OP-ED: I Have a Confession to Make – I Can’t Stand Dragon-Rider Books

So the other day I was on Amazon, doing the usual bit of browsing, when I spotted one of those little advertisement bars that Amazon uses to get eyeballs on products by advertising things “like” what you’ve purchased or are interested in. To what should be no one’s surprise, Amazon has figured out that I like the book Axtara – Banking and Finance. Which isn’t exactly true, since I love that little book and its characters. Like isn’t a strong enough word.

Anyway, naturally I browsed this little recommended section because hey, I love Axtara, and Amazon thought these books were similar. It’s not always right, but I’m always down for a good dragon book, so I gave it a look. Even clicked on one that from the title, looked a little promising. Lots of reviews, high rating, all about dragons—

Oh wait. Scratch that. It wasn’t about dragons, but about dragon riders. That’s right, yet another book where dragons, intelligent or not, are reduced to glorified flying horses for a surely-not-just-like-every-other-fantasy-protagonist human.

To borrow from River City Ransom: BARF!!!

Look, I’ve always enjoyed dragons, ever since I was a kid. But I never enjoyed books about dragon riders (with one exception) because, well, honestly they never go past the trope. Again, with that one exception. The dragons are just mounts. Spiny, scaled, flying mounts that may or may not breathe fire. Worse, often they’re intelligent, as in fully sapient, but just fine living in a stable, being treated like a beast of burden, and generally only talking so that the protagonist has someone to talk to to reassure them that they’re “doing the right thing” or whatever.

Does it not bother anyone that a massive swath of dragon books involve treating a sentient being like a piece of property? If the dragon were human, we’d call it “slavery” and YA Twitter would descend with torches and pitchforks to burn that author’s career to the ground … even if the book were about how wrong it was and how the cast overcame it or fought against it.

But hey, if they’re not human, that makes it “okay” I guess. Sure, buy and sell the sapient species. They’re made to be mounts anyway! It’s what the universe intended!

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OP-ED: A Matter of No Consequence

WARNING: This is not a happy post.

Wow. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen a post like this one on the site, hasn’t it? But hey, Starforge‘s draft is now complete, so we can see stuff like this again. My mind feels free.

So, what are we talking about today? Well, to start with, I bounced between quite a few titles when I was thinking on this one. “America: Land of No Free.” “Freedom from Responsibility.” “Land of Freedom from Accountability.”

Among others. I think you get the picture. And a few of you are probably wondering what this is going to be about. Well … if you’re making guesses, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track. So I’ll dive in.

When I was young and being raised, one of the things that was constantly taught and reinforced, everywhere from my parents to (some of) my education was the concept that “actions have consequences.” It’s a basic principle of life: You’re free to choose (or should be) but you cannot choose the consequences. This leads to a sense of accountability and responsibility, a sort of social construct along the longs of “for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.” For example, if you work a job, working harder at said job—producing better quality work, spending more time at it, more effort—should come with the reaction of greater reward for the additional work. One plus one equals two, so one plus two should equal three.

Here’s the problem: Should. Because as those of us that have worked in the United States can attest, rare is the job where working harder sees any sort of reward for your efforts. More often than not, what happens instead is punishment via cutting. “Oh, you were able to do that job in three hours when it takes everyone else five? We’ve assigned you additional work to fill out that five hours. No, we’re still paying you the same as everyone else. Whine about it and you’ll lose your job.”

It’s a problem of consequence. Do your job well, and you’ll receive no reward for doing such. In fact, you’ll be punished. Do your job poorly, but not poorly enough to be punished? You’ll trundle along. Why risk working hard or even well when you’ll only suffer for it?

But this is just an appendage, a symptom really, of the greater problem at the root, of something that affects the entire United States. I would contend it’s the cause of the current sexual assaults problems in so many video-game companies (Activison-Blizzard is facing a lawsuit right now over, among other things, management sexually harassing and employee so badly she committed suicide, all of which was covered up), complete lack of ethics shown by food companies (Tyson Meats is currently appealing a lawsuit over their management forcing employees to work during Covid-19 lockdowns and then management making bets on how many employees would die in each department), and the source of the cruelty evidenced by shipping companies (such as one shipping warehouse forcing employees to work around the body of an employee who had suffered a heart-attack from heat exhaustion).

All of these? There’s a common root cause among them. It’s the same cause that allows CEOs, Board Members, and managers to be pulling down incomes that let them buy a new house a year while the employees right under them work 70 hours a week and yet have to be on state welfare because they’re paid so little. It’s the same cause that allows for forty employees to have twenty managers, most of which just sit in an empty office and talk with the “good old boys club” while two of those employees do all their work on top of their own because said manager doesn’t actually know how … he’s just good friends with the manager above him and that’s why he has the job. It’s the same cause that allows for a manager to run a division into the ground through manglement, ruining a company and destroying hundreds of jobs … only for that same manager to receive a bonus for their “hard work” and go on to do the same thing at another company.

No. Consequences. No accountability. No responsibility.

Why? Because these people have convinced others that they deserve to be above consequences, dangling in front of them the carrot of “If you let me do it, one day you might be able to do it too.”

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Why You Won’t Be Seeing My Work on Serial Story Sites

Hey readers! Really quick, before I get started on this post, don’t forget that if you’re a Patreon Supporter, there’s a poll going right now to determine the name of a new arms manufacturer in Starforge! Go vote!

Okay, now that you’ve done that … So yesterday someone upon encountering my work for the first time asked a question that I’ve heard before, which goes a bit like this: “Hey, is any of your work on any of those episodic release writing websites where I can just read a chapter a day/week for free?” For those of you who’ve never looked at or for such a thing, yes, these places exist.

And no. None of my work is on any of them (and if it is, it’s been stolen). Nor do I plan on having my work on any of them.

Now, some of you might be asking “Why?” and that’s a fair question. I had one individual (not a writer, imagine that) suggest that all the “real” writers were on Royalroad because that was “where the money was” and if I was ‘serious” about this writing thing, I should look at going there.

Well, they were correct about one thing. That’s where the money is. Just … not for the creator.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with services like RoyalRoad or the newly-arriving Vella (Amazon’s service which they’ve several times begged me to join) they’re basically a serialized story service. Think of the basic setup a bit like a fanfiction site (though with a lot more money at stake) in terms of delivering readers categorized content, easy to search and find.

But now take it one step further. Rather than one-off stories or completed work, the goal here is to hook readers on serialized content that’s produced as rapidly as possible. So a reader comes to the site and finds, for example, a romance story that updates with a new chapter every day or every week. The goal of the site is to get that reader coming back every day or every week and reading the new chapter, which triggers their ad revenue. Or better yet, said reader can become a premium reader and pay a little bit each day to read ahead, as the story itself is usually a couple chapters ahead. As long as the reader is willing to pay a fee (a buck or two, usually) for that story each week, they can read the next chapter “before” the rest of the world.

And when you look at it like that, it doesn’t seem that bad. Not from the reader’s perspective. They can log in, read their new chapter each day on their phone, confirm that they’re paying for it, and come back again the next day.

But here’s the thing … If I wanted to do that system … I could do it right here on my website. In fact, I did, except that it was free entirely, with no fees or ads, with Fireteam Freelance. Of course, it wasn’t identical. People had to load my webpage rather than an app to check the latest chapters, and there was no way to become a “premium” reader and pay money to look ahead.

Outside of me being able to set up the same process on my website, however, there’s another reason you’ll never see me on sites like RoyalRoad or Vella.

They’re made to bleed money to the siteholders. Not to authors/creators.

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The Pricing of Axtara – Banking and Finance … in 1994

Here’s a fun one, folks! About two years ago I wrote a post called The Price We Pay – Are Book Prices Too Much? which investigated a (still) common complain that books were needlessly expensive—yes, even indie books—and that the prices needed to return to what many online remembered them being when they were younger, circa 1994.

This post took that declaration to task, examining it, breaking it down, looking at how the industry operated, then using math the readers could verify themselves to show that memory and nostalgia don’t always line up, and then from there showing that a wide range of books—Indie titles especially—are cheaper than ever thanks to advancements in technology.

The post also noted that where that isn’t true, IE where prices are higher it tends to be the big Trad Pubs who have deliberately eschewed modern advances and then as a cherry on top have sent their prices even higher just because they want more money.

To this day, this post remains one of the most popular on the site, collecting a regular daily stream of readers usually arriving from a Google search like “Why are books so expensive?” or the like.

But there was another factor in that post that made it, at least to me, quite memorable. It was when I went and adjusted the (then—tail prices have since taken effect with a few) prices of my own books back to 1994 cash to see what they were worth. And we got these two nifty little charts:

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OP-ED: My Thoughts on the Capitol Riots

This post is bound to make someone somewhere unhappy. Fair warning, this is an opinion piece, and it is going to be political. I’m even going to bring some religion into it. There’s no way around it.

What it’s not going to be is a news source. I’m not going to deliver a blow-by-blow of what went down in the District of Columbia capitol of the United States last week. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve got the gist of it. No, this post is to talk about my response to the event. I’m going to bring in some religion thoughts on the matter as well. So, what did I think about the capitol riots?

Probably one of the most shameful things, in a presidency of shameful things, to happen during the Trump administration.

I’m not very secretive of my dislike for President Trump and his policies. Or for his attitudes, behavior, and leanings. Personally, I find Trump to be the poster child for the most dangerous type of adult mentality warned about in books like The Pinch. He’s incapable of losing or admitting fault, and is willing to say anything, and I do mean anything, to get what he wants. It’s how he’s leaving office with the lowest amount of campaign promises even attempted to be fulfilled (by which I mean actually took any steps to follow them at all), with around half. Much of what he did accomplish was the equivalent of a child running water over a toothbrush and making noises to cover up that they don’t want to brush their teeth. To the parent watching TV and barely paying attention, it certainly appeared to be an actual effort, but anyone who took a closer look knew that there was tomfoolery going on.

Now, I want to point out that this does not mean I preferred Biden. Or Hillary from 2016. Rather I found the whole trio all sorts of unpalatable as far as my political stance went. But as President Trump did win the election, that puts him and his policies in a direct hot seat for analysis, upon which I can very thoroughly say I dislike much of what he’s accomplished during his time in office. For example, for all Trump’s talk about “small business,” data released by his own administration for the 2016-2019 period (so without the absolutely colossal mishandling of Covid-19) shows that his practices and policies have been horrible for small businesses, which are fewer in number, paying higher taxes, hiring less people, and in general dropping across the board. And that was before Covid-19. Turns out all that talk about small business was just that: talk.

So yeah, I’m not fond of a President who seems far more concerned with talking very loudly about how well they’re brushing their teeth and how impressed their dentist will be while loudly running water over the brush and grinning at themselves in the mirror. So when President Trump became Calvin from Bill Watterson’s famous Calvin & Hobbes even before the election was over, stating that he had obviously won, why wouldn’t he win, and clearly any other result was simply cheating, well … Let’s just say a President of the US parroting an argument put forth by a six year old in a newspaper comic strip, but unironically didn’t fill me with much hope.*

*It’s worth pointing out, if I’m recalling the creator’s commentary correctly, that Watterson noted that Calvin’s character was supposed to be representative of his generation’s behaviors as children, and a worry that many of them never grew out of it.

Now, I’m going to set aside the question of election fraud, as well as the oddly specific criteria President Trump has approached it with. That’s a question for the courts to decide. I’m going to talk instead about what happened Wednesday.

It was a shameless act of sedition and insurrection, and I hope the courts bury those who took part in it deep in their legal system.

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Op-Ed: Rebooting America’s Education System

This post has been a long time in coming. It’s one I’ve wanted to make for months, almost a year, really, but just kept putting off because of everything else that was going on. But at last, the time is here, and I’ve got a bit to talk about it.

I’m going to start out with a few obvious disclaimers: I don’t work in education. I came through the US education system, but I don’t work in it. I’ve taught, but on panels and in places like Sunday School classrooms, where attendance is pretty voluntary, and that’s a pretty different experience.

Second, I don’t wish for this post to be taken as “How dare you attack our teachers!” at all. Because it’s not. Most of the best teachers I’ve known have been hard-working individuals who cared a lot more about the job than the paltry paycheck they got in return would have indicated (much of which went right back to paying for things their school couldn’t).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t awful teachers out there, but they’re a symptom of the problems with the US’s education system and only a partial cause rather than the full cause.

I’m also not trying to say that the US’s education system has been flawed from the beginning. It wasn’t. Not initially. But … Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start where this whole thing for me started: With the biggest missed opportunity in decades.

The quarantine.

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Being a Better Writer: Politics and Writing

Welcome back readers! No news this week, we’re just diving right in! I felt that with the United States celebrating Independence Day this last weekend, today’s post topic felt timely. Though it wasn’t inspired by current events. This topic has been on the list for several months, inspired by a combination of commentary on various book and writing locales online as well as some very public statements by a gaming company on the nature of politics and stories (statements I disagreed with, personally).

So then, with no further ado, let’s jump in and talk about politics and writing. This is going to be a rather involved post, and as well, I suspect, somewhat controversial, because as of late culturally the idea of talking about politics has become fairly divisive in and of itself. Or to put it bluntly: Many seem to only think politics should be spoken about as long as what’s being said supports their position (no matter what it is) with as little friction as possible.

Which is kind of a genesis of sorts for this post. See, today we’re not going to talk about how to write political intrigue in our stories, nor how to write a book that focuses on politics and governmental drama. Not at all (besides, you approach that like any other topic: lots of research). No today we’re discussing the idea of having “politics” be something in a story at all.

You may have heard this statement before from someone in person or online, or at least a statement akin to it: “I don’t like politics in my story. There’s no need for them. [Creator] can just make a story without politics in it.”

Yeah, this is a popular phrase being parroted around these days. If you haven’t heard it, count yourself lucky, because any following discussion devolves into madness, usually quite quickly. However, this commonality of this statement does raise a legitimate question: are they right?

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Being a Better Writer: So Make Your Own

Welcome back readers, to another episode of Being a Better Writer! This week’s entry is a bit of an odd one. In fact, I almost tipped it over to an OP-ED piece initially, but upon thinking about it realize that yes, it was an important writing topic, if a little more unusual than normal. So we’re talking about it for this week’ Being a Better Writer.

But really quick (and I do mean quick, no worries) I do want to issue a heads-up to all prior Alpha Readers: the pre-Alpha for Axtara – Banking and Finance will like finish up today or early tomorrow morning. So this week, Alpha invites will go out!

That’s it! I did say it was quick. It’s also really good news. The last I’ll say on it is that I have immensely enjoyed my time prepping Axtara for Alpha. It’s a lot of fun.

So then, with that bit of excellent news spoken for, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which is, again, a bit weird, even if the title is anything to go by. So for a moment, to explain, let’s talk about some of the weird social climates around the process of creating.

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Want Diversity? Start Supporting Indie

Hey readers, got a short post for you here today. It may not have escaped your notice in recent weeks (or maybe it did, and you’ve spent your time better than I) that the book industry, specifically traditional publishing, has been under fire.

Okay, in fairness, that’s nothing new. The traditional publishing industry has been suffering for years. That’s why Simon & Schuster is up for sale. But right now it’s under fire from readers for a reason that, given the current political climate in the United States, you can probably guess at.

Yup, the publishers are under fire for diversity. Or rather, for a lack of it.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make one thing clear: I actually agree with this concept, but for entirely different reasons than most locked in this battle would probably agree with. Most of them are painting, as they put it, a lack of books from certain ethnic groups or a lack of good royalty for those books as a deliberately targeted act of racism.

I’m not so sure. At least, not in the way most of the accusers seem to think. Personally? I think it’s far more likely that it’s the same story repeated a thousand times with the traditional publishers: They’re out of touch, behind the times, and refusing to adapt to the modern era. They’re “risk averse” to anything they don’t understand, and buddy, there’s a lot they don’t understand.

So basically, while many are accusing book publishers of being deliberately racist, I think that’s giving the publishers too much credit. It’s an “achievement” of ignorance as much as anything else. Ignorance and willful refusal to adapt. Not at all helped by many publishers trying to kill as many birds with one stone as possible and push out books that “hit” every margin the publisher hasn’t at once.

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Op-Ed: How Covid-19’s Impact Might Be Good for the United States

Hello readers! I’m going to start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. Two, actually.

First, I know Covid-19 has been bad for a lot of people. It’s caused a lot of deaths, and a lot of disruption. There are people who have lost family members and friends because of this, or jobs and livelihoods. At the time of this writing, the global death toll was about 140,000. The goal of this post isn’t to say that Covid-19 (AKA Coronavirus) is good, it’s unmistakably a situation which we should take very seriously. But the impact it’s left on the other claw, could be good. Much in the way an early architectural disaster arising due to unknown elements can lead to a greater understanding of building stresses and safer buildings overall (this has indeed happened).

Second, this post is really only concerned with the United States of America. Because it’s where I happen to live, and where therefore I’m both most familiar with the structure of things as well as the effects Covid-19 has had on that structure. If you’re one of my many readers from outside the US (shoutout to Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Finland, New Zealand, Brazil, and even Africa!) then this post may not be quite as relevant except maybe as a curious thought exercise or puzzlement or another opinion piece on how the US functions (or in this case, doesn’t function, as we’re about to discuss).

So, with both those things said, then, let’s move on to today’s post, and how Covid-19’s impact could be good for the US … if we’re aware enough to make it happen.

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