When Characters Wander Off

I don’t mean in the literary sense, where you the writer, on impulse, let the characters turn down that narrow lane, or jump on the bus to Ithaca, New York even though that’s nowhere in the plot, or even on impulse suddenly kiss the character they’re talking to even though you, as the writer, never planned for a love relationship there.

I mean literally, like that time Erin and Trevian, the main characters of Aluminum Leaves, “stowed away” in someone’s luggage (taking the book with them) and went on a journey.

Those scamps!

Claire Fortier is an artist who lives near Fort Bragg. She is married to Doug Fortier, who has retired from a tech job. Doug and Claire are both very involved with the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. Doug has attended for several years; as a volunteer he has done many things to assist the conference, including some design work and support of their website. Claire was on the board of the conference for a year, and has volunteered as a room elf. I met them through the conference.

Claire asked the Gallery Bookshop to order her a copy of Aluminum Leaves. It came, and she set it aside to read. Some friends came up to visit, and the husband was looking for something to read. Claire loaned him the book. After they left, she looked for it and couldn’t find it. She had no idea where it had gone, but a quick phone call soon located the wandering book. When the friends mailed it back, and they did, that note was inside.

Claire shared it with me over dinner last week. I’m keeping it forever. Seriously, I fondly imagine that it will go into the Marion Deeds Collection, and be left to a university someday.

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Let’s Do a Writing Exercise

First of all, a quotation:

“He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuck-wagon. I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.

In that clear Wyoming air I could see him plainly, though he was still several miles away. There seemed nothing remarkable about him, just another stray horseman riding up the road toward the cluster of frame buildings that was our town. Then I saw a pair of cowhands, loping past him, stop and stare after him with a curious intentness.”

That’s the opening to the classic western Shane, by Jack Schaefer. Shane is a loner who rides into a newly formed town of homesteaders who are being menaced by a cattle baron. Shane is a man of mystery and danger, and our young narrator, Bob, is fascinated with him. It’s a western so it ends with violence and death.

But look how much we know about the story in those two paragraphs. By the end of the second one, we know there is something special — or strange — about that “stray horseman.” Even before the two cowhands react to his presence, though, there’s something about that description. Why does that lone rider hold Bob’s attention even though Bob thinks he’s “miles away?”

So, the exercise.

Part One: Pick an emotion. It can be fear, dread, relief, joy, anger, love… whatever. Curiosity… (is curiosity an emotion?). Spend a little while thinking about what you notice when you’re experiencing that emotion.

Part Two: Imagine a character, or at least a figure.

Part Three: Create a viewpoint character and have them observe the approaching figure. Imagine your viewpoint character is experiencing the emotion you picked, or at least begins to experience it.

Try to write a full page, double-spaced… about 250 words. (If you can’t, don’t sweat it.) It’s not necessary, but it might be fun to see if you can add as much physical description as Schaefer did.

It anyone does this, I’d love to see them! You can post them on your blog or someplace like Wattpad, and put a link to them in the Comments. Or, if it’s short, paste it into the Comments. Let’s go!

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Television Tuesday: The Iron Baby

(These shows have been cancelled on FOX, and I watched them On Demand. I think Netflix has cancelled them too.)

I’ve now watched Iron Fist, Season One and Marvel’s The Defenders, Season One. there is no escaping Danny Rand, aka The Immortal Iron Fist, in either show. Seriously, that’s how he introduces himself, “I’m The Immortal Iron Fist.” Which, aside from everything else that’s bad about it, is factually incorrect. The Iron Fist, in some incarnation, is immortal. Danny is not.

To be fair, nothing about the backstory for Iron Fist is promising, and why Netflix chose it for one of the mini-Marvel shows is an enigma. I’ll skip the comic book genesis (which seems to be about the same as the show) and give you Danny’s tragic TV history.

Spoilers for both Iron Fist, S1 and The Defenders will abound.

Danny Rand was the only child of the billionaire Rands. His dad co-owned a multi-billion-dollar corporation, Rand Industries. While the family was flying over the Himalayas on a business trip/family vacation, the jet disintegrated around them. Both senior Rands and the pilots died in the crash but ten-year-old Danny survived and was found by the Mysterious Monks of Kun L’unTM, who carried him off to the monastery, beat on him occasionally, made him meditate in the middle of the snow and apparently taught him kung fu fighting (although we only see the beatings and the meditation). Danny ultimately faced the Immortal Dragon and absorbed some of its chi or energy, making him the Iron Fist and giving him a strange mark that looks a lot like a tattoo on his chest.

The Iron Fist’s duty is to guard Kun L’un against its enemies, but instead, Danny saw a hawk or an eagle flying around, and that inspired him to leave the monastery, hitchhike to Morocco, get a fake passport and fly to New York City to reconnect with Dad’s old business partner.

All that took eighteen years. I’m not going to talk about the glaring colonialist, white-exceptionalist, male exceptionalist tones of this backstory. We’ll just move on, as barefoot Danny comes through the door of the humongous office Rand Industries office building.

The partner has died of cancer and his two children Ward and Joy, run the corporation now. Joy is competent. Ward is a mess. Neither of them believes this barefoot fool is Danny Rand, and of course Danny has little to no proof of his identity. They shut him out and shut him down; Danny flails around a little bit and then meets Colleen Wing who teaches martial arts and self-defense. He also makes a vital connection with Jeri Hogarth, a powerful lawyer. Meanwhile, Joy begins to think this weirdo really is Danny… and a huge secret is revealed!

(Rand’s business partner did die of cancer, but he came back from the dead! And he is the debt of the Evil Five who call themselves the Hand.)

Danny lurches from motivation to motivation; the Hand killed his parents, he wants to kill them; he wants his company back; he wants to do good things with his company; he wants a Daddy. Along the way he stalks Colleen, acting like an entitled whiteboy billionaire, not respecting her boundaries when she says “No,” attempting to put her in his power by buying the building her dojo is in and forcing a gourmet take-out lunch on her in a stalker’s version of Cute. In nearly every scene, Danny Rand reminds us exactly why we don’t need another white, spoiled, male billionaire superhero.

Theoretically, Danny learned self-discipline at the monastery, but obviously it never took. Eventually his best-friend/rival from the monastery shows up. His name is Davos, and he’s Aussie or something. At that point I suddenly understood the Monastery at Kun L’unTM better. Despite its name, it isn’t a monastery at all; it’s an exclusive school for rich entitled Euro-American boys. Davos, after all, is named for a global economic summit.

Spoiler alert: while Danny gets revenge on one important person, he fails to defeat the Hand, which has an Evil Scheme which continues in The Defenders.

In The Defenders, Colleen and Danny connect with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, all of whom are fighting the Hand. Daredevil’s (and Elektra’s) old mentor Stick shows up. We learn that the Hand all met in Kun L’un and that they take a “substance” that lets them cheat death. Soon it becomes obvious that the Hand want Danny Rand – actually, they don’t give a rip about Danny Rand, they want the Immortal Iron Fist. The Iron Fist is vital to their evil plan.

The other Defenders strongly suggest to Danny that he sit this fight out, ideally, as far away from the Hand as possible. A seasoned strategist would recognize the wisdom of that suggestion. An altruistic person, a defender of the innocent for example, realizing that the Hand intends to level New York as part of their scheme, would agree it’s for the best, and would go hide or step out the fight, preparing their own defenses.

But not Danny. The Hand killed his parents, so he’s going to fight them.

It was at this moment that I finally got the problem with Danny.

Danny is a child.

If returned-from-the-monastery Danny had been eighteen instead of supposedly twenty-eight, this whole storyline would have been… well, at least less annoying. Yet Danny is supposed to be an adult. Seriously, this is a man who makes Jessica Jones look well-adjusted.

He’s the Iron Baby. And the story knows that, because Luke in particular treats Danny like a sulky teenager. It just doesn’t help.

Once Danny refuses to do the right thing, Stick gets into the act. Stick is a homicidal maniac but he’s not necessarily wrong. Stick’s impetuous action allows Elektra to kidnap Danny and take him to the Hand, which still could have happened but could have been harder to do if Danny had done the mature thing to start with and gotten the hell out of Dodge.

And by the way, about The Monastery at Kun L’unTM: they churned out The Hand, murderous monster Stick, envy-driven villain Davos and whiny baby Danny the Immortal Iron Fist. The Mystical Monastery Certification Committee needs to schedule an audit on this place, right now.

Once the Hand has Danny, they advise him that they only need him to do one thing; hit something with his iron fist. (Which, by the way, is really a glowing Orange Fist. I’m thinking the Immortal Orange Fist has potential as a superhero.) I need to be clear; it’s a specific thing he needs to hit. Danny says he won’t. No, no,no, no, he won’t they can’t make him he won’t he won’t and so on into a tantrum with Elektra until he hits the thing. (Okay, it’s a fight, but other than that, no difference.)

Because of course he has to hit the thing for the rest of the plot to work, but I mean, come on! I know that all of this stratum of TV Marvel heroes are flawed, and that these shows celebrate the flaws of their heroes. People don’t come much more masochistic and messed-up than Matt Murdock, for instance. And Jessica self-medicates with alcohol and is physiologically incapable of asking for help. In their stories, mostly, at some point they overcome those flaws, just for a few moments. Danny Rand never does, mostly because he never has to.

Danny Rand is the Iron Baby, surrounded by strong people who take care of him. Left to his own judgment, he screws it up. Every time.

This would be at least slightly more palatable if Danny were in fact eighteen. At a supposed twenty-eight, with a fleet of private jets and a majority share in a multi-billion-dollar corporation, Danny Rand joins the ranks of wealthy frat-boys and selfish, dysfunctional billionaires. One Ironman per century is quite enough, thank you.

Give the Iron Baby a squeaky toy and a time out, please.

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TV Tuesday: Pandora, on the CW.

Pandora airs on the CW at 8:00 pm Tuesdays. It’s aimed at a younger demographic than the CW’s DC Comics Universe Shows, Roswell, New Mexico, or those tween/millennial remakes of nighttime soaps like Dynasty. I’d guess that Pandora’s target age group is 14-18. On the other hand, I’m watching it, kind of.

The Premise:  This is a boarding-school show, like the Harry Potter books and movies, or The Magicians. Pandora is set in a science-fictional universe rather than a magical one, and the school is Earth’s Space Academy (a low-budget Star Fleet Academy.)

Jacqueline—or Jax—is the lone survivor when her extra-terrestrial colony, New Portland, is destroyed by mysterious attackers. Jax goes to the Space Academy, where her secretive uncle holds some position of importance. Jax is determined to uncover who destroyed her colony and killed her scientist parents. In an early episode, Jax tags along on an expedition to investigate the attack, and finds a portal, a new extraterrestrial villain and an alien language that she alone can read.

We learn that Earth and Zataria, who recently had a war, have declared an armistice, but tensions still run high and various intelligence agencies predict that a new war between the combatants is on the horizon. Secretive Uncle and his minion Zander discuss the fact that Jax is Pandora, or Pandora is Jax, or something like that. And Jax “must never know” how powerful and dangerous she is.


Pretty People. The CW is always looking for gorgeous youth and they bagged a bevy of them here. They include:

Thomas, the telepath: Thomas, (played by Martin Robb-Semple) is blazingly sexy. He is a good pilot, very studious, and powerfully telepathic.

Atria, the emancipated clone: Raechelle Banna, who plays Atria Nine, a self-emancipated clone (it’s complicated) is more cute than gorgeous, but she is very cute.

Ralan the enemy outcast: Played by Ben Radcliffe, Ralan is the Zatarian exchange student, sent as a diplomatic gesture. He has facial marks and dresses like a Goth in brown. So far, he is my favorite male character.

Pilar the superior one: Bandita Sanduu plays Delaney Pilar as coolly sexy, someone who should be slinking around in a black patent leather catsuit. Pilar has nanite implants and connects to the datastream. Pilar actually occupies the same “type” category as Jax, which I think is a mistake on the show’s part.

Jax who is perfect: Dark-haired, green-eyed Jax is also coolly sexy, depicted by Priscilla Quintana.

Zander the Love Interest: The apparent love interest for Jax (they have zero chemistry, so I’m hoping he’s a fake love interest), Xander is handsomely played by Oliver Dench.

Interesting Relationships:

Assuming this show really is aimed at a slightly younger audience, so far the rivalries and friendships among the students are well done. One nice character already died onscreen to show us that Death is Real. Thomas now distrusts Jax because she used him for her own ends… which is interesting because as near as I can tell, so far, she’s done that to everyone. It was refreshing to see Thomas, at least, call her on it.

Ralan faces divided loyalties because of course he is expected to spy for his father. He was an outcast, facing ostracism among the other members of the freshman class until perfect Jax included him in her circle.

Zander is a good soldier, a junior 007 to Secretive Uncle’s M, but maybe he is starting to question his unthinking loyalty.

The big exception here is Jax and Zander. The story keeps throwing them together and setting up missed connection after missed connection. That could be creating awesome tension, except that Jax and Zander have no chemistry together. None. Ralan and Jax have little chemistry either, but they are both outsiders, and they think much the same way. Seeing them as a couple would be a definite change of pace.

Nice costumes:

Atria Nine wears bright pastels, big jewelry and short skirts. Pilar dresses in longer, sleeker, form-fitting clothes (even though she should be wearing a catsuit) while Jax looks more proletariat in stylist trousers and tunics. They’re all good.

And the show has weaknesses:


The science fictional world here is soap-bubble thin. There’s no reason given for the previous war. The extra-dimensional attackers are clearly known to Secretive Uncle, and there is an Evil Corporation called Parallax. “Pandora” is part of some kind of genetic program. It remains to be seen whether Jax is really a “normal” human girl or a longer-lived entity. In Season One, most stories wrap up with only a few clues left to carry forward and address the bigger mysteries, ones like; who blew up the space ship with the remains of the extra-dimensional alien on it, why did Bad Guys find and wipe the “black box” of that ship (aided by a duped Jax and Thomas); what is Pandora, anyway?

The non-existent world-building extends to exteriors and sets. The campus of Space Academy looks like a municipal park. When Atria is abducted and taken back to her home colony that manufactures clones, the sets looks like an off-the-grid farm, complete with a couple of random hay bales, and the clone factory site resembles a milking barn. The show has GCI, and it wouldn’t be that hard to create or find a couple of exteriors to flash up on the screen for a second to “sell” us on a true colony. The same was true of “New Portland.” I honestly did not understand for a while during Episode One that New Portland was an actual colony; I thought Jax’s house and her parent’s scientific outpost got blown up and little else.

No one has told us the size of these so-called colonies. Given the show’s obsessive love of expository dialogue, this should be a no-brainer.

Flat Writing:

Now and then there’s a bit of nice banter, but most of the dialogue is completely the opposite of subtext. (Is there a word for that? Supertext?) People, especially these canny intelligence officers who apparently run the school, just blurt out plot points with zero subtlety. And you could create a drinking game around the number of times Jax says (to someone), “I just need to know what happened to my parents.”

Protagonist-Centered Morality:

Jax: You went out into the asteroid belt and got something. You need to tell me what it was, right now, Zander, or I will continue to bat my green eyes at you.

Zander: The thing we found has implications that would threaten our fragile peace and could lead to the deaths of millions if it were leaked. I’m not going to do that.

Jax: So? Why would I care? There’s about one chance in seven million that whatever you found had something to do with the death of my parents!  I just need to know—”

Zander: [Hands over ears, screaming] Not that again! All right! All right! It’s the flight recorder for that ship that got blown up!

So far, Jax’s self-centeredness and immaturity, while having plot-driving consequences all around her, have never rebounded onto her. I hope this will change, but basically, the show’s message so far is that if Jax wants it, it’s good, regardless of what happens to anyone else. Part of the enjoyment of Thomas’s anger with her is that he is the first person to make her responsible for her irresponsibility, so to speak.

But even there it falls short. Currently, Jax feels shame and responsibility for something she (apparently) did either in a past life, or as herself in a phase of her life (150 years earlier) that she doesn’t remember. However, she doesn’t feel morally conflicted at all at having led a Bad Guy into a top-secret vault so the Bad Guy would wipe the flight recorder’s memory, because the Bad Guy promised to tell her something about her parents.


Kind of surprising, this one. The main character is a woman, and several of her circle of friends are females. Still, so far the subsidiary villains (double-agents, moles,etc) have been women, and they are boring. The most disappointing episode, though, involved Pilar and her implants. Someone has hacked Pilar’s connection and are messing with her head, including directing her to show up naked in the Black Hole, the school bar and hangout. We’re at the end of the 22nd century, and this is the Space Academy, which plans to educate the future officers, diplomats and leaders of the various inhabited worlds. Despite this, they apparently have no policy on bullying or equality. Nobody goes to Pilar’s aid, they just gape (and take footage); the next morning, when she appears (dressed) in her classroom, everyone laughs. Everyone pulls up 3D video of her naked, including the women. There are no consequences for these students; this is presented as “sad but normal” school behavior. Space Academy doesn’t care about bullying. Also, in spite of the fact that there are many women in the academy, there is obviously still no such thing as equality. Women exist solely as objects of the male gaze; body-shaming is alive and well.

In the episode in which Jax confronts zombies, we watch Thomas judge and shame Atria for her sexual openness. Atria, a clone, was originally enslaved. Before she freed herself, sex was never within her control. Now that she is freed, she is enjoying experimenting, but Thomas wants a monogamous relationship. “I thought I could change you, but I can’t,” he says, and sure enough, by the end of the ep Atria has changed, rebuffing other partners so she can be exclusive with Thomas. The message to young women couldn’t be clearer.


There’s an appealing cast and I am curious now to see what the deal is with New Portland and Pandora. On the other hand, this show is pretty thin. The end of Season One is coming up; I question whether this one will be renewed. I do wonder if this was an import from the CW’s streaming service, CW Seed. Seed seems to have a different standard of storytelling and production values.

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Readers’ Favorite

Readers’ Favorite gave Aluminum Leaves a 5-star rating. The reviewer said it was a fantasy “of majestic scale.” Overall, I’m pleased by the generous review, given by a reader who clearly “got” the story.

Readers Favorite exists to connect readers with books. It’s a business. They make their reviews available to the author for posting, they post them on their site and they will do an email push to 500,000 people.

Like many internet businesses, Readers’ Favorite offers services on a sliding scale from free to expensive. You can send your work to them and pay nothing, and your book goes into a pool that reviewers can draw from. They may review it. If they decide to review it, they have 90 days to do so. They only post 4-and-5-star reviews on their site, but they will send the writer a mini-critique of any review they do. If you are looking for a beta-reader and don’t have a writers group, this might be a good place to start. The site advertises that all their reviewers are writers.

You  can also pay $59 for a guaranteed review within two weeks. You are paying for a guaranteed review and for the timeframe, not a positive review. This model is like Kirkus Reviews, where payment is for the act of reviewing, not for a rating.

Your $59 also gets you the email push if you have a 4-or-5-star review. (There are some other internet things, like a “5-star badge” you can put on your website if you get a 5-star review, but I wasn’t terribly interested in that.)

Part of the $59 package gets you a press release written by them, which you can use. You can also pay them to send it out to about 800 sites. They are clear and honest in their write-up that it is unlikely the press release will inspire news outlets to call you and beg for an interview. What it will get you is Google’s attention for its search engine. I haven’t made up my mind yet about the press release. I’d do one myself, but I don’t have 800 contacts.

The best parts are the review, the link on their site and the email push. For me, that alone is worth the money.

They also offer a book contest, but I am wary of contests. I’d steer clear. The hype around the contest makes me skeptical and the entry fee is $99. That’s high. That’s too high. I’d take a hard pass.

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The Wand That Rocks the Cradle Available for Pre-Order

The fantasy anthology The Wand that Rocks the Cradle will be out September 15, but it’s available for a Kindle pre-order now.

Mine is one of eight stories about families and magic. Families; they can be your bedrock and your support system, or they can be a place of madness and pain, or they can make you crazy… or any and all of the above. These stories explore the nature of family and the nature of magic.

The tone ranges from humorous (mine, “Bellwethers Know Best” is funny or at least tries to be), sad, dark and thoughtful. I hope you enjoy it.

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The Circus Came to Town

Flynn Creek Circus gave several performances at the Sebastopol Grange. This small family circus works closely with youth circuses and non-profit circus camps. Like most small venues, the focus is on tumbling, ropes and rings, juggling and magic tricks. No non-human animals are part of the show.

The show takes place inside a true circus tent, with seating made up of plastic chairs and garden benches. The VIP seats (first row) are painted red and made a nice statement against the white of the rest of the seats. The show is wheelchair accessible if you let them know when you reserve tickets. Since they usually perform in some sort of field, people using wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility devices need to be aware they’ll be crossing uneven ground.

The show has a story that connects the various acts, a parable called “Out of Hat.” It looks at a magic show from the perspective of the rabbit.

After the band (drummer not shown) is introduced, a very conceited magician struts out onto the stage. For his final trick, he pulls his rabbit, Porkchop out of the hat.

Porkchop is a joyous innocent. He has no memory of where he was before, except that it was dark. He loves all the lights and all the people. When the conceited magician tells the audience that his final trick is putting Porkchop back in the hat, the bunny rebels. He steals the red hat the magician is wearing and hides.

The chase is on! First, Porkchop wants to hide the hat. Before he can find a hiding place, he has to dodge Animal Control, who pursues him on a unicycle. Fortunately, Animal Control is distracted by a flirtatious feline.

The “through story” of Porkchop and the magician is broken up by performances by Kris and Harrison Kremo, “gentlemen” jugglers, by a young woman called The Scientist who pauses to explain the science of circus work, and by two performances of the magicican himself (one a set of card tricks using audience assistance).

The magician sends his two assistants out with carrots to tempt Porkchop, to no avail. Somehow, the braids of the two young women become entwined, turning them into the Two-Headed Girl.

Porkchop is assisted by the Rabbit Revolutionists, who also do a knife-throwing act (the least polished of all the performances. It wasn’t that it was bad; they were simply slightly less proficient than the other performers.).

Porkchop decides that he is no longer going to try to hide the hat. Instead, he will become a magician himself. Porkchop’s Magic Show! He chooses an assistant from the audience, and starts trying to do magic, with hilarious results.

The show takes a slightly darker turn when the conceited magician reappears with a locked chest. The lights shift to blue tones, the music becomes minor-key and ominous and dry ice fog drifts out onto the stage. The magician reveals his muse, who he keeps blindfolded and locked in a box. Not cool, magician!

Before we saw the muse’s act, the magician himself did a rope routine. I was in awe of all these performers. I did notice that the rope routine as performed capitalizes on the performer’s upper body strength. The silks, the ring and the straps seem designed for a performer whose lower body strength is greater.

At the other end of those ropes, lines and silks, by the way, is a troupe member who is holding them to keep you from crashing head-first to the floor. These performances require trust.

But, I was mad at the magician because he kept his muse locked up. Porkchop, who watched this whole situation from hiding, sneaked out and freed the muse. Together the rabbit and the muse cook up a scheme, and turn the tables on that selfish magician!

But not before a teeterboard performance.

This was the general audience show, definitely aimed at children, although there are plenty of laughs and thrills for the adults. (Think vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons.) It wouldn’t be a life show for kids without at least one fart joke, but that one was funny. The woman who performed Porkchop was simply brilliant, as was the man playing the magician… and really, all the performers. Much of this is clowning, not the scary, Stephen-King, red-nose type of clowning we tend to think of and many of us hate. This is closer to being a court jester.

I had some quibbles. You’re inside a big canvas tent. The sound wasn’t great. The musicians handled it okay, but the young woman who played the Scientist was nearly inaudible to me. That was my single biggest complaint.

The cost for an adult was $32. I don’t think that’s outrageous for any live performance these days. The program booklet was an additional $8; that money goes to the circus camp. The VIP seat package, which is $50, includes free cotton candy, one free alcoholic beverage (I think) and a program. Since I planned to skip the cotton candy, that hardly seemed worth the additional $12.

Flynn Creek Circus makes its year-round home in Mendocino County. I’m delighted to see them extending performances into Sonoma County. I really hope they come back next year!

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So, What is Bookscan, Anyway?

When I set up my author page on Amazon, I discovered that one tool I can now use is NPD Bookscan. Bookscan is an arm of the Neilsen corporation, the same people who used to do television rating (I guess they still do). They provide a similar service for publishers, etc, tracking the sales of books.

In 2010, Amazon started making that information available to writers. Finally, I understand what all those writers are talking about on their blogs! The mysteries stand revealed, arcane no more!

Or… Maybe not.

Bookscan collects data on several “sales tracks.” Various Point of Sale systems interact gracefully with it – including most of the large chain bookstores (and Amazon), but smaller independent bookstores that use a proprietary, homegrown point of sale system, don’t have the staff, time or inclination to add another layer of work just to report. So those sales aren’t counted.

Sales from larger chain brick and mortal stores, and online sales (such as Amazon) are counted, however. It appears ebooks are not.

This article from the Independent Book Publishers Association lists several other areas that do not feed into Bookscan numbers.

  • Wholesale purchases
  • Publishers purchases
  • Purchases by libraries in many cases
  • Conference and bookfair purchases
  • Purchases by nonprofits
  • Purchases of books by “non-book” stores; examples include How-to books that might sell in a nursery, a hardware store or a craft shop.

And apparently WalMart does not report to NDP Bookscan either.

According to Author Central, NDP Bookscan does not report Kindle sales.

In 2015, John Scalzi had some comments to make about Bookscan. Largely, he pointed out the gaps in the data. At that time, Bookscan did not include audiobooks. (I don’t know if they do now, but I doubt it.) When he compared Bookscan data to his publisher’s data, Bookscan was only counting about 2/3 of his sales. They may be improving, or there may be other tools out there for tracking things like audiobooks and e-books.

Amazon’s Author Central provides a nice geographical (national) map, color coded by sales, as well as your “sales ranking” in Amazon. The lower that number is, the better. I was thrilled that Aluminum Leaves broke the 1 million ranking its first week. There were only 998,709 items that sold better than it did!

There is a downside to Amazon’s numbers though, and that is the categories that are sliced and diced so finely as to have nearly zero meaning. Ranking within SFF is reasonable; ranking within Urban Fantasy is also reasonable; I swear, though, sometimes I think they create categories like Books with a Brown Cover Sold on Saturday. Not useful. The categories of SFF and Urban Fantasy/Paranormal (while a stretch) tell me the book is finding its way to the right audience. The risk with Magic Realism, which is a category I’m well-ranked in, is that it may not be the right audience, which will create disappointment. On the other hand, who knows what Amazon thinks “Magic Realism” is? Those just might be fantasy readers who are happy with what they’re getting.

Neither Amazon nor Bookscan is counting my consignment books, which is mainly what I’m selling right now.

When I first looked at Bookscan, I didn’t check my categories carefully. I thought I’d sold 47 copies of Aluminum Leaves. Not so. That figure was an aggregate author figure and when I broke it out by book, most of those sales were for Strange California, in which I have a story. Tellingly, I know of a handful of Aluminum Leaves Kindle sales that do not show, and at least one bookstore order (from a local independent bookstore) that doesn’t show either, so I can see firsthand the gaps in these systems.

I think it’s interesting to watch, and perhaps compare with my royalty statements, which should show book sale as part of the formula.

This is all interesting. It can also be disappointing, if I let it. I want people to read the book. I want them to enjoy the book. And right now, I’m enjoying poking around at this array of data and stuff that I’ve heard people talk about and never seen before. So far, it’s fun and kind of weird.

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Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao

The heart of Shobha Rao’s debut novel is the friendship between two girls, Poornima and Savitha. That friendship and the memory of it nourishes them and gives them dreams. The question is whether it is enough to ensure their physical and spiritual survival.

The book opens with a story about a temple and a grove of trees tended by an old woman. After I finished the last page of Girls Burn Brighter, I turned back to that beginning and read it again. And I’ve read it a couple of times since then.

Poornima’s mother dies of cancer when she is just a teen, leaving her in charge of her brothers and sisters, and caring for her weaver father. Savitha’s father no longer weaves because of arthritis in his fingers; he is an alcoholic but loves his daughter and encourages her to dream. Savitha comes to work for Poornima’s family, and their friendship grows tighter and deeper as the matchmaker and Poornima’s father seek a marriage for Poornima. Dark-skinned Poornima is told constantly that she is undesirable. Really, though, a deep streak of rebellion is also a problem.

Savitha alone tells Poornima she is beautiful. With the money she’s earned, Savitha begins weaving cloth for a wedding sari for Poori, in colors no one else would think of her wearing. She is constantly making plans for Poori to be married to someone nearby, so the friends can visit each other, but a savage act tears the two girls apart, sending them on different trajectories.

Rao’s prose is beautiful. Her attention to small things — rain, yogurt and bananas– make the reader stop and experience those moments; just as we experience the bad moments when life takes the two girls farther and farther from each other. Savitha is the dreamer. While her dreams keep her alive, they do not save her. Poornima is the planner, but her plans can only take her so far.

As a genre reader, I often roll my eyes at the cavalier approach general fiction writers take to plot. Rao’s book is filled with plot. That plot relies heavily on coincidence. Actually, once I set aside my moment of complete disbelief (really, two young women are going to find each other across not one but two crowded continents?) the second part of the book, which involves human trafficking, is believable. It is plausible that a small, tightly-run ring would have this degree of reach. The other young women trapped in this ring behave like people; they are not always heroic, yet they pull together and comfort one another when they can. This is an unsentimental and compassionate view of trafficking victims.

Really, though, Girls Burn Brighter isn’t a thriller and it isn’t plot dependent. The engine of this story is the connection of these two young women, and the suspense is whether the world can contrive to break it.

Girl Burn Brighter is often emotionally difficult to read, but I recommend it for its humanity — good and bad — for Rao’s precise and loving prose and, finally, for the friendship.

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The Launch Party, Thoughts and Photos

I am overcome with appreciation and gratitude for the number of people who turned out for the launch party on Sunday, August 11. It was literally standing room only! While I knew nearly everybody there, three young Coast Guard members, who had dropped into the store the day before, showed up, and two of them got books to be signed!

Margaret Speaker Yuan took most of the photos (because clearly I didn’t). I also borrowed one from Barbara Cromwell after she posting it on Facebook. (Thanks to both of you!)

Every time you do an event, you learn still more about doing events. In this case, I should have thrown a half-dozen ziplock bags into the food bag before we toted it off. And for a crowd getting together at 4:00 pm on a hot August Sunday, there were not a not of wine drinkers. Pelligrino water had lots of takers, though.

And I should have asked a few more people to take photos, because I have none, for instance, of the beautiful and scrumptious chocolate leaves, dusted with edible metallic luster dust, that Betsy Miller brought.

We also got no pictures of the event’s wonderful host, Brandy. Brandy not only opened up her store, publicized the event and set up tables and chairs, she gave me a wonderful introduction!

I read for about 15 minutes, which seemed like a very long time, and I think I only really lost my concentration once, although it was at a really dramatic point in the chapter. For next time at Second Chances, I might recommend that the configuration be flipped so the reader is at the other end of the store from the door.

I stood up to read. I don’t know if this makes a difference or not, but most professional writers do it — most other professional writers do it. I guess sound travels better, and I guess it lends slightly more authority to the process.

The first young Coast Guard guy told me his name was Anthony, but he wanted the book personalized to someone he called “My Fox.” (I’m like, “okay…”) His friend, Wes, said, “Who’s that?”

“That’s my wife. That’s what I call her. She calls me Bundle of Muscles.”

“TMI, Dude,” said Wes.

Jo Weber, the former Department Head of Human Services was always a champion of my creative work, and she came with her mother, Shirle. Karen Fies is the present Department Head of Human Services, and a wonderful friend.

Karen took me aside early in the event. “You have a full house,” she said.

“Well, it’s a small space.”

“You have a full house,” she said, only a little bit sternly.

Brain advised me that Betsy’s chocolate “Aluminum Leaves” were a marketing secret weapon. “If you do any more readings, bring these,” he said. “You’ll sell ten thousand copies.” He may have meant we’d sell ten thousand candies, since they were luxurious and beautiful.

My dear friend Kathleen made it, along with her friend Gabe.

I am overwhelmed by the number of people who took time out of their busy lives to attend this event. Some like, Terry, took one two-hour one-way drive to do so. There is nothing more validating. Thanks to everyone for making it an unforgettable day.

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