My Fiction Site

In the right sidebar are clickable images of the covers of my novels, which will take you to their Amazon listings. Other posts will link to available free works – mostly shorter ones – and assorted thoughts on the writing of fiction.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sex In Fiction, Especially Fantasy And Science Fiction

     I must be getting old. At least, I can’t imagine any other reason why it takes less with each passing day to light my boilers, spin my turbines, and send my pile critical. It can’t be the W-plus bosons; I swept for them yesterday.

     No, I think it must be my decreasing patience with persons obsessed with sex.

     Obsessions come in many varieties. A sexual obsession need not be about “not getting any.” This morning it’s a critic’s displeasure about fictional characters who are getting some. (With one another, of course.) It’s not the first time. But it’s got me wondering why such persons dare to read fiction in the speculative genres.

     I need more coffee if I’m to do this properly. Back in a minute.

     Regard, if you please, the panoply of Mankind across the millennia. Consider how widely our customs, especially our customs about mating and procreation, have varied. Consider in particular that many societies, including Jewish and Christian ones, have varied from what Jews and Christians of today mostly view as proper sexual conduct.

     Let me be maximally explicit about this. There have been Jewish and Christian societies that sanctified plural marriage. There have been Jewish and Christian societies that accepted sex between the entirely unmarried as no more than a peccadillo, provided that if any offspring were to result, the couple would then marry. There have even been Christian societies (I don’t know of any Jewish ones) that, while they regarded homosexuality as deeply unfortunate and life-limiting, did not execrate it as a terrible sin.

     And that’s just Terrestrial Judeo-Christian societies. They haven’t all embraced Saint Paul’s dictum that the only licit sex is between spouses in a monogamous marriage.

     But I intend to speak here of fiction and fictional settings. Fictional societies will have fictional norms and customs. A fictional Christian society cut off from its Terrestrial forebears, such as the one I depicted on Hope, is unlikely to share those forebears’ norms and customs in every detail. And needless to say, a fictional non-Christian society will have its own unique norms and customs, which will be influenced by whatever degree of religiosity applies to it.

     Yet persons unhappy about Louis and Christine’s passion, or about Althea, Martin, and Claire’s triad-marriage, continue to berate me, as if such a thing must never, ever be countenanced even in a far-future speculation. What sort of fiction do they read with total approbation? Do the characters in it ever stray from their prejudices? Do they ever use contraception? Do they ever just let their hair down and fuck?

     It seems unlikely.

     Allow me to provide two sidelights of significance. Just now I’m reading Tears of Paradox, a dystopian novel by Daniella Bova. The novel’s two Marquee Characters are afflicted by sexual tension they don’t even begin to resolve until they’ve married. Why? Because they’re Catholic: one much more serious about it than the other, at least through the first quarter of the book. That’s the premise. They behave in accordance with it, as is entirely consistent and proper for persons of those convictions.

     I have no problem with that. Why should I? Miss Bova has created characters with particular convictions. Each one’s behavior accords with the degree of allegiance he feels toward his faith and its teachings. That’s her prerogative as the story’s creator. I would no more dream of criticizing her for it than I would dream of demanding a slice of the Moon.

     Another series I’ve recently enjoyed – and very much, at that – is E. William Brown’s “Daniel Black” fantasy series, which I mentioned illustratively here. The sexual mores depicted in that series are far distant from what contemporary Jews or Christians (if at all doctrinally observant) would countenance. So what? It’s fantasy fiction about a world in which the Norse and Greek Pantheons are fighting a war of extermination against one another. How reasonable would it be to demand that Puritan sexual mores apply there?

     It would appear that for some readers, sex is an untouchable. A story that fails to accord with their prejudices in all details is simply unacceptable. I can’t imagine what they would read for pleasure...if pleasure of any sort is something their convictions would allow them.

     I could go on about this for pages. It’s part and parcel of one of my greatest disagreements with Christian doctrine. But this isn’t the proper time or place for that particular tirade.

     Sexual pleasure and sexual acceptance are among the great motivators of human existence. The great motivators are the things that provide events of substance to fiction. To exclude them reduces the writer’s toolset for drawing his characters into situations worth writing about.

     There was once a time when books would be banned from publication, here and elsewhere, for daring to include sex scenes. The most famous and important case of that sort was U.S. v Ulysses. There haven’t been many cases since then of comparable stature.

     Times have changed. Among other things, we’ve become somewhat more relaxed – dare I say, more realistic? – about sex, at least sex in fiction. At least, some of us have. However, readers who can’t bear to see their prejudices set aside for the sake of an involved story founded on unique premises still exist.

     I pity them.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Where The Books Are Headed

     “I’m only here for the weekend,” he said.
     “I’m dancing as fast as I can,” she replied.

     [Barbara Gordon]

     In the wake of this wholly undeserved praise from Mike Hendrix, enough readers – old and new – have been asking “where’s your fiction headed?” that I figured a brief post about the matter would be appropriate.

     With Statesman, the Realm Of Essences series has left the Earth. I’m afraid my fictional USA (and the rest of the world) are in for some rough sledding. There will be more stories involving characters from that series, but the principal “story arc” terminates with Sumner’s rescue and exile to the Arcologics Habitat.

     With Freedom’s Fury, the Spooner Federation series has left Hope in transition back toward States and their multifarious consequences. As the saying goes, “this will not end well,” at least for the planetside population. But Althea is unwilling to be ruled, and a bit less than willing to live out her indefinitely long life immured inside an airless rock. Further interstellar travel, in search of a new world to colonize, lies ahead for Althea, Martin, Claire, and of course Probe.

     A gratifying number of readers have asked whether there’s anything left to the tale told in Love In The Time Of Cinema. I’m of two minds about this. I love that little novel; I return to it simply for my own refreshment, embarrassingly often. However, just now I can’t find a way to evolve more stories from it. Not that I’m about to stop thinking about it! We shall see.

     The “stand-alone” novels, The Sledgehammer Concerto and Priestesses, occasionally evoke queries, but I’m content to leave them be, at least for the moment.

     Here’s what I have on the drawing board:

  • A novel founded on a “dark” version of the central motif in A Place Of Our Own and One Small Detail;
  • A novel that extends the stories told in The Warm Lands and The Common Good;
  • A novel set inside the timeline of Statesman that explores necromancy and why one might attempt it;
  • And a notional novel that would unite the timelines of the Realm Of Essences and Spooner Federation series with a set of “capping” events.

     As I’ve said before, I don’t write fiction with the ease or speed I enjoy with op-eds, so please bear with me while I sort it all out.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

F.A.C.E. Press Now Considering Submissions

     Are there any other Christian indie writers out there who’d like to have a publisher’s imprint on their books? Perhaps you should talk to the F.A.C.E.:

     Yes, that’s me behind the false nose, fake mustache, and dark glasses. But I don’t intend it to be a purely personal enterprise. It will give me a vehicle for assisting other indies with the several chores involved in preparing an eBook for publication.

     NOTE: The current Website is a “starter home.” It’s likely to be moved to a non-Blogger host at some point. Don’t let that inhibit you if you’ve got material you think is worthy and would like to submit. But do put your best foot forward. My standards are rather high, so don’t submit hastily dashed-off or un-proofread, unedited dreck.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Vocabulary: A Writer’s Plaint

     The patrons of Liberty’s Torch have seldom said anything negative about the vocabulary I wield. They probably figure it’s their job to look up any terms I might use that aren’t familiar to them – and they’re right; that is their job. Moreover, most online op-ed writers share that attitude; they select the words and phrases they’ll use for their utility and their impact; anyone with an Internet connection is expected to be able to find an online dictionary, should he decide that he needs one.

     Fiction readers tend to hold the opposite opinion. At least, I’ve been gigged more often for “obscure words” than for any of the other supposed fictional sins. The premise seems to be that a story “should” be comprehensible to anyone who was passed out of eighth grade, without any need for him to expand the size of his lexicon.

     Until fairly recently, I allowed such comments to trouble me. Then I had a flash of insight:

You cannot buy an eBook without an Internet connection.
Therefore, fiction readers also have access to online dictionaries!

     Whereupon I decided that being deemed the William F. Buckley of 21st Century fiction isn’t all that bad a fate.

     Other writers, including some of considerable fame, have allowed themselves to use words that were probably known to very few beyond themselves. Only in the postwar period has anyone dared to demand that readers’ ignorance be considered privileged. It might have something to do with the deterioration of American schooling; I, having been very well educated by a gaggle of Dominican nuns who brooked no nonsense and who regarded it as my duty to win all the county spelling bees, cannot say.

     Be that as it may. I write the way I write. I don’t limit myself to the vocabulary of a marginal graduate of eighth grade from an American public school. Readers who enjoy my work are many; readers who don’t...well, I can’t say, as I hear from very few of them.

     So when I find that I’ve written something such as:

     A Dream Of Freedom was a ship that had once been a world.
     It first entered the Solar System in 2117, moving at ninety-three miles per second, at a slight angle to the solar ecliptic. It was a near-perfect sphere with a diameter of twenty-one miles. It had a nickel-iron surface, but showed a considerable luminosity in the gamma-ray portion of the spectrum. Its trajectory would bring it to a perigee of one hundred forty million miles, about two years after its first sighting.
     The International Astrophysical Congress assigned it the identifier X3J11 and immediately dispatched grant petitions to the world's one hundred eighty States. All one hundred eighty petitions were rejected; the war with the Spooner Federation was entering its final phase, and all resources had to be husbanded toward that end.
     The IAC continued to watch the object. As it approached, the great orbiting telescopes gradually made out more details of its composition and structure. Numerous cavity radiators became apparent in the gamma-ray images. Anomalies in its trajectory as it passed the outer gas giants caused the watchers to ponder its density. Shortly before X3J11 passed the orbit of Jupiter, the watchers could tell that the interstellar wanderer was honeycombed.
     The United Nations' combined forces had pushed Spoonerite resistance back to upper Yukon. The Spoonerites dug in for a last stand above the Arctic Circle, and the States massed their forces for the blow that would put an end to Spoonerism on Earth.
     Supreme Commander Ewan MacDonnell planned for a three-pronged strike, two land forces and an enormous amphibious group. There were ample forces available, though the supply lines were a chore to maintain, especially in view of the underenthused participation of the Russians. His staff labored for three months, calculating the affair to a nicety, allowing for an overkill factor of three and permitting no conceivable routes of egress from the killing zone. The two hundred ten thousand Spoonerites in MacDonnell's sights would have nowhere to run.
     The word went out quietly to all commanders, down to the battalion level: Spoonerite surrenders should not be deemed trustworthy. The taking of prisoners was strongly discouraged.      X3J11 approached perigee. The watchers of the IAC were electrified by what they saw. The spectra from the planetoid's cavity radiators indicated an immense core of nuclear fuels. Millions of tons of something dearer than pitchblende or carnotite resided at the center of the worldlet.
     IAC petitioned the States again, and belatedly received their respectful attention. Funds flowed into the watch group. Government representatives and advisors were attached to the effort. Spacecraft that had gone unused for more than a century were pulled out of mothballs, and a frenzied effort to recommission them began.
     MacDonnell's meticulously planned triple assault began exactly on schedule. For a full day's advance, it encountered no resistance at all. For the first few miles, he and his troops assumed that the Spoonerites had run out of fuel, or ammunition, or hope. When the advance guard first came upon abandoned Spoonerite emplacements, well stocked with shot and fuel, they began to wonder.
     The wonder culminated in a pillar of fire seen on United Nations broadcasts by more than three billion people. It was followed by another, and another, and another.
     Maddened beyond all restraint, the UN forces slew and spared not. The inner core of resistance around the Spoonerites' makeshift spaceport was incredibly tough, but before the massed military power of all the States of the world, it had to fall. The victors eventually counted nearly two hundred seven thousand Spoonerite corpses within the Arctic redoubt. The Secretary-General proclaimed the viciously immoral ideology of Spoonerism to have been extinguished for all time.
     Statists say things like that.

     ...I don’t trouble myself over the terms “ecliptic,” “perigee,” “luminosity,” “trajectory,” “cavity radiators,” “pitchblende,” “carnotite,” “egress,” or “redoubt.” Learn enough to read the book and enjoy it is my mantra. Inasmuch as a healthy sample of the book is available before one is required to make a purchase decision, I sleep untroubled by the decision. If it costs me readers, they’re readers who probably wouldn’t have comprehended the rest of the story anyway.

     (I cited that passage because it baffled a writer who’d importuned me for a review of his book: a “science fiction novel” that was a waste of perfectly good pixels. But I digress.)

     But on a lighter note, would you be surprised to hear that someone actually gigged me for the use of the word slew? “What’s that? Something to do with cole slaw?” he wrote.

     Gentle Reader, I kid you not.

     Some write for “the masses;” others write for those who seek something out of the ordinary. I’m in the latter group. If I were determined to have an audience of millions, I’d write in simpler terms, the sort a bright twelve-year-old would grasp without needing his Webster’s Unabridged near to hand. That’s not my ambition. I seek readers who can grapple with a difficult issue set against a challenging backdrop. Readers who’d as lief immerse themselves in prime-time sitcoms are of no use to me.

     Some writers write entertainment, nothing more. I seek to challenge my readers’ assumptions. If I must challenge their intellects to do so, very well. Matters of vocabulary run a distant third.

     So to anyone out there who might be thinking of purchasing one or more of my novels: Of course I’m flattered by your interest, and of course I hope you’ll enjoy what you’re about to read, but please, please don’t assume that the journey will ask nothing of you.

     If you find that my fiction writer’s diction goes a bit “over your head,” before you toss my book aside – or as you do so; I’m no dictator – perhaps you might ask yourself, “Where ought my head to be?”

     Just a quick tirade, Gentle Reader. Ignore it if you prefer. We now return you to your regular Friday evening debauchery.

     (Cross-posted at Liberty's Torch.)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cancerous Lumps Continued: The Dreaded Prologue

     As yesterday’s piece on this subject has proved surprisingly popular, it’s impelled me to think further about the subject, particularly as it connects to the all-important realm of backstory.

     Every writer struggles with backstory. It’s a particular challenge for those of us who work in a speculative genre: science fiction, fantasy, or horror. SF writers, in particular, are under immense pressure to explain things: the sociopolitical nature of their fictional world; the scientific discoveries and technological developments that have occurred in it; the social, economic, and political positions of its most important figures. There’s this sense that the reader needs the information to grasp what will follow: what brought about the story’s initial conditions and why the actions of the characters are rational (if they are). That sense is not always incorrect. (NB: The periphrasis in the concluding sentence of the paragraph immediately above should imply something. That’s the only hint I’ll give you. And now, back to our Swedish movie.)

     To serve that sense of a need, the writer will often resort to a prologue.

     The purpose of a prologue is to convey backstory information to the reader. It can be as narratively clever as any segment clipped from the story-time present, but it is not part of the story; it is prior to the story, often separated from story-present by a large number of years. In most cases, no one involved in the prologue participates in the story’s present events.

     Just now, Pub World editors deem prologues to be bad things. They have a good case, for a prologue puts the reasons the reader bought the book some distance from the front cover. A long or awkward prologue can cause the reader to toss the book aside. If the writer has done his job really badly, that can happen in the bookstore.

     Yet there are cases in which a prologue is vitally necessary. I’ve written one that I felt the novel couldn’t do without. I might have been wrong, but so far no one who’s gone on to read the whole book has complained about it. Of course, that omits the opinions of those who didn’t read the whole book, which might be the most important ones.

     The need or lack thereof for a prologue will always be a judgment call. No one but the author is qualified to make it. Accordingly, it behooves us to consider the following questions:

  • What makes a prologue desirable?
  • How can a prologue enhance the story?
  • How can a prologue discourage the reader?

     One of the most important architectural techniques in fiction goes by a Latin name: In media res. In English, that’s “in the middle of the matter.” It denotes the technique of dropping the reader into the middle of the action without any preparation: i.e., without prior acquaintance with the setting, the characters, or the backstory. The reader is immediately confronted with events important to one or more of the Marquee Characters and is compelled to claw for a purchase on them. The opening to On Broken Wings provides a good example:

     At first, there was only darkness, and a dim sense of upward motion, like swimming through dark water. Then there was light, and noise, and incredible pain.
     Christine half-remembered the crash, but had no idea where she was or what was being done to her. The flood of pain from her face blocked her rational powers. The perception of restraint threatened her sanity. A single phrase roared through the torture.
     "She's coming awake!"
     She surged upward against whatever was holding her. Strong hands pressed her back. Something metallic attached to her face, pulling upon it, tore loose and fell off to rest against her ear. Her scream could have shattered stone.
     A needle pierced her arm. Her terror flew beyond any recall. She dropped back into the darkness, certain she would never see light again.

     What’s happening in the above? If you’ve read the whole book, you already know, but did you have a firm idea before you proceeded to the subsequent material? If I managed to pique your interest with the opening, such that you felt a strong desire to discover what was going on, then my employment of in media res architecture was a success. If you frowned, muttered “I don’t have time for this,” and tossed the book aside, then I failed.

     When in media res works, which is often, it obviates the need for a prologue. Indeed, it makes adding a prologue a redundant notion, something that would insult the reader’s intelligence. But it will only work if the subsequent narration introduces the necessary information about what the reader has just read in a smooth and timely fashion: i.e., without creating any significant expository lumps. That, too, is a judgment the author isn’t guaranteed to get right.

     Perhaps the most famous dispute over whether a prologue was necessary concerns J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The first volume thereof, The Fellowship of the Ring, contains a fifteen-page, single spaced prologue packed densely with important information about hobbits, the Shire, and the world of Middle Earth. Quite a number of Tolkien’s critics considered that prologue unnecessary, owing to the existence of The Hobbit, his earlier novel about the adventures of the young Bilbo Baggins. Yet a considerable percentage of those who’ve read The Lord of the Rings did so without having read the earlier novel. Perhaps for them, the prologue was vitally necessary. Needless to say, the matter will never be unanimously agreed.

     A prologue can enhance the subsequent story when:

  • It’s kept brief;
  • It doesn’t digress;
  • It functions as a story of its own.

     Brevity, of course, is relative. Tolkien’s five thousand word prologue to The Lord of the Rings is followed by a half-million word fantasy adventure. The ratio is appropriate. But were that prologue attached to a shorter novel, it would look grotesquely disproportionate.

     The prologue to Which Art In Hope is just under 1800 words long. I fretted over it, fearing that so much precursory narrative might detract from what follows. Nevertheless, I found that I couldn’t reduce it in length without omitting details I felt the reader had to have before I dragged him into the story proper. In any event, “what follows” proved to be longer and wider in scope than I’d anticipated, which eventually allowed me to relax about the length of the prologue.

     A prologue can discourage the reader in several ways:

  • By being overly long or discursive;
  • By drowning the reader in too much detail;
  • By being unappealing as a separate narrative.

     I trust the first of those conditions is self-explanatory. No one picks up a 50,000 word novel – approximately 200 mass-market paperback pages – expecting to slog through a 50 page prologue. Proportion is essential. So also is a sense for the proper degree of detail. It’s vital to remain rigidly within Chekhov’s Law:

     “Everything not essential to the story must be ruthlessly cut away. If in Act One you say that a gun hung on the wall, then by Act Two or Act Three at the latest, it must be discharged.” – Anton Chekhov

     If you violate that precept in your prologue, you risk the very worst sort of “loose end:” the sort that has the reader wondering “why did he tell me that?” throughout the rest of the novel. So don’t!

     The third condition discriminates between narrative prologues, which tell a brief, dramatic story of their own, and “encyclopedia” prologues, which do nothing but convey information. The latter are inherently dry, anti-fictional. They’re very hard to get away with. It’s been done – see the earlier material about The Lord of the Rings -- but successes of the “encyclopedia” sort are rare.

     If you decide upon a prologue for your novel, try to structure it as a narrative of its own. Imagine a Marquee character or two within it, even if none will actually appear, and write it from their perspective. One constructive approach is “a story told around the campfire.” I heartily recommend it.

     So much for prologues. If you intend to pursue “conventional” publication, remember that the majority of editors frown upon them. If you decide to “go indie,” there’s still reason for caution. You want readers; more, you want those readers to finish the book. If they don’t, how likely are they to purchase your next book – or, God help us all, this one’s sequel?

     Best of luck.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Beware: Cancerous Lump!

     In your fiction reading, have you ever run into a passage that reads like a segment cut and pasted out of an encyclopedia, or perhaps a geography text? Perhaps something like the following:

     At last, after eleven years of traveling at trans-light seven, the Earth colonists had arrived at the planet his grandfather, Emilio Nandez, had discovered almost a century ago. Suspecting conditions on the planet were favorable for life, Emilio had convinced the Colonization Alliance of Independent Nations to send an auto-ship on a scouting mission. What the ship found exceeded even Emilio’s wildest dreams.
     Even though the planet had one small continent above sea level, it offered an interesting geological formation: a huge fissure that split the continent in half. Millions of years ago, the planet’s tectonic plates had formed a mountain range, leaving two valleys on either side. Dark green moss covered the thousands of canyons of the planet’s large valley, which was thousands of kilometers in length and stretched for hundreds of kilometers in width.
     Rivers, some a kilometer or more wide, and others narrow enough for a man to jump across, ran through the canyons, which split off from the large valley like branches on a tree. Spectacular waterfalls fell thousands of feet to the valley below.

     Behold, in all its dread beauty, the expository lump.

     What’s above is only half of the lump. It goes on for two more long paragraphs: approximately 400 words in toto. I simply haven’t the patience to type out the rest. It’s one of the most egregious cases I’ve seen lately...and it’s from a writer who prides himself on his writing and will tell you so.

     Anyone can fall into this trap. I certainly have. It had to be pointed out to me by a crack editor. It was a harsh but quite necessary lesson of a fundamental sort:

The reader is there for an emotional journey.

     The writer’s fascination with his imaginings (or his skill with words) is of no importance to the reader. The reader is there to experience events and changes in the lives of your characters, especially your protagonists. This flows from the never-too-often repeated Two Great Commandments of Fiction:

1. The raw material of fiction is people.
2. The essence of story is change.

     A landscape can be attractive, but what’s more important to the fiction reader is how the viewpoint character reacts emotionally (if he does) to the landscape. The backstory events of a novel can be critically important, but again, what really matters is how they influence the viewpoint character as he remembers them in the context of some significant story-time event.

     When a writer departs from the lives of his characters for a sizable expository lump, he risks causing the reader to disaffiliate himself from the characters – in other words, to lose his reason for reading the story. No matter how important the facts being conveyed in the lump, it’s a bad bargain. It risks a reader reaction so deadly that it’s usually referred to by its acronym: MEGO, or “Mine eyes glazeth over.”

     As if more were necessary, the innate dynamic of the expository lump, like all cancers, is to expand. The lump swells; the reader’s distance from the characters’ story-time lives and events tends to grow. The narrative loses focus from being drowned in exposition.

     The lethal power of the expository lump is one of the reasons for Elmore Leonard’s famous advice about descriptive passages:

Avoid writing passages the reader will be tempted to skip.

     Long descriptions of physical settings are the most obvious kind. Backstory exposition is just as poisonous to reader involvement, though often less obvious. There are other temptations toward the creation of an expository lump, but these are the most important ones.

     If you’ve ever encountered the fiction writer’s maxim “Show, don’t tell,” it’s advice that should immediately warn a storyteller away from such lumps. At the very least, he should be ready to recognize them when he rereads his own work. A number of indie writers I’ve encountered recently seem never to have heard that maxim. A pity.

     As a writer of fiction, your principal task is to engage the reader’s emotions and take him for a dramatic ride. No matter how charmed you might be by the factual details of the setting you’ve imagined, your reader will stay with you – if he does – because of the drama you depict. Drama is about emotion, and emotion stems from the changes in your characters’ lives. It can be found nowhere else.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When It’s This Easy: One Writer's Problems In The 24-7 Internet-Enabled World

     As the indie-publishing revolution has gained steam, a mated phenomenon has risen as well: the swelling of the writer’s email inbox. Readers like to open dialogues with the writers whose work they enjoy, and email makes it easier than it’s ever been before. Moreover, most writers enjoy hearing from their readers, and do little or nothing to throttle the incoming missives. Communication in the Internet age has become almost effortless, at least as long as it’s one-way.

     As I’m aware of the possibility of misinterpretation should I fail to respond, I try to make it two-way. Yet despite all the time I spend chained to this Cyclopean monstrosity, I do get behind on my communications now and then. I get a lot of email: perhaps two hundred pieces on any given day, not counting the spam. Should I fail to answer a particular item immediately, it will sometimes “fall off the back of the stove.” I hope my Gentle Readers won’t conclude that I’m ignoring them, though inevitably some will. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has this problem. If I may speak for my colleagues in this matter, please think kindly of us. We do care what you think. In fact, we care about you personally, and more than you might imagine.

     But there are hazards. Some of them are more serious than one might imagine. Now that essentially every literate person on Earth has Internet access, those hazards are becoming unpleasantly visible. As the news remains unpleasant and ho-hum – yes, it’s possible to be both simultaneously – I thought I might spend a few words on the subject.

     The first aspect of this I’d like to discuss is the division of the globe into time zones. A writer who has readers in faraway places will sometimes receive email from them that he won’t see until many hours later, simply because his morning is their night or vice-versa. If he hasn’t responded promptly, it’s likely to be for that reason alone.

     Shortly after I first published Chosen One and On Broken Wings, I received a large number of emails from readers in India. That surprised me at first, as I hadn’t reckoned on the international reach of electronic publishing. (I also hadn’t factored in the status of English as the de facto international language.) Those emails were almost uniformly positive, which warmed the cockles of my spiny little heart. I tried my best to reply to each of them promptly and individually.

     However, one young Indian woman believed that because ten or twelve hours would elapse between her missive and my reply, I was ignoring her. Over time her emails became rather shrill, accusatory, and eventually sarcastically self-deprecating and despairing. I tried my best to dispel that notion in my replies, but to no avail. Eventually I ceased to hear from her. I’ve worried over that ever since.

     I suppose there isn’t much one can do about such a phenomenon, but those Gentle Readers entering into the electronic publishing realm, or considering doing so, should bear it in mind.

     The second aspect of the thing is the inability or unwillingness of many readers to grasp the immense difference between a writer and his characters. I’m nothing much, really, just a retired engineer who writes. I hope that by doing so I can both entertain and edify my readers, while making a few bucks in the process. But a surprising number of my correspondents assume that I resemble my male protagonists in important ways.

     That’s dangerous, Gentle Reader. Especially in my case. In fact, my kinda-sorta bios at Amazon and Smashwords are tongue-in-cheek attempts to disillusion anyone who might think that when I write about Louis Redmond, Todd Iverson, Armand Morelon, or Stephen Graham Sumner I’m actually writing about myself. I’m not! Really! I’m not a hero; I write heroes. Genuinely heroic figures are desperately needed in our time. Few other writers are producing any such icons, though there are exceptions.

     In short, I can’t solve anyone’s problems, be they political, legal, economic, academic, or romantic. I wish it were otherwise, but...well, I’m only what I am, a retired engineer who writes. (Also, I’m married.) I’m sure other writers have this problem, too.

     The third and final aspect I’d like to address today is the weirdly stout resistance of the creative faculty to direction. On this subject I can’t speak for anyone but myself. Other writers might not share this problem with me. However, I suspect that it afflicts many of us, maybe even most of us.

     Now and then I receive requests from my readers to write about a particular subject or hero, or to continue a particular saga. This is immensely flattering, and I love them for it. Often the request will mesh with my own desires. In such a case, I might sit down to this monstrosity fully determined to do as I’ve been asked, as it accords with my own inclinations and has verifiably pleased at least a fraction of my readership...and get absolutely nowhere with it.

     I can’t explain this. If I want to do it and my readers want me to do it, then by the Law of Wishful Thinking Regnant I should be able to do it, right? But in the great majority of such cases I can’t make it happen, and I don’t know why.

     For example, this short romance novel has evoked a slew of requests for more about Jana and Tim. Believe me, I appreciate the feedback, and I love those of you who’ve read and loved that little story. It’s a book I sometimes can’t believe I wrote, simply because romance has always seemed alien to me. (To any Gentle Readers contemplating romance with an engineer: beware! Here there be tygers.) I can’t even remember the chain of events and impulses that led me to write it. I doubt that I could produce more along those lines, at least at the moment.

     And once again, it’s not that I disdain to give you what you want.

     I hope my Gentle Readers won’t be put off by the above. I certainly hope you’ll continue to write to me. You matter to me more than you know. I just thought it appropriate that you hear about some of my limitations. When there’s so great a gulf between a writer and his fictional imaginings, the possibilities for failing his readers are many and vast. Louis Redmond would tell you so, but he’s dead.