Book Review: Brother Wolf

I’ve got a delightful surprise! Besides my return to posting…anything.

A sequel to A Bloody Habit! I’ve been rereading A Bloody Habit during spooky season, because it’s simply perfect for it, and to my surprise Amazon coughed up its recently released sequel, Brother Wolf, which I promptly read.

Brother Wolf occurs in the same universe, though the only returning character is the delightful Father Thomas Edmund Gilroy. As the title suggests, this book deals with werewolves instead of vampires.

Well…there are werewolves. They are the most common physical danger in the book, but it doesn’t focus on them the same way as A Bloody Habit did with vampires. The real hazard here is witchcraft, which the werewolves are a symptom of. This is one of those things I’ve noticed crosses cultures; monstrous shapeshifters are witches in Navajo traditions and my recollection is that this is true of several other North American tribes as well (I refuse to lump these diverse cultures into one group; it seems rude as they’re very different from each other).

I found the lack of focus on werewolves disappointing in a weird way, though part of the reason is probably because the werewolf got complicated in culture. They’re mixed good guys and bad guys in culture-for me, I tend to cast them as regular, often good, people. One of the short stories my collection Valor is about a werewolf family. This might have to do with the fact that I am writing this with a domesticated wolf cuddled up next to me on my couch, snoring. Wolves can be dangerous, but they’re also just animals and the dog is such a huge positive part of human development that I think it’s very hard for the man-wolf to be seen the same way we see the totally fantastic and monstrous vampire.

Look at me, talking like the main character and narrator Athene Howard. Athene is the daughter of an academic jerk. The book does a good job with that relationship and how muddled it is from Athene’s end. I’ll say I don’t enjoy Athene as a character as much as Jack Kemp from the previous book. Jack went through his book pretty much screaming “I AM NOT A SUPERSTITIUOUS ROMANTIC! I AM A RATIONAL SOBER ENGLISHMAN!” even though he was a superstitious romantic of the highest order. Athene is a romantic through and through, though not a silly one. People see her that way initially partly because she’s lived her life playing secretary to her father and isn’t very good with people.

Athene is the reason a boy would probably not enjoy this book as much as the previous one. She’s a very good depiction of a certain kind of young woman, and not a weak one, but she’s a sort of darker, Gothic take on Belle from the animated Beauty and the Beast, though she leans hard into the Elisabeth Bennet type, too. Jack is just going to work better for boys, that’s how it is. It was hard to see her getting abuse after abuse at the start of the book, though it does turn around.

The plot is a nice juicy mystical conspiracy theory, though I think it could have used a little bit more clue-laying and some build-up moments. The encounters with the Big Bad are really excellently done and of course Father Gilroy is a delight as are the Brothers. The climax is really good.

Still, I do wish more had been done with the werewolf aspect. The Franciscans are the order who handles werewolves, while the Dominicans handle vampires and undead, and the reason for this is, I’m sure, St. Francis and the wolf. I’d have liked to see more done with that or the “Hounds of God” folktale stemming from Thiess of Kaltenbrun, the Livonian werewolf. The theological idea behind the werewolves in this universe means such things kind of don’t work- they’re a descent into beastial vices of flesh and violence, driven to the transformation by witchcraft- but the last book hit the vampire folklore hard, alright? Also I like dogs. Really, I just like dogs, I guess.

The romance aspect also is a bit perfunctory though you’ll see it coming a mile away. I think it was definitely going for a Elizabeth and Darcy type couple and it could have used one or two more interactions to build it properly. It comes together well during the climax.

While I don’t think Brother Wolf is as good as a A Bloody Habit, it’s a good sequel and if you read the first one, you should definitely read this one. I do want more! What I really, really want is to see Father Gilroy and/or his compatriots lay the metaphysical beatdown on Cthulhu because I have not yet seen that done and it needs to be done. Lovecraftian cosmic horrors go tediously unopposed by our side in fiction and I think Father Gilroy’s joyous and punny approach to life would be a good contrast with the always super serious Lovecraftian cultists. However, thematically, a story that owes a lot of Frankenstein would a be a good fit.

Find Brother Wolf, along with A Bloody Habit, on Amazon. I’d love to buy them in hard copy someday, myself. Delightful books for spooky season!

Information Deluge

One thing I’ve noticed while marketing my book(s): we live in an information deluge. We swim in a sea of facts and details to process. Despite our attempts to categorize every single person and lump them into groups that notice and care about this or that, at the end of the day, it’s individuals who are doing the swimming in this vast and restless sea. Human beings aren’t widgets, and their individual tastes and cost-benefit analyses are real things

I do not think this is new to our digital era or social media use. It just increases the information flow as it is easier to put info out there. The real challenge lies in the human ability to process information and care about it. That’s been around a long time.

How to stand out in this wild sea? I don’t know really. Even outrageousness and sex don’t stand our, frankly, so going out if your way there is no guarantee. I don’t recommend selling your soul to gain influencer status; it won’t last and even the money is not remotely a guarantee, to say nothing of the eternal consequences to yourself and others.

The old days are gone where you could be Jim Butcher, where you have an experiment catch the eye of a publisher and have them do the leg work. Publishers are no longer willing to do the leg work of finding such works very often or promote them on the rare occasions they do, for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they, too, are getting lost in the vast sea people now navigate. Not that their egos will allow them to admit that outright.

Mind, in Butcher’s case, that was a double-edged sword: he didn’t really want to be writing urban fantasy in the first place, let alone forever and ever, but now he is stuck with it, and you can tell some part of the man hates Harry Dresden. The only real benefit to fame for many of us is the money.

My current approach is just committing to trying. I am perpetually disheartened in this endeavor. It’s not fun to see badly made things get attention and money because of the connections of their creators, but them’s the breaks. I write trash, frankly, stuff you read for fun, not intellectual or spiritual growth, but damn it, it’s decently well-done trash, certainly better than a lot of the trash with big backing that is able to stand out for at least a brief, profitable moment- leading to many other such moments.

I won’t say I write for money, but it’s a dream to make money while writing, to get some kind of real acknowledgment for my skill as a writer and storyteller. Kudos on fanfiction feel great, yeah, but money means people are willing to give you something they really value in return for your hard work. It’s another level entirely.

So I shall throw stuff and the wall and attempt to see what sticks. Like so: I’m giving Vocal a go for some short bits. You can find me and my work on Amazon. I’m publishing a weekly updated work on Vella, a platform I’m taking notes on to assess once it’s been out for a month, which might be a postmortem. I’m fairly confident all of these works will provide you with entertainment.

Sometimes, I wonder what is even the point of me. I guess that’s reassuring in a way because that means I intuit that there must be a point to me.

Assessing Kindle Vella

It’s been a month now for Kindle Vella- a long, sloggy month. I am not in a great place right now and I wonder if having my hopes for Vella dashed is a part of it. At any rate, I’m here to perform a post-mor…er, analysis of Kindle Vella as it stands currently based on my observations. I am no one, and not exactly handy with the marketing, so keep that in mind.

Lack of Common Features of Serialization Platforms

Vella is meant to compete with other, very popular, very profitable serialized platforms like Wattpad and Royal Road and others. Often, these platforms have an extensive tag system as well as a basic rating system similar to games and movies. There’s a filter/search bar on the side that allows you to include or exclude tags however you’d like. It makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. You can also click on a tag to show all stories with that tag. Recently updated stories are knocked to the top of a list unless you filter by something different. This means it’s easy for readers to find new content. Also, if you subscribe to a story, you get an email when there is an update.

Vella does none of this at all. I don’t expect the ‘Zon to condone a Wild West of tagging, but what is allowed is only seven tags and readers don’t have a lot of luck searching by them, apparently. There’s no set of filters you can use to include or exclude certain things, or if there is, it’s not easy to find. There isn’t even a rating system besides mature/not mature which does not currently seem accurate or defined. You do not get any email update when a story you’re subscribed to updates; you need to check your Kindle app for it.

Worst of all, recently updated stories don’t top any list. It appears stories are sorted by one of Amazon’s mystery algorithms. While it would be simple and even likely that people could game a system where recent updates get eyeballs first, Amazon has dealt with this sort of thing in Kindle Unlimited with increasing success.

Oh, and there is no support for Kindle with Vella, only Kindle apps and the Amazon website. I don’t know why.

That’s thing about Vella. There’s a lot of it I don’t know why it is the way it is. The blueprints have been right there all along. The current big serialization fanfiction site, AO3, is run on donations- Vella is the project of one of the biggest companies in the world.

Where Was the Marketing?

The only people in my life who know about Vella know because I told them. I have seen no ads in any format. The only emails I ever received about Vella were directed toward authors, not readers. A perusal of the Amazon forums tells me that Amazon did no marketing for this platform to readers. It banked on writers doing the legwork. I’m not sure this is working at all.

Why did this happen? I figure there are three options: this was an unspoken soft-launch, lack of commitment from Amazon, or a culture of writers doing their own marketing.

The soft nature of the Vella launch has received a lot of commentary from the writer angle on the Amazon forums, but the issue is that we still don’t know if it is one. Soft launches are essentially open beta tests, used to try things out and find issues before investing in a full launch. You want some publicity for participation but not too much because the product is still in a rough state. But Amazon has not yet stated, at the time of this writing, that the Vella roll-out was a soft launch. It’s only a guess by disgruntled writers.

It’s possible Amazon is not particularly committed to this effort. Vella as it stands has the feeling of a half-baked idea, an attempt to muscle in on some profitable territory Amazon hasn’t touched yet. A couple Korean companies just paid quite a bit for Wattpad and Radish, two serialization platforms. Amazon wants to get in on that. But Vella feels like a good idea fairy, because there is no sense of dedication to the actual attempt.

There has been for some years a growing culture of writers doing their own marketing. With self-publishing, it’s a necessity, but even the big publishing houses do it. It’s a hard, hard thing to do for most of us and requires a whole new skill set and not a little bit of dumb luck. It could be hat Amazon simply decided that it make good financial sense to have the writers do their marketing for Vella for free, because they would.

Amazon is No Longer Innovative?

The fact of the matter may simply be that the king of tech giants is no longer the innovator it once was. Success, especially runaway success, can cause that to happen. The king of the hill is no longer clawing for the top, after all. Amazon may not be up for innovating the user experience anymore and is only reacting to market trends like a mattress store reacting to its rival across the street. Vella’s not particularly great rollout may be a sign of things to come. Or not. If I knew the future, I’d be rich, which I am not.

So where does this leave Gray Eye? I need to email Amazon support to pull it from Vella. It takes a few months for them to do that, for whatever reason. Vella is a bust for me. I am not in a great place right now with the future of my writing and every stat I could find has exacerbated that. I could see finishing Gray Eye as a novelette for Kindle Unlimited, where it might actually make money. There is no word of changes and improvements to the Vella platform and frankly I have no hope for any. I expect it to die a quiet, unremarked death within a year.

Announcing Gray Eye: The Paragon Conspiracy on Kindle Vella

Many thanks to Douglas Alves for providing the basis of this picture on Unsplash. The sketchy editing job is all me via FireAlpaca.

My most recent project, Gray Eye: The Paragon Conspiracy, is finally releasing with the all-new Kindle Vella, which you can find on your Amazon app or Kindle!

Gray Eye: The Paragon Conspiracy

All Connor Vex wants is to be left alone. Unfortunately for Connor, he is one of the Grayed, children abducted by aliens and given super-human augments, then dumped back on earth decades later as adults. His Gray eye gives him super sight, but causes more problems. After shooting a psychotic Grayed, he is drafted by the Extraterrestrial Monitoring Agency to uncover a conspiracy by a Grayed cult to set off a massive bomb powered by Grayed tech. Hell of a way to get people to leave you alone…

Kindle Vella is Amazon’s most recent reading innovation. Longtime readers of Archive of Our Own and Wattpad will be familiar with the format. Stories comes in episodes, which are chapters in the way I’m approaching it. The first three chapters of Gray Eye are free. Expect updates weekly, starting next week. Subsequent episodes will be unlocked with tokens, which can be purchased in bundles for various prices. How much an episode costs is determined by the word count; an episode is limited to 5,000 words, which is a very hefty top word count for a chapter in this writer’s opinion. Episodes can be limitless, though I cannot do that to my readers, all…we’ll be optimistic…dozen of you, or myself for the sake of both integrity and sanity.

You can give stories you like a thumbs up to let people know you liked them. You can also vote for a story as a fave each week, which can get the story highlighted by Amazon.

I do not doubt that Vella will be dominated by a certain kind of story I don’t write. I’m hoping Gray Eye (#1, I hope) offers something fun and even a bit wonderous for readers, a modest twist on old ideas. I won’t say it’s ideal for all ages, but I think if you let your kids watch Marvel movies, you can let them read this. I like writing Connor and the rest of the cast and I hope you’ll like their adventure and continue on with me as I write it.

This is a huge experiment for me. Gray Eye is still in progress while I’m publishing, but my word count goals are pretty modest and I’m approaching this like I did in fanfiction (not that kind, for the love of…). I’ve seen a lot of success in that area, not that I can get paid for it. Or tell you my pseudonym (beware, beware the wrath of the Mouse, who owns all and has no mercy). There’s a lot of questions I have about Vella and even more unknowns about how to best navigate it.

For those interested in Paladin #2, work continues apace! It’s admittedly a slow pace…I am rewriting a key section as a matter of fact and my editor will continue edits when she returns from summer vacation. I’m hoping for a fall release.

Fourth of July 2021 After Action Report

I am a tired woman, but I am on the other side of a lot of work for a Fourth of July/birthday party. Let none say I do not love my husband. My back had been in pain this past week and I think the party might have been a contributing factor.

Really this is an excuse to post pictures of my patriotic ice cream cupcakes.

They were a lot of work, and the recipe produced a lot of cupcakes.

It isn’t complicated.

Below is a slightly modified recipe based on that of Taste of Home; their frosting recipe did not work for me and their recommended cupcake cup full ratio is too much. I also changed up the ice cream used. I’ve also included some videos for the frosting-uninitiated.

You need:

  • 1 normal sized box of red velvet cake mix
  • Cupcake cups, lots (I had 42 and there was still batter left)
  • Cupcake pan(s)
  • Vanilla ice cream (I just bought a gallon from Trader Joe’s; there’s a lot left)
  • Fluffy frosting, made or store bought (It took me three containers of the standard store bought size to get them all)
  • Blue food coloring
  • Gold star sprinkles
  • Open star frosting tip

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Make the batter according to the directions on the box.

2. Pour the batter into the cupcake cups. You’ll want them about a quarter full.

3. Bake the base of your cupcakes. I recommend starting with 11 minutes and testing them with a toothpick- poke a toothpick into the cupcake and if it comes out clean, they are done. (On my oven, it ended up taking 15 minutes.)

4. Give the cupcakes 10 minutes to cool. Once cool, spread ice cream on the top. I recommend using a cookie dough scoop and butter knife for this. The scoop was used to put the ice cream on the cupcake and the knife to shape it and fill in any gaps. Work fast, as softer ice cream is harder to work with.

5. Freeze the cupcakes for at least an hour (I froze them for about 3 hours). I recommend spreading ice cream on small batches of cupcakes, then immediately putting them in the freezer before you start on the next set.

6. When the cupcakes are ready, add blue food coloring to your frosting and mix to the desired shade of blue. Prepare a piping bag (you don’t need an expensive one- or even the tip! Use a plastic bag as a piping bag by cutting a corner out and shoving the frosting tip through, or even do it without a frosting tip as shown here.) Fill with frosting (how to do that for the less than kitchen-coordinated like myself).

7. I followed these directions to frost my cupcakes. Sprinkle the gold stars on top as soon as they are frosted. Work in batches again and put the batch back in the freezer when done.

They were quite the hit, which I am so happy about, because I am but an adequately domestic person. I woke up very early to start these on the Fourth and do all the other things I needed to do.

I could see mixing up the colors, sprinkles, and kind of ice cream for different holidays, though I admit I’m a sucker for traditions and would rather do something different for different holidays.

We also had a 1776 drinking game! If you haven’t seen 1776, you are missing out. It is a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It takes quite a few historical liberties, but not as many as some things, and is very fun. I watch it every Fourth of July. It’s great.

Here are the rules, stylishly formatted:

I had to write them myself because no drinking game rules for this movie exist on the internet. They need refining, I think. I’m open to suggestions.

All in all, a success. Yeah, we could use a bigger house, bigger grill, and more decorations, but I think it went well for our first party.

Not Really A Book Review: Seven Days to the Perfect Puppy

I sympathize even more greatly with those who work from home with toddlers than I did before. I have been tired. This blog post will probably be written in fits and starts.

Tiberius, or Ty, is a very wonderful puppy, and a growing one. My brother gave us a book by the late Dr. Sophia Yin and said we should read it in advance, since it helped him with his dog. I did, and while I have failed to follow the instructions exactly but it was helpful.

The instructions essentially tell us to do what we’ve been doing- constant vigilance- but they have you tie them puppy to yourself, which is really inconvenient when you’re job is not dog training. I do have him under containment and surveillance, though, while I work.

The most useful thing has been about the doctor’s Learn to Earn program. It boils down to “give the puppy a treat when he does something you want”. This is intuitive, but the unique thing about it is that treat is often his food. We did that for the first few days, but then we got busy. I think it made a difference, however.

The information about how dogs think and grow has also been helpful. We’re leaning towards caution with taking him out, as puppies are at severe risk for parvo which is a very dangerous disease, but I try to get him to experience new things every day. Young with puppies are at the best age for socialization with people and dogs before they’re fully vaccinated.

I’m hitting a wall on how to get him to meet new and different kinds of people. By now, he is probably over 20 pounds and carrying him around for any distance requires a lot of effort. We’ll see what I can do.

Another great thing the book emphasizes is controlling the puppy’s environment. He can’t get in trouble if trouble is not accessible. Except when he figure out how to escape…

The book has been helpful and I’d recommend it. Get it on Amazon here.

In other Tiberius the puppy news, Ty is fast learner. I admit I’ll miss his puppy cuteness but I also admit a calmer dog who isn’t out to destroy everything or bite us will be nice. I look forward to him being done with his vaccines so we can go have adventures outside the house.

He’s also been emotionally helpful. He grounds us. We all spend too much time living in a digital world and a puppy simply doesn’t and needs you to take care of him. He’s been really great for that, will be more so when we can walk, and weirdly he’s been helpful for getting me writing.

Do I Have a Perfect Puppy?

No, to be honest. Tiberius is great during the day (now that I gave a pen to keep him away from furniture while I work) but he’s an absolute monster during the evening when my husband gets home.

However…

So, I have an awesome puppy.