career writer must make.
What the one-book writer doesn’t understand, and what career writers often forget, is that we have an advantage in this profession. Our work makes us money years after we complete the work. My very first novel, sold in 1989, still earns me money. It’s in print in English, and has had many foreign editions. (I hope it’ll have many more down the road.) In theory, that novel could be licensed for a wide variety of gaming rights or comic book rights or even a television series. That those things haven’t happened yet for that novel means nothing. It could happen, if I hang onto the rights.
The one-book writer doesn’t really care about such things. Oh, sure, he’d like a movie made from his book and he’d like to sell overseas, but the important thing is to get that book into print. If the publisher ends up owning the movie rights, that’s okay, because the one-book writer’s book might get made into a movie.
The only time the one-book writer will get upset is if the book does get made into a movie and if the movie gets released and if the movie is a hit. Then the one-book writer will realize that the contract he signed will make everyone else money, and he will get bragging rights only. Because he’s only a one-book writer, he won’t even get the halo effect on his next novel.
But let’s be honest here: the chances of a one-book writer’s book getting made into a successful movie are between slim and none. Yes, it happens about once every five years or so, to a single one-book writer out of the tens of thousands of one-book writers who get books published every year. But most one-book writers never realized that that “great deal” they got is a great deal for the publisher, not for the one-book writer. Because most one-book writers never have big successes.
Still, for the one-book writer, just being published by a traditional publisher is a success. That book with his name on the cover, in bookstores (however briefly) and maybe available online for years to come, is the culmination of a long-term dream.
The one-book writers who kinda thought they could have a career and/or who thought their brilliant first novel never got the recognition it deserved become bitter. They’ll often go to writers conferences or blog about the fact that it’s “impossible” to make money as a writer. Or they’ll become champions of the no-money school of traditional publishing. It’s better to be published and validated, they say, than it is to demean yourself by making money at your art.
Career writers know differently. Career writers know that with careful tending of the business side of the career—and by being prolific—they can make money writing. They don’t just make money, they make a good middle class (or above) living at writing, year after year after year.
Yes, the job is non-traditional. Yes, sometimes they scramble to find work. But they know how to do that, and they become very, very good at it.
So, let me give you some bullet points to illustrate the difference between business decisions made by one-book writers and those made by career writers. Even though I’ll put numbers on these, they’re in no particular order.
1. Craft. Both types of writers do the best they possibly can on their work. Both do what they can to improve their craft. But…
•One-book writers often wait for the muse and/or spend years revising their single manuscript.
• Career writers are prolific. They have to be or they don’t make a living.
2. Reputation. Both types of writer want a good reputation, but they each think of it differently.
•One-book writers want their book to get good reviews, win awards, maybe sell well. They want recognition for their book.
•Career writers want readers who will buy the next book. They want editors to contact them for a story/article. They want recognition for their writing work. Not awards (although those are nice), but sales, repeat sales, from readers who love their work.
3. Book sales (part one). Both types of writer want to sell a book. But they go about it differently.
•One-book writers can play that silly game of going into an agent’s slush pile, hoping that the agent will eventually read the book and “take it on,” and maybe market it to a book editor. Eventually, the one-book writer believes he will get published, and he has the time to wait for the “right” publisher who will “nurture” his work.
•Career writers know that an agent must help with the career, selling many books per year or selling subsidiary rights, bringing other paying work to the table. If an agent brings nothing to the table except “expertise,” then the career writer gets rid of that agent.
Right now, in the current marketplace, very few agents bring anything to the table for a career writer. A career writer can hire a literary lawyer to negotiate a contract, and can handle everything else herself. This is why so many agents are scrambling to find a new niche in the marketplace.
Yeah, one-book writers still go to agents and some career writers are hanging on, but more and more, career writers are ditching their agents because the agents cannot add long-term value for their 15%—and they know it.
4. Book sales (part two). I almost wrote that both types of writers want to sell a book, but that’s not accurate. Both types of writers want to sell books isn’t accurate either. Then I tried both types of writers want to get published, but again, things have changed enough that even that statement is a bit suspect. Let’s just dive in, shall we?
•One-book writers, along with already-established big bestsellers, are most likely to know nothing about indie publishing. The already-established big bestsellers are doing very well in their careers and have no need to look at other ways to continue to publish.
One-book writers don’t see indie publishing as legitimate. Indie publishing won’t help their reputations (see above), at least in their opinions.
Plus, one-book writers are the ones who are most likely to say, both in person and online, that they just want to write.
To be an indie published writer, a writer needs to understand business. Granted, some one-book writers are going to try to self-publish their one book, but that will (guaranteed) end in disaster. So either the one-book writer will give up right there or the one-book writer will return to his traditional publishing dream.
In that dream, the one-book writer will do whatever it takes to get that book published—except learn the business. The one-book writer believes that the business doesn’t apply to them, and they might be right. If they just want a published book and some validation, does it matter how they get it? To many of them, it does not.
So, to recap, a one-book writer wants to publish at least one book from a reputable traditional publisher, with national bookstore distribution. The one-book writer wants what he considers to be the trappings of success—book signings, lecture tours, and seeing the book in brick-and-mortar bookstores.
•Career Writers want to sell books. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands if not millions of copies. And not all of the same book, although that would be nice. Career writers think of selling books in two ways: first, the book must sell to a publisher (and/or be indie published); and second, the book must sell to readers.
Career writers know that books must get to readers to make an impact. All career book writers have had books that have never received proper distribution from traditional publishers. In other words, even though the book was traditionally published, it never made its way to bookstores, and therefore no readers found the book.
Without readers, there are no sales. Without sales, there are no careers.
This one factor is why so many midlist writers are embracing indie publishing. The midlist writers now know that their books [plural] will get to the readers [also plural] who want them.
5. Contracts. Both types of writers will end up signing contracts.
•One-book writers really don’t care what’s in the contract past the amount for the advance and the due dates. The one-book writer will look at the contract, but trust his agent (and/or lawyer if he’s savvy enough to hire one) to take care of the “bad” provisions.
The one-book writer will rarely ask someone to explain what the terms mean, and will often see contract terms as promises. Let me give you an example of what I mean. If a contract states that the royalty rate for paper copies of the book is 6% for the first 50,000 paper copies, 8% for the next 100,000 paper copies, and 10% for anything above that, the one-book writer will believe that the clause is a promise that his book will ship 150,000 paper copies minimum.
Actually the 6/8/10 provision exists in the unlikely event that a book sells better than expected in paper. Most midlist novels in today’s market (especially in paperback) rarely sell above 30,000 paper copies.
•Career writers understand that their career rests entirely on their contracts. Career writers know that a bad contract is the difference between getting an advance against royalties and actually making royalties over and above that advance.
Modern traditional contracts will also have things like non-compete clauses, which are death to the career writer. The one-book writer can wait three years between books. Most career writers can’t wait three months.
Career writers also know that being able to get out of a contract is as important if not more important than getting into one. It’s better to leave a publisher who doesn’t care about a book and/or writer than it is to stick with that publisher.
Career writers are savvy business people who will, at some point in their career, walk away from book deals because the contract is heinous, threaten to sue to get out of a contract, buy back a contract, and write a toss-off book to complete a contract. All career writers negotiate their contracts either on their own, through an agent, or through a lawyer.
Career writers learn to understand publishing contracts because failing to do so will kill a career faster than a bad book. In fact, one reader’s bad book is another’s favorite book. Bad books don’t kill careers. Bad business does.
6. Copyright. Both writers license copyrights. Only one type of writer understands what that really means.
•One-book writers skim over the part of the contract that deals with licensing a copyright. The one-book writer has sold a book! Yay! It doesn’t matter that the traditional publisher will not pay an advance, and yet wants to publish the books in all languages and all formats.
By the way, too many one-book writers got caught in contracts like this in the past. Then called “all-rights” contracts, the one-book writers who got caught whined at conferences, and even beginners realized they shouldn’t sign those contracts with the phrase “all rights” in it.
Now, though, traditional companies—the Big 5—all have all-rights contracts without using the phrase “all-rights.” They are ebook only contracts (with the promise of a paper edition), at 50% of net, in all languages, and the right to license the book to everything from movies to games to audiobooks and more.
I’ve seen several contracts like that this summer from all of the Big 5 publishers, and every person who contacted me about those contracts ended up signing them. Which, honestly, makes my stomach turn.
But if you only want to be a published writer, then I guess it’s okay to sell every copyright in that book for 50% of net, with net being undefined. You’ll never see a dime—or if you do, you’ll only see a tiny fraction of what everyone else makes from that book, but you will have a “legitimate” traditionally published book with your name on it, vetted by a “real” editor.
Sorry to engage in a mini-rant, but this pisses me off. The writer really doesn’t have to be screwed here, and the publisher is really taking advantage of someone’s dreams. I get it. Being published is a bucket-list thing. But does that mean a writer should volunteer to be hurt just to achieve a goal?
Unfortunately, because there will always be one-book writers, there will always be a version of the all-rights contract, and there will always be someone desperate enough to sign it.
Will an agent or lawyer protect the writer? No. Because no one can improve a contract based on no-advance and 50% of net in all languages. The basis of the book deal is flawed. Book deals work like this: a writer agrees to the outline of the deal before seeing the contract. So, the writer has already agreed to the worst terms of the deal before the contract crosses his deak.
The writer wants his one book published, and he will have that, no matter what. So many agents and lawyers will explain the problems, and most one-book writers will never listen to what could go wrong.
•Career writers understand copyright. Period. They want to license as little of their copyright as possible in each property. They know that a book deal is a negotiation, but if the publisher gets all of the benefit of the copyright license, then the career writer will avoid that publisher or walk away from the deal.
No long-established career writer would ever sign a contract like the one listed above. The career writer understands that a contract like that will earn no money, no matter how many books get sold. A career writer needs to make a living, remember, and contracts like that make earning a living impossible.
Copyright is a difficult subject to master and it is ever-changing. If you’re longing to be a career writer or if you know you don’t know enough about copyright, buy a copy of Nolo Press’s The Copyright Handbook, and read through it slowly. Make understanding copyright something you do on a daily basis. If you see a weird copyright notice, figure out why it exists.
If you don’t understand why I say we license copyright instead of selling it, then you should buy the book. I could go on, but I won’t.
Okay…I’m done with my bullet points. I touched on only a few things about the differences in approach between a one-book writer and a career writer. They are very, very different animals.
Almost every decision you make as a writer will force you to choose between career and that getting-one-thing published daydream. It’s up to you to decide if you want a career or not.
But realize, when I’m talking about decisions in this blog, I do so from the point of view of someone who has had a thirty-year career and is hoping for at least thirty years more.
A writing career is not a sprint. It’s not a marathon. It’s not even an ultra marathon. It’s a way of life.
And that is the biggest difference of all.
One other realization I had last week was the number of words I write on this blog every year. The fact that I lose two novels to write this weekly column means that I need to earn two novel advances over the course of a year to make up for that. (Technically, thinking in modern career terms, I should earn more, but I’m going to leave my financial expectations at something reasonable, since I also get a lot of intangibles out of this blog.) I don’t need to make much per week, because the money adds up over time, but I do need to make a little something.
So, if you learned anything or got anything out of a past blog, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: “A Career Versus Publication” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Send to Kindle
August 27, 2013
“A combination of first-person and third-person narrative and flashback segments makes this a complex and compelling story. It’s like having three tales in one, with an added peek into the bad guys’ activities, all of them intriguing, classic science fiction. It leaves the reader eager to explore this universe again and see what will happen next with these characters.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Expect surprises, plot twists, and space wreck diving danger as Boss, Coop and their respective crews must confront the past in a bid to control the future. They may be out-gunned, but Boss’s knowledge when it comes to diving ancient Dignity Vessels is unmatched.”
Here’s the back cover copy:
The answers Captain Jonathon “Coop” Cooper and the crew of the Ivoire seek lie in the Boneyards. But they must wait for Boss and her team to dive it, explore the wrecks, and piece together what happened in that faraway place.
Boss loves the challenge. Thousands of ships, centuries of history, all play to her strengths. In her absence, she trusts Coop to defend the Nine Planets Alliance against the Enterran Empire.
But an encounter from Coop’s recent past shows up to haunt him, an encounter he never told Boss about, an encounter that could threaten her future, his life, and the fragile peace between the Alliance and the Empire.
You can preorder on two sites–Kobo and Audible. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until September 17. If you want to see a snippet of the novel, then order the novella, Strangers at the Room of Lost Souls. Part of the novella is in the novel (in different order, as usual), but you’ll get a taste of what’s to come.
You can get Strangers in trade paper from your favorite retailer or in any e-bookstore.
Send to Kindle
August 26, 2013
Drew, a private investigator, protects Karen. Lonely, sad, vulnerable Karen. So, when Karen decides to respond to a suspicious-sounding personal ad about a music audition, Drew tags along. What he observes puts his instincts on high alert. Drew fears the Folklorist plans to use her and toss her away. But the truth will prove far more surprising that Drew can ever imagine.
“Folk Lure” by World Fantasy Award winner Kristine Kathryn Rusch is available for free on this site for one week only. The story is also available for $3.99 in ebook form in all e-bookstores including Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The free story will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, click on the links above. There’s another free story lurking somewhere around the site. Track the story down, read, and enjoy!
Send to Kindle
August 24, 2013
As of this writing, my novel Snipers has been out a little over a month, and it’s received stellar reviews. Booklist gave it a starred review, and others have given it all kinds of kudos. Here’s a sampling:
“Told in roughly alternating chapters set in 1913 and 2005, [Snipers] is a deft mixture of SF and mystery with some very sharp plotting, some nice twists, and a trio of compelling characters.”
—Booklist, starred review
“Chilling murders, mind-blowing suspense, a touch of time travel and a bit of romance combine for a thought-provoking, entertaining vacation from reality.”
—RT Book Reviews
“Rusch is best known for her Retrieval Artist series, but occasionally she gives us a standalone gem like Snipers…. Snipers is a riveting suspense tale and a fine SF story—what more could we want?”
“Rusch explores the mind-bending possibilities of time travel and alternate realities with relish, but never allows the novel to stray too far from its gritty, procedural straight-and-narrow; keeping the story taut and suspenseful, the author spins one of her trademark stories that brims with intelligence and surprise. The action moves at a breakneck pace (most of the chapters are quite short), which contributes to a sense of breathless velocity: To what climactic revelation are these characters, separated by decades but joined by unfathomable secrets, racing?”
— The Edge Philadelphia
“Snipers is an excellent amalgamation of history, thriller, mystery & science fiction. Rusch lays out the period in meticulous detail, as only she can.”
As you can see from the reviews, the novel crosses genres and timelines. I initially started the book as a novella, but soon realized it was much larger than that. I had fun writing it. I’m going to share an excerpt with you, and at the end will be ordering information for all formats. First, though, let me give you the back cover copy:
The Carnival Sniper—as famous as Jack The Ripper. And like Jack The Ripper, never caught, his identity lost to history. In 1913, the Carnival Sniper terrorized Vienna, murdering the famous and not-so-famous alike. Police Detective Johann Runge never caught the Sniper and his failure defined the rest of his life. In 2005, bestselling crime writer Sofie Branstadter receives permission to use modern forensic investigative techniques on the Sniper’s victims. She believes she can figure out the identity of the Sniper, but she needs the help of Runge’s great-grandson, classical pianist Anton Runge. Together the two of them plunge into a world of scientific evidence and fantastic clues, all leading to one unbelievable conclusion.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The assassin got lost in the corridors of Ferstel Palace. He stood near a dark, dank stairwell, and allowed himself a moment of panic.
Maybe the prototype had malfunctioned again. Maybe he wasn’t in 1913 at all. Maybe he was in some other year, some other century.
Then he took a deep breath and made himself take stock. The walls were covered with soot from the gaslights, and the air smelled faintly of oil. The heat was low, and he was cold. His hands, wrapped in woolen gloves with the fingers cut out so that he could handle his Glock, were clenched into fists.
He relaxed the fists one finger at a time. Gaslights were correct. Not all of Vienna had gotten electricity by 1913. And he had no real map of Ferstel’s corridors. The building had been long gone—nearly a century gone—when he estimated where it had been and activated the prototype.
Then he ended up here, several stories up, uncertain and terrified that his memory had betrayed him.
The Ferstel Palace of the old photographs had bright rounded windows, decorated on the sides with multicolored electric lights. It had never been a palace, nor had it belonged to the Ferstel family, although it had been designed by Heinrich Ferstel.
Once it had been a bank and stock exchange, but by now, it had been converted into something else. The assassin had thought he would find a conference center, filled with shops.
But there were no shops. Only stairwells and more stairwells, doors after doors, and narrow little corridors that were so dark they seemed like the night outside.
He knew that the Café Central had to be inside Ferstel Palace. He had read more about Vienna in 1913 than he had about the history of the twentieth century. And he was an expert in that history.
He knew Vienna, even though he hadn’t been able to check his details before this trip.
The Café Central had to be here. The question was where.
The assassin wrapped his woolen scarf tighter around his neck. The wool scratched his soft skin. Despite his chill, he was sweating beneath the four layers of clothing—the woolen overcoat covering a vested woolen suit, the heavily woven shirt as scratchy as the rest of it, not to mention the long underwear, also made of wool.
No wonder no one bathed in this era. Getting out of the clothing was a nightmare. He should have practiced shooting the Glock with his arms bundled in thick material. His aim might be off. Even a millimeter would make a horrible difference.
He stopped at the end of a corridor, near a wooden door with a brass knob, and forced himself to pause, to calm down.
It was different in the past. Of course it was.
And like always, he had been a fool not to expect it.
Sofie Branstadter stood as close to the open grave as she could. Three men, none of them young, had been working for more than an hour now, using shovels to uncover the coffin.
The dirt here was hard-packed and old—it clearly hadn’t been disturbed in more than a century. The diggers struggled to make clean holes in the soil, as the forensic anthropologist, Karl Morganthau, had instructed.
They had been near the grave since dawn. The sexton had put up the privacy screens—if that was what the white, six-foot-high barriers could be called—the night before. Two reporters had camped out all night, hoping to get some sort of story, but the local police had chased them away at dawn.
Even though Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s Central Cemetery, was open to the public, the gates closed at posted hours. No visitors were allowed between ten p.m. and eight a.m. There were too many valuable statues here, too many famous graves, and too many legends about ghosts haunting this, Europe’s largest cemetery.
Sofie didn’t believe in ghosts. But, as a historian, she understood that the past had a significant influence on the present. That knowledge provided the basis for every book she had written, and it would for this one as well.
Morganthau crouched near the foot of the grave, filtering the dirt through his fingers. He was supervising this part of the process only because he’d done it before. Sofie had never before seen a coffin disinterred.
The process was making her very uncomfortable. The last time she had seen an open grave, she had been five. She had stood in a Munich cemetery, clinging to her grandmother while undertakers poured dirt on her parents’ coffins.
Her parents. Murdered thirty years ago by a sniper who had never been caught.
Sofie pulled her sweater tightly around her shoulders. Maybe the press had been right: Maybe this project did tie to her parents somehow. How appropriate, the London Times had written when her book deal was announced, that one of the few surviving victims of an anonymous sniper should write a history of the Carnival Sniper, the world’s very first sniper/serial killer.
Sofie had been offended when she saw that. She felt her interest was purely intellectual. But the deeper she got into this project, the more she wondered if the papers didn’t see her more clearly than she saw herself.
The photographer, Greta Thaler, circled the grave, taking candid shots of the diggers, of Morganthau, of Sofie. Greta was in her mid-thirties, the same age as Sofie, but dressed like a teenager. Greta wore blue jeans and a T-shirt. She pulled her blond hair back with a leather thong and she wore no makeup.
Sofie’s only concession to the location were her flat shoes. Her tan slacks were too light for work in such dirt, and her summer sweater too ornate. She felt out of place here, as if she had been invited to watch other people work instead of paying them to do her bidding.
Greta had two other cameras around her neck: Whenever the diggers reached a new soil level, they called her over, and she took in-depth shots of the grave itself. She continued to circle, looking as interested as Sofie felt.
Sofie wasn’t sure what she’d find, or whether this disinterment was even worthwhile, but she was playing her hunches, and so far, her hunches had served her well.
Still, it had taken her most of a year to get the permission of the heirs and the City of Vienna to disinter Viktor Adler. Finally, she had to cite anomalies in the autopsy report, anomalies that had been a subject of controversy for over ninety years.
Of course, the press had latched onto her request. Interest in the Carnival Sniper had grown with each successive year—which, generally speaking, was good for her. She wouldn’t have gotten that excessively large advance if St. Petersburg Press Worldwide—the largest publisher in the world—hadn’t believed they could make a fortune off her book. And SPPW wouldn’t have offered to split the bill for Sofie’s expenses with Dragon Entertainment Ltd., who held the motion picture rights, either, if it weren’t for the possibilities of great profit.
Sofie couldn’t have afforded to investigate the Carnival Sniper on her own. Her popular history books did well, but not well enough to pay for the top-of-the-line forensic analysts, the world’s best crime labs, and crime scene reconstruction experts.
She was fortunate that the world was as interested in the Carnival Sniper as she was, and even more fortunate that the Sniper had become a mini-industry.
But that good fortune also created problems for her. The press kept an eye on her, trying to scoop her on her own story, and so she had to make plans in secret. She also had a hard and firm deadline eighteen months away. Ironically, the deadline was in the middle of Vienna’s Fasching, or Carnival, the very season in which the Sniper had committed his crimes.
At first, Sofie had seen the deadline as a positive omen. Now she wasn’t so sure. She still hadn’t finished her research, nor had she found anything the other Sniper historians hadn’t found. So far, even with all the modern investigative tools available to her, she still hadn’t found what her publisher liked to call “the smoking gun.”
Viktor Adler was one of the Carnival Sniper’s first victims, and only one of two whose grave Sofie could locate. Most of the Sniper’s victims were impoverished expatriates with few friends in Vienna. So the victims, for the most part, had been buried in paupers’ graves, often with other poor.
Sofie suspected that the body of at least one of the victims had been sold to a local medical college for study. She had meant to trace that, hoping to find the skeleton, but then the city had, to her surprise, granted her request to disinter Adler.
She had never thought anyone would approve. Adler had a place of honor in the cemetery, although he was not buried in the main avenue between the gate and the church. That area was reserved for the truly famous Viennese—the Strausses, Beethoven, Brahms, as well as the presidents of the Austrian Republic and other luminaries. The city often considered those buried in places of honor untouchable.
But Adler had a checkered history, and wasn’t as revered as the Sniper’s only other Viennese victim. Adler had been the leader of the Social Democratic Party around the turn of the last century. He had founded the workers’ May Day Parade, and had been very active in socialist circles. He had received his burial with honors shortly after his untimely death, although there had been some controversy about those honors three years later, when his son murdered Minister-President Count Karl Stürgkh in a misguided ploy to stop the Great War.
After the assassination, people wanted Adler’s grave moved because his family was in disgrace. But the effort to punish him posthumously ended quickly, as the press and the public lost interest in the assassination. The decade-long war preoccupied everyone, and the city moved on, leaving Adler here, easy to find, and with a slightly tarnished reputation.
The reputation that let Sofie disturb his grave.
She didn’t know exactly what she was looking for but, as she told Morganthau, she would know it when she saw it. If Adler’s body yielded up its secrets, it could tell her a number of things: how many times he was shot; whether or not he’d been about to die anyway (some conspiracy theorists believed that Adler had hired the Sniper to take out his enemies while helping him commit suicide); and the chance to settle the biggest controversy of all—whether or not the body was Adler’s in the first place.
A thousand theories abounded about the Carnival Sniper. Sofie’s least favorite was that Adler had faked his own death so that he could assist in the war effort as a spy for socialist elements in the Russian army. That theory forced historians to make huge leaps—first of all, that there were socialist elements in an army still commanded by the Tzar; second, that Adler cared more about Russia than his native Vienna; and third, that Adler, who was in his sixties at the time, had the energy for a prolonged undercover operation.
The clang of metal against rock caught Sofie’s attention. She looked at the grave. So did Morganthau. He let the last of the dirt filter through his gloved fingers, and turned his thin, aesthetic face toward the diggers.
Two of them leaned against their shovels. The third, a thickly built, middle-aged man, tossed his shovel to the ground, then followed it down, resting his ribcage against the edge of the grave. At first he peered into the square hole the diggers had made, then he plunged his arms inside.
Greta grabbed a different camera—not the one she had been using for candid shots, but the black-and-white she had taken for the artistic shots that Sofie hoped would grace the book—and stood near the digger’s hips, apparently trying to catch his head, torso, and point-of-view all in one photograph.
Morganthau beckoned Sofie to join him. She walked behind the two standing grave diggers. The third digger was pushing dirt aside, his hands so filthy that they seemed almost part of the earth itself. Sweat dripped off his face into the hole. Sofie couldn’t believe he was that warm; she was still freezing in the early morning air.
“If we’re lucky,” Morganthau whispered when Sofie reached his side, “there’ll be a metal identification tag on the outside of the coffin.”
She frowned. “I thought that was a late-century innovation.”
Morganthau shook his head. “Not if Adler’s family paid extra for this plot. Stamping the coffin was a good way to prevent the undertaker from using an economy coffin.”
Sofie winced. She had seen an economy coffin in the Undertaker’s Museum. The coffin had a flap on its bottom that opened easily. After the funeral itself, the coffin would be placed on top of the grave, the undertaker would open the flap, and the body would fall—unprotected—into the soil below. Then the coffin could be reused, saving the next family some of the death costs.
“The economy coffin was banned in the eighteenth century,” Sofie whispered back.
The gravedigger was scraping frantically at the coffin’s top. His companions were leaning on their shovels, watching.
Greta was moving around the wide hole, using all three cameras to take different shots.
“Just because it was banned doesn’t mean it went out of use,” Morganthau whispered. “Adler would be a prime case for the coffin. He didn’t have a lot of money, and he was famous enough.”
“But there’s a coffin there,” Sofie said, no longer whispering.
One of the gravediggers smiled at her. He had apparently overheard her.
“Doesn’t mean much, Fräulein,” he said, his tone friendly. “We find lots of these folks with a warped board over them, simulating a coffin, I’m afraid.”
“Good ideas are never wasted,” Morganthau said, his blue eyes twinkling.
Usually Sofie liked his mordant sense of humor, but not at the moment. Adler was too important to her. If the body had been lying unprotected in soil for nearly a century, she doubted there’d be much left—certainly not enough for her purposes.
The gravedigger felt around the edges of the wood. Sofie held her breath. After a moment, he looked up.
“It’s a coffin,” the gravedigger said.
Sofie let out a small sigh of relief. Just because they had located a coffin didn’t mean the body was in good shape. But it was a start.
The gravedigger pushed himself farther over the grave and shoved the last crumbs of dirt aside. Sofie watched avidly.
There were a lot of tricks economizing undertakers made, especially in those unregulated days at the turn of the last century. The worst for her now would be discovering more than one body buried in that casket. She’d have to spring for countless DNA tests on each useful piece of fabric, each bit of bone.
She was planning to pay for at least one DNA test anyway, provided that there was something useful about the body. The test would compare the Adler heirs’ DNA to the body. She was trying to cover all contingencies. The last thing she wanted was someone to accuse her of masquerading another body for Adler’s just to prove her theories.
Not that she had any theories yet. She had purposely avoided forming any, so that her research would be as pure as possible.
Sofie’s hands were threaded together. She had been twisting them nervously, not realizing what she was doing. She untangled her fingers and dropped her hands to her sides. She made herself concentrate on the scene before her.
Greta was kneeling beside the digger. She looked petite next to him, her lanky frame half the width of his. But Greta seemed as focused as he did, only she was doing her concentrating through the lens of her camera.
She kept zooming in for closer and closer shots. Sofie assumed Greta was focusing on his hands, but she wouldn’t know for certain until she saw the contact sheet.
Sofie took a step closer to the grave. Morganthau caught her arm and held her in place, nodding toward the small pile of dirt he had already sifted through.
“Let’s not have you mixing up the evidence,” he said.
He was looking for things that had fallen near the grave at the time of burial. He also was looking for things that had left the coffin, particularly if the coffin had disintegrated over time. So far, it was clear he had found nothing.
Sofie nodded. She crouched, and watched the gravedigger.
The digger had pushed himself farther over the grave, balancing one hand on the coffin top and using the other to brush dirt off the center section of the lid.
“We have a plate here.” The digger’s voice sounded strangled, probably from his position. He no longer rested his chest on the side of the grave, but his stomach. His diaphragm was probably restricted.
“An identification plate?” Morganthau asked.
“I think so.” The digger kept brushing.
Morganthau moved around Sofie, and lay on the other side of the grave. As he did, he pulled a small brush from his breast pocket.
His posture imitated the digger’s. Morganthau used his small brush to clear dirt out of the engraving.
Sofie’s mouth went dry. If anything on that plate indicated the body belonged to someone other than Viktor Adler, she would have to quit digging now. The Viennese government had given her permission to disinter based on the written records that the body in this gravesite belonged to Viktor Adler.
It was in her agreement that if someone or something indicated that the body was not that of Viktor Adler, the disinterment had to stop until the identity of the body could be proven.
She had tried to get that clause changed, but she hadn’t been able to. The government was already bending the rules for her. Normally, inspectors would be graveside to verify identity themselves.
But Sofie wanted as few people here as possible. Confidentiality agreements only went so far. If the witness pool were large, someone would break the agreement and leak information, assuming—quite rightly—that it would take too much work to figure out who the source of the leak had been.
Sofie had provided double- and triple-documentation to the authorities. She had also backed up her research with a newspaper drawing of the coffin being lowered into the grave. Although the trees were different, the nearby sculptures were not.
If the body in that grave did not belong to Viktor Adler, then someone had made the switch before the body got buried.
“I have a ‘d,’” Morganthau said. “And an ‘e.’ I think.”
“First letter’s gone, though,” the digger said.
“Not gone, necessarily, but hard to read.” Morganthau pulled himself farther forward. He continued brushing the engraving. “That third letter could be an ‘l’ or a one. Can’t tell.”
“That’s enough for me,” Sofie said. “Let’s continue.”
The digger looked up at her. His eyes were dark, and the laugh lines were brown with dirt. “That’s not regulation, miss.”
“We’re not following standard procedure,” Sofie said. “The government has already vouched for the veracity of the records, and the family has signed off. We could proceed even if there wasn’t an identification tag.”
The digger’s mouth thinned. He turned back to the coffin lid, brushed some more dirt off, then pushed himself up. After a moment, so did Morganthau.
He grinned at Sofie as he shook the dirt off his brush. “Impatient, are we?”
“Protecting my interests,” she said. “We don’t need any more delays, especially following a procedure that’s already been waived.”
He stuck the brush back in his breast pocket. His grin had faded. “I thought you wanted a good document trail.”
“I do,” Sofie said. “But we’ll get better pictures of that plate in the lab. And if there’s a problem, we’ll deal with it then. Let’s finish removing the coffin.”
And getting out of the cold. The June morning wasn’t warming up. She shivered again, and stepped away from the small dirt mound. Greta took a picture of her with the black-and-white, probably catching Sofie’s nervousness.
Sofie wasn’t sure what she’d do if there was nothing of use in the Adler coffin. She didn’t want to think about that. Not yet, anyway.
She stepped closer to the privacy screens, and watched as the other two diggers carried their shovels graveside. One of them climbed in the hole, standing on the coffin lid as he made chopping motions in the earth.
Greta started to take a picture, but Sofie waved her away. The entire disinterment was controversial enough. She didn’t need a photograph of a gravedigger being inadvertently disrespectful hitting the press at the same time as the book did.
Or, God forbid, before.
Sofie felt her breath catch. An elation she hadn’t expected filled her. Finally, this long, involved project was moving forward.
Anton Runge leaned against the trunk of an ancient oak tree near the central path. His sweat was drying in the slight breeze, and he was beginning to get a chill.
He’d run his three miles this morning, and somehow they had brought him here, to Zentralfriedhof. And not just to the cemetery, but off the main path, away from the tombs of the famous, into the cemetery itself, toward the grave he had visited too many times—the grave of Viktor Adler.
At the moment, the grave, with its simple marker, was impossible to see. The official in charge of the cemetery had put up barriers to keep prying eyes away from this important disinterment.
And there were a lot of prying eyes. Anton counted at least five paparazzi, two of them in nearby trees, using telephoto lenses to get pictures of the work going on behind those barriers.
The paparazzi were going to get run off. As he’d come into the cemetery, he’d overheard a police officer speaking to the dispatch, confirming that he—or someone—would check this part of the cemetery every twenty minutes.
Apparently Miss High-and-Mighty Branstadter had paid a lot of money for her privacy.
Anton sighed, crossed his arms, and rested the top of his head against the tree’s scratchy bark. He knew he shouldn’t begrudge her anything. Sofie Branstadter’s very public interest in the Carnival Sniper meant that the sales of Death at Fasching had increased by nearly fifty thousand copies in the past year alone.
The royalties from the book, written by Anton’s great-grandfather, had helped Anton through some lean years, and helped him make the difficult transition from solo artist to composer. Now he didn’t have to parade in front of crowds to earn a living. He could remain in the privacy of his own home and write down the music that had haunted him since he was a child.
Anton’s father would be appalled that Anton was spending the money instead of saving it for future generations. But Anton was thirty-five, with no marriage prospects on the horizon. His only marriage, which had been no less unpleasant for all its brevity, had left him childless, and he didn’t see that state changing any time soon.
So there would be no future Runges, and therefore no need for Anton to bank the money the way his father and grandfather had.
His father wouldn’t have approved of Anton’s presence here in the Central Cemetery, either. Both Anton’s father and his grandfather had been embarrassed by Death at Fasching. But the book had once fascinated Anton.
When Anton had been a young man, the Carnival Sniper had become an obsession for him. He had read Death at Fasching, and then all the articles and the other books on the subject. In most, Anton’s great-grandfather, Johann Runge, starred as an almost romantic figure—a man on a never-ending quest for the truth.
Anton had trouble remembering how he felt about the books, the Sniper, and his great-grandfather as his own fame grew. He had won several important international piano competitions, and all the press wanted to talk about was the Carnival Sniper.
Headlines all over Europe proclaimed that the great-grandson of the Sniper detective had won the prized Chopin Competition. Only Vienna had the grace to remember that Anton was the first Viennese to win since the competition started twenty years before.
Interviews were always about the Sniper, never just about Anton’s music. Even after Anton had stopped his solo performances, reporters would show up at his door, wanting yet another Sniper story.
The nuisances had grown worse since Miss Branstadter got her outrageous book deal.
Anton wondered how she would play it. Books often had to make up new points of view, new conspiracy theories, just to have new material on this ninety-two-year-old case.
Some of the books actually blamed Johann Runge’s unusual detecting methods for the bungling of the case. A few claimed that if the Carnival Sniper had been caught, the devastating Great War—the most important event of the twentieth century—would never have happened. And one recent book actually accused Johann Runge of incompetence that let the Carnival Sniper go free.
Anton knew his great-grandfather hadn’t been incompetent. He had been, in the words of Anton’s father, too irascible for that. But the man had become an enigma, obsessed about the Sniper, afraid that the Sniper still lived decades after the killings.
Somewhere in the middle of all those theories lay the truth, and Anton doubted Miss High-and-Mighty Branstadter would find it. For all her pronouncements, she was just another sensationalist writer, trying to make money off someone else’s life.
At least Miss Branstadter had the resources to pursue a few new avenues. Although Anton did not believe that she would find any new evidence in the graves of the Sniper’s victims.
What could decomposing corpses tell her? That they had been shot, yes, and that they had died. But there were no bits of paper tucked into the pockets revealing the identity of the killer.
That was the problem with a gunman who chose his victims at random: Finding a unifying thread was impossible. Anton believed that the Sniper had snapped one morning, taken his pistol, and shot five people in the next twenty-four hours.
Then he had boarded a train and disappeared from Vienna forever.
The story wasn’t even that unusual. Snipers had taken out victims all over the world. From clock towers in London to airports in Madrid, snipers had been using their guns to enforce their crazy beliefs for decades now.
The only reason the world wanted to know about the Carnival Sniper was because he was the first. The first to use a gun to shoot more than one victim, and the first to do it at random.
No matter how many conspiracy theories people wrote, no matter how many graves they dug up, the Sniper would still remain anonymous because he had no agenda, no plan, and there had been no logic in his actions outside of his own twisted mind.
Still, Anton wished he could be inside those barriers and see the body that his great-grandfather had stood over in the Café Central.
Time barely existed in Zentralfriedhof.
Anton almost felt as if he could reach through the early morning mist, and touch the past.
The assassin decided to leave Ferstel Palace. He was too panicked and too confused. He wasn’t even certain he had been inside the right building. Nothing on the walls mentioned the name of the building, and he couldn’t remember who the other 1913 occupants of the building had been.
He knew there was a street entrance into the Café Central. He had just not planned to use it. In his imagination, he had seen himself appearing in the café, shooting Bronstein, and escaping before anyone realized the assassin was there.
But, of course, he had imagined the scene all wrong. Now he would have to enter the café like any other customer and try to find his target.
The assassin found a ground-level door and stepped outside. Instantly, the bitter January cold hit him. Arctic air blanketed the city, made worse by the presence of the sun.
It seemed to make the cold damper, and his lungs ached.
The street seemed nothing like any of the photographs he had seen. The buildings rose higher than he expected, and even though all of them had ornamentation—tiny statues, baroque decorations, beautiful stonework above the windows—they looked grimy, soot-covered and dark.
The sunlight didn’t add brightness. Instead, it emphasized the filth around him.
The streets weren’t crowded, but there were more people than the assassin would have liked. People crossed the ice- and snow-covered street, dodging piles of horse manure. Most of these people were men, all wearing woolen suits and woolen overcoats, their hats covering full heads of hair. As they moved quickly, their faces were indistinguishable, hidden by scarves or neatly trimmed beards.
A few horses clip-clopped by, and so did some horse-drawn carriages. The stench, even in the cold, was more than the assassin could bear. Manure, cigar smoke, human sweat, and perfume hung in the air.
Trams also moved through the crowd, and people seemed to avoid them. A single Model A putted by. The driver clutched the wheel as if he were afraid it was going to bite him. He bent forward, looking at the passersby, apparently hoping they would avoid him.
The assassin stood and watched, his heart still pounding.
The Model A helped his confidence. Automobiles and horses co-existed on Viennese streets well into World War I. The clothing was right, too. The assassin’s outfit was just the same as the others he had seen.
Apparently, working backwards, the prototype had no problems.
He sighed, his breath frosting out of him, visible in the chill air. He pulled his coat tighter around him, then thought the better of it. The tight coat revealed his shoulder holster and, if he moved just right, the Glock would also be visible against his frame.
The Glock, modified to fit his needs, wasn’t like any handgun someone from this decade had ever seen, but the general shape hadn’t changed.
It was still recognizable as a gun.
He shoved his hands in his outside pockets and decided to follow the crowd. Maybe he could ask someone where the Café Central was. If he kept the question simple, he would not run the risk of being memorable.
He walked until he realized he had reached a square. It looked completely unfamiliar. The buildings were tall and made of stone, and they were brown in the unusual January sunlight. Snow topped their roofs.
A fountain stood in the middle of the square, but he didn’t recognize the sculptures on it. And the fact that there was a fountain meant nothing; a number of squares in Vienna had had fountains.
The assassin had to figure out where he was. Then he saw the cross atop one of the square towers of a building across the square. The building looked familiar. He closed his eyes, tried to imagine the Vienna he had once known, and the pieces fell together.
The Schottenkirche. He opened his eyes, and now the building did look familiar. The Scottish Church, even though it had actually been founded by Irish Benedictine monks. He had always loved that irony. Strange he hadn’t recognized the Schottenkirche before that.
He hadn’t realized how much a building’s setting determined the building’s appearance. The shape of the Schottenkirche, so familiar to him from his original time period, was hidden by the nearby buildings.
He shivered, closed his eyes once more, and let his faulty memory help him. Some of the descriptions he’d read of the old Café Central said it was off Herrengasse. If he was in Freyung Square, Herrengasse was behind him.
He had come out on the wrong side of Ferstel Palace.
The assassin exhaled, feeling slightly dizzy with relief.
He might get this done after all.
Here’s how you find the rest of the book: You can order the trade paper copy of the book online or through your favorite retailer. The ebook is widely available, on sites from Kobo to Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Smashwords, and more. You can also get an audio edition from Audible. Enjoy!
Send to Kindle
August 23, 2013
I know you folks have a bank holiday on Monday, but doesn’t that mean you should be reading? This promotion that WMG and Kobo are doing is for the United Kingdom and Australian readers, but here’s a secret for the rest of you: The coupon code below works worldwide. However, it is just for one book.
And yes, you should probably recognize the books that are on sale. They’re the same ones as last week’s sale. Now remember, this is for the weekend only.
So, Kobo and WMG Publishing are offering a 30% off sale on these e-books: A Dangerous Road (the first book in my Smokey Dalton mystery series (written as Kris Nelscott)), The Fates Trilogy (all three Fates books under my Kristine Grayson pen name), Snipers (my newest novel), and The Perfect Man edition which has both my Kristine Rusch novelette and the novel I wrote as Kristine Dexter plus an introduction. The Perfect Man stories came from the same idea but are very different in execution. If you want to get a book, you need to use this promo code before August 26th:Get30now
Remember, it only applies to one.
And, since I have your attention, I should probably point you to WMG’s free offerings this week. The free podcast is one of my Grayson short stories, “Geeks Bearing Gifts,” read by the incomparable Jane Kennedy. And today’s free short story is also one of mine, “Advisors at Naptime.” I must confess: It’s one of my favorites too.
Remember, the Kobo promotion will only last until August 26. That’s the weekend. And you can get Snipers, The Perfect Man special edition, The Fates Trilogy, or A Dangerous Road. Have fun!
Send to Kindle
I know you folks have a bank holiday on Monday, but doesn’t that mean you should be reading? This promotion that WMG and Kobo are doing is for the United Kingdom and Australian readers, but here’s a secret for the rest of you: The coupon code below works worldwide. However, it is just for one book.
And yes, you should probably recognize the books that are on sale. They’re the same ones as last week’s sale. Now remember, this is for the weekend only.
So, Kobo and WMG Publishing are offering a 30% off sale on these e-books: A Dangerous Road (the first book in my Smokey Dalton mystery series (written as Kris Nelscott)), The Fates Trilogy (all three Fates books under my Kristine Grayson pen name), Snipers (my newest novel), and The Perfect Man edition which has both my Kristine Rusch novelette and the novel I wrote as Kristine Dexter plus an introduction. The Perfect Man stories came from the same idea but are very different in execution. If you want to get a book, you need to use this promo code before August 26th: GET30OFF. Remember, it only applies to one.
And, since I have your attention, I should probably point you to WMG’s free offerings this week. The free podcast is one of my Grayson short stories, “Geeks Bearing Gifts,” read by the incomparable Jane Kennedy. And today’s free short story is also one of mine, “Advisors at Naptime.” I must confess: It’s one of my favorites too.
Remember, the Kobo promotion will only last until August 26. That’s the weekend. And you can get Snipers, The Perfect Man special edition, The Fates Trilogy, or A Dangerous Road. Have fun!
Send to Kindle
August 21, 2013
Those of us who blog regularly about the changes in the publishing industry do not do so from the place of disinterested observers. Even though a few of us are former journalists, we’re not writing like the journalists we once were. Yes, we’re imparting information, but we’re imparting information with a bias.
For those of us who were formerly in the midlist, our bias is generally Oh my God! This is sooooo much better than traditional publishing.
But we’re coming out of being treated like the mud on the shoe of traditional publishing—if, indeed, we made it that far.
I’m in an unusual position. I have started two publishing companies, have been involved in several more, have worked as an editor for magazines, anthologies, books, and textbooks, had bestsellers because I was a tie-in writer, had bestsellers because all the stars aligned on my original novels, had publishers dump me, have trained copy editors, written cover copy, run newsrooms, sold lots and lots of nonfiction, worked on daily newscasts, been head-hunted by broadcast news organizations and traditional publishing houses, and…and…and…
Sometimes I write from the position of someone who’s seen most everything; sometimes I write from the position of an editor or a publisher; sometimes I write from the position of a mistreated writer; and sometimes I write from the position of a successful writer.
But the one position I never write from is the one-book writer. It’s a position I honestly don’t understand. And that gets me in trouble with some of you who read this blog. Some of you think I don’t do enough to support my “book”; some of you believe I don’t understand what it’s like to be a beginner (what, was I born fully formed from the forehead of Zeus?); some of you think I could never understand how hard writing is.
I understand all of that. What I don’t understand is why some of you believe that your book (singular) is a sacred and holy text. Why you believe that once you’ve published your one book, you’re done.
I’ve never understood that position. Or the idea of writing as something other than a career.
At my very first World Science Fiction convention in 1989, I got invited to do a book signing. I foolishly said yes. Whoever organized the signings that year did so alphabetically by guest last name, so I ended up signing books between Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson.
My first novel had yet to come out. I’d published a few short stories, and I’d edited a few issues of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine. I showed up for my signing—pen in hand—to see lines snaking around the door, into the hallway, and down to the lobby. I walked past those lines, sat down, and proceeded to watch Jack and Fred sign book after book after book older than I was, along with their latest releases.
I signed nothing, although some guy took my picture. I used to joke about that, mostly to hide how embarrassed I was to even be at a book signing when I had published so little.
Jack Williamson had sold his first short story in 1928 to Amazing Stories. Frederik Pohl had sold his first piece nine years later under a pen name. By the end of the 1930s, he was editing two pulp magazines and often writing some of the content himself.
By the time I sat next to them, they each published hundreds of things, many of those things books (be they collections or novels or novellas or anthologies). They’d survived several downturns in the industry, including one that was content-driven. (In other words, what once sold was considered “horrible” and only “good” “new” fiction in a completely different style was “acceptable.”)
They grew as writers, learning new technologies and adapting their work to new mediums. And they continued (or in the case of Fred, continue) to learn.
In the last few years of his life when he could no longer travel, Jack Williamson invited his friends to his hometown in New Mexico for a symposium (which still continues) called The Williamson Lectureship. When Dean and I went in 2001, I was pleased to note that the most informed person in the room about the current trends in science and science fiction was 93-year-old Jack. On that trip, he showed us his office, where he was working his latest project. I don’t know what that project was because Jack continued to write up until the last few months before his death at age 98.
Ninety-three-year-old Fred is still with us, still learning, and still writing. He’s blogging, almost weekly, as well as writing other things. A month ago, he blogged about the way to start a new magazine, and ended with this line: “I know I shouldn’t give it a thought, but if an [editing] offer got real, how could I say no?”
So many young writers are afraid of blogging, afraid of learning new tools, afraid of leaving the traditional world, and here’s Fred, who has seen countless changes in the industry, writing blogs about his life, the industry, and his thoughts—using a form that did not exist when he started writing. Or when I met him, for that matter.
I went to Wikipedia to find a list of what these men wrote, and realized as I glanced at it how those lists were. I had the same reaction when I looked at the obituaries of Elmore Leonard this week. They all said he wrote 45 novels (a figure that comes from his website), but they don’t count his short stories, the reviews and essays he wrote, and the countless other things he had probably lost track of.
The initial obituary in The Los Angeles Times focused on his Hollywood work, and left out much of it. An obit that I saw on one of the major newscasts made it sound like Leonard only had three of his works produced, Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and the short story that inspired the series Justified.
In fact, Leonard’s obituaries became a kind of Rorschach test for me: Had the person who wrote the obituary read Leonard’s books? Seen his movies? Seen Justified? Read his rules on writing?
Elmore Leonard had been a career writer, a working writer, who didn’t become famous until he turned sixty. He had another 27 years of writing after that, and died with his boots on, as he was deep into his 46th novel.
We lost other career writers this year. Most of you have never heard of Barbara Mertz, but she had two bestselling pen names: Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. I am a big Barbara Michaels fan—have been since I read Greygallows in 1972. I’m not as big a fan of Elizabeth Peters. But I must admit that one of my favorite Mertz books is long out of print, one the incomparable Laura Resnick mentioned to me. Called Two Thousand Years in Rome, the book (which Mertz published with her ex-husband Richard Mertz) is a travel guide to Rome that still holds up—mostly because the book looks at the historical Rome, not the modern one.
Mertz would have turned 86 in October. She wrote on her website (which I couldn’t access tonight, so I had to trust The Los Angeles Times for this):
I have never been able to understand how people can complain about being lonely or bored; there are so many interesting things to do, so many fascinating people to know. I love my work, and I hope to go on doing it till I drop at the age of 99.
If only. Because, had she kept writing for another 13 years, we would have more wonderful books.
Career writers are different from most writers. We’re more resilient, for one thing. This career has incredible ups and downs, heartbreaking sadness and some truly nasty crap.
Michael Connolly intimated at the ups and downs in his tribute to Elmore Leonard in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times:
He had worked so hard and for so long in obscurity before getting his due, before ending up on the cover of Time magazine and in American Express ads. There was nothing that could rock him, no moment for which he didn’t have a line.
It was like he was one of those jazz masters who had come out of a long stay in San Quentin. You knew there were dark times back there but he had to go through them to play the music he made now. I never could bring myself to ask about those times. By the time I knew him he was an elder statesman of sorts….
Writers often don’t talk about the hard times. I’m unusual in that I do—and I’ve noticed that because I do, I get called all kinds of things on the web: bitter, angry, a failure. I’m told that I hate traditional publishing, even though I’m still traditionally published, and I’ve started two traditional publishing companies (one is still in existence) and worked at countless more.
I’m not sure where the name-calling comes from. I do know that it usually comes from other writers, although this summer, Danielle Steel had issues with people (men, she says, but this might be generational) who belittle her writing career. They ask her if she’s still writing, and here’s how she responded on her blog:
Yes, I am STILL writing. What this does is that it immediately puts my writing into the category as a hobby. As in, are you still taking piano lessons, doing macramé, have a parrot? I don’t have a huge ego about my work, but let’s face it, for me it is a job. A job I love, and I have been doing it since I was 19 years old. I have been in the Guinness book of world records repeatedly for having a book on the bestseller list for more weeks consecutively than whoever. Yes, for Heaven’s sake, I am still writing. It’s my work, my job, how my family eats and went to college. People said that comment to me when I was 35. Now when they say it, I get even more insulted…
Yeah. Been there. Apparently, very few people—writers and non-writers—understand that many of us view writing as our job, our career, the thing we do every single day.
I ran into this as recently as this past weekend. And my problem usually comes from other writers, often other published writers. On Saturday, I participated in a mass book signing at Bob’s Beach Books on the Oregon Coast, an event I participate in every year. Some of my books were on the table in front of me, but honestly, not even a tenth of what I’ve done was represented there, and certainly not most of what’s in print.
I found myself apologizing to three different writers (published writers!) for the fact that I have published more than they have, that my output is significantly higher. I was tired because the signing was in the middle of my night (I usually get up at noon; signing began at 10:30), and when I’m tired, I actually get polite. (I learned long ago that I’m caustic, so my default is either funny or polite.)
So there I was, apologizing for the fact that my writing has been my job for my entire life, that—like Danielle Steel—I’ve had work in print since I was a teenager, and that I write a lot.
I shouldn’t have to apologize for being prolific, especially to other people who consider themselves professional writers. But I do apologize in those situations, which is why, more and more, I don’t talk to other writers about writing. In fact, I avoid those discussions as much as I can. I’m “intimidating,” you see. I “should know how uncomfortable it makes other writers” when they see what I’ve done.
Which, honestly, I do not understand.
When I sat at that book signing with Fred and Jack, a 29-year-old writer between a 70-year-old writer (who started at age 19) and an 81-year-old writer (who started at 20), I looked in awe at their lines, at those books that predated me (sometimes by decades), at their latest books in the hands of fans, and I admired it.
That’s what a writer is, I thought. And that’s what kind of writer I wanted to become. It was a defining moment for me, a moment that enabled me to see so many possibilities.
Like Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake and Robert B. Parker and oh so many others, I want to die with my boots on, facedown on my keyboard if possible, in the middle of a sentence.
Which brings me back to this blog. I write from the perspective of a career writer, someone who started as a teenager and plan to finish when my heart stops pumping. I write about survival—long-term survival—in a business that discourages longevity. That’s my point, that’s always my point, in all of these blogs.
I know some people only have one book in them. I know that others quit after four or five books because they get discouraged. I think some of that discouragement might be abated in the future with the rise of indie publishing, but I doubt that all of it will. Already I’m seeing blogs by traditionally published writers who are convinced that indie publishing is too hard. I keep hearing, “All I want to do is write!” and I think it unrealistic in the extreme.
Of course all they want to do is write; that’s all every writer wants to do. And indie or traditional or a hybrid, we must do other things, like look over edits, maybe approve covers (or design them), maintain blogs, and a whole host of other non-writerly duties. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you’re on or if you’re straddling that fence. No published writer gets to “just write.” Not a one of us.
Much of the advice out there, though, on both sides, is geared toward the one- or two-book writers, the folks who have the time to monitor their Amazon reviews (and, as one rather dumb new writer advocated, revise the book accordingly).
There are a handful of us—from JA Konrath to my husband Dean Wesley Smith to Bob Mayer—who blog for the career writer, the ones who know that we have many books inside us, and who want readers for all of those books.
We approach this new world with awe, and with the spirit of experimentation, because we have no idea what will work five years from now, but we’re eager to see it. All of us are making more money indie than we ever did traditionally, and we’re rather stunned at it.
But more than that, we’re getting to our readers for the first time.
Our readers don’t ask if “we’re still writing” any more, like those poor idiots asked Danielle Steel. Our readers used to ask that question because they couldn’t find our books. Now the readers can find our books, and what we’re getting is “When is the next one coming out?”
The fact that we now have an answer is new for us—most of us suffered series interruptus because of problems with our traditional publishers. We’re excited about all we can write. (And sometimes overwhelmed by it.) We can experiment in craft, we can experiment in types of stories, and we can write as fast as we want.
Readers aren’t intimidated by prolific writers. Readers like prolific writers. Readers can always read faster than we can write; we’ll never be able to keep up with the demand for stories.
And that’s a good thing (even when it’s hard to remember as someone asks for a novel two books away from being written).
I’ll be honest: this blog came from a reassessment I’ve been doing all week. I looked at my schedule and realized I’m having a slow novel year. So far, I’ve only finished three books (and one of them was rather short). I have written a number of short stories, and I’m on pace for a good short story year. But if I want to finish all the books promised in 2013, then I need to get cracking.
So I was trying to figure out what I could cut, and I looked hard at this blog. I no longer consider myself a nonfiction writer, even though I produce about 160,000 words of nonfiction every year. (That’s two novels, folks.)
But the blog does serve me, right now. I’m still exploring this new world, and I like doing it with the help of the blog’s readers—so long as you understand that this blog is about writing careers, not about writing a single book. I also am not looking at one way of doing things. Because there isn’t one.
I’m still deeply rooted in traditional publishing, even though I do some indie publishing. I understand most sides in this industry, even though I rarely express those other sides on Thursdays. If I wanted to, I could write a blog about the ways that agents could change their business model and survive. Or a blog about how an editor could thrive in the modern market. Or a blog about the best paths for beginning writers.
Even though I understand those things, they don’t interest me much. And this blog is for me as much as it is for you all. I’m still learning about this new world, still figuring out my path
And as long as I am doing that, this blog will survive. I haven’t missed a week in 54 months. That means I’ve written about 700,000 words. And that number scares me, considering how much of those 700,000 words are only one-time words.
To put it another way, most of what I write here won’t last six months, let alone four more years. That makes most of these blogs what my friend Bill used to call ephemera, works that are unimportant and don’t last, works that I’m certain didn’t even show up on any publishing list after my death.
But I see all of these words as part of a process. I think better while researching and working at the keyboard. I feel an obligation to investigate the changes in publishing every week because I have a Thursday deadline. So I do.
I’ll leave you with the words of George Carlin, spoken in a 1997 interview with Jon Stewart. This morning, writer and actor Terry Hayman sent this to a list serve that I’m on (perfect timing, Terry!), and Carlin’s philosophy on being a career artist sums up how I feel about being a long-term writer.
Carlin said, “The artist has an obligation to be en route, to be going somewhere. There’s a journey involved here, and you don’t know where it is, and that’s the fun. So you’re always going to be seeking and looking and going and trying to challenge yourself.”
This new world of publishing is challenging, but that’s not enough. The act of writing is challenging. Being an artist in the 21st century is challenging.
And oh so very much fun.
Even though I write part of this blog for me, I also need the blog to fund itself. That’s why I have a donate button. If I’m going to sacrifice two novels a year to this blog, I need to recoup the amount I would earn (at least as an advance) from the blog itself. So, if you’ve learned something from this week’s blog or previous ones, or if you like what I’m doing here, please leave a tip on the way out. Thanks.
“The Business Rusch: “Career Writers” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Send to Kindle