I’m proud to announce that my anthology of fantasy short stories, Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, is now available for Amazon Kindle!
Even better, until the end of today—Sunday the 23rd—it is totally free for download. Check it out, and please review if you like what you read!
The next month or two is shaping up to be incredibly exciting. My first anthology, The Odds Were Against Us, is due to be published by Liberty Island Media; and my second, Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, is fully edited and is going to be self-published as soon as we get everything else whipped into shape. Which means that I’ll be spamming this blog with lots of crass self-promotion before too long…
In all seriousness, the last couple of years have been a tremendous learning process. It’s humbling when other people trust you with their writing, and thrilling when an edit can take an already solid piece and add that extra sparkle. I’m also grateful for good software, particularly Scrivener, which is making the whole publishing process much less painful than it used to be back in the bad old days.
In the meantime, what comes next? MOAR anthologies!
I’m opening up calls for submissions to two themed anthologies, one fantasy, one science fiction. The science-fiction one has the theme of “Asteroids”; and the fantasy one has the name of “Family”. Neither of these is a final title; I wanted people to get the chance to start writing quickly, before I took the time to come up with something clever.
Check out the full descriptions, and if either of the themes grabs you, the deadlines are March 1st of next year.
The more backing we receive, the more short stories I can accept and the more that authors will be paid. So if you like reading fantasy stories about when magic is for sale, definitely check us out; and if you like writing such stories, do check out the submission rules and submit your work before the deadline.
(This post is part of Politics for Worldbuilders, an occasional series.)
Imagine a small nomadic band of hunter-gatherers, living a carefree existence in the wild hill country—let’s call them the Pandu. They own little property aside from the weapons and tools they carry and the clothing they wear. Let’s even suppose that they practice free love, and that children are raised communally. Finally, imagine that everyone performs the same jobs: hunting, foraging, making clothing and tools, raising children, and making decorative jewelry that looks pretty (we can call these “prestige goods”).
One might think that the Pandu ought to be the perfect egalitarian society, without conflict over possessions or political power. And actual foraging societies do tend to be nearly egalitarian (for reasons discussed in Michael Taylor’s Community, Anarchy, Liberty, among other authors). Still, they are not perfectly egalitarian, even if there are no hard class divisions. Let’s see why.
Let’s say that some Pandu are somewhat better at hunting or foraging than others. Such “Good Hunters” manage to gather enough food in a shorter time, so they can spend more time creating prestige goods—or else they can gather extra food and trade it with others for their prestige goods. Over time, they will have more jewelry than less skilled hunters. At this point, jewelry starts to be not just pretty shiny things, but a sign of hunting skill.
Good Hunters will start to attract more intimate partners because of their greater prestige, or simply with gifts of food or jewelry; lesser hunters will lose out, in relative terms. If the story ends here, we would have a single-class society shot through with simmering tensions and periodic fits of jealousy-driven violence.
Now imagine that successful hunters had the right to eat their prey’s hearts, which grant magical powers and even greater hunting skill. Suddenly, we have a “rich-get-richer” scenario: Good Hunters would soon outstrip their less-skilled rivals, becoming a class in themselves that eventually possesses far more food, prestige, and social attractiveness than the “lower” class. The lower class could still feed itself, but would lack prestige and social standing, and likely intimate partners as a result—and would have no way to catch up, at least not through hunting skill.
Still, both of these classes would have broadly similar interests: they hunt the same game, gather the same foods, value the same goods. So long as interclass jealousy is kept under control, perhaps by social rituals that periodically erase class distinctions, the Pandu band will remain unified.
But suppose that the less successful hunters, recognizing that they cannot compete at hunting, decide to begin farming instead so that they can win prestige and intimate partners of their own. Suppose they are successful, and produce as much food on average as the Hunters do, achieving a broadly comparable social status. How does this change the picture?
For one thing, while the Hunters would continue their nomadic lifestyle, following the game as the seasons shift, Farmers suddenly are tied to a fixed plot of land. Even if they can travel during fallow seasons or even between the planting and harvest time, they would have to return to their plots of land to harvest their crop. Even if they plant multiple crops in multiple locations and circulate between them, they are now less mobile than before.
What’s more, Farmers have to feed themselves somehow while their crop is growing. They might borrow food from fellow Pandu, promising to repay them at the harvest. Likely, they would borrow from the Hunters. But perhaps the Hunters would take advantage of the new situation to demand back more food than they lent.
Suddenly, Hunters and Farmers have opposing interests. Hunters want to be mobile; Farmers less so. Hunters want their rights as lenders upheld, and perhaps to gain additional privileges in the process; Farmers would want to defend themselves against such privileges, or even to deprive Hunters of their repayment.
So what policy will the Pandu band follow? It will depend on the relative strength of each class, the ideological beliefs of the Pandu, and the skill of the band’s mediators or leaders. At all times, clashing interests will pull the band in different directions, and perhaps pull it apart entirely.
Class can go beyond simplistic notions of upper, middle, lower—it can also be derived from different and conflicting interests. And conflict, needless to say, is at the heart of good stories. You can generate powerful conflicts by depicting societies with opposing class interests, and those conflicts will be all the more compelling if your social classes are more than caricatures.
(And don’t forget, I’m accepting submissions to a fantasy anthology, Ye Olde Magick Shoppe. Check out the announcement and start writing!)
Some years ago, I blogged about my plan to write a book about politics for writers, filling a gap in the existing materials on worldbuilding. Most writing teachers focus on details such as the structure of the nobility, or the form of government, or other political features that are actually secondary to the fundamental questions of power, rule, and conflict. I hoped that, using my scholarly background in political science, I could create a guide that succinctly gave authors a powerful tool to generate stories from political conflict.
So what happened?
In short, I’m very badly stuck on how to structure the book.
Basically, there are a series of key concepts that underpin politics: geography, technology (especially weapons technology), the related issue of legibility (how easily a ruler can monitor and tax the peasants), power projection, legitimacy and ideology, and the social order (how wealth and power coexist with each other), to name just a few. Starting with those, you can very quickly drill down to the fundamental type of story you want to tell, and design your world to facilitate that. The problem is that all of these concepts tend to interpenetrate, in a big gnarly ball of connections shooting every which way.
So in trying to essentially give a crash course on graduate-level PoliSci, where does one start?
And if someone wants a checklist for use in worldbuilding, what order would you follow?
I honestly don’t know. But if I keep dithering, the book will never get written, and all you aspiring worldbuilders will be left adrift in a sea of bad fantasy-kingdom pastiches. (Horrors!) My current plan, therefore, is to write blog posts about the various fundamental concepts piecemeal, without worrying overmuch about their order or relationship to each other. I will be collecting these posts, and past posts on related topics, in a new page called Politics for Worldbuilders, which you can see in the top of the blog.
(And don’t forget, I’m accepting submissions to a fantasy anthology, Ye Olde Magick Shoppe. Check out the announcement and start writing!)
I’ve been writing for a long time, but The Odds Are Against Us is the first time I ever tried to put together a collection of other people’s work. It’s also the first time I ever ran a successful Kickstarter project, with all the expectations that implies. So the last year has definitely been a learning experience; the good news is that for Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, I’ll be better prepared. (By the way, submissions are open! Click the link and check it out.)
Since I’m surely not the only person who’s producing a compilation of other people’s work, I figured that a writeup of my key takeaways would be interesting. So here they are:
1. Everything takes longer.
When it’s just you, you are limited by your own capabilities; but on the other hand, you have total control, and no coordination friction. Once other people are involved, time has to be budgeted in dealing with all the slowdowns that result. And even if you think you gave yourself enough time, you probably didn’t.
I first published the Call for Submissions in December 2016, launched the Kickstarter project in February 2017, and promised the completed anthology to my backers by December 2017. In my case, even though editing the stories took more time than I anticipated, I actually did give myself a distant-enough deadline to handle the overflow anyway—provided that we went the self-publishing route, which was the plan. Even when I started talking with my publisher, I assumed that there was enough time left to meet our promised deadline without difficulty. But traditional publication is a much, much, much more deliberate process than I expected. Hence the delay.
2. Start planning your campaign early.
I didn’t decide when to launch the Kickstarter campaign until far too close to the anthology’s submission deadline; so marketing suffered, and the project page wasn’t as polished as I would like. For one thing, the promo video used computer voices, which sounded hideous, because I could do it in an hour or two—but I figured computer voices were marginally better than no sound at all.
For my next project, even though I’m planning to launch the Kickstarter page in April, I’m already in contact with artists and voiceover actors. With a little luck, the project page will be far more attractive than it was this time around, which means more backers and more money for authors. And speaking of which…
3. Budget realistically.
Kickstarter takes roughly 10% of the gross as its fee. It also costs money to mail physical books to backers, or to provide other tangible rewards. And about 70% of the funds raised were used to pay the authors, of course—and suddenly we’re already in the red.
I expected that, and viewed it as a long-term investment, in principle. And on the bright side, for a modest project like this one, the dollar amounts are manageable. But in a larger project, the costs of distributing backer rewards can quickly get out of hand if you don’t plan for them carefully.
I don’t know yet what proportion of funds will go to the authors the next time around, but it may end up being closer to 60%. And as fun as it sounds to offer things like bookmarks or art prints, we’ll probably skip all that and stick with intangibles, like being able to name a character.
4. Know what rights you want from your authors, and why.
With my original plan to self-publish, I didn’t care so much about securing a long term of rights from the anthology’s authors. When traditional publication became possible, that became a problem; the publisher was hesitant and ultimately wanted a longer period of exclusivity, which I had to get from the authors. That slowed us down.
Next time, I’ll have a better set of expectations about what rights to secure, and will get signed contracts from the authors in advance. That will make the anthology more marketable, and will hopefully help us avoid unexpected delays over the legal wrangling.
If this was helpful for you, let me know in the comments. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding methods are powerful, but you need to have a plan and realistic expectations. Once you are armed with those, however, the power of crowds can help bring new works of art to life.
I’ve been thinking about how to make my current anthology project as awesome as it can be. For one thing, I’ve noticed that a number of submissions are by relatively new authors who show a lot of talent, but maybe could use some feedback. The other thing is that I’m trying to figure out attractive swag for the Kickstarter project that we are going to have in a month or two.
Here’s an idea I wanted to run by people: what if authors could pledge, say, $50 to the Kickstarter in exchange for getting a one-page high-level developmental critique of their submission, and the chance to resubmit (as well as the smaller-dollar backer rewards, such as book copies)?
On the positive side, most of that money is going right back to the chosen authors, so it’s a kind of “pay it forward” thing. Plus, it lets new authors improve their writing, which is always a good thing.
I’m worried, though, that people might see it as “pay-for-play,” meaning that the donation would become a stealth entry fee, or that people who donate would have a leg up over those who don’t. That’s absolutely not the case—I want the strongest stories in my anthology, not the ones who pay me a few bucks—but it is true that the chance to get feedback from the editor would make it easier to improve your story to my taste. And I don’t want people to be turned off, or to think that this is a scam.
So I’m asking you. Do you think that this would be appropriate? Or would you feel like this is a scam, or be otherwise turned off? Would you yourself be interested in a critique? How much would you be willing to pay for one? (Bear in mind that most critique services charge much more than $50 for a 20-page manuscript.)
Let me know in the comments. And if this is something you are interested in, be sure to sign up for my mailing list to be notified when the Kickstarter goes live, so you can order your critique.
Hopefully, I’ll have more news to report before long. In the meanwhile, it’s time for another Call for Submissions…
The theme for the next anthology is “Ye Olde Magick Shoppe.” Full rules are here, and the deadline is June 1. Your stories must include the buying or selling of magic as a plot element. Be sure to read the full rules, or risk the slush pile.
I look forward to reading your submissions! Good luck!
Recently I attended a wonderful seminar on “Capitalism and the Future of Democracy” with the Tikvah Fund. One of the main themes of the class was about how societies and economic systems could not simply exist on their own, but needed justification. Back in premodern times, all over the world, the pursuit of wealth was seen as morally corrosive, commerce was viewed with skepticism if not outright contempt, and governments saw it as their duty to guide economic behavior with a heavy hand. Then came John Locke, who argued that ownership of property was a God-given right, an individual accumulating wealth actually facilitated the welfare of the whole society, and the best thing that governments could do is to uphold property rights and otherwise get out of the way. Thanks in part to that claim, a revolution in thinking about commerce swept across Europe.
Now, many are agitating about growing inequality. Whether or not inequality is a problem (I think it is, though not always for the same reasons as others) and whether it should be solved by government intervention (I think most proposed remedies are worse than the disease), it is surely the case that ideas about economic justice are creating social currents that work against the “natural” direction of our current economic systems. Wealth will have to be justified if it is to be perpetuated.
I came away from that seminar with ideas for another long-term project, now that my dissertation is done. (More on that when I actually decide to launch into the thing…) But a larger point, which is useful for fiction writers as well as those seeking to change the political world, is that legitimacy is a powerful force. New ideas can change notions of what behavior is legitimate, or which institutions are legitimate, or how that legitimacy is to be established and maintained. Before you can overthrow the king and replace him with the glorious people’s assembly, you need to believe that kings are not divine and that people have the right to govern themselves. This is not an obvious belief, and how such beliefs get spread in a society could be a powerful story in itself.