Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Story at Strange Horizons

A cartoon bird

My story "Never the Same" is up at Strange Horizons. It's a science fiction mystery. I wrote it about the time I started my cozy mystery novel, so it's a play on some of those tropes... but in a less cozy way.

Also has birds and terraforming!

Never the Same

Friday, 29 August 2014

Writing Diary: If Sales were Fishes

I've sold two short stories. "Never the Same" (science fiction mystery) to Strange Horizons and "After the Rain" (folkloric fantasyish) to Lackington's Magazine. In addition to the titles rhyming, I noted my last few short story length sales have been in the format of "Y the X". This isn't because I title all my stories that way... it's just what sold.

All this means I'll need to write some more short stories. With different titles.

The other result of selling stuff is I have money, so I got a little fish tank for a fighter fish. It'll be a few weeks at least before the fish, as it takes time to get the bacteria in the tank going. But here's a photo of what it looked like soon after I planted it:

Aqua One Aquastart 320 with wood and plants

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Cockroach Invasion (Video)

Baby cockroach on an egg boxA common question raised by my bio is, "Do you really keep cockroaches?" As though it might be a quirky thing I invented just for the bio. Yes, I really keep cockroaches. I started with one cockroach (Sparkle), then got two (Ash and Gem) and this time ordered five (but I have eight). Mostly because I used to have a community fish tank. Now I don't, I'm filling that space with cockroaches.

Other things people often ask:

What type are they? Madagascar hissing cockroaches. (There are several species called this, which interbreed, so most likely they're a bit of a mix.)

What do they eat? I give them dry stuff (fish food, cereals, nuts, seeds) and fruit/veg (most stuff, except they don't like cucumber and I avoid irritant things like onions and chillies). Sparkle was an odd one, in that he'd only eat dried food (and wouldn't eat if it'd been moistened). Most of them like their fresh stuff though.

What are they called? I've named the one bigger nymph. They're called Pancake, because they're unusually broad for their length. My guess is Pancake is a bit older, as they're hanging out on their own more and look less nymphy.

Do you breed them? No. Cockroaches breed a lot, being cockroaches and all, so that's a lot of babies to handle. A lot of people also have reptiles, so feed unwanted babies to those... but I don't have space for lizards.

How do you avoid breeding? Keep males and females in separate tanks. For the batch this time, I'll split them as they get a little bigger, then sort out their final tanks when I know what they'll be.

Do they get lonely (when kept in a tank alone)? No. Cockroaches live in colonies, but they're not attached to each other like bees and ants. My biggest concern with the new babies is they're rather small and the weather's hot, so they'll help retain moisture by staying together. I won't be splitting them until they grow a bit (except Pancake, who'll move after some settling time).

Why?!!!!? They're clean, friendly and easy to keep. They tame well and live about as long as a hamster (in approximate ages, my previous ones reached four, one and a half, and three). I love their little antennae!

Can I see them? Here's five minutes of my cockroaches being cockroaches...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Writing Diary: Cozies and Blog Future

Cozy Mystery

In my self-publishing roundup, I said I was going to write a cozy mystery. This has begun. My basic concept is the fairy godmother of a small English village investigating murders. Her wife is a retired toothfairy, as the somewhat more science-oriented (in a teeth kind of way) helper. It's going to be so cozy you could turn it into mittens. Apart from the horrible murder, obviously.

In a bit of synchronicity, I went to see Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap recently. This had been booked prior to the decision to write a cozy. Christie's work is really my model, as I like the whole thing where everyone's got a secret and many people have a motive. That said, I've been reading a whole bunch of cozies from Amazon, to get a feel for the modern genre. I think lighter themed stories often get overlooked when people talk diversity, but there's a whole lot of women with strong friendships going on in the genre, as well as a lot of older protagonists. It's a little weak in other areas, but it's a good basis for building a story I'm happy with in terms of the characters.

Short Stories

I'm getting along with the short story writing. I'm not necessarily writing the most saleable themes/styles at the moment, as I'm getting back into the groove. But you never know. I do sell those write-what-I-want stories sometimes. If not, I'll switch over to something a bit more traditional later.


I'm unlikely to be posting a lot of new content on the blog for the foreseeable future. I'll post writing updates and things related to my writing. Maybe a few photos and art things here and there. But the longer content - especially the science and diversity content - is basically done for now. The blog clearly isn't interesting people outside of a few friends. It also takes a long time to write out the longer posts. I can't really justify that time. It'd be different if the blog was new... but when it's going nowhere after six years, it's time to acknowledge it's a time-sink rather than doing much good.

I do want to keep posting a bit though, so people know I'm around and what I'm doing. I'm also trying to post more reviews on Goodreads, as I think that'll help other authors out more than recommending them on my blog. You're welcome to follow/friend me there if you like the reviews.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Trigger Warnings, Content Guides and My Books

Cartoon rainbow octopusThere tends to be a lot of talk about whether books should have trigger warnings or content guides, but little talk about how to actually implement this in a useful way. Back when I first published my collection, I tried to write a content guide (I use that term because I don't like to dismiss discomfort that isn't at a triggering level... a reader shouldn't need to have a panic attack before it's accepted as a problem). I started this by writing a list of content for each story in the collection, but I ran into some problems, and didn't end up including it on the book information page in the end.

The two big issues I found were:

  • False Grimdark Tone - By listing out every possible item for each story, it made my work sound like the grittiest grimdark ever. Certainly my short stories tend to run darker than my novels, but even the novels would come out as sounding really dark. The problem here is a longer work will often have small references to a lot of things that potentially might get a warning, but when it's put together as a list, it seems like a huge number of things.
  • Overwhelming Lists - Providing someone with the initial story-by-story list would be overwhelming. So would a paragraph trying to summarise all those things. A content guide that's too long will be ignored. It also means readers might not notice the items they need to notice, or assume that it's only a small reference (like the other twenty things on the list).

I revisited this topic recently after my decision to write a cozy mystery. I picked up a bunch of free cozies from Amazon and began reading. As they were free, I didn't check the reviews that carefully. This was a mistake. One book was branded as a cozy mystery, but it wasn't (down to having a rape scene). It's not that I don't read books with darker content, but I'd not expected it from this book, so it was jarring. It's not a surprise that some reviewers stated they'd never read a book by this author again.

Lack of accurate content information can cause issues in all directions. It can make it harder for readers to trust a new author. It can make it easier for authors to misbrand a book for sales, because they can cover over that it has content that isn't part of a certain genre. Overall, it makes it harder for people to make informed choices. This is always the thing that baffles me when people are against discussions of book content, because it does me no favours as an author if readers pick up a book under false pretences and never want to touch my work ever again.

But on revisiting, I still didn't have much of an idea of what to write in the content guide. There isn't a lot out there for those who have decided that it'd be a good idea. There are guides for things like films and computer games, but those don't always work in the context of a book. What I ended up with was a bit of a hybrid between having a content paragraph and having a content grid (listing content briefly under main categories). I discarded the idea of a general rating, as I don't think it's that helpful (and my book pages will make it clear when something is a work for teens or children, so that's covered elsewhere).

The general format I decided on was this:

Tone Paragraph to get around the grimdark issue. In this paragraph, the general tone of the book is set, along with a few other issues that don't fit in sex/violence/swearing. As this is prose, it's easier to make it clear it doesn't list everything. I can say it includes things like this, or a number of issues such as that and this, rather than a providing a complete list of every possible thing.

Then specific categories. The big three people tend to want to know about: sex, violence and swearing. This is a more at-a-glance summary of whether it does have these things and what sort (where appropriate).

As an example, Sunstruck became:

The novel primarily has supernatural violence, but does touch on real issues such as racial microaggressions and attitudes towards mental illness. There are bar scenes and references to alcohol.

Sex: None
Violence: Fight scenes; descriptions of dead bodies
Swearing: Some, usually from secondary characters

This still left a few issues. What exactly should be included, outside of the big things? I felt social issues were one to include in the tone paragraph, such as noting things like racism*. Alcohol was a big problem area, as technically, it'd be listed for a lot of books. But when does it reach the point of it being worth noting? A passing reference to a wine and cheese party? The main character actually drinking? In the case of Sunstruck, neither main character drinks alcohol during the novel, but there were enough bar scenes that I felt it was worth a note.

I also considered some book-specific issues. In mysteries, sometimes the dead body is described and sometimes it's glossed over. This is an important thing to know for the mystery genre, as it helps set the level of coziness. However, this isn't something likely to be discussed much in a content system for computer games, as they don't match up with book genres in that way.

Finally, there was placement of the content guide. I decided to put it as the last thing on every page. It made it both easy to find (as it's always the last thing, so always there when you scroll right down) and easy to avoid for those worried about mild spoilers (just stop reading at the title, because there's nothing more after it).

I don't think it's perfect, but it's a start. I can edit them later if they turn out not to be quite right. I also think it opens it up for people to ask me if they have an uncommon thing they want to avoid. All in all, I hope it helps people find books they're comfortable reading.


* Some content guides include character identity, but really, if a reader has a problem with marginalised characters, they don't want to be reading anything I write (and no one ever seems to want WARNING STRAIGHT WHITE MALE ALERT on books). That's not really a book-by-book content statement, but an author statement. I do want to mention acts of discrimination though, as I know from personal experience that some days it can be too close to home.