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Or: How To Rise Like A Phoenix From So Many Ashes
Now that the Ariah relaunch has happened, I thought it might be cool to walk you through what that looked like, exactly, in case any of you out there need similar info/skills in the future times.
What Happened When I Heard My Press Was Going Under
Oh, you know. Irritation. Resignation. Worry. But it’s the new normal, right? You can’t let yourself dwell on it too much. I got the rights reversion language from them, and filed it away. Ariah (and the other books I had under contract with them) was mine again.
And that felt a bit like freedom, honestly. Terrifying, exhilarating freedom.
Deciding What To Do Next
I went into that a little here. The options were pretty clear-cut:
- find a press willing to reprint Ariah
- create a press and reprint Ariah
- self-publish Ariah
Ultimately, I went with option 3, for now, because of timing and resources. Judging by word of mouth and some of the few stats I have at my disposal, there is some momentum and demand for Ariah out there currently. I was afraid if the book disappeared altogether that the word of mouth would dry up, the momentum would turn to stillness, and Ariah would entirely lose the audience its found. It felt, and still feels, important to keep the book out there. It is as entirely legitimate as it will ever be–publishing through a press is not going to make that more or less true–and the text has already been copy edited.
Ariah’s Second Edition – Nuts And Bolts
Ok, with that decision made, I started sketching out tasks to make it happen:
- Cover – I have always loved the cover art the press secured for Ariah, so when they offered to let me purchase it, I jumped at the chance. Done.
- Redo Digital File – I took the epub file the press gave me for promotion purposes when the book initially launched, and plopped it into Sigil. Sigil is a free program that I use to edit and manipulate epub files until they are *exactly* how I want them.
- Change Front and Back Matter – I needed to make changes, definitely, to the copyright page. This is a second edition, since the publisher has changed. I took out some of the language my press had in the copyright page and added some other language. I reconfigured the Table of Contents. I removed some of the back matter and added other back matter, and made the links live.
- Tweak Book Design – In Sigil, I tweaked some of the chapter titles and section headings to be more my aesthetic.
- Upload to Kindle – When the Sigil file was done, I uploaded it to a different program, Calibre. In calibre, you can add a cover image. You can also convert the epub to other formats (like mobi). I took the newly created mobi file and uploaded it to Kindle. Bam: that’s your ebook.
- Redo Print File – Also in Calibre, I converted the epub to a rtf file. I made whatever book design choices I wanted in Word–important note: you have to set paper size to 6×9 and set mirror margins to match the default CreateSpace size. I found this part to be extremely, weirdly, super fun. Then, I exported the word doc as a PDF, which I uploaded to CreateSpace.
- Upload to CreateSpace – You’ll need to go through CreateSpace’s entire finicky checklist, and you’ll need to go through the cover design process there. This was…less fun, but very thorough. Once it’s all done, and reviewed, then you have a print-on-demand paperback!
- Update Amazon Author Page – Go to AuthorCentral and add the new versions of the ebook and paperback to your bibliography. I had to add all the extra shizz to their pages (editorial reviews, about the author, etc).
- I couldn’t get Amazon to link the new editions to the old editions, so the current reviews are trapped forever on the old edition’s page. *sad trombone*
- Update Goodreads – Add the new ebook and paperback as new editions to your book’s goodreads page. If you do this, then your reviews from the old editions will carry over like magic.
- If you run into trouble with that, the Goodreads librarian group is full of angels.
The big question is What To Do With Those Other Books Zharmae Had Under Contract. I’ve shopped them around a little, but not much. But honestly, I don’t really know what’s next.
I do know it will work out. And I’ll be around. And it’ll be great! Stay tuned.
In the wake of Zharmae’s closing, I was faced with a choice:
- take my book and go quietly into the night, shopping it around as a possible reprint
- relaunch it myself immediately
I’ve decided to do both things. I’ve put a couple of feelers out to people who might be interested in reprinting Ariah–people with resources and reach I don’t have alone–but in the meantime, this little book has grown legs!
There are readers who would like to buy it in the interim, in both ebook and paperbook formats, and it feels not super cool to keep Ariah out of circulation just because when it takes not a terrible amount of effort to put it back in circulation.
So: Ariah is available, as a second edition, via Amazon in both print and digital formats. One day there might be yet a third edition, if any of those feelers pan out, but maybe not, so what is there to lose really?
The second edition has no story or grammatical changes in the text compared to the first edition. Really, the only change is that the first edition was published by Zharmae, and this edition is published by me, and thus they have different ISBNs. I did take the opportunity to make some slight differences to layout and book design, but again, the book does not have any additional content, so if you already have a copy of Ariah, I can’t really tell you in good conscience to pick up a copy of the second edition (unless you’re like OMG I MUST SUPPORT B IN EVERYTHING THEY DO in which case…thank you! You’re very sweet and encouraging!!).
Notes on Diversity:
Generally excellent diverse sci-fi book. All three major characters are people of color. All three are portrayed, in places, as queer. There are definite scenes/sections that tackle issues of disability.
But. The book, I think, really really fails with trans issues (see below).
There is Adrianne and Antoine. Or Adrian and Atoinette. Or Adrianne and Antoinette. Or Adrian and Antoine. Anyway, there are two, and they love each other, but there is a trauma, and it tears them apart. Because no matter how much you love someone, sometimes there are forces in life that can still rip you apart. Sometimes the two are lovers. Sometimes they are siblings. Sometimes one is a parent, and the other is a child. But always, always, there is a deep and abiding love, and always, always, there is a horrible loss.
This is a strange little book, and I went into it completely uninformed*. I am finding it, honestly, hard to review it.
Brissett is a writer of scope and specificity, both, which I love. The narrative spins and twists back on itself, coiling and expanding in turns. It starts in a perfectly normal setting, realist, and then adds layer upon layer of weird. The first bit of weird is that in the next scene, the characters who were heterosexual lovers are now gay men. Later, the genders change once more (now they are again a heterosexual couple) but the setting shifts–Adrianne is a sort-of vestal virgin in Roman-esque future world. There is a war. Antoine is a soldier. The narrative shifts again. Wings are involved. The narrative shifts again: an alien invasion.
Throughout, there is a core to Adrianne/Adrian’s character and to Antoine/Atoinette’s character–or, perhaps more precisely, a chain of love between them–that never shifts. It evolves, they evolve, and sometimes they revert, but that fact of their relationship never changes even as it is clear something key is disintegrating around them and breaking down.
This is a lovely book. But something happened about halfway through that made me step away from it and claim some distance.
There is a third character, Hector/Helen, who features as a sometimes friend and sometimes leg of a love triangle. In one of the twists of the narrative, Adrianne winds up institutionalized. At the same mental institution is Helen, apparently institutionalized because she is a trans woman. But in the text, she is consistently referred to as Hector, and referred to using male pronouns. They become friends, and later Helen dies a heroic death to save Adrian (their gender flips again) because he is the only who accepts her for who she is (even though Adrianne/Adrian, too, has been referring to her as ‘he’ and ‘Hector’ in the unspoken elements of the text.).
This is…this is a particular issue of mine. I dislike it when trans people are thrown to the wolves to make cis people heroic and accepting. And I dislike it even more when their (our) transness is made hypervisible by breaking the consonance of how they (we) are referred to in dialogue and how they (we) are referred to in narration. Having a character call Helen by the name she prefers, but think of her as Hector, is a type of misgendering. It is a qualification and a marker of difference.
This is a minor part of the story, that is a fact. But it so disturbed and disappointed me that I had to leave the rest of the book untouched for over a week. As a trans reader, I personally felt misgendered and ignored and small just by reading this treatment of a trans character.
And that is a shame, because this book is really good. Especially the ending. I still can’t shake that piece above, but pushing past it really got to the good stuff. The book has heart, and the book has philosophy. The way the pieces of the book fit together, the fluidity of Brissett’s writing, it’s all a wonder to behold. Except for that. But that, while a small piece of the text, was a huge thing for me as a reader.
I just wish the book didn’t also make me feel like I was a set piece. So, how the hell do you rate a book where you are pretty sure you would have loved it if it hadn’t been for that one part that made you feel like you were a tool for cis people? I guess…I guess you split the difference.
*This is, actually, my preferred way to read things. I either want no information about a book except a rec to read it, or I want to be spoiled completely. I like to either let the story unfold with no expectations, or I like to let it unfold knowing what’s going to happen and able to watch for the seams.
Notes on Diversity:
Petrushevskaya’s stories are not diverse on the surface. It’s not explicit, but I read most of the characters as white. The stories–love stories, the cover claims–appeared to be hetero in nature.
The bulk of these love stories are focused on women, and what is remarkable about these stories is the great breadth of Russian femininity* that Petrushevskaya tracks through her stories. The stories are pulled from the full spread of her writing career, and across them we have old heroines and very young heroines and heroines settling into middle age. We have hopeful and dour heroines. Beautiful, but mostly homely heroines. Bright and slow heroines. Heroines of virtually every description.
And, also specific to Russia, we have heroines that live in Soviet Russia and heroines that live in a Russia which has once again begun to flirt with capitalism. We see, through Petrushevskaya’s eyes, the great and remarkable changes that Russian society went through while she lived, and how great (or small) an impact those changes made on the daily lives of its citizens.
Petrushevskaya has a light hand with narration and a uncanny, unflinching eye for vicious detail. These are love stories, but they are horror stories, too. These are stories, almost uniformly, about how completely random and obliterating and destructive love can be. She is a sly, deadpan writer, and the stories are like those told by your aunt who’s seen too much and who is always slightly drunk at holiday dinners, but who is charismatic and fascinating anyway.
The only real fault I have with the collection is repetition. Sixteen stories is a lot to read in one go, especially when the themes are so consistent and similar. I wish the collection had been shorter, that the ten best and brightest had been chosen. But, then again, every anthology is a bit of a shot in the dark, yes? My top ten are probably not your top ten.
Speaking of, stand-outs (for me, anyway) were “Two Deities”, “Tamara’s Baby”, “A Happy Ending,” and especially “Milgrom”.
*I would not venture to say that she is somehow speaking to all of womanhood or across all women’s experience. That is certainly not true. But she does seem to speak to a great swath of Russian women’s experience (I would think–I am not Russian).
The full 2016 Sirens Con schedule is here!
I’ll be taking a much-needed break from my day job to attend the whole conference, which is right in my backyard here in Denver, and the pre-conference Sirens Studio events. So, if you’re around for the conference or the Sirens Studio, I’d love to see you! Drop me a line, ok?
Back to my presentation. I am presenting a worlbuilding workshop on Friday, October 21st at 4pm. Here’s the blurb:
What counts as sex? What counts as love? Who is allowed to do what to whom and why? What happens when rules are broken? When you are worldbuilding, these questions can become murky and complicated very quickly. In this workshop, we will explore how using themes of romance, sex, love, queerness, and marriage can deeply inform worldbuilding in speculative fiction.
Hope to see you there, fellow worldbuilding nerds!
Notes On Diversity:
Magic might be thick in the air at the Cirque Des Reves, but diversity is thin on the ground.
In the whole of this long, meandering book–a book brimming with characters, a book that stretches across time and distance–there are, perhaps, two characters who are explicitly characters of color (Chandresh, who is half-Indian, and Tsukiko1, who is Japanese). Interestingly, both Chandresh and Tsukiko also happen to play double-diversity-duty: they are also The Night Circus‘s only canonically queer characters, as well.
As far as I could tell, there were no characters with a disability. The closest we get to discussions of class and poverty is with Marco’s backstory, which is written in broad strokes and passed by quite quickly. There is one interesting and quite telling moment where Marco’s shadowy-named mentor, Alexander H-., mentions that he went looking for a student in an orphanage in the first place on the presumption that the student (Marco) would have a better life at his hands, no matter the consequences, than he would have had should he have been left destitute in the orphanage.2
I’ll get into this in more depth in the review, but I also felt that many of the women characters were not written with as much depth or centricity as the male characters.
Generally speaking, this is book full of lovely language and striking images and wonder. But it is not a book much interested in diversity.
In some lucky towns, the Cirque Des Reves springs up unannounced and opens from dusk until dawn. The circus is black and white – the costumes, the great white-flamed bonfire, the painted dirt, even the food. It is a world of shadow and light wreathed in unknown, unseen magic. The circus is the sight of a contest: the beautiful young illusionist, Celia Bowen, is no illusionist at all. The magic the performs is real. The strange and wondrous creations in the tents are real, too. Some of them are hers, and some of them are her competitors: the circus creator’s unassuming assistant, Marco Alisdair. The pair of them are locked in this competition, and bound to the circus, but neither of them know what they are competing for, or how it will end, or why they were chosen to compete in the first place.
There are many who adore The Night Circus. It is a lovely book. Morgenstern is an entrancing writer, and the plot is threaded together very well. All the loose ends are woven together by the end of the book; there are no extraneous variables. The pacing is such that you have to be floored with Morgenstern’s language and description, or captivated by the story itself, to wait it out to see how the apparently disparate elements of the book unify by the end, but Morgenstern as a writer is sure-handed enough that I felt certain that they would all come together in the end. If you are not engaged with either her style or the plot of the book, though, your patience with the slowly weaving tapestry of The Night Circus may falter.
This was a book I wanted very much to like and didn’t. I appreciated Morgenstern’s skill, and she has it in spades. But for all her luxurious description of the outputs of Celia and Marco’s magic, I ended up with very little understanding of what it actually was to be a magician. For a book ostensibly about two highly talented (if sequestered) magicians, there was very little about the magic itself. What did it feel like to use it? How did it work? What were its limits and scope? How many magicians were out there, and how did that make the world of The Night Circus tangible different from our own? If there were no answers to these questions, why make Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair magicians in the first place? Why not make them, I don’t know, architects, instead?
Really, this is not a book so much about magic. Magic is the backdrop here, sketchily worked out (but very beautifully written about), and the story is about a pair of star-crossed lovers. And this is fine, or rather would have been, if Marco had not been emotionally manipulative and deeply creepy as a character. The love story as it was portrayed was very strange, since it seemed written to be this sweeping grand romantic thing. And yet–Marco was a terrible, callous, desperate person. And Celia was little more than a phantom. We get very little of her in terms of interiority. Their love story is told more than shown. It is obvious that Morgenstern can write a natural, sweet love story, because there is once in the book–Bailey and Poppet–but the central narrative focuses on Marco’s fixation with Celia and Celia’s acquiescence to it, which is passed off here as love.
Again, this is a beautifully written book, and masterfully structured. But it didn’t work for me. The ending was too pat, and the central relationship was too hollow. For a book where the main characters should have been inside the magic, the worldbuilding felt half-realized. The entire book felt too coy by half.
1Tsukiko was, to me, by far the most interesting character in the book. She was also one of the few characters who became more interesting as the book went on instead of less interesting. I kept wishing the book had been about her instead.
2When Marco’s mentor said this, I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever been poor. It struck me as the kind of things a person who had always lived comfortably says about the presumed horrors of being poor, the unknown shock of lack. I actually can’t imagine that knowing the arcane wonders would be worth unwittingly losing one’s freedom forever. Self-determination is constrained when living in poverty, this is true, but at least there’s a semblance of it.
Many thanks to Mel over at Just Love Romance for the opportunity to do this interview! It was so exciting, and her questions were so insightful! Hope you enjoy it!
“Things We’ll Never Know” is a story I really love, and I’m very excited for it to venture out into the world. It’s rooted in a lot of my own experiences, and the experiences of people I dearly love. But with aliens! It has a lot of #ownvoices stuff in it–living while trans, parenting while trans–and I hope it brings some solace and visibility to some readers out there whose stories aren’t often told.
Stay tuned! The launch campaign for WARRIOR is only starting to ramp up!
Sometimes you get an email and it’s like
And then you’re like
So here’s what happened: my press, Zharmae, is folding after five years of putting out books. They’ll be shuttered at the end of the month.
That’s ok! That happens. It’s tough out there for presses–even the big ones.
The open question is what this means for me. In the short term, rights to Ariah and the not-yet-published A Tale of Rebellion series have reverted back to me. I am without an agent. So, basically, I have books in hand and many options.
The idea of getting back out there and subbing all over again is fearsome, but it’s also invigorating. Fresh starts are…well, shit, they are fresh if nothing else. This news comes at a time of a lot of general transitions in my life,* and while not necessarily unwelcome, it is has given me pause. It’s a moment to slow down for a second and figure out what I want and don’t want in my writing life.
In any case, stay tuned. I’m not going anywhere. That much I know for sure.
*Day job transitions, kiddo just started kindergarten, just a whole lot of stuff flipping over at once. Things are hectic.
An article I wrote about raising a transgender child while being trans myself is live over at Romper!
Check it out if you feel so inclined!