Happy Summer Solstice!

…The longest day–and the shortest night of the year.

The holiday observed by many religions since the ancient times.

The time for the most amazing and disturbing rituals I have ever heard of.

To me this day is always special…

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THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS is the finalist for the Prism Award

I opened my e-mail yesterday to the wonderful news from the Prism Contest coordinator, which included a link to the Prism results page. OMG!!! That was my reaction, after staring at the page for a while and refreshing it several times to make sure it doesn’t disappear. I feel so honored, not in the least because last year’s award went to Amy Raby, an author I admire, and this year my book appears in the company of two other awesome authors, including the multi-award winner Jeffe Kennedy.

Prism is given out every year by the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FF&P) Special Interest Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and the books they choose tend to align very well with my tastes. Seeing my book on the list seems especially gratifying because THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS, the second book in my Majat Code series, took an unexpected turn into the romance genre from what I believed to be a fantasy series. Many readers approved of this turn, others questioned it. To me it seemed like the only way to go. This book is very special to me, and writing it was one of the most enjoyable times of my life. It feels so good to see it do well.

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Full results can be found at: http://www.romance-ffp.com/prism-awards-published-2015-finalists/ . The winners will be announced during the live Prism Announcement Event in New York at the end of July. Fingers crossed, and congratulations to all the finalists!!!

 

 

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Exciting Debut Novel – Ashamet Desert Born – 30th May 2015

Originally posted on Rosie Oliver:

Being excited about this book is the understatement of the year! I had the privilege of reading some of the draft excerpts some time ago and you just knew this was Terry’s special novel… Ashamet Desert Born is going to be more than just a darned good read. Its publication date is 30th May. Put it in your diaries. You can pre-order from Amazon here.Ashamet-Cover Rather than give any spoilers, I’ll just give you what the blurb says (heck, I don’t want to marr your enjoyment). A desert world. A warrior nation that worships its emperor as a god. But for Ashamet, its prince, a future filled with danger… Ashamet is confident his swordsmanship, and his arranged marriage, will be enough to maintain the empire’s peace. But when a divine symbol magically appears on his arm, closely followed by an attempt on his life, he no longer knows who to…

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Hugo awards: what can be done to save them?

By now I am sure that everyone heard about the Hugo controversy, when a group called “Sad Puppies” campaigned among their followers (which they gained, as I heard, for reasons unrelated to writing) to secure a bunch of nominations that have nothing to do with merit. Not only did it make the ballots look ridiculous, it also bumped off a number of deserving people who would have been on the ballots instead.

Many people who are much better than me at blogging wrote extensively on the topic. I loved reading the posts by G. R. R. Martin (admittedly, in part, because I love his writing so much), but there were many others who said it all much better than I possibly could. Yet, I am still feeling compelled to belatedly contribute to this ongoing battle.

I hope I will not be viewed as a Puppy supporter if I say that there is indeed a disconnect that has developed in the SF&F markets today between award-winning books and books that are popular with the readers. Back in the good old days, major awards more or less reflected the most popular books published each year. In those times, relatively few books were published overall, and most of the fans of the genre actually read all the good ones and submitted their informed votes that usually resulted in selecting the best works for nominations and awards. In those times, being a Hugo award winner meant major recognition from both the public and the critics and ultimately led on to further success.

In our days, the number of books published each year increased exponentially, and the talent among the new science fiction and fantasy authors soared to new heights, resulting in the emergence of really amazing authors who, in my view, make many of the older books seem flat, even if we do continue to appreciate them as part of our history. This change has nothing to do with the author’s race, gender, political and religious views, except perhaps the fact that authors from different backgrounds tend to introduce novelty and freshness into the scene.

It is not surprising that on such a rich backdrop, the professionals in the genre who get to make decisions on the majority of awards tend to gravitate to unusual books that push boundaries and introduce new concepts or tools. This is very natural. If you have seen pretty much everything, the unusual begins to stand out. On the flip side, however, this tendency creates a divergence between the  critics’ opinions and the public tastes that often stick to elaborated versions of the familiar and comfortable. As a result, the award-winning books are no longer the same as the top sellers each year. In many cases, not even close.

Until the current controversy, I did not even realize that the Hugo award has been somewhat different from the others. This is the award determined by the attending and supporting members of the Worldcon, which means that regular people, not only the professionals, can buy membership and earn an equal opportunity to vote. In theory, this means that the nominees and winners of this award should be much closer to the public tastes and correlate with the popularity of the book. Right?

Ideally, yes. But, added to the current landscape, when no one could even attempt to read all the deserving books published each year — even if they read full time — new practices have emerged. Instead of voting for the books they like, people become susceptible to campaigning: voting for their friends, people who belong to the same circles, or, on occasions, people with high public media exposure, or those who give out well designed mementos at conventions and events, or perhaps even money?…

I am very certain Sad Puppies were not the first to take advantage of this turn, but they are the first who did it so shamelessly and openly, e.g., by putting a single poorly known author into multiple categories with nominations for multiple works, and then publicly bragging about it. In a way, we probably should be grateful to the Puppies: they did not crack the system, but they breached the crack into a major gap and drew everyone’s attention to it.

The end result is sadly the same. Hugos are broken this year. I am very sorry for the deserving authors who ended up just off the ballots, or felt compelled to withdraw their nominations and pass up a major career highlight. I am also very sorry for those who are working very hard trying to fix the mess and finding no grounds to disqualify the bulk of the Sad Puppy slate. I would not want to be in their shoes.

So, is there a solution?

This year, probably no good one. The only thing everyone should strive to do is to actually read all the nominated works and vote for those you believe to be the best based on your own opinion, not a campaign. Don’t vote “no award” and don’t vote for anything you have not read. This would not help anyone.

Going forward, I believe that the best way to redeem the situation and restore the prestige of the Hugos (and perhaps the other awards) is to ensure that every nominator and voter actually *reads* the work they are voting for and actually considers it to be better than the other comparable works published the same year, based on valid criteria. Barring that, the awards have no meaning, I think everyone would agree to that.

How to achieve it practically?

For one, every nomination should be publicly listed, with the name of the person nominating and voting for each work openly accessible, along with the checked “yes” next to the questions on whether they personally read the work, and whether they truthfully consider it the best in the genre.

I would go even further, though. I would request for each nomination to contain a short paragraph of what you like about the work and what made it stand out for you and seem like it deserved the award. This information should also be made public from the start and required with each nomination (notably, reasons based on the race, ethnicity, and political and religious views of the author should not be permitted).

I am aware that this would probably drastically reduce the number of people willing to nominate. But I bet that no slate voting would be possible with this kind of a system. Even if a person is willing to outwardly lie on a public form, if the writeups for the slate voters are commonly generated through a campaign, this fact would become immediately transparent.

Are there ways around this system too? Yes, with a lot of effort and dedication. Is it worth it? In my opinion, no. In the end, one does want an award they receive to mean something, and if you go to major ends to falsify an award, you are, in the end, devaluing your own work. In the current system, when everything is hidden, one can perhaps have an illusion that this cheating would go unnoticed, but with the open system this illusion would not be possible anymore.

This year, above all, the Sad Puppies have revealed themselves as a group who is in the writing business for all the wrong reasons. I can’t imagine a person in their right mind who would ever go on to buy a book from Castalia House or submit their work to them. Certainly, Hugo award is bigger than all that. I do very much hope that soon we will all be able to forget this ever happened.

And of course, my heartfelt congratulations go to those authors who ended up on the Hugo ballots based on merit and the high quality of their work.

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In memory: Sir Terry Pratchett

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In the past year and a half, I lost too many loved ones. Today’s news of the very untimely death of Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my all-time favorite authors, made me re-live those losses and cry for a person I barely knew. Or, did I?

My first introduction to Sir Terry’s works was nearly accidental. Back in late nineties, I — at the time an aspiring fantasy author — decided to attend an author’s event at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena, to see a bestselling author with my own eyes. Terry Pratchett.

Waiting for his appearance, I picked up one of his books from a stand, attracted by the promise of witches and elves. I opened it on a random page near the beginning and read one phrase: “You could bounce rocks off her pride.” Those of you familiar with Sir Terry’s Discworld series may recognize the description of young Esme Weatherwax in a passing scene from “Lords and Ladies”. I knew, then and there, that I was going to read this book. Not the best start to his works, since this is probably one of the few Discworld books that cannot be read as a stand-alone, but it was worth it.

When Terry Practhett finally appeared, I was instantly mesmerized. He electrified the room. It didn’t really matter what he said, but just listening to this man, with a great sense of humor, and an amazing command of words, felt fascinating. He told many stories, and the audience just listened, and laughed, and no one wanted to stop. He held a question and answer session at the end, and I asked him about his favorite book in the Discworld series. He seemed surprised by the question, but eventually said that while he would find it difficult to pick a book, he could name his favorite characters, ones that he can relate to the most and write effortlessly about: Captain/Commander Vimes and Granny Weatherwax. These names meant nothing to me then, but I remembered what he said, and it made perfect sense to me once I read his books. These became my favorite characters too.

That day in Vroman’s, I bought a paperback of “Lord and Ladies” and had him sign it. By now, more than fifteen years later, I own a nearly full collection of his books, all in hardcover, most of them with his signature, some of them personalized.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels carried me through the most difficult times in my life. They became my refuge, my guide to what writing should be like. Every new book by Terry Pratchett was a major event to me, I bought them all the moment came out and devoured them right away. I hunted for rare hardcover editions and treasured them, something I don’t typically do. I knew that I was — by far– not the only one.

About ten years after first seeing him in Pasadena, I moved to Philadelphia, and for a while, before my family could follow me, I felt lonely and out of place. And then, I heard that his upcoming tour will include a meeting with his fans at the Free Library of Philadelphia. I came, by then with a sizeable stack of hardcovers, and got them all signed. I also dared to bring a gift — a small jar of caviar, to commemorate Nanny Ogg’s dinner with Casanunda and her “fishy jam”. Terry Pratchett accepted it, even though I felt too shy to articulate adequately why I brought it to him — or, to even tell him how much I enjoyed his work. I spoke to him for all of thirty seconds, but this was the meeting that etched in my memory, one that, among other things, made me feel at home in my new city. He came again the next year, to promote “Thud”, but after that Philadelphia has been omitted from his tours. Still, every time I pass the building where I first spoke to him face-to-face, I feel warm inside.

It is unimaginable to think that he is gone, that there will be no new Discworld novels, that this incredible mind will no longer be at work on the books that brought such joy to so many. To me, his writing transcended genres, blended fantasy and classical literature — and showed to the world that all these traits could be achieved without heavy feelings, grimy details, and deep portrayal of suffering. He loved and understood people like no other, and his books will always remain with me to read and re-read.

In English, when someone dies, they say “Rest in Peace”. In Russian, people wish the deceased to remain a “Bright Memory”, or “Eternal Memory”. We also wish that the earth to him would be lighter than a fluffy bed. I wish him all these things. But even more, I wish this didn’t have to happen, I wish he could live out a normal lifespan and write more books. I knew he was very ill, but the whole thing still seems unfair. It doesn’t make sense.

Books hold a great power. The world without Terry Pratcjett will never be the same.

 

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Celebrate “Read an Ebook Week” with Dragonwell Publishing!

Originally posted on Dragonwell Publishing Blog:

To celebrate “Read an Ebook Week” (March 1-7), Dragonwell Publishing is offering one title for FREE and discounted six others to only $1.50. The deal will run from now until March 7th. Don’t miss it!

Just click on the title to go to the download page, and feel free to spread the word!

“Sorrow” by John Lawson

A historical fantasy/mystery/adventure.

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“Lex Talionis” by R. S. A. Garcia

A fast-paced science fiction thriller with a starred review by Publishers Weekly.
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An award-winning dark fantasy based on Russian fairy tales.

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“Nine Planets” by Greg Byrne

A pre-apocayptic dystopian fantasy, highly critically acclaimed.

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“The Garden at the Roof of the World” by W. B. J. Williams

A medieval romantic quest with spiritual elements.
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An Arthurian tale of chivalry and dark magic.

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SFWA opens doors to small press- and self-published authors

The voting has ended in January, with the striking count of 6:1, in favor of admitting small press- and self-published authors as full members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). These coveted memberships have previously been open only to traditionally published authors with sales to a particular and rather small list of book and magazine publishers.

By the new rules, the list is far more open, and anyone can be considered for membership with one very big stipulation: this person has to earn $3000 or more per single title within a 12 month period. From what I know, this number is fairly steep for most small presses and self-published authors. Still, this is a huge step in the recognition of the current publishing trends.

I have seen many discussions about the exclusiveness of SFWA. Unlike the Romance Writers of America, who accept everyone interested in the genre and willing to pay the membership fee, SFWA membership has been considered a badge of honor by some, and a controversy by others. I know that I was happy to earn my full membership last year when my novels came out from Angry Robot. I also know authors who made a professional sale but chose not to join. And, I cannot help questioning the wisdom of excluding so many potential members from the pool.

SFWA’s value, to me, is primarily in its networking options, even though, being somewhat Internet-challenged, I have not even scratched the surface of what this organization can offer to its members. I guess for a professional network there could be an advantage in exclusivity and in making sure that the people you mingle with represent the top of the field. But this culture of exclusivity also has a flip side, and, in my observation, tends to create an informal rank structure even among the members themselves. At the same time, RWA, to my knowledge, does very well without imposing any restrictions, and I know RWA has been very supportive to all members and great in helping new authors achieve professional publications.

By my calculation, the new SFWA membership rule would benefit less than 1% of self-published authors and very few small presses that could not qualify their authors for membership before. To earn $3000 from a small press, one must sell at least 3,000 print books or a similar number of e-books priced at $2.99 or more within 12 months. Cut the number in half for self publications. To my knowledge, while some authors do earn as much, and more, over time, very few authors outside traditional publishing can report this kind of yearly sales. My prediction is that, based on these estimates, we will see very few people joining SFWA as a part of this change — but in the end, time will tell. I, for one, am happy that this is at least a step in the right direction.

And yes, here is the official text of the announcement. Yay!

http://www.sfwa.org/2015/02/sfwa-welcomes-self-published-small-press-authors/

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