I’m Callan Primer, and if you’re here to learn a bit about me–well, I write. I self-publish. After a long, dry spell where my muse hid in the back of my closet, sulking, eating my socks, car keys, and thumb drives, it decided to come out and bite me on the butt. The result is the first draft of a YA SF novel called Company Daughter and the outlines for two more novels to make a trilogy I’m calling The Children of Astraea. I’m aiming for a publication (both Kindle and paperback) date in mid-December, and if you’d like to be notified, I have a mailing list set up on Mailchimp. You can find the opt-in form here: http://eepurl.com/JomMr
Here’s a longer excerpt from the first chapter:
The ogre looked at his omelette and sniffed it, his nasal slits flaring. With a dubious series of clicks from his throat mike, he tried to hand it back. I don’t speak ogre, but I’d been around them all my life. I knew what he meant. Shoving the plate back at him through the hatch, I told him, “Yes, I cooked it. No, it doesn’t have a rat bar hidden in it.”
“I don’t care what it smells like. You can eat it or go hungry.”
He tried to look woebegone, which is hard to do when you’re an eight-foot, green-skinned, tusked monstrosity.
That was my boss of only two hours, Jack Choi, manning the deep fryer. His wife, Eveline, was at the narrow shelf we used as a prep table, dicing onions and garlic and jalapenos for salsa. I looked at him questioningly.
“We don’t boss the customers around. If he thinks there’s something wrong with the omurisu, make him a fresh one.”
Jack was one of the few people willing to hire me. I had tried all the restaurants on Two- and Three Below, but each of them pointed to the door, too intimidated by my father to give me a chance. Even Mama DeFino, who had taught me to make panna cotta, told me to come back when I finished school. But Jack was a retired mech who feared nothing in the bridge universe, least of all his former commanding officer. And he thought anyone willing to support themselves had the right to be called an adult.
“He’s just giving me a hard time.”
Jack sighed, turning out a load of fried jalapenos–the nuclear version from Hirconia Five that the ogres loved–into a basket. “Just make it again, okay?”
I gritted my teeth. This was my first job. Likely to be my last if Dad had his way, but I wouldn’t be fired through any fault of mine. I reached through the hatch and tried to take the plate back from the ogre. He clutched it protectively to his chest.
Outsiders found the ogres—our mechanized soldiers–creepy, and the Gaians, those revolting primitives who thought we all should live in dirt huts and run our food down on foot, wanted them all exterminated. But they were men under all the biological and mechanical alterations, men who liked good food, men who …had really long memories. The rat bar incident had been years ago.
This particular ogre had known me since I was a child. In fact, he’d been there for the rat bar incident–which did not give him a right to harass me on my first real job. I glowered at him, and the eight-foot slab of muscle with radiation-proof skin pretended to cower.
“Just give me that–” I said, making a snatch for the plate. “I’ll make you a new omurisu, and you can watch what goes in it.”
He lifted it out of my reach. With his free hand, he gently tweaked my nose with sausage-sized fingers.
I’m usually better at knowing when I’m being teased, but wondering what Dad was up to had left me sensitive. I waved him off with a tense smile. He grabbed the basket of fried jalapenos along with his omurisu and took it over to his squad, who stood at the tall tables Jack kept for ogres. There was a moment of silent communication among them, and they all shook with the signs of ogre laughter. Great. Now they were all going to do it.
Nine more orders for omurisu popped up on the display above the grill, confirming my worst suspicions. With a sigh, I got another crate of eggs from the fridge and started cooking.
Jack’s café was on Four Below, the borderland between the respectable decks above and the dingier ones below, so he got business from both directions. People from Two- and Three Below slummed and people from Five Below saved their money just to eat his chili and fried jalapenos.
It was hot in the narrow kitchen, the pace frenetic, and I don’t think I’d ever worked so hard in my life.
I loved it. I loved it all, even the obnoxious ogre-customers who harassed me. I retaliated by scrawling rude words on their omurisus with spicy ketchup. Jack saw, but didn’t say anything, mainly because he knew all about ogre humor. It didn’t hurt that we sold dozens of them, either. The word had gone out that the Commandant’s daughter was working in Jack’s café and two more ogre squads had turned up just to order fried rice omelettes and complain about them.
A break in the orders allowed me to take a deep breath and wipe the sweat from my face with a clean corner of my apron. How long had I been on the job? I checked the clock. Five hours? That had to be a record. Had Dad finally washed his hands of me? Had the great mercenary commander finally realized he’d met his match?
I gave myself a minute to gloat. A job. I had a job. And an apartment. Yes, it was on Five Below, but in the nicest part, right up against the treepod grove. All it needed was a bit of cleaning, some curtains, and a futon and it would be perfectly respectable. And mine.
The last ogre came up to collect his omurisu. I had written baka on it in ketchup, and he waggled his eyes at me in good humor. Then he stiffened, snapping his eyes back into their chrome sockets and staring over my shoulder.
Jack and Eveline were still at their stations, so someone must have come into the kitchen behind me. Someone who could make an ogre loose his sense of humor.
Despair welled up in me. I had been so close, so close … “It’s Dad, isn’t it?”
The ogre looked down at me and slowly shook his head in great sympathy.
Who could be worse than Dad?
For me, only one person. I squeezed my eyes shut. Dad, how could you do this to me? With an impending sense of doom, I turned and there he was, the bane of my existence.
The tall, impossibly beautiful, impossibly correct, Lieutenant Joe Park.
by callan with no comments yet
So it looked like the gremlins sneaked past the rings of salt, the barbed wire, the flocks of guard geese, and swapped out my good css for broken stuff. The header is wrong, my blog roll has disappeared, and of course, there are no links to my books or their samples any more. Of course those had to disappear, why would I want them to be available and easy to click on?
So an afternoon I meant to spend lounging around eating bonbons and reading WWII spy manuals will now be spent wrestling with WordPress. Blech.by callan with no comments yet
We all have strengths. The greatest of all of these is knowing when you really are incompetent at something and should be led away from it by gentle, yet firm, hands.
I freely acknowledge I have no visual design skills and have appealed to others, better endowed, to help me out. The result is a new cover for the print version of A Wind out of Indigo:
Not bad, eh? This is what you get when you use a real artist to design these things, rather than a geek with a mild way with words. Thank God Adobe InDesign (which I’ve been using to create the internal document) turned out to be a piece of cake to master, or my ego would have been crushed.
by callan with no comments yet
Instead of making my word count this morning with A Memory of Ice, I found myself writing a dialog between Huckster and Editor, two of my authorial personalities.
HUCKSTER [a terrifying creature with big hair wearing a realtor's jacket and a label reading, "HI! I'm an author". She carries a monstrous shoulder bag decorated with buttons and ribbons from writing conferences. She approaches a door guarded by EDITOR, who sits at an old school desk, reading Proust]: So, she’s finished the first draft. About time. When did she originally promise it?
EDITOR [everybody's sophomore English teacher, who once published a story in her college literary magazine and never forgot it]: two months ago. But you know she doesn’t have the best sense of time. If I didn’t program reminders into her phone, she’d forget to feed the dog.
HUCKSTER: She needs to remember this is business, not art. There are opportunities that only exist for a blink. Trends that come and go. Today, gargoyle romance, tomorrow circus porn–although that one’s kinda eternal, you know what I mean?
EDITOR: No. No I don’t.
HUCKSTER: Liar. But back to our timid little friend. If she can’t produce on schedule, like this [snaps fingers repeatedly] she might as well get out of the business.
EDITOR: We’ve had this discussion before. She can’t produce on schedule. She’s doing a bit better on her word count, but of course, the moment anyone notices how much–or how little–she’s produced, she hides under a pile of leaves. I have to lure her out with the latest volume of Dengeki Daisy.
HUCKSTER: Oh, God, no, what’s she reading that manga fluff for? How many units does it sell? She should be reading that newest porn thing–it’s not circus porn, but it’s selling a million copies. She could see what people–who am I kidding? Women–really want to read.
EDITOR: I wouldn’t let her read it. She’d pick up horrendous writing habits. Besides, it’s not her thing.
HUCKSTER: Not her thing, eh? I’ll bet it’s yours, though. Go on, admit it. It’s just us girls, here.
EDITOR [going a bit pink, but maintaining her dignity]: I read a chapter, until I realized I had read it before.
HUCKSTER: Yeah, that vampire thing. Another huge seller.
EDITOR: No, I never finished that one either. I’m referring to an even older book. The Sheik, by E. M. Hull.
HUCSKTER: And a huge seller in its time. Both prove my point. If you’re going to steal, steal from the bestsellers.
EDITOR: In defense of that bestselling author, all writers borrow unconsciously from the things they read and love. She was a little more conscious in her borrowing than most, but she made an old story hers.
HUCKSTER: Which proves my point yet again. There has to be some bestseller our timid little friend could enjoy reading. Then she could write her own version. Change a few names, add sex scenes–
EDITOR: If you think I’ll allow her to plagiarize–
HUCKSTER: You mean, make an old story hers.
EDITOR: Look, you want to make money off her imagination, you have to accept what her imagination produces.
HUCKSTER: Yeah, yeah, so we’ll work with what we got. That’s our job, right? To shape what she writes into something people will buy? So tell me how many sex scenes this one’s got. Any weird kinks I can use in the publicity?
EDITOR: sorry, no kinks. But there are two sex scenes.
HUCKSTER: All right! It’s with that policeman character, right? Wait [a look of suspicion]. You don’t look embarrassed. Just how far do they go?
EDITOR: In my youth, they would have called it second base.
HUCKSTER: Not again! Look, she’s gotta realize—I mean, you gotta realize–romance readers expect characters to go all the way, with every bump, grind, and drop of sweat described for at least a full paragraph. They get mad otherwise.
EDITOR: I don’t think–
HUCKSTER: I know it’s not her strength, so I brought along a bit of help. [roots through her bag, pulls out a tattered paperback with a discreet cover.]
EDITOR: What is that?
HUCKSTER: Victorian porn. All public domain, incredibly descriptive, without a swear word in it. When she turns the draft over to you, you can cut and paste a bunch of scenes into it.
EDITOR: It’s still plagiarism, even if it’s public domain.
HUCSKSTER: But not copyright infringement, and that’s the one that gets you into court.
EDITOR: Gets you into court, you mean. You’re our business persona. But this is all irrelevant. Not only would graphic sex scenes be completely inappropriate for the story, they’re unnecessary. This won’t be a romance.
HUCKSTER: Not again! What about that policeman character? I saw you blushing when you first talked about him. Hot, right?
EDITOR: He and the main character have a . . . complex dance.
HUCKSTER: Complex. Right. Another word for all talk, no action. What else you got? What genre will this be? You have to give me something to work with.
EDITOR: I would call it an alt-hist Bourne Identity with fantastic elements.
HUCKSTER: [staggers back, clutching her huge bag to herself like a shield and moaning] No, no, no. She’s mixing genres again.
EDITOR: It’s what she likes to do. She’s always preferred borders to settled territory.
HUCKSTER: Yeah? Well, why can’t she lurk on the borders of romance?
HUCKSTER: That’s it? “Because”? I thought you were the fancy, erudite one with the big vocabulary. I mean, you tried to put semi-colons in her last book until I yelled at you.
EDITOR: Look, this is what we have to shape and sell. Are you going to work with me on this or not?
HUCKSTER: If I could, I would attach myself to some other writer.
EDITOR: But you can’t.
HUCKSTER: [big sigh] Can you at least chose one genre when you start editing? You can emphasize it and downplay the other bits. Because, and this is the cold, hard truth, you can’t mess with readers’ expectations. They get pissed off if they’re reading about Nazis and cold-eyed spies and then you stick fairies in the garden.
EDITOR: Congratulations! You have now made the Nazi-fairies comparison for the hundredth time.
HUCKSTER: Strange. It almost sounds normal, now. Like a genre.
EDITOR: There you go. With enough repetition, anything can sound normal. So why don’t you spend your time thinking up a new genre, one that fits what our author likes to write, and push it out into the public eye.
HUCKSTER: Hmmm. A challenge. You know, this could be interesting. Fairy-Nazis. Clown porn. Greasepaint fantasy. Greasepaint fairy-Nazis [wanders off, muttering to herself]
EDITOR: My God, what have I done?
I’ve tried to be good. I’ve tried to keep my mind just on writing, on building my list, and not worrying about promoting my work, but when another promo opportunity came by, I snatched at it like the weak-minded fool I am.
The charming, literate, and highly interesting proprietors of See Jane Publish offered to interview me, and so I dashed off some answers. According to my children, it’s the closest thing to my natural voice that they’ve ever read of mine, so be warned.by callan with no comments yet
The lords of Escalon, the fabulous city hidden beneath the Burnt Lands, were connoisseurs, both of art and people. They sent their agents to the lands of Day, Night, and Indigo collecting the beautiful and the talented, whether they were willing or not. But then they “collect” Alice Standish, and their comfortable life may not survive the mistake.
A novella of the winds of Halflight
THE ROAD sank beneath canyon walls striped in the burnt land’s dusty colors—charcoal, amber, and gold, with a solitary streak of rose winding through it. The road itself was dun-colored and narrow, and the wagon’s wheels rocked on the edge of the drop-off more than once.
Alice walked behind the wagon. The slaver had untied her once they’d come down the escarpment into the Burnt Lands, where here was no place to hide from the unmoving sun. He was confident she wouldn’t run, and she was bitterly aware he was right; she wouldn’t survive away from the wagon’s broad awning and the salvation of its water barrels. Even in the shade, the heat was fierce, sucking moisture from her lungs. Her lips cracked, and dust penetrated every seam and every fold.
The wagon shuddered to a stop, the brakes creaking against the steepness of the road. In the silence that followed, the faint patter of grit driven over the edge of the canyon rim sounded like rain. Curious as to why they’d stopped in such an awkward spot, she inched around the wagon, holding on to its sideboard so she wouldn’t tumble into the ravine. The boulders at the bottom had sharp, unforgiving edges.
The others, slumped on the wagon’s benches, were too exhausted by the heat to look up. Not all of them were prisoners; the ragged man with the flute and the confectioner from Finlochen had joined them willingly. They had agreed to immigrate to fabulous Escalon to escape the long, exhausting civil war raging through the Summerlands, the lush mesas Alice called home. The rest, like her, had been snatched, to be sold to the lords of Escalon.
Escalon. The jewel of the Burnt Lands.
She inched past the camelod. It was too busy pushing back against the weight of the wagon, its haunches bunched in its traces, to take its usual bite at her. Coughing and grumbling, it told the world how abused it was.
The road continued to the bottom of the canyon, where it ended in a shadowed cavern. Alice could just see the outline of a building in it. Higher up the road, the slaver stood over the slumped body of a man. Dressed in the indigo silks of a lowlander, he was a dark splotch against the yellowish hard pan of the road.
A visitor to Escalon, overcome by the heat—and only a thousand feet from his goal. But how had he gotten so far without a wagon, and its shade and water? Had he wandered off? Been abandoned?
From this distance, she could see the shallow rise and fall of his chest, and the way his smoked spectacles were knocked askew. He raised a hand, brushing feebly at his face, and the slaver took it, pulling him to the side of the road to clear a path for the wagon.
With a heave, he prepared to drop him over the edge.
“No,” she shrieked, and darted forward …by callan with no comments yet
Just finished the cover art for A Wind out of Escalon. I let nothing hold me back in pursuit of my vision–not a lack of artistic ability, nor hand-eye coordination, nor technical skills. Here’s the final image, put together from stock photos and Paint.NET:
I have no idea what this says to a potential buyer, but I like it.
The novella is up on Smashwords and under review on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’ll post links to it when everything is live.by callan with no comments yet
The biggest danger to the writer is not self-doubt, writer’s block, or a cat walking over the keyboard and writing more interesting scenes than you do, but the Google search, and the time you spend following curious links rather than working.
I had decided that the main character in A Memory of Ice would spend a night in the open. I had a vague notion she could burrow into leaves to stay warm, but was that correct? Truth in writing demands that I find exactly how much insulation leaves provide, and whether or not they itch.
So, searching for blanket of leaves lets me learn that
1) Michael Jackson’s son is named “Blanket”
2) You can find Linus’s blanket on Great Pumpkin Island by blowing away a pile of leaves
3) There’s a “Marijuana potleaf mink blanket” (queen-sized!) for sale on eBay
4) Three to four feet of leaves will protect you down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. No information on itching, and I’m not going to experiment. There’s a limit to truth in writing. That’s why it’s called fiction …by callan with no comments yet
UPDATE: Being new to the whole blogging thing, I forgot the reality of automatic pingbacks. This post wasn’t intended as a response to the review, but a personal rumination on what I should take from it.
I received a major review, my first of any kind outside my beloved beta readers and critique partners, and it was a crappy one. I didn’t have even the usual ream of five-star Amazon reviews from totally disinterested reviewers to buffer it. Unfortunately, I read it before my morning’s writing session, and now Writer is hiding under her pile of leaves, sniffling.
Talk about jumping into the deep end without a life vest and only the vaguest notion of how to swim.
Editor has had to take over and firmly remind Writer of a number of realities.
Reviews are for readers. If you behave yourself, success.
Obscurity is the indie’s biggest enemy. Success.
The reviewer treated it as a professional product. Success.
It *wasn’t* a failing grade. Success.
Reviews are a fact of life for writers. Let it stop you writing …. well, failure, for today at least. Tomorrow I’ll be back in form.
I know you’re not supposed to take things from reviews other than, I probably don’t want to pitch to this blog again, but it did leave me wondering if I’ve tagged my whole genre wrong. I thought the story was a romantic one, but a dedicated romance reader found little to like in it, and much to confuse. Genres aren’t hard and fast rules about the nature of the fiction, but the nature of the audience. They are markers for a reader’s expectations–breach those, and they get really annoyed. Her take that it wasn’t romance, but fantasy, is a big, clear signal that I don’t want to target romance readers as a market.
Mind you, I won’t be doing any more marketing–I pitched to the blog before reading Dean Wesley Smith’s advice to ignore marketing and work on producing–but I will change genre tags.by capomes with 5 comments
One of the more enjoyable aspects of indie publishing, (besides the independence, the feeling of control, the ability to strike out into new territory where you contract strange diseases that you have no immunity to …) is creating your own markers of success. Here’s one: if you’ve sold more copies to strangers than friends or family, you’re a success.
Time to celebrate!by capomes with no comments yet