Sunday, 6 April 2014

In defence of the cliffhanger

Quite often my series will get torn apart by reviewers for containing cliffhangers. Some people just don't like them, which is fair enough. I don't like unresolved discrimination (e.g. racism or sexism) in the books I read, or the advocation of rape-y relationships. They make me angry, and for some people, cliffhangers are an equally heinous crime. When I'm looking at reviews of my own work, it's tough to read the accusations of being a manipulator, of 'resorting to a low level of authorial behaviour' (I've paraphrased here) or of participating in 'cheap tricks' to get readers to buy more books. It all feels a bit personal.

I would invite reviewers and readers, who think these things about me, to consider my defence.

My love of the cliffhanger:

I've always loved cliffhangers. To me, the anticipation to read the next book is half of the thrill and forms part of the climax of reading it. True, the cliffhanger thing cannot go on forever (Robert Jordan, anyone?), but for me it's like waiting for a present in the post. Looking forward to Christmas and birthdays is part of the fun of them, I say, especially in a world where so much is now granted to us instantly. The phenomenon known as 'instant gratification' is one many of us will have grown used to. No longer do you have to wait for a book to arrive in the post, or even go to a library to check it out. Just one click on the website of your choice, and it's in your hands.

While instant gratification is useful and efficient in the case of book-buying, I think it has a limited return in terms of satisfaction. It's not long-term, and it's never memorable. With a lot of standalone fiction books, I'll finish them and think, "That's done; now onto the next," and promptly forget about it. That's not so much of an experience as it is a box on a list that can be ticked. For me, the best books I've read have been part of a series. Those have been the ones that have spread the enjoyment over a longer period than just a few hours, and have left the impressions of their characters upon me for years afterward. These books comprise the epics. They are a world you can become lost inside for a long while, and they are particularly prevalent in the fantasy genre.

Epic series:

I set out to write an epic; not a standard novel. When I'm finished with The Fireblade Array, I reckon it'll come to about one million words. Maybe slightly more, maybe slightly less. That works out as about 2,500-4,000 printed pages, depending on font size. In terms of the physical constraints, it's really very, very difficult to print a single book that thick! In terms of time, I would be writing for four-to-six years without any publications to my name, or any feedback from readers. I would stand no chance of getting a book that large published in one go, and I imagine that such a large tome would put people off rather than entice them if I'm self-published. No one would know me, and no one would be able to download/buy such a large first section separately in order to try my writings out. My visibility on Amazon and elsewhere would be nil.

Another thing about epic series is that they are pretty common in fantasy. Okay, I do realise that the 'everyone else does it, so it's alright' is a poor argument, but someone out there obviously likes it other than just me. Sometimes I wonder if the epic approach is not as common in romance, and I might be getting a somewhat irate audience from the romantic section because they're simply not exposed to it as a standard format  (do you think this is true?), but my book is a bit of a genre crossover. Just a quick browse on Tor's website will reveal a vast pile of series, each linked by a cliffhanger, which leads me on to....

Why link up the parts of your epic with cliffhangers?

Two reasons: the alternative would be to just cut off the story mid-flow. I've read series that do this, and I feel that they are a bit lazy in terms of approach. Often, it reads like the author has just taken a hacksaw to their own writing for the sake of dividing the books up, and no more thought has gone into it than that. My cliffhangers, on the other hand, are carefully planned and outlined well in advance of the books even being written. If you've read my books, you'll note that the cliffhangers all follow a certain pattern: this is the second reason -SPOILER- someone always dies in one way or another. Perhaps they're changing state, or moving between worlds, but it's The Fireblade Array. It begins with death and ends with a death of some sort, and I wanted each book to comprise a life, giving the reader an array of lives that form the whole series.

I'm manipulative.

Yes! That is my job as an author. I'm here to make you happy, miserable, furious and everything in between. If I fail to do that, then I've failed at writing. Yes, of course I want you to buy more books from me. All authors want that. Why would any of us deny it? We hope you'll enjoy our books and all of the emotions they bring so that we can continue to share our ideas with you, entertain you (because entertaining you makes us feel popular) and share something of the human experience (etc.). I write for the love of my stories first and foremost, but these are nothing if they are not read by someone. Also, I need to pay the bills, and though that comes second in my list of motivations, it is important that I can pay for my home if I'm to write more.

And here's something else to consider: ALL things that are sold to you are done so by forms of manipulation. Think of the adverts you see on TV - they guilt-trip you, they sell you the idea of a lifestyle you'll get by buying X, or they come in pretty designs that make you go, "Oooh." Even if you walk into a shop with no intention of buying something, sometimes its attractive packaging will make you want it, an assistant will recommend it, or sometimes just the atmosphere and layout of the shop will sell it to you. There is no such thing as an objective purchase. We're guided by our eyes, our preconceptions, immediate needs and our character. Therefore, accusing me of manipulating my readers into buying more is the same as saying I have something for sale.

I've been trying to think of a situation where I'd sell a book with no forms of manipulation. I came to this: it would have to have a blank cover (pretty covers manipulate the reader into wanting the book), no title (might be too exciting), not be in any shop/online store (reader might have the book advertised to them, be locked to a specific reading device and might already enjoy shopping there) and not have any content (a particular language might manipulate them into reading the first few words if they happen to be fluent in it). It would be a nothing, to be read by no one.

Sidenote: If someone gets annoyed at a cliffhanger, I sometimes wonder if it's because they actually got very into the story and came to care for the characters. If they had reached the cliffhanger and just thought, "Meh," then it's possibly because they didn't care either way. As a barometer of engagement, I kinda like it.

Am I trying to *force* you into buying more books? No, I can't do that without stealing your credit card. It's absolutely up to the reader if they want to buy or not buy. My first book is free, and I invite readers to invest their time in it to see if I'm worth  more. That book, however, has probably taken me a thousand hours of work to complete and make various alterations to over the years, maybe more. It was not an easy decision to make it free (or very cheap - even with the POD paperbacks I make about $0.20 per sale), but I respect that a reader's time is not something they can get back, so it seems a fair deal.

Cheap Trick

I hope I've made clear here that my cliffhangers are not 'tricks' in the slightest, or that they're 'cheap' (certainly not in terms of time - they cost me a lot of effort to write!). I certainly have not 'resorted' to them over anything else. It's just part of the structure of an epic series, and it's something I have always enjoyed immensely in my own reading. "Write the book you want to read," is what people say to new writers, and I think it's fair to say I've done that :-)

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Volume 5 very, very nearly done!

I'm so close to the end now. It's been a long haul with this one. I think it gets harder with each book - more storylines, more character history to think about and I'm becoming ever more self-conscious about my writing style.

News to follow shortly about publication...

In other news, I'm sad to say that Sony eReader Store and Diesel are closing. As good as Amazon is, I don't think it should be the only online bookstore out there. Many of you have discovered my writings through smaller outlets, where I've had the good fortune of being more visible than I could ever be on Amazon. I'm sure there are other authors out there who have found their readership via B&N or iTunes for the same reason, or readers who have discovered new authors from amongst the (slightly calmer) melee.

Please continue to support B&N, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords and others if you can.

Oooh, and I was very pleased to see a whole raft of awesome reviews over the last few months. I'm so thrilled to see them all, and completely spoiled by the recent messages from fans! Thank you :D

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Makina Music Video by BenDaure

Just thought I'd share this awesome Makina video by B3tan bendaure, as I think it is wonderful. It took him two years of work (on and off) to complete, and when you see it, you'll understand why. So much complex animation - so many moving parts! Looks lovely in HD.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

There is a formula for best-selling books!

And City of Blaze came out top! Oh, alright then, my book isn't mentioned. But would I like to run it through their algorithms?! 

Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York have published a paper (via the Association of Computational Linguistics), showing that a novel can be predicted as successful with 84% accuracy. Pretty cool, eh?

“Predicting the success of literary works poses a massive dilemma for publishers and aspiring writers alike,” said Assistant Professor Yejin Choi.


The paper is here:

Monday, 6 January 2014

Fireblade Volume 5 Teaser!!

How would you like to read just a little snifter of book 5 before it comes out? You would? Oh, alright then :D

A light wind blew from the east, carrying with it the scents of the dwindling summer and emergent winter. It felt as if it could be the last gasps of the final summer the world would know, or the virulent whispers of the first winter it would truly experience. There was a fierce chill upon that current, and Morghiad felt it keenly.
He should not have done, not in the sealed sanctuary of Gialdin’s white stone palace - not where the air was heated by fires from another world. But he had come to accept that something was out of balance within him, something that made him feel the cold over the warmth. Morghiad drew his cloak across his chest and swung his legs over the arm of the chair while he read. Someone, evidently a someone with a sense of humour, had managed to locate an old and battered armchair for his rooms that precisely resembled the one he had owned in Cadra. It even bore the same worn patches of leather upon the armrests. The individual who had masterminded that particular idea must have fought valiantly to have the chair installed amidst this palace of perfection and newness!
Morghiad smiled to himself at the thought. The book in his hands was a treatise on peacemaking and diplomacy between two long-extinct countries, named Kilfrae and Morn. Artemi would have known the more personal stories associated with it of course, but she was not there to help him. Shadows danced at the corners of his consciousness when he finished thinking that particular thought. As it was, the shade creatures seemed to become very active following most of his musings of Artemi. That was the wrong way around, somehow.
He shut the book and gazed at the ceiling to study the swirls of blue and gold amongst the white. There were things that needed to be done urgently, problems that required solving, and yet he had procrastinated here in the palace for more than a fortnight. Postponement of duty was really not a thing that settled lightly upon his shoulders, nor a thing he ever did, but he had held off doing much of note since Artemi had departed. The simple fact was that he was waiting for her to return before he left Gialdin. He had no idea if she would return to this place over any other in the world, and really no clue as to the length of time she intended to spend in The Crux. She had urged him to make his peace alone, and together with Silar’s letter, it did seem to indicate she would be gone for some time.
Still, he was rid of nalka and in good physical shape, if not quite so steady in his mind. Morghiad closed his eyes and searched the vast network of Blaze streams for any sign of his wife’s. He knew very well that the adult version was absent, but now he also knew how to recognise her immature fires. No sign of her stream, young or emergent, was present.
Seek the light.
The daylight, as it turned out, made his eyes squint when he opened them again. He walked to the nearest window, and gazed greyly out of it. Gialdin had become heavily populated over the last decades, and open spaces that had once seemed placid and serene now thronged with moving, hot bodies. The more people there were, the more likely it was they would fight over space and property. The rules of peaceful living would soon be more necessary within countries than without. Blazes, but his daughter had trickier problems to deal with than he ever had as ruler.
He hissed at himself – a very Artemi sort of thing to do, but she had left more fragments of her personality in him than he could count. It was time to do something.
Within a matter of minutes he was in the council chambers, drawing a seat for himself at the grand table of House Leaders. Medea was there, of course, one of the last representatives of the Jade’an House. Everyone else would have been very aware of that fact. But for Kalad, who seemed determined to do away with every one of his responsibilities, their family faced extinction. Artemi had foolishly removed herself from the Act of Succession, and that meant the kingdom might soon face a war of the Houses unless Medea named an heir. The situation was not a secure one. Morghiad very nearly smiled to himself. Acher had said much the same thing to him over a century ago.
“I didn’t realise Hirrahans were welcome here,” Lord Collibry said with an arched eyebrow.
Morghiad gave him a look intended to make the grandest of oak trees wither away. Keeping the lidir, or braids in his hair, had been a calculated decision on Morghiad’s part, and he made no effort to conceal the slight accent he had acquired.
“Your advice is most welcome here, father,” Medea said, “Perhaps you will be able to offer us some useful information about our friends and our… not-so-close friends.”
When had his daughter become so calculating? “My queen, if you want me to be your spy, you’ll be disappointed. I no longer belong to Calidell or Hirrah. I am of no country now, and my purpose is to serve the entire continent. If I can.”
Unlike her brother, Tallyn, she did not balk at the honorific. Her reaction, if she had one at all, remained entirely concealed. Morghiad had to admit a small amount of pride at that, even if he had always known she would make an excellent politician. The other lords and ladies, however, stared at him with unabashed surprise. It was a shame that Silar’s father, Lord Forllan, was absent from this discussion to add some much-needed rationality, but Morghiad knew better than to challenge his daughter on her choice of representatives. He pursed his lips. Perhaps he would send her a note about it later.
Lady Faramine turned her head toward the queen. “Do you think he should be party to the discussions we have here if he is no longer-”
“I am not going to do anything that might put my daughter and her position at risk.” Morghiad made sure to keep his voice sharp and hard. “The same goes for Calidell.”
Medea nodded sagely. “Very good. Is there some business that you can share with us today?”
“Yes. I am in need of a representative of Calidell to accompany me to Astalon. You know of my plans there, but Calidell will require someone who can be independent from me, and they must defend this country’s interests. I know that you already plan to stay here, so whom will you name as your envoy?”
She looked down at the table surface for a moment, no expression apparent upon her features. But her pause was for show. It had to have been. Medea had known for some time that he would ask this. Eventually, she raised her chin and levelled her gaze at something in the air behind him. “You must take my brother.”
Kalad? Kalad? Morghiad was not ready to deal with Kalad yet! Kalad was not ready to deal with him! He fought to match his daughter’s stoicism and pressed his blind panic into a corner of his thoughts. It didn’t go there lightly. Blazes! That must have been what Silar meant when he wrote in his letter, ‘You’ll have to find him if you want a chance of it working, and he’ll be in a tavern in Curkovi. Don’t get angry about it.’ Don’t get angry? What reason would he have to be angry with Kalad? Morghiad decided that he needed to break something soon. Or have a fight. A fight would probably be less destructive and make him feel better afterward. “As you instruct, my queen,” he said with a calmness that surprised even himself.
The meeting descended from there into dull discussions of the price of wheat and tax collections. Morghiad managed to remain half-awake through most of it, even venturing a few ideas of his own, but his daughter appeared to have a good handle on the solutions available to her. By the end of it, his right hand was gripping the side of his chair in an effort to remind himself that he had much of a purpose here at all.
The end of the meeting was welcomed by all, and Morghiad was the first to stride out of the stuffiness of the chamber and into open air. His thoughts immediately turned to the search for a suitable opponent.
A man with bright orange hair was the first to step in his path. “Alright, my lord? Where’s your bit of chewing toffee these days?”
“I take it you mean my wife? Business has drawn her away, but she’ll be back. Do you know, Beetan, you’re just the sort of man I was looking for?”
“I hope that being without her hasn’t made you that desperate for romance, Mor.”
“Oh, this isn’t for pleasure.” Morghiad nodded toward the area of gardens most often reserved for practice. “This’ll be punishment for us both.”
The soldier nodded. “Sounds more like my kind of thing, but only if I get a drink out of it afterward. You can’t just lure me out there with your big green eyes and promises of pain. I want a pint of Baydie’s finest ale and some talk of what it’s like to be...” He looked Morghiad up and down. “…foreign.”
“Ale, I can do; talk, I’ll try.”
Beetan nodded, his pale eyes glinting with excitement. Morghiad was forced to set aside his white sword for the battle, since it tended to slice through and blunt ordinary blades. That surely counted as cheating in such matches. He still had the Hirrahan steel sword his father had obtained for him, though it did look and feel rather out of place here. Calidellian weapons were made smooth and sinuous like the voices of the men who wielded them. Hirrahan blades tended to have an inordinate number of extra points and sharp bits wherever possible. Beetan did not appear to blink at the sight of it, however, and they were soon going at each other with teeth gritted and grunts in their throats.
Beetan was more than a fair bladesman when he put his mind to it, and though he was no Kusuru, he did have a surprising amount of strength in his wiry arms. Morghiad dodged and danced around many of the attacks to begin with, only landing a few of his own on the occasions he felt tempted.
“Have you seen Kalad lately?” Beetan asked mid-attack.
The question hit Morghiad just where it was supposed to, and he found himself stumbling to avoid the sword edge that was directed at his neck. It was a foolish error for a man of his experience! “No,” he replied, “But I have to find him.”
“Bit of a mission that,” Beetan said, righting his blade after the attack, “Though it might help to remember the influences of Silar and The Hunter upon him. Where there are pretty women, Kalad is sure to be about.”
Morghiad grunted. His son - the sort that flirted and chased skirts! How could such brief and shallow affairs ever be fun for a man with any intellect? Then again, Beetan ought to be the sort to know. “Why flirt with a woman-” he stepped to the side and took a more measured swipe at his opponent, “-when there is no guarantee that she will like you, or that you will ultimately like her?”
Beetan coughed a chuckle, signalling a brief halt to their fight. “Well, you’ve hit it exactly. It is like the thrill of gambling. One throw of the dice, and fortune might provide you with a night of unbridled passion. Or you might get a slap in the face. Worth the risk, I say.”
Gambling. Morghiad had never seen the appeal of it. Why pitch your money in a pot when the owners of that pot seemed to be so fabulously and reliably wealthy from it, and the gamers so poor and ragged by comparison? Were womanisers the same? Silar had never looked particularly ragged through his affairs. Then again, the man had never found himself a suitable wife, either. “But suppose…” Morghiad renewed his attacks, sweeping his blade down from the air above and then low enough to lift a clod of earth from the ground beside him. “…Suppose you did get your night of unbridled passion. What happens after that? Do you see the woman again, or leave and search for the next one?”
“Leave. Almost invariably. You don’t want to risk it being less than-” The soldier parried clumsily. “-perfect later.”
“Why?” Morghiad had endured one or two rather imperfect arguments with Artemi, and had slept uneasily beside her on some nights, but to give up her company over those trivialities – that was utter nonsense. And when the difficult times came, the sad times, whom would he want at his side but the woman he loved?
Beetan stopped fighting again. “Because it’s nice to reminisce over later, and nothing will ever mar the memory of it. Look, we don’t all get to meet our vanha-sielu, warrior soul mates who think the same as we do. I had a wife once, and she was alright, but she didn’t like drink. And I like drink. So the drink stayed.”
“Artemi and I do not think in the same manner. And I would have given up drinking water for her if she asked it of me.”
The soldier screwed up his face. “Are you trying to put me off my stride by making me feel sick?” He drew his blade into a spinning side-slash, saying afterward, “But the fact remains. I bet Artemi never tried to change you. I’m me, and my wife didn’t like the part of me that enjoys being drunk. So follocks to it.”
There were aspects of Morghiad that Artemi had tried to meddle with, principally the monster that lived in his head. Though, as much an integral part of him as that seemed to be, Morghiad didn’t much like it either. At the end of his battle with Beetan, Morghiad came to a conclusion he had not expected to reach at all. Perhaps it was cynical, but for all of their bravado and easy charm, the one thing all womanisers appeared to have in common - the one thing that drove their reasoning - was a fear of what women might one day do to them. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Hello, new readers!

Hello to you all - I'm guessing you landed on this blog because you wanted to find out more about The Fireblade Array and when the next book is coming out... or how many books there will be in the series. The first answer is... hmm... early 2014ish, and the second answer is seven!

I hope you've all enjoyed everything you've read so far - it's been a blast writing it. To keep up with my progress, there are several things you can do:

1. Follow this blog. There's an RSS button somewhere over there --->
2. Follow me on Twitter - @HOCharles
3. Follow me on Facebook:
4. Follow me on Goodreads:
5. Subscribe to emails from the store where you bought my books. iTunes and Amazon have 'receive updates about this author' alerts on their sales pages. I think B&N does...

I hope to keep you entertained!

Lastly, and if you have a moment, please consider leaving a review or rating for one of my books at the store where you obtained it. I'm not expecting hundreds of five-star essays of worship (I can dream!!), but even a single line about your thoughts on TFA, positive or negative, can help other readers (and me!).

All best,