OP-ED: Can I Be Blunt? I Can’t Stand Modern Cover Design

There, I’ve said it. This post has been a long-time coming (it was actually planned for the week after LTUE, but then that big bit of metal fell …) but today we’re finally getting to it. And the title pretty much sums it up.

I don’t like modern cover design for books. At all. And the more books move toward this modern design, the less I enjoy it.

What’s not to like? First and foremost, the size of everything. There was a time when a book had three primary things on the cover, in addition to some smaller things that could sometimes appear. You had the name of the book. You had the name of the author. And you had the cover image itself. And these were displayed with a decent hierarchy in mind. The cover image was usually foremost, followed by or sharing equal billing with the title.

Now, however … that’s not the case. One of the trends right now is that the author’s name has to be AS BIG AS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE, dominating as much of the cover as it can. At first it was just under the size of the name of the book. Then it became the same size. Now? On a lot of books, it’s even bigger. You can find book covers with the author’s name taking up over a third of the cover. Or more.

Personally? I can’t stand it. I get that there are “reasons” behind it (I heard about them at LTUE, and you’ll definitely hear them from the Indie crowd), but even with those “reasons” I still can’t stand it. Especially as the driving force behind it is … well, it’s kind of childish personally. It’s the old “Bigger is better” idea.

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OP-ED: Disney’s Star Wars Doesn’t Understand Strong Female Characters

Hoo boy. I know this topic is getting tagged with “Controversial” without even having finished it. Crud, it’s controversial just from the title. Discuss anything to do with female characters, strong or otherwise, and you’re painting a gigantic target on yourself.

Which is why I’d like to point out, for those sharpening their pitchforks before they were even finished reading the title, that I’ve had some experience with strong female characters of a wide variety. Yeah, it sucks that I have to lead with a disclaimer, but people are just that trigger happy these days. But I’ve written some very well-received female protagonists who are strong and capable, whether they be Meelo Karn, the Imperial Inquisitor of Shadow of an Empire, with her quick, deductive mind and talent for investigation, or Samantha, a young journalist determined to be the first to interview her city’s elusive superhero.

Crud, I’ve written Being a Better Writer articles on here before about gender in stories, and in those admitted that I have a fun habit of flipping a coin for secondary characters just to keep things fresh and fun. I don’t have a problem with strong female characters. The world needs strong women and strong men. Neither should be excluded.

Which, in a way, is where Disney is getting things wrong. And with that, we get to the point.

Disney’s Star Wars, as well as the company itself, has come under fire as of late. Once maligned for being a house proposing (generally) only a singular type of female character, Disney has in recent years worked to round themselves out, giving us characters like Moana or Rapunzel that are more varied than their female protagonists of the past.

Unfortunately, some aspects of Disney have shown they don’t quite understand what this approach entails, and have simply flipped everything as far the other direction as they can manage. The result is, well … bad. And I don’t just mean cringeworthy, but flat-out showing that the folks making the decisions don’t understand A) What a strong female character is and B) How to make one.

Still puzzled as to what could have made me write this post? No, it wasn’t The Last Jedi, though that movie falls into many pitfalls that are only expanded on what you’re about to see. And yes, I do understand that this now means there needs to be a BaBW post on strong female characters. It’s now on the list.

But that’s for a Monday in the future. For the here and now, I want to talk about Disney’s new Star Wars Galaxy of Adventures.

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Book Burning: Now Available Digitally

So by now, if you’ve got your focus enough on the book industry that you’ve got a decent feel for the pulse, you’ve probably heard a little about Amélie Wen Zhao. If not, well, here’s the basics of it.

Zhao was one of those individuals who wanted to be an author. So she worked hard, polished her craft, wrote a trilogy, and with a little (okay, a lot, it’s publishing) luck, got a publisher to bite for her first trilogy.

Note that I used the word “was” rather than “is” in that paragraph. That’s because Zhao no longer is. Why? Well, because the “eternally socially conscious” crowd descended upon her before her books had even been released, slamming her with one-star reviews and accusations of racism to the extent that she contacted her publisher and asked to please cancel the publication.

Why? What grave crime did this woman commit that could see her so hounded that she asked her publisher to cancel everything? Everything, mind, on the first of three books, which had already made it as an ARC to early reviewers where the feedback was averaging four out of five stars, no mean feat for a first release? What sort of horrible, socially unjust thing was she doing?

Actually it was two things. One was that she dared write a book where oppression was not based on skin color, but on something else. And, as one one-star Goodreads review put it, that ‘is just bad.’ Because clearly all oppression should be based on skin color, apparently. How dare Zhao write about people finding other ways to oppress people?

But second? She wrote about slavery, and she is not Black. Yes, you read that right. She was attacked for writing a book that had slavery in it because she’s Asian, and as such should not be allowed to write about slavery. Because clearly China  never had slavery or anything like that.

So yeah. In the face of mass harassment from these “socially minded” individuals (and sadly, even other authors), Zhao pulled her book, issued an apology, and backed out.

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Op-Ed: Keep Calm, Be Patient, and Think!

Good news! I am 99.5% better. Just some residual tiredness and stuffiness, but fading fairly well. Huzzah! Today I can work on A Game of Stakes!

But first I wanted to get this out there: Keep calm, be patient, and think.

All three of these things seem to be a lost cause for many these days. Patience is for those who “don’t care about the issues.” Keeping calm is “for the uncaring.” And thinking is something done by those who “just don’t want to face the ‘facts.” Instead, the social sphere would have us leap forward as quickly as possible, acting on immediate emotional reactions and snap judgements.

Why am I talking about this? Well, because of the last month. In my country, there was a massive mediastorm revolving around a man named Kavanaugh. For those who luckily missed all the controversy, Kavanaugh was nominated to a position on the Supreme Court (one of the three branches of the US government). And, almost immediately, had sexual assault allegations issued against him. A number of women came forward claiming that he had visited all sorts of horrific sexual acts against them, which clearly made him unfit for the position. The media (and one prominent political party) latched onto these allegations with a deathgrip. They were everywhere. A senate hearing was called, in which several of these women testified under oath. The FBI and Department of Justice got involved.

And the public? Sands and Storms, they lost their minds. As far as many of them seemed concerned, Kavanaugh was guilty until proven innocent. My Facebook wall became such a tirade of people calling for his imprisonment and even execution, without any sort of trial, that I flat out made use of the temp-block feature to silence some of these folks for 30 days because they were acting insane. Any calls for them to calm down from their baying for blood? To wait for an actual investigation into things? You were trying to cover up Kavanaugh’s crimes because you were sexist. The biggest concession any of these raging, emotional individuals could make was that Kavanaugh should be investigated … wait for it … but not any of his accusers, as they’d already had enough stress put on them by coming forward.

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Being a Better Writer: Haters

The moment you create something worthwhile, someone out there in the world will start to hate you. I wish this wasn’t the truth. I wish I could say that people were always going to be rational and capable of thought, but that’s not how it is.

Welcome to Being a Better Writer, where this week we’re going to discuss one of the more asked-after topics since I’ve been writing BaBW, one which I only in the last year decided it was time to tackle. This doesn’t have much to do with the act of writing, but it is about dealing with what comes with it. And, I think, all other forms of art and expression.

Haters. It’s a topic many of you wanted to see. Well, today you do. So … let’s talk.

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And?

Okay, so the Hugo Award winners were announced, and there’ve been a few questions of what I’d have to say about it. So here we go. My response?

And?

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. There seem to be a lot of news outlets saying how shocked and surprised they are that Jemisin took the first ever triple-crown … but she said she was going to do that three years ago when her first book won. As did her publisher, and her friends … In fact, most of the comments I saw from last years Hugo Awards were of the vein of ‘something else better not win, because Jemisin deserves this!’ Same for this year, though it was more of a ‘How could anything else win? Jemisin is going to have the triple!’

So my response to this year’s winners is “And?” Or maybe “So?”

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Amazon’s Embattled Reviews Make Another Change

Amazon reviews are slowly becoming a digital battleground of the future. Or petering out as one, depending on you ask. However, whether it’s using Amazon reviews to “review bomb” folks whose politics other folks disagree with, or paying a click-farm in China to generate thousands of fake reviews, Amazon’s review system seems almost destined to be at the constant forefront of unscrupulous folks thinking “How can I use this to my advantage/other’s disadvantage?”

With that sort of activity going on (and the almost Hipster-ish dislike for Amazon now that they’ve managed to stand head and shoulders above their rivals), it really shouldn’t have been surprising to me when a long-time fan of my works contacted me to let me know that they were no longer able to post Amazon reviews, and thus they wouldn’t be able to add their review of my latest to Amazon’s page for such.

The reason? Well, Amazon has a new review policy: To leave a review, you have to be a customer in good standing. You can’t have been spamming the site with reviews that are clearly fake, participated in review-bombing, stuff like that. But there’s another new requirement now.

In order to remain “in good standing” you have to be an Amazon customer, having spent at least $50 with them in the last year.

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