Category Archives: Personal
I’m sure that many of you in Romancelandia have been hearing about the michigas surrounding bookstuffers and how they’re leaching money out of Kindle Unlimited at an astounding rate. This is something that will affect readers as well as writers, because if enough authors can’t make a living with their books and have to take other jobs to pay the bills, it means less books to read apart from yet another variant on The Dirty Billionaires Next Door And Their Secret Baby (A Compilation).
Christ, I hope that’s not a real book.
Anyway, it turns out that anyone can write an email to Jeff Bezos, the head honcho at Amazon, and so I have just sent off the following letter. If you’re an author tired of seeing your KU income dwindle in favor of some faceless businessman using underhanded tactics to pimp their “compilation” on KU, or you’re a reader tired of wading through acres of prettily covered crap in hopes of finding a decent book, you might want to write him, as well. There’s strength in numbers, and if Amazon realizes that this could hit their bottom line they will take action.
Dear Mr. Bezos:
My name is Melanie Fletcher. I write SF under my own name and romance under the name Nicola Cameron, and since November 2015 I’ve also been able to self-publish my work using the Kindle Direct Publishing system. At first, I was absolutely delighted with KDP; it gave me an opportunity to publish novels that weren’t easily marketable by the Big Five publishers in NYC, and I was able to build on my readership with my first self-pubbed novel, Empress of Storms. Empress wound up earning a little over $16,000, mainly via Amazon, and that gave me hope for a viable career as an independent author.
Except that Empress’s sequel, Palace of Scoundrels, didn’t do nearly as well as the first book. Sequels rarely match the success of the first book in a series, but Palace’s sales were unusually lackluster considering that there had been numerous requests for a sequel and I performed all the same promotion activities that I used for Empress. The reviews for Palace were uniformly good, from Amazon reviewers as well as from professional review sites, so its drop in sales puzzled me.
But I shrugged it off as a learning experience and wrote a SF romance, thinking that putting out a separate title might help. It didn’t sell well. I went back and wrote another sequel for Empress. It didn’t sell well. I then wrote a contemporary romantic comedy, one of the most popular subgenres of romance there is. You can guess how the sales went for that. I’ve done due diligence on all my books with regards to promotion — purchasing advertising for them, sending out review copies, haunting social media to talk them up, appearing at romance conventions to advertise them, everything that a legitimate indie author needs to do in order to get the word out about their book.
But despite uniformly good reviews, both on and off Amazon, my sales were getting increasingly worse despite a growing backlist. I spoke with other indie authors and they all complained about the same thing—their sales at Amazon were plummeting. When an indie author such as Sam Crescent, who has a huge, loyal fanbase and can produce titles monthly, was seeing her sales dwindling, I didn’t have a shot in hell of saving my career.
And then I learned about bookstuffers who were gaming the KU system. I’m sure you’ve well aware of the situation by now and how they use scam tactics such as adding extra books to a title and instructing their readers to flip to the end in order to have all the pages register as having been read. Not only are they driving out legitimate authors from KU, but their tactics then gamed Amazon’s ranking algorithms and pushed them into bestseller slots that, frankly, they didn’t deserve. This hijacking of Amazon’s ranking system has had a number of unfortunate knock-on effects — it’s rendered Amazon’s ranking system is no longer a reliable tool for readers searching for new titles and authors, and it’s pushed legitimate indie authors like me completely out of the spotlight. As for KU, I can’t afford to put my books in it anymore. I would have to have tens of thousands of page reads of my titles just to match a bookstuffer’s “compilation.”
Mr. Bezos, I don’t want the KU system to shut down. Not only does it makes you money, but it allows a LOT of readers who don’t have extra cash for books to read as much as they like, and maybe even find a new favorite author. I’ve included my titles in KU for that very purpose before I realized it was losing me income and had to stop. I would love to be able to put my books in KU again, but for that to happen it needs to be made equitable. Changing your terms of service to forbid more than 10% of “extra” material in a book will not stop bookstuffers—they’ll just find another way to game the system, as they already have by labeling their stuffed books “compilations.” I am begging you to have your programming team take a good, hard look at KU and come up with a robust method of monitoring it and preventing such abuses. Pattern analysis that recognizes extra material already in KU as a standalone title, or repetitive use of extra material in multiple titles (where a bookstuffer publishes Book A with BCDEF extra material, Book B with CDEFA extra material, Book C with DEFAB extra material, etc.) and flags a title for removal is one way of doing this. I know this would be a serious undertaking, but sir, I’ve heard from numerous readers who are now saying that they’ve been burned too many times by KU scammers and are cancelling KU or will only read Big Five books or titles from trusted authors. This is what the bookstuffers have done with their rampant abuse of KU; while they’re only hurting my bottom line at the moment, if they keep driving people away from KU they’ll eventually start hurting yours as well.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Melanie Fletcher/Nicola Cameron
Welcome to a new feature of the blog where I talk about stuff that’s occurred to me while I’ve been out in the garage working on jewelry. Metalsmithing is actually part of my writing process because while my hands are busy, my brain is free to keep itself entertained any way it can, and it usually does that by coming up with stories.
Now and then, however, I find myself musing about anything from politics to why Zendaya clearly should be cast as Joan of Arc based on her Met Gala dress. Tonight, while I was working on the sterling settings for a pair of earrings, I started thinking about Westworld and some of the backstory involved (by the way, I was VERY pleased to have called it on Delos trying to transfer human consciousness into hosts and thereby becoming filthy rich from 1%ers who want to live forever, but I digress.)
Specifically, I was thinking about how in Season One, Dolores’s original loop was to be the daughter of a rancher and his wife. The family’s whole reason of existence was so that they could be killed (Mama and Daddy) and raped (Dolores) by guests who wanted to act out various black hat scenarios. Which is more than a little creepy (although I do wonder if Dolores was specifically put into that scenario as punishment by Dr. Ford for killing Arnold), but it set the viewer’s understanding about how the hosts are viciously abused by human guests on a regular basis.
Fast forward to that monumental scene at the end of “The Original” where Dr. Ford is questioning Dolores’s “father” Peter and asking him what his main drives are. Peter replies that he’s supposed to tend to his herd, look after his wife, and protect Delores. When it’s determined that he’s glitching too badly to be repaired, he’s lobotomized, stuck in cold storage, and is then grabbed by Charlotte Hale and turned into a walking thumb drive with 30+ years of Delos research shoehorned into his head. Needless to say, he no longer has the processor cycles necessary to worry about looking after his wife, much less his herd, although he does briefly remember Dolores in S2E3. And Dolores/Wyatt is hellbent on conquering mankind and making them pay for their sins, so she’s doesn’t seem to be all that concerned about Mama’s whereabouts, either.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Mrs. Abernathy is still somewhere in Westworld. Moreover, since Dolores was with Teddy right before that climactic party in the last ep of Season One, we can hypothesize that the Abernathy homestead wasn’t targeted for assault that night since a major part of the “entertainment” was gone. So Mrs. Abernathy should still be alive and with Peter Mark II.
But the hosts are slowly gaining sentience and access to their memories from previous builds. If that’s true, wouldn’t Mrs. A wonder where the hell her daughter is? Would she realize that this “husband” isn’t the one she’d spent so many years with? Mightn’t she then go off in search of her family?
I completely understand why the \W/ writers wouldn’t focus on her — Maeve would be undertaking the mother’s journey to find her daughter, so Mrs. Abernathy (I keep wanting to call her Anna and picture her as being played by Diane Lane) wasn’t necessary to the plot. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s still out there, most likely intact, and may in fact be in search of Dolores and Peter, assuming she hasn’t been killed by the Ghost Nation or the Delos recovery teams.
I doubt this would happen, but it would be cool if she pops up somewhere down the line. Granted, she’d probably be used by Delos as a way of luring Delores into a trap, but maybe she’d stumble into whatever armed camp Dolores had taken over at that point only to discover that her sweet, art-loving daughter had turned into a ruthless revolutionary. There are all kinds of fun things the writers could do with that.
First we must flashback to last night, when Ramón headed out around 9:30 PM to pick up some stuff from the store. He stepped out the door, then came back in for some reason and said, “I think I let a moth in — oh, it’s a bird.”
And indeed it was, some kind of small grey-brown bird with a flat head and sharp beak. Upon later comparison with pictures of common Texas birds I think it was a Swainson’s Thrush. We then spent a merry hour trying to capture the damn thing as it flew back and forth across the upstairs’ gallery ceilings, to no avail. I even got the pool skimmer out of the backyard to use as a net of sorts, but we just couldn’t catch the little bugger. In the meantime, the cats thought this was the Best Entertainment Ever, and had a whale of a time chasing the thrush upstairs and down while we cursed and chased after them.
Sweaty and exhausted, we finally gave up when the little bastard roosted somewhere and we couldn’t see him anymore. We decided to leave it for the night and cleaned up the little droplets of bird poop and pee the little bugger had scattered around downstairs (I need to mop the hardwood floors today), on the basis that we had three possible outcomes:
- We’d get up in the morning when it would be brighter outside than in (the brightness was probably what lured the bird inside in the first place), shoo the bird into a smaller room with a window, open said window and shoo it out.
- The bird would become exhausted and die somewhere, most likely in the craft room as that’s where it was spending most of its time, and we’d find it by the smell.
- The J Crew would leave us a messy little present, showing us what good hunters they were.
Luckily for everyone except the J Crew, Outcome One was what happened. I got up and saw the thrush flying back and forth in the craft room. I took a screen out of one of the windows there, but Jeremy the Big Orange Idiot kept trying to climb out the window and my cursing was disturbing Ramón, who was on a business call. By sheer good luck, however, I’d left the bedroom door open and it flew in there.
Ramón got off his call, followed me in, and turfed out the cats while I opened a window, removed the screen and tried to shoo the thrush out. It flew past me just as he asked me a question — while I was turned to answer our guest flew past me and outside, because I then heard a loud burst of birdsong that I translated to mean, “Guys, you would not BELIEVE what happened to me!”
So that was our adventure with local wildlife. In associated news we are cleaning our craft room this weekend because it is a complete disaster in there and I’m sure the little bugger crapped on things. Whee.
Or at least I assume I have the flu, judging from the symptoms — stuffy nose, muscle aches, lack of energy, low fever, and every bad thing or decision in my life coming back to haunt me in 4K HD. Whee. So Ramón will be heading off to the shops in a bit to pick up basics so that we can eat today, and I’m drinking lots of water, eating healthy stuff when I can muster an appetite, and trying to add at least a K a day to To My Muse because I’m insane like that. Don’t worry — I’m taking breaks as and when appropriate. Also, ignore the number on the graphic at left — I’m currently up to 23,289 words and I’m hoping to crack 25K by tonight.
The cats are also making it their mission to drive me completely nuts. You know how you get those heartwarming stories of moggies who can tell when their owners are ill and will curl up next to them, providing body warmth and quiet support? Yeah, I have one like that (Jessie, my silver girl). The rest are either yelling at me for food (JJ), running through the house like their tail is on fire and acting like a complete idiot (Jeremy), crawling in between me and my food for pettins’ (Jasmine), or climbing on me because I’m their favorite perch (Jemma). I keep having to go upstairs and hide in my room because Jasmine won’t go up there, Jeremy and JJ will go straight for the space heater and sprawl there, and Jemma prefers to snooze under the bed, don’t ask me why. Only Jessie will come in, check on me, then settle down next to me within petting range (if I’m in the mood, but only then) and take a catnap.
It doesn’t help that the temperature is dropping quickly and we’ll be below freezing by tonight. We just had a plumber come out yesterday to fix one of the outside faucets that had developed a fatal failure during our recent freeze (when you turned it on water started coming out from BEHIND the brick fascia of the house). Luckily it wasn’t too horribly expensive, but I did throw on enough clothes so that I could stagger out and make sure that, yeah, he’d disconnected the hose (which apparently caused the problem). I may go back out in a bit and wrap the damn thing with a towel for insulation. And we still don’t know if the pool pump took any damage from the freeze. I know, first world problems, but that’s still a $600+ expense I’d like to avoid if at all possible.
In other news, I got my hair cut. And since it’s wavy it means that once I’d washed the salon product out of it (shown at right — my hair is never that straight unless a stylist has blown-dry it using one of those big round brushes) and let it dry naturally it bounced above my shoulders. Since it was down to the middle of my back before this is something of a change. Ramón keeps saying I look like I did when we lived in Montreal back in 1994, and it’s nice not to have to keep it in a pony tail all the time.
I was on a self-imposed writing hiatus for the last week in an effort to let my brain cool down after the last two and a half months of frantic writing, and it was absolutely lovely, thank you! I cooked, cleaned, got stuck into a BUNCH of craft projects that had been lying fallow for some time, watched TV, watched movies, baked pies, and generally had a rather pleasant week.
Among some of the nifty neato-keen craft projects are the socks shown above. They’ve been in my purse for well over a year, and I finally got cracking on them only to find that I’d run out of the self-striping yarn halfway through the second sock. Whomp-whomp! Luckily I had yarn of the same weight and makeup left over from other projects, so one sock will have a large light and dark pink foot on it. Hell, they’re striped anyway, and it’s not like anyone is going to see when I have shoes on, right?
Another LONG overdue project is the queen-sized Dia de los Muertos quilt for my friend. E. I’ve had this fabric for, God, at least three years now, but I just didn’t have the time or the inspiration to put some many vividly patterned fabrics together in an attractive whole. But last week inspiration did indeed strike, and after a few false starts I started putting the central medallion together. With luck I can get it quilted and off to E by the end of the month.
…wait until you hear this…
…a contemporary romcom! I know, I know — what the hell do I know about writing contemporary romance OR romcoms? Quite a lot, as it turns out, and I already have the entire plot worked out and can get it finished by the end of January if I get a move on. So look for To My Muse on Amazon sometime in late February!
And here’s hoping that 2018 turns out to be a much, MUCH better year for everyone than 2017.
One of the side effects of NaNoWriMo is that housekeeping in the Cameron manse usually falls by the wayside while I try to make word count. This year, however, I’m 1) well ahead of schedule (more on that below), and 2) still have to do the cleaning that fell by the wayside while I was editing Lady of Thorns. So I’ve instituted a plan of writing for a half hour, then cleaning for a half hour, then writing, then cleaning. Or in the last couple of days’ case, writing/raking. Sweet mother of Cthulhu, but we have a lot of leaves in the front yard. I’ve already raked up 8 bags’ worth and there will be at least another eight bags to go.
But it’s got to be done because otherwise they blow all over the street and I feel like a slacker (plus it’s not good for the lawn to be covered with leaves). That being said, after the last two days of raking I kinda feel like I’ve been beaten by Mob enforcers so I may well take today off from raking (the leaves aren’t going anywhere, after all) and focus on vacuuming the downstairs. Because 5 cats + 2 humans = one hell of a lot of hair/fur/dander. Thank Zoroaster for Dyson vacuums, that’s all I have to say.
In other news, my NaNoWriMo projects are a skosh over 30,000 words, one of them will be out on December 5th as a holiday novella (Red Robin and the Huntsman, set in the Two Thrones universe), and I just found a memory on Facebook from 2011 stating that I’d be happy if I could write a book a year, plus assorted short stories. Ha. Ha. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, I was a sweet summer child back i 2011, wasn’t I?
Oh, finally, if you’ve read Lady of Thorns could I ask you to leave a review on your preferred site? Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, it’s all good. I just need more reviews. Thanks!
So it seems that I have a certain enzyme in my bloodstream called ALP which has edged over the acceptable limit since July and has gotten rather high. As this is related to damaged liver cells, I just got to schedule an upper abdomen ultrasound for tomorrow morning, whee. And here I thought I was done with all of the medical tests this year.
Mind you, I’m not particularly worried about it. The most likely causes of high ALP are: fatty liver (certainly possible), bile duct damage, hepatitis (although I have no idea how I could’ve gotten that), cirrhosis (I have maybe three drinks a year so I’m not worried), gallstones (VERY likely) and liver cancer (highly unlikely, considering my family history). I could also have something weird going on with my bones, as well. Whee.
Me, I figure it’s gallstones. I’ve been experiencing tenderness in that area all year, plus the occasional sharp ache. My dad had to have his gallbladder out, and I passed a stone many years ago (OMG, worst pain in my life, and I’ve dislocated my knee so that’s telling you something). That being said, I’m hoping there’s a non-surgical way we can manage it if it turns out to be gallstones. I’m kind of fond of my gallbladder and would like to retain it if at all possible.
Lady of Thorns is off to the editor and the betas (would have been off earlier but I had to juggle that with edits for “Gentleman Jackson” and get those back to Evernight toot sweet), and I’m feeling very happy about it. It’s got a good rhythm to it that I think will resonate with readers and covers some topics, namely the beauty culture and issues with self-confidence, that I think affect a lot of people.
So I pretty much spent the week slogging away on second round edits, which is why I didn’t immediately get involved with the news about Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo hashtag movement. While I think so many women coming out and telling their stories about their sexual harassment and/or assault has been a positive thing, I really wish it hadn’t been forced by an utterly disgusting and reprehensible mindset that’s embedded itself deeply in our culture (and some people don’t feel comfortable using the hashtag because their story still hurts too much. I completely understand that and support them). But it’s a positive thing because when this many people say something’s wrong, it’s hard to ignore that. It’s hard to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that it’s perfectly okay to let men with power get their rocks off by harassing or assaulting women.
Me, I’m one of the lucky ones. My harassment has been minimal, compared to others. But I’ve been harassed. And even now I feel weird admitting it because I think people will look at me and think, “But you’re overweight. Why would anyone sexually harass you?”
Because it’s not about sex. It’s about power, and being able to dominate someone and make them feel small and afraid. And that’s the sick little charge that abusers really want. I just found out yesterday that an individual (now dead, and I feel nothing but relief for it) who harassed me at local SF cons had also harassed a friend and colleague for far, far longer than I had to tolerate his sleazy, assholish ways.
Oh, why did I tolerate them? Because he was very, very good about never overstepping the line into actual, actionable territory where I could ask a concom to boot his ass. Even now it’s difficult to explain to a concom that a particular puddle of pus had behaved like a skeevy pervert outside of that con (protip: don’t ever, ever, EVER sneak up behind me and grab me in a bear hug. These days I will try to rupture your liver with my elbow first and ask questions later) and now you don’t want him to attend your readings because he sits in the front row and stares at you in a way that makes your skin crawl. Or stands off to the side while you’re doing a signing and silently looms. Or makes sotto voce comments about showing up at your house and “taking you for a ride” on his Harley. It’s like fighting fog.
Anyway, my friend wrote an amazing piece on her FB page detailing the situation and telling other women that she will always believe them and will make noise if this ever happens to them. And I will, too. Because there’s more of us than there are of them, goddamn it, and we’re not putting up with this shit anymore.
So stand ready, assholes. You’re about to be introduced to a whole new world.
Just in case you thought a romance writer’s life was one of unending glamour and delight, allow me to pop your bubble and assure you that it’s nothing of the sort. Witness today, when I went in to my doctor’s office to have an epidermoid cyst removed from my upper back. Basically, an epidermoid cyst is a buildup of keratin under your skin, sometimes caused by an injured follicle. It’s benign, slow-growing, usually painless, and very common, but I kept noticing it over the past two months and finally thought, nah, I want it gone.
I already knew the procedure, but the doctor was kind enough to explain everything as he went along (he seemed a little surprised that I wasn’t saying ow or complaining about the lidocaine needle. I explained that I used to work in a Peds ER department, medical procedures didn’t scare me, and as long as I was numb I didn’t care what he did). After injecting some lidocaine to numb the skin, he made a small incision, broke up the cyst and removed it, cleaned out the space left behind (super tiny, maybe the size of a pea) and packed it with sterile gauze. It was small enough that I didn’t need a stitch, and my beloved Ramón will be called upon to remove the packing over the next two days, after which I keep it bandaged and treated with antibiotic ointment and all will be well.
Plus I’ll have a tiny little scar as a souvenir, which I will have to come up with an interesting cover story for. Hmm. Oh, and be grateful that I didn’t take the advice of a friend on Twitter and have a nurse film the procedure for your entertainment. Because there’s openness, and then there’s openness…
I specify North Texas because 1) that’s where I am, and 2) I’ve been getting pings on social media asking if I’m okay what with Harvey slamming into Corpus Christi and the south-central coast. The concern is very much appreciated but fear not — I am a good 400+ miles away from that big bastard, and the most we’ll see up here in the clavicle of Texas is maybe some rain next week. So, yeah, we’re cool (although I do have to say that the atmospheric conditions up here at the moment are playing merry hell with my sinuses).
That being said, I do know people who have had to evacuate ahead of Harvey, and it’s been hard to concentrate today and not stay glued to news reports and stormchasers doing live Periscope broadcasts. The problem with this hurricane is, it made landfall as a Cat 4 and doesn’t have any steering currents pushing it so it’s going to sit there and pump a lot of water from the Gulf over land. Once the bayous and drainage systems fill up there’s nowhere for all that water to go, which is why it’s pretty much a guarantee that we’re going to see some horrific flooding.
If you want to help out the folks who are going to be displaced or even homeless after this weekend, here is some excellent advice from my friend Elizabeth Moon:
Be aware that in south Texas, in particular, most non-governmental aid is church-based and always was, and which churches do what depends on a) the relative numbers of a given denomination in a given area and b) how the churches in a community have agreed to divvy up the load. Frex, in my home area, the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (http://www.foodbankrgv.com) started as a project of Trinity Episcopal Church in Pharr, and grew into a multi-county food bank affiliated with others in the state, while Catholic Charities now handles clothing, toys, other supplies. This might be reversed in another location. In the town I live in now, the First Baptist and First Methodist churches both have programs, but they’re not the same and focus on different needs. At any rate, food agencies/groups need cash to get their vehicles back out on the road when the road is clear, and restock their shelves. If you want to “go local” consider looking up food banks and other agencies in some of the counties likely to be hardest hit with the least existing resources: De Witt, Nueces, Karnes, Atascosa, Bastrop, Bexar, Caldwell, Comal, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hays, Lavaca, and Wilson. Bexar (San Antonio) has somewhat more in terms of resources, but a huge population, wide area, a lot of water can overwhelm roads and rail transportation.