Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inclusion By the Numbers

As I noted in a previous post about "Milestones and Principles," my third rule for Tanner's world is that it is not all that white. I never set down a ratio formula or anything like that, nor did I go through the text and start changing names or inserting descriptors for the sake of diversity. I just tried to keep diversity in mind as I wrote, but I also knew that on some level I'd be doing this out of habit. There are three reasons for this. One is that I grew up in Phoenix and Los Angeles, so I'm used to diversity to begin with. Second is that I can't look at things like global population growth and think that the future will look anything like it does on American television. The third factor, though, is that I genuinely believe inclusion matters. It matters a lot. And it doesn't come without a healthy, sometimes jarring bit of introspection.

So, yeah. No statistical formulas or anything. Just a general principle that I wanted to include as I wrote. I don't plan on establishing any sort of ratios in the future, either, but lately I've done some small bit of unscientific analysis of my work and seen room for improvement on this score.

It's worth noting that a great many readers (certainly American readers, at least) will presume that characters are white unless shown otherwise through descriptors or names with obvious ethnic origins. It's easy to assume that Joe Smith is a white guy, when of course he could be anything (or maybe even a she), but it's also pretty reasonable to assume that Takashi is probably Japanese. Yet sometimes readers will even assume whiteness when told otherwise, as was the case with Rue from The Hunger Games. (I still haven't read the books or seen the movies. Yes, I know that's a crime. I'll get to 'em. I hear nothing but good things.)

It's also worth noting that a lot of writers have unfortunate habits in describing people of color. I don't claim to be free of this myself. I know I've used "mocha" to describe skin at least once, probably more.

Recently, I've completed a project of going through Poor Man's Fight and Rich Man's War to draw up a continuity database (technically a spreadsheet, but whatever). The primary purpose of this was, as noted, continuity: I didn't want to lose track of who had red hair or a scar on their cheek or who hadn't survived from one book to the next. It might be a bit embarrassing for someone who died in Rich Man's War to show up alive and well in my next novel. I also needed to make sure I was keeping track of names, lest I use one repeatedly for different characters (and I've caught myself doing it once already).

The exercise gave me a chance to tally up some numbers on that concern for inclusion, just to see how I'm doing for myself. I shared this with friends. I figured I'd share it here, too. These numbers, by the way, come mainly from me staring at my database and counting out loud. I don't have fields for gender or ethnicity. I just try to keep track of that through names and by writing down physical descriptions when they appear (again, I wanted to keep things like hair color consistent).

To offer a quick but very important caveat: MANY names in these two books are only names thrown out a couple times over the course of the book. Things like ethnicity and gender are never really specified, and left open to interpretation. In my head, a lot of characters are of mixed-race backgrounds -- it's a couple hundred years in the future, after all -- but if it's not specified, I believe the default assumption many readers will make is that these are all white males, which I think is worth remembering when looking at the numbers.


Poor Man's Fight has 138 named characters.
44 of those named characters are explicitly killed by book's end.
7 more (named character) deaths are strongly implied, but not explicit.

18 named characters are (explicitly) women. Almost all of them speak and most play significant or major roles. PMF passes the Bechdel Test, though it could've done better there.
The cast includes only one named character whose homosexuality is explicitly referenced. The character is of great significance, while his sexuality is pretty much irrelevant to the story. This is by design -- I wanted to establish that these things are not such huge issues in Tanner's day as they are in current society, but it is also how I originally imagined that character. Nobody is a "token" representative of anything. 1 other major character (female) is hinted to be either bisexual or homosexual.
Only 2 characters (Gunny Janeka and Ravenell) are specified as black. Several others were black in my head but it's not explicit in the text.
19 names are Hispanic (including Gomez and Other Gomez). Obviously there's some potential crossover there between Latino and European Spanish, but in my head they're overwhelmingly Latino.
18 names are East Asian.
5 names are South Asian (Indian, etc).
11 names are Arabic/Middle Eastern.
3 characters are known by nicknames without ethnic details, though easily inferred to be white males. (1 is Latino, actually, but I never made that explicit.)
...aaaand 74 names are presumptive white Europeans.
6 characters are straight-up Tuckers (people I actually know inserted into the book).
16 other characters are strongly based on people from my past, including the entire crew of St. Jude (minus the protagonist).


Rich Man's War adds 111 named characters, bringing the total to 249.
30 characters who appeared in RMW are explicitly dead by book’s end, along with 6 deaths of characters who first appeared in PMF.
RMW has a far bigger body count in unnamed “on-screen” deaths, and then there are a couple little matters of planetary bombardments/invasions, but do those really count?  J

Additions by gender and ethnicity:

RMW adds 15 women, along with giving a female face/identity to a character mentioned only by name in PMF.  RMW passes Bechdel repeatedly.

Still only 1 (explicitly-noted) homosexual character, but he appears again in this book, along with the 1 strongly-hinted bisexual character from PMF. RMW also features a prominent bisexual male character, which becomes a point of conversation and an opportunity for the protagonist to stick his foot way, way down his own throat. Of all the books I’ve written, RMW places the least attention/relevance on sex and sexuality. No time for love, Dr. Jones!

Black characters: Both from PMF return in RMW to greater prominence. RMW introduces at least three characters whom I imagine as black but whom I left un-specified (Lt. Booker being the biggest example), but only one new character (not of those three) is specifically described as black (Capt. Bernard).

16 new names are Hispanic/Latino.
5 names are East Asian.
5 new names are South Asian.
1 name is Arabic/Middle Eastern.

9 characters are Tuckers (people I actually know whom I made into characters), though two are just name call-outs. There are 2 other semi-Tuckers, in that I cast them in my head as people I know, but changed either the first or last name because reasons.

So as for inclusion: There’s a definite downturn in overall numbers in RMW compared to PMF, but it’s masked in part by how many of the women, people of color and gay/bi characters return from PMF. This also doesn't reflect the attention placed on those characters over the course of the narrative, which goes well beyond what those numbers show. Still, I definitely feel like I could do better.

Also, for what it's worth, Tanner Malone himself isn't entirely white European by descent, either. That's something I've known from the beginning, but it hasn't worked its way into the narrative yet. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Numbers!

This post has been a long time coming. Sorry for anyone who was waiting to hear these details. Partly, I’ve been easily distracted lately, and in part I also just haven’t been quite sure how to compose it.

As noted earlier, I’m donating everything I made off of Poor Man’s Fight from 7/22/14 – 8/31/14 to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Again, that’s not an endorsement from them or anything; it’s just something I’ve decided to do to support their cause.

Sales of PMF for that time period juuuust cracked over 4,900 copies. After the vendors’ cut of the royalties and after withholding for Federal taxes (I’m just gonna go ahead and eat the state taxes), this comes to $6667.57 – which I’m gonna go ahead and round up to a full $7,000!

I’m not giving them the money just yet, ‘cause in the immortal words of Han Solo, “I don’t have the money WITH me…” Those payments should roll in at the end of October, though, and at that point I’ll happily post a picture of the check (or a screenshot or whatever) of the donation, along with a follow-up of whatever documentation I get from the IAVA.

As an aside, if anyone really wants the boring nuts and bolts accounting of these numbers, just let me know and I’ll be happy to provide it. I’ll admit that the data I see from my vendors like Amazon can be a little difficult to follow, which is why I’m rounding up on my donation rather than sticking to the specific numbers that arrived. I’d rather overshoot than get all miserly over a good cause.

In other news, paperback copies of Rich Man’s War should be available really soon. I already have a physical proof on the way. I’m thrilled with the reception that book has enjoyed. Thank you again to everyone who left a review or who recommended the book to friends. All of things matter a great deal and help keep me going!

Currently, I’m working up a character continuity database for PMF & RMW, just to make sure I don’t have any awkward moments of “Wait, isn’t he dead?” in the next novel. I just finished the PMF portion of that, with RMW left to go.


From there, my *plan* is to continue on to the next book for Tanner. I say that because there’s always a chance I’ll get something else done first – I’m toying with the idea of a collection of short stories for the Good Intentions crowd, but many of those are already written or partially-finished. Tanner holds top priority, but I haven’t forgotten about Alex & Co. They’ll get another book some day!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Happy News!

Hey all,

So it turns out that Rich Man's War is doing awesome -- been at #1 in Kindle Military Sci-Fi repeatedly, with generally awesome reviews and a nice buzz. Thank you so much to everyone who picked up the book, and doubly so to anyone who left a review! They truly do make a difference, and I'm really grateful.

But in slightly awesomer news (yes, I called it that), my decision to put all of my profits from Poor Man's Fight (from RMW's release date of 8/22 through the end of August) to the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America has already shown me a tally of over $5,000! That's far more money than I realistically expected. I can't tell you how good that feels...although I imagine I'll feel better once I've actually gotten that money from Amazon, Smashwords, etc. and I can write the check to the IAVA.

That's just about all for now--but once again, I found someone on DeviantArt whose style I love and who was open for commissions, and I thought, "You know who needs some attention? Alicia and Janeka." Here's the results. I think they look pretty good!


That artist, by the way, is Lelia on Deviant Art.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Milestones and Principles

Hi all,

I figured that today would be a good day for a slight progress report given that it's the end of the month, and maybe a little insight into the rules I've set for myself regarding my sci-fi.

Rich Man's War is #1 in military sci-fi and #5 in sci-fi adventure on Amazon as of this writing, which is super exciting and very gratifying to me. Those stats may well change quickly--they can rise and fall on an hourly basis sometimes--but it hit those numbers yesterday, and that made me feel good.

Per my announcement when RMW was released, anything I make off of Poor Man's Fight from 7/22 through the end of August will be donated to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Again, that's not an endorsement from them (we've had no contact) and that's after Amazon gets its share of royalties & after taxes...but I'm pleased to say that as of this writing, I am now on the hook for about $528 there (assuming I can do math), and I sincerely hope it keeps growing!

So I figured, for anyone who might be interested in things like "world-building," that I might share something I wrote up for the PMF setting a few weeks ago. As some people may have noticed, I try to avoid lengthy third-person info-dumping in my stories. Sometimes a little of that is necessary, but I find that it's best to keep it to a bare minimum. But in getting into the climactic battle at the end, I decided it might be time to maybe write these things down in a single list just to help me keep them straight. Obviously not all this is technical or historical; some of it is the make-believe space opera physics of the setting, but some of it is thematic. I thought, just for the hell of it, that I would share it for the sake of anyone who might be interested.

Also, please note: very little of this is truly set in stone. One of the guiding philosophies in my books is, as a college professor once told me, "Change is the only constant." Tech moves on. Cultures change. People really do change, though not as deliberately as they would like. But here, as the world of Tanner and Janeka and Alicia and Casey stands, are The Rules:


The Rules

  1.        Everyone thinks they’re the good guys. Every crime, every lie, every act of oppression comes with a justification or at least an excuse.
  2.    People can always be lazy, careless, irritable, backstabby, selfish and well-meaning but ignorant, even in space.
  3.    The future is not all that white. Unless a character appears in my head fully formed including an ethnicity, the character will likely have a name that is Chinese, Indian, Latino or from sub-Saharan Africa. In any case, many people are of mixed heritage regardless.
  4.    The Union of Humanity binds humans to a common defense and diplomacy vis-à-vis alien powers. It maintains a Union fleet with funding quotas for member worlds, standardizes weights and measures and basic regulations for interstellar travel… and that’s IT. There is NO universal standard for human rights, no supreme court, no common process for extraditions, no common currency and no prohibition against member states going to war against one another. It’s the best anyone could manage. The Union is a confederacy. Hah.
  5.    Aliens are really, really alien. You don’t hang out with them in bars. The most powerful aliens think “economics” is a stupid concept. The two known alien civilizations keep their distance and don’t trust humanity because they aren’t stupid.
  6.    Combining #4 and #5: neither alien civilization enters many binding agreements with humanity, because experience has shown that the right hand of humanity has no real control over the left.
  7.    Faster Than Light travel requires an FTL engine. You cannot “see” or “hear” faster than light. If you want to contact someone on another planet, you either suffer from transmission lag (Earth to Mars is two minutes at their closest points), or you put your message on an FTL-capable ship or drone and they get it when it gets there.
  8.    Because of FTL lag, electronic cash has returned to prominence. Electronic bank transfers (a la ATM purchases) are only practical on a planet’s surface or in large-scale matters of corporations or government entities. Individual travelers rely mostly on some form of secured electronic (or even physical) cash.
  9.    FTL travel within a star system is exceedingly dangerous, and therefore typically illegal. Travel too close to a gravity well in FTL, or come out of FTL too close, and your ship is torn apart.
  10.   An object in FTL undergoes funky changes in mass; a dime fired at a planet at or near FTL speeds will not cause catastrophic damage. However, it will suck for the dime and possibly the immediate vicinity of its impact. This is narrative space magic counter to real-world physics, and thus will not likely come up in the books.
  11.   A pretty hot-shit FTL starship can cover one light year in two hours. (Sun to Alpha Centauri = 2 hours)
  12.   Maximum starship weapons range is 120,000 km. Anything that moves fast enough to make space travel practical is an inherently difficult target, even with computer assistance.
  13.  There are no energy shields. Spaceships and some other objects can undergo electrostatic reinforcement—the molecules hold together with greater strength, but that doesn’t make anything invulnerable.
  14.   Interstellar economics is mostly about finished goods and specialized services. There is some trade in rare raw materials, but this is a minor factor in the overall scheme of things.
  15.   Most current human art forms are alive and well, including specifically rock’n’roll music and cinema.
  16.  To quote my real-life Chaplain in basic training, “Nobody listens to the fucking Pope,” but there is still a Catholic church, and it doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s sexuality. Islam is alive and well, though life in the stars makes practices like the hajj and prayer toward Mecca into complex issues, leading to new sectarian divisions.
  17. [Redacted--Tanner's love life] If I ever sell off film rights, this will be in the contract.
  18. Tanner will always be a shitty pilot.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RICH MAN'S WAR IS OUT!

IT'S OUT!


“They will never let you go…because there’s no money in it.”

No one walks away from business with the three biggest corporations in the Union of Humanity. Cutthroat trade deals, relentless propaganda and bloody covert operations drive that point home as the star system of Archangel slips further away from corporate dominance. Yet despite all their power, the Big Three are more vulnerable than anyone knows—leaving them desperate to make an example of Archangel.


Tanner Malone would gladly avoid such struggles. He’d rather just run out the clock on his enlistment in the Archangel Navy. Instead, he’s been ordered back into the front lines of a cold war that quickly grows hot. He doesn’t know about his government’s shady deals, or about the old enemies lurking in the shadows. All he knows is that the sky is falling—and he’ll have to fight like hell if he doesn’t want to be crushed beneath it.


And yes, the paperback version is in the works!

AND IN OTHER IMPORTANT NEWS: All author profits from Poor Man's Fight for sales from today (7/22/14) through the end of August 2014 will be donated to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). This is, just to be clear, the author's portion only; Amazon and the other vendors still get their regular cut, and unfortunately I can't really afford to eat the taxes levied on my sales. However, experience has shown that I tend to see a sales bump in all my titles when a new book comes out, and I'd like to do something good with at least some of that money. Please note: this is NOT an endorsement from the IAVA. I have had no contact with them. Their website says that anyone doing a fundraiser for them can use their name, and so I have. But I don't want to go putting on any pretenses of affiliation or anything like that.

Once I've received royalty payments from the vendors for sales covering the time period listed above, I will make the donation and post pictures or other proof of said donation here on my blog (sans personal info--yes, I write under a pen name).

As always, thank you so much for your interest and support! Remember, nothing helps me out like reader reviews--so when you're finished, a few words wherever you picked up this e-book would be much appreciated!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Release Date...ish!

It's looking like sometime next week. Maybe Monday, in order to hopefully make someone's Monday less like a... well... like a Monday.  :)

I'm in the process of squeezing out unnecessary words. I am hoping to hear from a few more of my beta readers because I value their opinions, but I really want to get this book out soon.

Here's hoping I didn't just jinx myself by making a prediction!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Progress Report: Getting Closer!

So as of this evening (Monday the 7th), the current draft of Rich Man's War is now in the hands of my trusty beta readers. I have seen a very recent version of the cover art, and I'm thrilled with the progress and excited to see the final product.

At this point, I know I'll need to do one last round of edits to squeeze out every last unnecessary word and to make sure I have all my punctuation straight, but it's looking like it won't be long now. That is, unless my beta readers all come back to me and tell me that these words I've been seeing on my computer screen are all just a giant incoherent illusion and really I've spent all this time mashing keys on my keyboard and telling myself it's a story.

This is always a weird feeling.

But on the bright side, the still-undetermined release date is now closer than it has ever been!!