Converged from the bottom

Lest you think I exaggerated when I described the SJW-converged state of publishing in my latest appearance on Stefan Molyneaux’s podcast:

I struggled with rejections, too. Not because I feared crushing someone’s literary dreams (I had faith you’d be okay) but because we were asked to send personalized rejections for promising but still lacking work. There were four templates for rejection: 1) form rejection, 2) I liked a, b, and c but no. Go ahead and submit more work if you want,  3) Wow so close, but not quite. Definitely send us more work though, and 4) I loved this so much that I’m writing a response from scratch instead of inserting my thoughts into a pre-written paragraph, but unfortunately no *frowny face*.  We left #4 to the editors.

Like the nonexistent length requirements, this take on rejecting work is great for writers. I loved it until I realized it’s way easier to send a form rejection than come up with even a personalized one. Even submissions I loved ended up getting a form rejection after a week trying to convey my appreciation while still saying no. We had to be careful about this because we didn’t want to say something dumb or be too encouraging and have someone resend a piece with whatever corrections we’d accidentally proposed.

Moving things toward acceptance wasn’t much easier. We passed work we liked to another intern. If that intern liked it, they passed it to another intern. And if they liked it, one of the editors got it and made the final call. So it mattered little, dear author, if I thought your work was a masterpiece. A second or third reader who disagreed could kill it as easily as an editor. Once I got a submission that I thought was a great commentary on race, and another intern dismissed it because she didn’t see the “thematic relevance” – a very annoying phrase uttered so many times it ceased to have meaning.

I’m sure I annoyed other interns with this, too. Like when I said no to a piece on gentrification in NYC ( two other interns loved it) because its white dude perspective killed its otherwise stellar structure and language for me. I did the same with other pieces that were good except for their sexism or racism or *insert other -ism here*.

Slush reading is a necessary evil for all publishers; Castalia House now have sufficient admissions that we need to extend our one-month review policy to three months. Also, we will not provide any comments or advice on a submission, as Castalia House is a publisher, not a writer’s workshop. However, we have no SJWs involved in the process and your work will be given a fair shake so long as you are not an SJW yourself and your work is not Pink SF or some other SJW strain. We have a “kill-on-sight” policy with regards to SJW-related submissions.

Hhowever, I will say that in my experience, far too many would-be writers are far too eager to submit what is clearly incomplete, unpolished, and unoriginal work. If you haven’t even demonstrated that you have the discipline to finish a single novel, the chances that anyone is going to be so blown away by the talent demonstrated or the ideas presented in your unfinished work that they will leap to sign it is remote, to put it mildly. And not being Hollywood, Castalia is really not interested in the X meets Y formula. Do something original. And if you can’t do that, you’d better do something great (John C. Wright, Owen Stanley), something genuinely classic (Jerry Pournelle, Rod Walker), or something world-class (Martin van Creveld, William Lind, David the Good.)

Most writers, and I include myself in this, simply don’t put in the time and effort that even the second-rate successes like George R.R. Martin do. And no one these days goes to the lengths of a Tolkien or an Eco, both world-class academic specialists in fields intimately related to their writing. One reason that The Missionaries is such a stand-out novel is that Owen Stanley not only has first-hand knowledge of “Elephant Island”, he quite clearly knows the Moroks very, very well.

At this point, the very best thing you can do to get published these days is to either a) become famous or b) develop a large Twitter following. I am reliably informed, by a VERY inside publishing industry insider, that the major publishers are increasingly disinterested in the content of the books they are signing, and their primary concern is the social media outreach of the author. This is not true of Castalia House, of course, as we are getting even more selective about the content we publish.

As I’ve said before, if there is no sound reason to believe your work has the probability of being a category bestseller, Castalia probably will not publish it. The Missionaries is the first debut novel we have published, Loki’s Child will be the second, and both of them are manifestly not your average genre novel. We are more interested in quality than we are in staying in our genre lane. While we won’t reject your novel because it doesn’t conform to the SJW Narrative, that’s not sufficient reason to publish it either.

Meanwhile, Barry Malzberg makes it clear that some women have always been bent on destroying science fiction.

Judith Merril (1920-1997) had big ideas in the 1950s: she was going to take down all of the barriers between what she called the science fiction “ghetto” and the “mainstream.” She was going to prove that the barriers were artificially constructed and made no sense.

We were living in a science fiction world: Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth had proved that on the social register. And Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Sputnik demonstrated that this was not a sick little genre for (what Isaac Asimov called) “crazy kids.”

She embarked upon her campaign, writing book reviews (she eventually became Fantasy & Science Fiction‘s regular reviewer) and inaugurating her Annual Best SF series in 1957, which was taken on by Dell for mass market and which became immediately the most significant and influential of all the annuals. She wrote pandering introductions to stories by Russell Baker and Jorge Luis Borges reprinted in her annuals, arguing that they proved that literary figures and New York Times columnists were writing the stuff just as well or better as the hacks in Astounding and Galaxy.

She persuaded Anthony Boucher (who had his own shaky and ambivalent fix on the field) that everything was science fiction. And Boucher hired Arthur Jean Cox to write an ongoing movie column in which he noted that the musical Li’l Abner was hard-core science fiction. Her columns in Fantasy & Science Fiction disdained or ignored category publications as largely hackwork, and she used the space to dismiss almost all of it and surely to propagate the British New Wave writers who were really shaking the earth and changing everything. That led to her commercially disastrous Doubleday anthology England Swings! SF, which Donald A. Wollheim, who published the paperback, told me was the worst-selling Ace paperback in history. This is just part of what the former Josephine Grossman was doing in the critical period 1955-1968 after she had essentially written finis to her career as a fiction writer; but it was quite enough to get the job done. A decent writer and a highly intelligent person, she did the field more damage than Raymond Palmer or Roger Corman, Ed Earl Repp or Ed Wood. The field certainly survived, it had demonstrated the pre-Lucas capacity to survive anything, but it was irreversibly damaged.

It was irreversibly damaged because Merril’s influence in those years was great, and she was on a methodical, hardly understated campaign to tear down the walls and destroy the category. As a failed mainstream writer who had essentially been rescued by her friends Theodore Sturgeon and Philip J. Klass, and pointed toward commercial writing, Merril was determined to find another way into the mainstream. And if that involved rupturing or destroying science fiction, well, that would be collateral damage.

I had a little of this syndrome myself—like Merril I came to science fiction in my mid-twenties as a failed angry quality lit writer. But I never forgot that science fiction had essentially rescued me, that Final War which had been deemed “too grimly realistic” for The Hudson Review and condescendingly bounced had been taken by Edward L. Ferman, and in that simple act he had saved my creative life, and I was grateful. I was not contemptuous of science fiction or anxious to pummel the misshapen but occasionally beautiful field of literature because it was a means of default. Rather, I was grateful and having read a great deal in the genre at a formative time (so had Merril) I knew that it was a legitimate brand of literature which was being screwed mercilessly by the academy and the quality lit gatekeepers and spirits. Their casual contempt (like the contempt of the Hudson Review) infuriated me and still does. But I never blamed science fiction for what the larger culture had done to it. Merril did. Merril was the kind of liberal who in different circumstances would blame James Baldwin and Cassius Clay for bad manners, for giving their people a bad name.

The SF-SJWs are, of course, furious about this, as they always are when their dreadful behavior is revealed. They want to bury the past and pretend that the present is as it is for no reason beyond inevitable Progress. And it is all too typical of SJW entryism that a woman who hated science fiction would position herself as the arbiter of what was best in the field.

Which, of course, is how we eventually ended up with dreadful schlock like Redshirts and “The Rain That Falls On You If You’re Gay” and “If You Weren’t Beaten Into a Coma By Political Stand-ins For the Mean Girls Who Called Me Fat in High School, My Love” being deemed the best science fiction has to offer. Just the title of “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” is more thoughtful and entertaining than the sum total of those three award-winning works.

Also amusing is the protests of the SJWs. “But consider all her contributions to the field!” they cry. That’s the point and that’s also the problem. She did contribute a lot, and those contributions were negative and damaging to the field of science fiction. None of this really matters, though, as the SJW-converged world of mainstream SF is a dying one, and a new world, in which Castalia House is going to be a powerful force, is rising to take its place.

Thanks to you, June was another record month for Castalia House. Thanks to you, June was another record month of traffic for VP. Thanks to you, our hot new releases and category bestsellers have brought us to the attention of much larger companies who are extremely interested in working with us. Thanks to you, our productive capacities have expanded. Thanks to you, top authors are starting to work with us.

Thanks to you, the turbo-boosters are being fitted. Buckle up.

The insanity of Pink SF

Imagine, if you will, the idea of “species-neutral” fiction. And in that school of writing, it was decided by those who adhere to it that true literary quality was determined by how closely the author managed to eliminate all signs of what species an animal belonged to. The more difficult it was to determine whether an animal was a cat or a dog, the harder it was to distinguish between a horse and a cow, or a rabbit and fox, the better the writing was considered to be.

Do you think that this new school of writing might have an effect if books like Watership Down or Misty of Chincoteague or even Mr. Popper’s Penguins were rewritten? Do you think this species-neutrality would it change them for the better or for the worse?

Because, you see, that is much the same effect that the race-neutrality and sex-neutrality have on Pink SF books and short stories. And yet, that is precisely their objective! McCreepy, otherwise known as Tor Books author Jim C. Hines, explains the ideal way for a Pink SF writer duly devoted to race- and sex-neutrality to improve her writing.

I would, of course, have written “his writing” according to the rules of English grammar, but I am interested in improving my literary style and I am reliably informed that “gender-swapping” is the way to do it.

Jim C. Hines
Years ago, I went back and rewrote a story, changing from a male PoV protagonist to female. It was educational and eye-opening, and made me see a lot of unconscious and ingrained assumptions I’d been carrying.

I did that with my WIP, swapped the male lead to female, then had the same people read what I had so far. The women loved it, the men hated it, whereas before the men loved it, and the women were just sorta meh about it. Made me decide to leave it as a female lead. I figured, if it was making the men so uncomfortable, then I was doing something right.

John L. Payton
You’ve demonstrated an excellent exercise here, one that any writers’ group would do well to adopt. If the piece sounds unrealistic when gender-swapped, then it needs more work. I intend to keep this in mind. Thank you.

Jim C. Hines
Masculinity can be toxic as hell. We could do whole books about the physical and emotional rigidity, the brutal punishment for men who stray too far from the narrowly-defined idea of what a man “should” be, the obsession with power and control and the damage that does to men and the people around them, and so much more. Getting rid of sexism and creating a more aware and accepting culture when it comes to gender would benefit everyone involved, not just women.

What is astonishing, and all too telling, is Samizdat’s reaction to the men hating her protagonist. Instead of deciding that it is a terrible idea to intentionally pursue a strategy that her readers hate, she decides that cramming it down their throats is “doing something right”. And then these people are surprised and dismayed when they discover that no one is interested in buying or reading their books.

Just remember, if there are any observable differences in the behavior of male and female characters in your writing, they must be eradicated. Also, please try to avoid using the terms “cat” and “dog”, as they, too, are offensive. The preferred term is “companion animal of indeterminate species”.

They really believe this nonsense. Sarah Hoyt’s term, “grey goo”, is apt indeed. I’ve written before about how their moralblindness renders their works devoid of color to their artistic detriment, but now they have thrown out perspective and are intentionally blurring the monochromatic lines as well. They are intentionally doing their best to render their works flat, unrealistic, and devoid of life, so it should come as no surprise that they have succeeded so well in doing so.

The inanity of Pink SF/F

It goes well beyond that, of course, but it serves as a useful example. John Wright explains how what he calls “the Twenty Firsters” cripple their own entertainment:

These are basic rule of psychology that everyone knows, or should know, if his brain is not gummed up with political correctness.

Basic rules of storytelling 101: the tale cannot violate the basic rules of psychology 101. (See Mark Twain’s description of Leatherstocking Tales for details.)

The writer can have the characters in odd situations, and, in a superhero yarn, the oddness can involve countless impossible absurdities of time travel, cloning, robots, talking apes, necromancers, mind readers, secret societies, immortals, revenants from the dead, parallel dimensions, millionaire playboys dressed like Robin Hood, and anything else you like: BUT the character’s reaction to these impossible things, no matter how absurdly impossible, must not only be possible, but likely and reasonable for a real human being in the unreal situation, or otherwise the writer shatters the suspension of disbelief.

A man can be a superman with ninescore ninety and nine impossible super powers plus one, but he has to act like a man, and not like a cardboard clockwork robot or a sockpuppet yanked out of his established character to go through a jerky, awkward pantomime to make today’s public service announcement on behalf of politically correct obsessions about problems solved before I was born.

If eccentric billionaire wants to build a supersuit out of dwarf star matter so he can shrink down to atom-size and fight very small crimes, I will buy that and come back for more, bringing my friends with me, and throw money at the writer. But if smoking hot computer genius girl kisses the first kiss, that breaks me out of the spell of the story, and I sit glowering at how unbelievable the writing is.

Women make all the first moves in Twenty Firster mythology, because the simple truth that weak men drive women insane, and insane women make men weak, has simply been ignored.

First, the notion of female pursuit is directly related to the socio-sexual rank of the male writers. To the Gamma, women are inexplicable. They have no idea why the woman abruptly decides to take her clothes off, so anytime you read of an attractive woman, who has hitherto exhibited absolutely no interest in the intelligent protagonist who has been intensely respecting her by showing absolutely no interest in her, suddenly crawling into the sleeping bag of said protagonist, you can be 100 percent certain that the author is a Gamma.

Second, most writers of Pink SF/F, in any format, are not only ignorant, but proudly so. The battle scenes in the most recent episode of A Game of Thrones were so shockingly inept and historically ignorant that I found myself wondering if Kameron Hurley had been hired as the historical consultant.

As one wag put it on Twitter: A cavalry charge? I’d better put my pikes in reserve!

And while I’m at it, I’ll refrain from ordering my archers to fire at them as they approach. Then I’ll send my infantry in to surround the survivors, so they can’t break and run, thereby preventing my cavalry from riding them down and slaughtering them from behind. And when the totally predictable enemy reinforcements arrive just in the nick of time, because I’ve been busy posturing rather than simply destroying the surrounded enemy, instead of withdrawing my army and retreating to my fortress, I’ll just stand around and watch them get entirely wiped out before fleeing by myself.

It was the second-most retarded battle scene I’ve ever seen, topped only by Faramir leading Gondor’s cavalry against a fortified position manned by archers in The Return of the King. I was always curious about what the cavalry was intended to do if they somehow managed to survive the hail of arrows and reach the walls that no horse could possibly climb.

Anyhow, the Twenty Firster inanity goes well beyond psychology, because both logic and history are mysteries to them as well.

Behind the scenes

Peter Grant explains why he chose Castalia House and what it is like to work with “the most despised man in science fiction”:

Vox was my editor in getting the book ready for publication.  He stated up front that he wanted to ‘make a good book better’, not try to remake it in his image, or make it into something it wasn’t.  I found him a very effective editor indeed.  He went through my manuscript and made many proposed changes, averaging two or three per page, but did so on the basis that these were his suggestions rather than his demands.  I was free to accept or reject each of his proposed changes.  In about two-thirds of cases, I went along with his proposals.  They did, indeed, make the book better.  In the remaining third of cases, I went with what I’d originally written, or re-wrote a few lines, because I felt it fitted in better with my vision for the book and what I hope will be the series into which it will grow.  Vox accepted that with aplomb.  The man’s a gentleman.

There will doubtless be those who’ll be disappointed that I’ve chosen to publish with a man, and a publishing house, that they regard with the same revulsion as the Devil regards holy water.  To them I can only say, go read what my friend Larry Correia had to say about Vox last year.  I endorse his sentiments.  I don’t share all – or possibly even most – of Vox’s opinions, but then he’s never asked me to share or support them in any way, shape or form.  He’s merely tried to be the best editor he can be, and help me be the best writer I can be.  I’ll be damned if I condemn him because of past history or exchanges to which I wasn’t a party, and in which I had no involvement at all.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.  I certainly won’t demand that he embrace political correctness.  As you’ve probably noted from my blog header, that’s not exactly a position I embrace myself!

Vox shares my perspective that the ‘classic’ Western genre is ripe for revival.  I’ve grown very tired of romance or erotica masquerading as Westerns – to my mind, they’re neither, and belong in a different category.  I’m also fed up with the historical inaccuracies and fantastically high body counts of many so-called Westerns that are nothing more or less than violence porn (and sometimes actual porn as well, given the number of sex scenes they contain – something that would be anathema to every one of the great Western authors).  I tried to write in the classic style, and Vox actively tried to help me do that.  I appreciated his input.

Castalia House is a small publisher at this stage, but it’s grown in stature and in the diversity of its offerings.  I’m honored – deeply honored – to join authors such as Jerry Pournelle and Martin van Creveld in its stable.

I’m very glad to hear that Peter feels that way, as we are all delighted to have such a talented, knowledgeable, and above all, exceedingly decent man join our band of renegades, rebels, reactionaries, and recidivists.

We may be outnumbered, but we are never, ever, outgunned.

And I’m pleased to learn that I was able to help Peter realize his vision. The primary role of the editor is not to catch every typo, position the book for marketing, or police its content in order to ensure its compliance with the social justice Narrative, it is to help the author accurately transform the story he sees in his mind into an articulated reality he can share with others.

An editor can improve a book or he can ruin a book, but he must never forget that the book is neither his vision nor his story.

No need to be a whiny bitch

I was contacted about contributing to a forthcoming anthology this week. When I informed the anthologist that while I was willing to contribute to it, I was not of the particular persuasion being featured, the anthologist explained that she had been misinformed about me and politely disinvited me.

I did not write her an angry email explaining why the anthology needed more diversity. I am not going to launch an organization or a YouTube channel dedicated to increasing the diversity of her anthology. I am not going to angrily denounce the absence of people like me from the collection or complain about her insufficient inclusivity or her failure to implement a program of outreach to Native American authors.

This is how civilized adults who respect the basic human right of free association behave. Blacks, women, and homosexuals would do well to take note. If an editor doesn’t want your work for one reason or another, it’s not something that justifies taking offense, let alone an angry political campaign aimed at destroying the editor’s ability to perform his core function, which is selecting the authors he wishes to publish. This is true even if you are being rejected simply because of who, or what, you are.

Rules of Writing IX: good writing and defective style

While I didn’t think a great deal of magnum opus, my objections were not to the stylings of David Foster Wallace’s prose, and since he is still recognized as the creme de la creme of our generation’s New York literati, he serves as an adequate guide to literary style. He described good writing so:

In the broadest possible sense, writing well means to communicate
clearly and interestingly and in a way that feels alive to the reader.
Where there’s some kind of relationship between the writer and the
reader — even though it’s mediated by a kind of text — there’s an
electricity about it.

Notice that his definition is intrinsically subjective and determined by the reader. This is why various claims that a competent writer is stylistically terrible while another one is wonderful are, for the most part, mere posturing. Now, that doesn’t mean that one cannot be a technically bad writer, since there are basic grammatical rules to every language, words have specific meanings and can therefore be used improperly, and sentences or paragraphs can be strung together in a variety of incoherent and otherwise incompetent ways.

But the fact that the idea communicated is distasteful or that it is communicated in a way that is uninteresting or feels leaden to a reader does not, contra the blatherings of the would-be literary crowd of the SF/F community, make it bad writing. No matter how they preen and posture, David Foster Wallace himself is telling them that they are wrong, and since they are no more than literary wannabes, they have no counterarguments to this appeal to authority.

This subjective element doesn’t mean that all functional prose is of equal beauty or equally effective. Not at all. One need only compare the difference between my pedestrian style versus John C. Wright’s sparkling literary pyrotechnics to see that. But it does mean that in order to be legitimately considered bad writing, as opposed to merely not-great writing, there has to be something technically incorrect about it. So, for example, I’ll turn to Ayn Rand, to whose prose deficiencies I have myself referred. Here is a randomly selected paragraph from Atlas Shrugged.

One by one, the men who had built new towns in Colorado, had departed into some silent unknown, from which no voice or person had yet returned. The towns they had left were dying. Some of the factories they built had remained ownerless and locked; others had been seized by the local authorities; the machines in both stood still.

She had felt as if a dark map of Colorado were spread before her like a traffic control panel, with a few lights scattered through its mountains. One after another, the lights had gone out. One after another, the men had vanished. There had been a pattern about it, which she felt, but could not define; she had become able to predict, almost with certainty, who would go next and when; she was unable to grasp the “why?”

In my estimation, Ayn Rand’s chief stylistic problem was her overreliance upon the past perfect simple tense and the passive voice. While her sentences are more or less grammatically correct, and therefore not, strictly speaking, erroneous, the effect is stultifying. Count the astonishing number of “had VERB” instances in the two paragraphs. There are 11 in only seven sentences. Her prose is so passive it is lying supine, flat upon its back, drooling.

Moreover, it is not used in an entirely correct manner. The past perfect simple tense is to be used “when describing an event that occurred before something else followed”. But what follows the failure to return of a voice or person, what follows the factories remaining ownerless, when those events are still ongoing? Also, if something is unknown, how can it be silent?  It is the men who are silent, not the unknown. It would have been acceptable to say “some unknown silence”, but it is not correct to say “some silent unknown”. And how does a voice return, via the telephone?

“The men left and were never heard from again.” That would be a much simpler way to say it. She’s shooting for a flowery, more dramatic and haunting effect, of course, but she lays it on too heavily and it comes off poorly. It’s also structurally inconsistent to switch from who and when to “the why?”. This is Rand’s flair for the dramatic asserting itself at the wrong time, she should have simply said: “she was unable to grasp why”, although she could have also, less gracefully, chosen to utilize the “who?” and the “when?”. These are but a few of the many such errors that litter her writing; they do not make her a bad writer (style being only one of the four major facets of writing), but they do make her an observably flawed stylist.

I’m not cherry-picking here. I intentionally chose a passage at random knowing that I would find some such deficiencies, although I did not think to discover such an abundance of them. In fact, that is the most fair way to judge a writer’s technical competence, as intentionally focusing on one passage that one finds infelicitous is not only indicative of negative intent, but can be completely misleading. Furthermore, most assertions of bad writing, particularly when a controversial writer is concerned, are provably false. Consider:

The first thing one picks up on when starting Atlas Shrugged is the
poverty of the prose. Ayn Rand, no matter her or her followers’ opinion
otherwise, just isn’t a very good writer. The language is plodding,
non-lyrical, and often often awkward. For example, in one scene she
writes, “He stood slouching against the bar.” To my knowledge, one
stands against a bar or one slouches against a bar-but one does not
stand slouching.

This is amusing, not only due to the phrase “often often awkward” or because the posturing would-be critic only supplies one example, but because he doesn’t quote the text correctly or provide a legitimate example. As another observer noted: “About the “slouching,” the actual sentence is “Bertram Scudder stood
slouched against the bar.” That’s perfectly sensible: a person can
slouch while sitting or standing, and in doing so the person might be
leaning against a bar.” Since “to slouch” means “to sit or stand with an awkward, drooping posture” it is perfectly reasonable to clarify whether the slouching individual is sitting or standing.

Now, as I’ve already pointed out, there are legitimate grounds to criticize the stylistic facet of Rand’s writing. But very few of those who claim she is a bad writer ever seem to reference them. In a similar manner, I have been vastly amused by the way in which my critics have focused, laser-like, on a single passage from “Opera Vita Aeterna” that has been repeatedly cited to support the claim that I am a terrible writer. This is the exhibit one of the execrable writing they condemn:

The cold autumn day was slowly drawing to a close. The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark. The first of the two moons was already visible high above the mountains. Soon Arbhadis, Night’s Mistress, would unveil herself as well.

While there are no technical errors of the sort we see in Rand’s writing, there is obviously something a little strange there. The implication that the sun’s rays are physically holding up the sun, and that night is falling because those rays are no longer strong enough to do so, will likely strike the reader as weirdly literal.

And if the story proceeded into more similarly clumsy metaphors, one might reasonably conclude that the writer has an overly literal mind and is technically deficient in that regard. But it doesn’t; even the most dismissive critics have noted that it’s only this first passage that contains anything of this sort. Moreover, instead of proceeding into a pedestrian tale of swords, sorcery, and derring-do, it’s a rather unusual story where nothing seems to happen and almost everyone dies violently, in addition to this dichotomy is a short spelunking into pseudo-Thomistic philosophy sufficiently sophisticated to lead critics into mistakenly concluding it is cribbed, and to top it all off, the ending is ambiguous. So, it should be clear that the writer does not have the overly literal mind suspected at the start.

This doesn’t matter to the superficial reader only looking for an excuse to dismiss the writer, of course. The pedestrian critic will simply moan about the supposedly awful metaphor and think no further. That’s exactly the role he is supposed to play. But the ideal reader will wonder about the seeming contradiction observed. He might know the author well enough to realize that the author’s mind is more Machiavellian than literal, and possessed of a cruel sense of humor.  And he would certainly know that the author’s observable familiarity with medieval philosophy would tend to indicate an awareness of the naturalistic literalism of that era.

Or he might not. Regardless, what is so funny to me is that the very people who think Monty Python is so clever and funny when they portray the sun walking on two legs below the horizon in a movie don’t recognize the exact same thing when it isn’t presented in a juvenile, full-color cartoon format. As it happens, the critics were correct to react to the passage in a hostile manner, they simply didn’t recognize how it defines my relationship to the type of reader they represent, which is to say, my unconcealed contempt for their dim little minds.

I’m more interested in ideas than style. I’m certainly not one of those writers, like Ayn Rand, who claims that every comma is sacred and placed with perfect intent, but as a general rule, it is safe to conclude that something seems a little strange, there is a message to someone, somewhere, being sent. Even if it is a simple one that could have been just as easily delivered with a single finger.

In the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide, David Brooks pleaded for mercy for the creators: “My plea here is for people to give the needed space to artists and
performers to fail every now and then, and to understand how exposed
someone feels when trying something new. The trolls, the Twitter
executioners and the like should save their savagery for those who are
famous for being famous.”

I could not disagree more. Bring it on. Wax eloquent on Twitter and on your blogs about what a terrible writer I am, what a terrible person I am. Open up your hate and let it flow into me.

Rules of Writing VIII: maintain viability

Most of the posts in this series have revolved around the craft of writing, but now that I’ve had the chance to see the publishing business from both sides, I think this is a good time to look at the business angle. Some of you may recall that during last summer’s lunacy, (was it four kerfluffles ago or only three? I’ve lost count), a certain SFWA president completely lost it in his penultimate act as SFWA president after Random House announced its Hydra imprint. He declared:

Advances are typically all authors make from a book. It’s a competitive market and most books sell relatively small numbers. One reason to go with a publisher at all — especially these days — is because you get a concrete, definable amount of money fronted to you at the start; which is to say, you know you’ll get paid at least that much. The publisher is not doing you a favor by fronting you an advance; the publisher is making a hard-headed determination of how much money it will owe you (under terms of contract) and giving you that much up front so they don’t have to bother with royalties on the back end.

It’s also — importantly — an amount of money the publisher has invested in a book, which it will not get back if the book fails. It’s the publisher’s skin in the game, as it were. If there’s no advance, there’s no skin in the game for the publisher, and no real motivation for the publisher to bust its ass on behalf of the book. Neither Random House nor Bertelsmann is some hard-scrabble, scrappy company trying to make it in this big world; please look again at their revenues and net income. However, even if they were hard-scrabble, scrappy companies it would still be wrong not to offer advances to authors.

This is woefully clueless, but before I explain the essential problem with it, let me first point out that the individual concerned has clearly never grasped the risk-related aspects of the advance, the potential problem it creates for the writer, or the important distinction between short-term financial risk and long-term caeer risk that must be evaluated and balanced by the writer. As evidence, consider what the same author had to say about advances TEN YEARS AGO, before advances began to significantly decline and no-advance deals became increasingly common:

$0 to $3,000: A Shitty Deal. Because that’s what it is, my friends. Possibly the only thing worse than a shitty deal is no deal at all. Possibly.

$3,000 to $5,000: A Contemptible Deal. The deal you get when your publisher has well and truly got your number, and it is low.

$5,000 to $10,000: A “Meh” Deal. It’s not great, you know. But you can pay some bills. Get a few of these, and a tolerant spouse with a regular income, and you can tell your day job to piss off. This year, anyway.

$10,000 to $20,000: A Not Bad Deal. Note that “not bad” here should be said with a slight appreciative rise of the eyebrows and a small approving nod — this is the level at which the money begins to look not embarrassing both to writers and non-writers. A couple of these, and you’ll definitely be punting the day job (I did, anyway).

$20,000 to $100,000: A “Shut Up!” Deal. This needs to be said in the same enviously admiring vocal tone as a teenage girl might use to her girlfriend who is showing off the delicious new pumps she got at Robinsons-May for 30% off, or the vocal tone (same idea, lower register) Jim Kelly used when one of our number admitted to having at least a couple of deals in this range. With this kind of money, you don’t even need a supportive spouse to avoid the Enforced Top Ramen Diet (although, you know. Having one doesn’t hurt). But it’s not so much that the other writers actively begin to hate you.

$100,000 and above: “I’m Getting the Next Round.” Because if you’re at this level, you can buy and sell all the other writers at the table. Get ‘em a friggin’ beer, for God’s sake.

It should be noted that I have received three separate SHUT UP deals from major publishers, so I’m neither ignorant nor in the “sour grapes” category. It is interesting to observe that even at the time, in 2004, other writers recognized that the SFWA president to-be didn’t understand the basic risks involved. Hence the following dialogue between Jeremy Lassen and John Scalzi:

JL: “A $20,000 advance = “not bad?” Fuck that. A $20,000 advance could mean the end of your fucking career. If you don’t sell 7,500 copies of your book in hardcover, or 15,000 of your book in trade paperback, you didn’t earn out.”

JS: “Or really NOT, since that was the exact amount of the advance for my first book, and I’ve subsequently sold six more, including two more to the same company. Sometimes I get more than that $20K, sometimes I get less…. What’s indisputable is that $20K paid my mortgage for the year. That’s Not Bad.”

So, as long as you plan to rip-off Robert Heinlein, then follow that up with rip-offs of Philip K. Dick, H. Beam Piper, and Star Trek, you need not worry about killing off your career with a failed first novel on the basis of an excessive advance. For everyone else capable of learning from the 10 years that have passed by in the meantime, it might be wise to consider this cautionary tale, in which a young woman discovered that a $200,000 book deal was a Trojan Horse insofar as her literary career was concerned:

In 2008 I sold a book-in-progress for $200,000 ($170,000 after commission, to be paid in four installments), which still seems to me like a lot of money. At the time, though, it seemed infinite. The resulting book—a “paperback original,” as they’re called—has sold around 8,000 copies, which is about a fifth of what it needed to sell not to be considered a flop. This essentially guarantees that no one will ever pay me that kind of money to write a book again….

MY FIRST CLUE THAT MY BOOK WOULD NOT BE A BESTSELLER came in a marketing meeting about six months prior to publication. Actually there were several clues in that meeting. The first came when a marketing assistant suggested that I start a blog, and I had to explain that her bosses had acquired my book in part because I was a well-known blogger. The second came when my publicist asked how I thought they should position my book. She rattled off a short list of commercially successful essay collections by funny, quirky female writers like Sloane Crosley, Laurie Notaro, and Julie Klam. Books with “Cake” and “Girls” in the title and jokey subtitles.

Having worked at a publishing house, I know that it’s not possible for
everyone who works at a publishing house to read all the books coming
out that season, or even parts of them, or even the descriptions of them
in the catalog or in-house “tip sheets.” But I also know that if a book
is supposed to be a “big” book, everyone in the office will read it. I
was a young woman, so of course they had lumped me in with the cake-girl

I had a similar problem, although what killed off the Eternal Warriors series was Pocket’s well-intentioned, but mistaken decision to retroactively shoehorn it into the Left Behind department, where it failed, rather than leaving it in the Fantasy department where The War in Heaven sold through all 35,000 copies in its two print runs. They even tossed out the half-completed Rowena painting that would have served as the cover for The World in Shadow. As it happens, Emily Gould survived her disastrous first book in the short term; she somehow managed to finagle a second $30,000 book contract on the strength of her social media presence. However, if Friendship fails, as And the Heart Says Whatever did, her traditional publishing career is done. Traditional publishing is now a two-strikes-and-you’re-out business.

And note that despite paying a $200,000 advance, her publisher only managed to move 8,000 copies. So much for the skin-in-the-game theory. If $200k isn’t enough to focus their attention, how much skin do you think a meager $3k advance going to get you? I can personally attest that not even a $60k contract was enough to get Pocket to do more than return my phone calls.

Now consider if Miss Gould had sold 8,000 ebooks with an independent publisher. At a 50 percent royalty on the $7.99 kindle price, she’d have earned about $2.75 per book, or $22,000. That is ALREADY into SHUT UP deal country; not only that, but she probably wouldn’t have fallen into debt on the basis of her “windfall”. And, if she still wanted to go the traditional route, most publishers would be open to publishing her rather than viewing her as if she’s radioactive.

As long as the writer is looking at his career beyond his current book, it is ALWAYS better to take a no-advance deal so long as a) he isn’t starving, b) the royalty rate is better than the standard 25 percent offered by the major publishers, and c) there is reason to believe that the independent publisher can both produce professional-quality books and find a market for them. Self-publishing is an excellent option, but having been through the oft-aggravating setup process, it is definitely not for everyone and not everyone can afford to drop between $250 and $1,000 on ISBN numbers, to say nothing of the price of good covers and editing.

Only the most short-sighted author will want his publisher to assume all the financial risk for them, because whereas the publisher is merely risking a few thousand dollars that first book, the author is betting his entire career. But very, very few authors write their best, or their most successful book, first. This means that it is downright foolish to attempt to shift the short-term risk to the publisher, because that necessarily means the author is assuming an inordinate amount of medium-to-long-term risk.

Maintaining viability should be the writer’s foremost objective on the business side. One never wants to bet one’s entire career on a single book. The risky bet can pay off, as Dan Brown proved after getting dropped by Pocket Books, but the reason we all know Dan Brown’s name is because he is the very rare exception. And it probably will not have escaped the sophisticated observer’s notice how these exceptions often appear to be linked to what shall be politely described as literary borrowing.

I will provide more information on this in a month or two, when I will conclusively demonstrate that in at least some cases, an author will actually receive a check for an amount equal to a professional word-rate from the new no-advance model months BEFORE he receives it from the traditional advance model.

Rules of Writing VII: know thyself

7. Thou shalt know who thou art as a writer

Just as there are various types of athletes, there are various types of writers. Some writers are prolific and can produce thousands of words a day for months on end. Others find it difficult to crank out a few hundred words a month. Some writers have a natural gift for prose and can make a shopping list read like a work of art. Others have a gift for mimicry and can rip off Shakespeare or Dashiell Hammett with equal ease.

The problem is that many writers have goals that are not in line with their talents or their experience. The results seldom work out much better than positioning a point guard in the paint, or lining up a 400-pound nose tackle at wide receiver. As an educational aside, I once saw the Minnesota Vikings attempt to execute a spectacularly ill-designed play that called for Cris Carter to block Reggie White as Randall Cunningham rolled out to his right. Carter was not small for a wide receiver, but White shoved him and sent him flying five yards backward in the air, right into Cunningham. Needless to say, we never saw that play called again.

If plotting is not your strength, don’t try to write murder mysteries. If you struggle to write more than a sentence or two on a daily basis, don’t even think about attempting epic fantasy. If you’re not interested in characters and how they feel, writing romance is probably not a good idea. If you have no idea how the magic phone in your pocket does all the amazing things it does and you have no interest in science, science fiction is not your ideal genre no matter how much you enjoy reading Asimov and Heinlein.

One of the biggest mistakes I see writers making is attempting to write books on the basis of what they enjoy reading rather than on the basis of what their literary strengths are. This makes no sense. It is rather like deciding that you’re going to write music like Van Halen even though you play the fiddle instead of the electric guitar. If you play the fiddle, you need to write music like Charlie Daniels or music that actually involves fiddles.

When I first started writing, my long-term objective was to write books like Umberto Eco’s books, because Umberto Eco was my favorite writer. There was one very significant problem there. Umberto Eco is a trained and accomplished medievalist. I am not. And it turned out that there is an even bigger problem. Umberto Eco is committed to an excruciatingly high level of detail and will devote an entire year to doing nothing but research before he starts writing a book. I can’t bother to put a basic outline together and prefer to approach a novel as a series of vignettes that are loosely arrayed in my imagination. So, what I have learned is that any attempt to write books in the Eco vein are doomed to certain failure.

But just because I don’t have Eco’s strengths doesn’t mean that I don’t have certain strengths of my own. I was raised in a military family, I am a lifelong wargamer, I read military history in two languages, and I have hundreds of hours of full-contact fighting experience. This permits me to provide considerably more strategic and tactical verisimilitude to the combat scenes in my book as well as what leads up to them; my first editor at Pocket Books successfully deduced I was a martial artist after having doubts about the description of one of the fight scenes from The War in Heaven and trying it out on her husband.

Recall this comment from a review of A Throne of Bones: “The final battle in the book was the end result of a chain of
dominoes first tipped over right at the start of the book. Kudos on
that, because it definitely has more impact when the battle literally
couldn’t exist without the prior 600+ pages setting it up.”

I can’t do pretty prose. I can’t do police procedurals. And I can’t do technical mysteries that involve complicated puzzles. But how many authors can successfully pull off a stunt like that? And if I lack literary artistry, I am fortunate to have a considerable amount of literary stamina. I can crank out 400,000 words in a year without it exhausting me in any way. I also have a reasonable knowledge of history, economics and political science. This all lends itself to writing epic fantasy, which is not actually one of my favorite genres to read, in part because it is so seldom done well, but has turned out to be one that I rather enjoy writing.

Another review, this one of A Magic Broken, mentioned that the story started slow and the opening line was considerably more bland and unexciting than the story turned out to be. A fair point, without question. But how misleading would it be to present what is essentially a 20,000-word short story with a noir-style start?

So, my conclusion is that the idea one should write what one loves or write one one knows is, for the most part, misguided. The author should instead write what is best suited to his talents. Now, it will obviously take some time for an author to learn what his literary strengths and weaknesses are. And it will take an amount of brutal self-honesty to admit that one’s abilities are not necessarily linked to one’s preferences. But this is a process that may actually be an integral part of the apocryphal quote concerning the need to write one million words of crap before one can expect to write anything worthy of public consumption.

The strange thing about writing is that many of those who dabble in it expect to find themselves to be accomplished writers without ever practicing. But the practice is necessary, not only so that one can develop one’s skills, but so one can discover the specific nature of those skills as well.

As for those who manage to hit one out of the park on their first effort, there is a word for such novelists: pseudo-biographers. It’s not an accident that so many first-time successes struggle to ever write anything that even approaches their debut work; if one is writing about oneself, one is not a true storyteller and it is a very rare individual whose life is so compelling that it merits more than one book about it.

Regardless, whether one is a pseudio-biographer, a storyteller, or a pure stylist, one’s chances of writing something others consider to be worth reading is considerably enhanced by knowing what you are, and then making your decisions on the basis of that knowledge.

Rules of Writing VI: nothing is better than cheap tricks

 6. Thou shalt not substitute mundane action for genuine character development.

This rule is as true of writing as it is of prostitution. Only when an author indulges in cheap character tricks, he is merely compromising his novel rather than his immune system.

What sort of cheap character tricks am I talking about here? What is “mundane action”? The easiest example to point out is the most commonly seen one, which is activity related to food. I don’t know the exact point at which it began to infest literature and film alike, but it seems as if there must have been an influential writer’s workshop somewhere that convinced a number of writers that showing their characters engaged in pedestrian tasks, particularly eating, was necessary for quality character development. It has become as de rigueur these days as the single sex scene in which the beautiful, large-breasted redhead inexplicably seduced the unsuspecting scientist was in 1980s SF.

(It would be interesting to research what percentage of female characters in 1980s science fiction are redheads, have improbably large breasts for their frame, or have sex with scientists.  My guess is 50 percent, 75 percent, and 85 percent.)

Gone are the good old days of classic SF when the only mention of food in the manly hero’s mind was when he absent-mindedly popped the Nutra-100 pill that provided him with all the sustenance he required for the length of his desperate rocketship battle against the dastardly villains on Bursalon IX.  Now we are treated to page after page of people going to restaurants, sitting at the table and engaging in trivial banter; every other character in the movies seems to be either munching on an apple or mumbling dialogue while spraying a mouthful of crumbs.

It is strange that they are so seldom seen with their hand in a big bag of Doritos, is it not? Perhaps some things strike a little too close to home.

The idea of portraying the act of eating, as far as I can tell, is to provide character depth by portraying their lives more fully. We can be grateful, I suppose, that this practice has not often been extended to include the copious time spent sleeping or on the toilet, despite the same logic applying equally well to either activity.

But whether this cheap and pedestrian device is the result of workshops or simply more female writers bringing conventional female interests to the fore, the point is that it seldom effectively serves the purpose it is apparently supposed to serve. While the food fixation does work for some authors, such as George R.R. Martin, whose feasts were the most interesting part of his recent crime against his own series, it should be kept in mind that Martin is a fat man who has an unusually strong interest in food. If you’re a fat bastard who daydreams about his next meal while still engaged in the current one, fine, devote 10 percent of your page count to meals. It may well work for you.

But just as people who don’t know anything about guns shouldn’t attempt to imitate Larry Corriea’s lovingly precise descriptions of projectile firearms, people who aren’t singularly obsessed with food shouldn’t try to make the cuisine an intrinsic part of their world-building or their character development. The reason is that what is an effective, colorful aspect of the fictional world for the genuinely interested author becomes a thin and unconvincing waste of paragraphs, or even pages, that add nothing to the story.

Yes, people eat. They spend a fair amount of time doing that. But eating is not much more interesting than sleeping or urinating, so unless the food is poisoned, the urine is radioactive, or the sleep lasts for 100 years – thereby making it an element that is relevant to the plot – don’t fool yourself into thinking you are writing a deeper, more complete character sketch by showing that the character does, in fact, do what everyone already assumed he did.

The error is in focusing on showing what the character does instead of showing what the character does that is of probable interest to the reader. For example, if a character is big and muscular, then he likely engages in an activity that enables him to maintain his musculature. Perhaps he lifts weights at a gym. Perhaps he wrestles Tigurleon space crocodiles. In either case, simply showing him engaged in that activity isn’t enough, the activity should reveal something about his character. Does he clean up the weights afterwards or does he leave them strewn messily about? Does he express himself politely or with violence when someone is hogging the space crocodiles and makes him wait at the crocodile wrestling ranch? Is he careful in utilizing the proper safety equipment or does he promptly get in over his head and require embarrassing assistance?

These are character-revealing depths that are very difficult to explore when one begins with “Mmm, pizza sounds good! I sure hope you didn’t order anchovies. I hate anchovies!” No reader, in the entire history of literature, has ever cared whether a character prefers ketchup or mayonnaise on their fries. The preference says nothing about the character. And the sophisticated reader will recognize what you are doing and roll his eyes at your clumsy ineptitude.

You have a limited number of opportunities to portray your characters in their natural environments that are not integral to the plot. Make the most of them. And if you can’t be bothered to not only make it real, but make it real in a convincing and interesting manner, it’s better not to bother at all. It’s better to focus instead on the other elements of the book rather than half-assing the character development in a cliched and predictable manner.

Trivial preferences are not character development.

Rules of Writing V

5. Thou shalt remember that there are four primary elements of a novel

Of the elements of a novel there are four, and four shall be the number of the elements. To two elements thou shalt not limit thyself, neither shalt thou write three, excepting in that thou proceedeth to four.

What are the four elements? They are the four foundations upon which I base my book reviews. Prose, Plot, Characters, and Ideas.

This identification of the four elements relates to the problem we discussed yesterday with a considerable amount of what is best described as women’s fiction, or if one prefers, fiction that merely happens to be predominantly written by women, published by women, and read by women. Which is to say most fiction today. For example, yesterday there were two very different takes on the writer Alice Munro, whose anthology of short stories presently heads the New York Times bestseller’s list.

Cretin wrote: “Alice Munro’s short stories are gifts to any reader with a discerning
eye and who is attracted to beautiful and insightful prose.”

Holmwood agreed, but added: “I’m willing to stipulate that she deserved the Nobel. She is a much more
talented prose artist than Vox Day or Larry Correia or Tom Clancy. But so what? The prose was indeed
fantastic. The content was hideously dull, pedestrian and outright

In other words, Ms Munro’s work is exceptionally strong in the first element, but apparently much weaker in the other three. That is enough to appeal to a certain type of reader, of whom there are clearly enough to land an author on the bestseller lists, but leaves a statistically significant group of readers totally uninterested in her books.  Clancy was notoriously tight with his Plot. Correia is strong on both Plot and Characters. I suspect most readers would say that I fare best in the Ideas compartment, with Prose being my area of weakness.

The point is that it’s not enough to write well, not even exceptionally well. One still has to write ABOUT SOMETHING. One could theoretically write a stylistically beautiful grocery list, or compose a litany of personal grievances that is full of literary pyrotechnics, but at the end of the day, what one has is a lovely wrapped box with nothing in it. If the end result of all the gorgeous prose is a finger-wagging lecture to Be Nice or Be Yourself or Sexiss is Bad, it’s worse than a box of nothing, it’s as if the author has condemned the reader to open a gift-wrapped fart.

What distinguishes a great novel from lesser novels is that all four elements are strong and in balance with each other. Let’s consider two very well-known novels, one that is considered great and one that is considered well-loved, but not great, and see how they fall into the four categories.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Prose: “Tolstoy was instrumental in bringing a new kind of consciousness to the
novel. His narrative structure is noted for its “god-like” ability to
hover over and within events, but also in the way it swiftly and
seamlessly portrayed a particular character’s point of view. His use of
visual detail is often cinematic in its scope, using the literary
equivalents of panning, wide shots and close-ups, to give dramatic
interest to battles and ballrooms alike. These devices, while not
exclusive to Tolstoy, are part of the new style of the novel that arose
in the mid-19th century and of which Tolstoy proved himself a master.” 10/10

Plot: Let’s just say “check” and leave it at that. It’s freaking WAR AND PEACE. 10/10

Characters: Powerful portraits of everyone from real historical characters to the fictional aristocrats of the five families. While perhaps not as unforgettable as the characters from Anna Karenina, the fact that the author wrote Anna Karenina should suffice to prove that he was more than competent when it came to characterizations. 9/10

Ideas: Brilliant. Mind-blowingly brilliant and may have inspired Kondratiev, Schumpeter, and Prechter.  “The 19th century Great Man Theory claims that historical events are the result of the actions of “heroes” and other great individuals, Tolstoy argues that this is impossible because of how rarely these actions result in great historical events. Rather, he argues, great historical events are the result of many smaller events driven by the thousands of individuals involved, (he compares this to Calculus, and the sum of infinitesimals). He then goes on to argue that these smaller events are the result of an inverse relationship between necessity and free-will, necessity being based on reason and therefore explainable by historical analysis, and free-will being based on “consciousness” and therefore inherently unpredictable.” 10/10

Total: 39/40. Verdict: Great Novel.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Prose: Effective, evocative, but aimed at children. 7/10

Plot: Fast-paced, efficient, and entertaining from start to finish. Too short to harbor any twists and turns beyond the resurrection. 8/10

Characters: Flawless and unforgettable. Even the secondary characters, like Trumpkin and the captain of the White Witch’s secret police, Maugrim, are powerfully portrayed. 10/10

Ideas: Clever, but derivative. From the concept of the closet to another world borrowed from George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin to the entire world being a parable for the Christian religion, Lewis is putting a fresh and shiny polish on existing ideas. 6/10.

Total: 31/40. Verdict: Good book, but without such exceptional characters and the power of the Christian narrative, would probably have been forgotten by now.

So, the reason we see the Tolstoy book as being a Great Novel while the best-known, most successful Lewis book is merely a well-loved novel is because the Prose and the Idea elements are stronger in Tolstoy.

Most fiction is lacking in two elements. Historically, the so-called male genres tended to be lacking in Prose and Characters. The female genres tended to be lacking in Prose, Plot, and Ideas since most woman-written fiction utilizes a single plot: will the reader’s representative choose Male A or Male B?(1)  I suspect this is why female writers historically tended to be more successful in the mystery genre; the structural limits imposed upon the genre by its nature tended to reduce ability to rely upon The One Plot.

What changed over the last forty years in SF/F is that more writers of both sexes with stronger, better-trained Prose skills and a greater interest in Characters entered the field, but what they didn’t realize is that they had little in the way of Ideas and their substitution of conventional and feminist left-wing ideology for original Ideas tended to cripple their Characters despite their greater interest in it.

So, whether you make use of an outline or you are disposed towards simply making up your story as you go along, you should be cognizant of what you, as a writer, have to offer the reader in terms of the four primary elements. No writer has it all; we all have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in the other. And whether one decides to try to shore up a weakness or compensate for it by providing excellence in one particular area, understanding where one’s strengths and weaknesses are should help one write better fiction.

(1) There is also the thinly disguised alternative to The One Plot, in which Male B is actually herself, her freedom, her education, her career, etc. It would be interesting to research what percentage of female fiction boils down to dithering between two options for several hundred pages. It’s basically shopping by proxy.