OUT NOW– The Sergeant’s Apprentice (Schooled In Magic XI)

7 Jan

Sergeants Apprentice Cover

The Nameless World Goes to War!

The necromancers have finally resumed their assault on the Allied Lands, sending a mighty army across the Desert of Death and into the Kingdom of Tarsier. Countless farms, villages and towns have already been destroyed as the host makes its way northwards, striking deep into the kingdom’s most vulnerable lands. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, thousands more will be killed when they are sacrificed for power. If the necromancers win the coming battle, it may be the beginning of the end …

When Sergeant Miles invites her to join the coalition force, Emily reluctantly accepts. The necromancers have to be stopped, even if it means taking time off from school to serve as the sergeant’s apprentice. But with arguing aristocrats, reluctant soldiers, fearful civilians, shadows from her past, a dangerously-sane necromancer and treachery in the ranks, stopping the invasion may cost Emily her life …

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Guest Snippet -Alpha and Omega, by Stephanie Osborn

7 Jan

If you liked Men in Black, you might like …

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Excerpt from

Division One book 1,

Alpha and Omega – by Stephanie Osborn

* * *

* * *

“I don’t get it,” said Romeo from his seat in the training observation room. “Y’all didn’t put ME through all this testing crap. Creativity testing and obstacle courses and puzzles an’ junk. I know we’re shorthanded an’ all, but…what gives? It’d be way simpler an’ quicker to just put her through the old testing.”

“We’re getting ready to start up a new department,” answered Fox, across the small conference table from Romeo; next to the younger agent sat his new partner, India. “Echo’s already agreed to head it up, while you were laid up with the leg. Good to see you off the crutches, by the way.”

“Damn good to be off ‘em. Still hobblin’ around a little, but that’ll go away eventually; ‘s why I’m keepin’ a cane handy for a while. So tell me about this new department. If you can, yet.”

“I can. It’ll be a kind of combination SWAT team and commando unit. Teams from this department will take the point whenever we have the really dangerous situations—the interstellar terrorists, the galactic invasions, things like that. We think, with her background, she may have what it takes to make it in this department. We sure as hell can’t send her back where she came from. She seems intrigued by the idea, at least. And no family complications to worry about. Single, only child, birth family gone in a car accident.”

“But, Fox, what if she can’t hang?”

“I don’t know yet, Romeo. We’ll cross that bridge—”

“We won’t have to,” interrupted Echo, coming into the testing observation room and moving past the table around which the others were seated, directly to the observing window. “She’ll make it.”

“But how do you know?” asked Romeo. “‘Got a feeling’?”

“Yup. Same one I had about you, junior.”

“WELL, the lady’ll hang, then.” Romeo sat back in his chair, satisfied.

“Damn,” muttered India.

Echo shot her a hard look, then returned his attention to the observation window overlooking the course.

“Have we started yet?”

“No,” Fox answered. “We’re still getting set up. And we were waiting for you.”

“I’m here. Let’s get rolling.”

“Done.” Fox hit a button on an adjacent control console.

Romeo, Echo, and India watched as the observation window, as well as a hooded monitor on the command console, showed several aliens of various types entering the obstacle course. Romeo gasped as he recognized a Betelgeusian giant arachnoid, possessing, by his estimate, a good fourteen-or fifteen-foot leg span—accompanied by several Division One agents sporting flamethrowers, lasers, blasters, and disintegrator rifles, entering the course. Two heavily-armed guards in black armor moved into position at the entrance. Romeo and India noticed then, with a shock, that they were FACING the course, as if the concern was from something inside.

“Hope she’s not afraid of spiders,” Echo remarked offhandedly.

“Hope she’s not afraid of death,” Romeo murmured to India. “Shit.”

* * *

Megan came into the observation room just then. She was wearing black workout leggings and sports-bra top, but the rest of her attire was somewhat odd: menswear-style black lace-up dress shoes, a black tie, a dress leather belt, and a pair of the special goggles-cum-sunglasses strapped to one hip. An unusual device, like a large plastic bangle bracelet, was fastened around her right ankle. Sensors attached to her head and torso connected to a small transmitter pack on her back. Echo met her and led her to the command console.

“All right, Megan,” Fox began, waving a hand at the view in the monitor, which now only depicted a door and two guards, “this is the obstacle course. When you go through that door,” he pointed to the image of the guarded door on the monitor, “you will enter the first of a series of six rooms, each of which has various…impediments…to your progress. Your objective is simply to reach the exit of room six as quickly as possible. The tracking device on your ankle will enable us to monitor your progress. You may make use of anything on your person, as well as anything you find along the course. In addition, you may select from one—and only one—of the items on this side table.”

Megan eyed the monitor display in detail before Fox led her over to the table. On it was an eclectic collection of items: a Phillips-head screwdriver, a small glass bottle, a pair of wire cutters, a coil of rope, a pen knife, a jar of cheese spread, a pocket-sized Winchester & Tesla Mark II death ray, a packet of facial tissues, and a chocolate bar.

Megan was in no rush. She scanned the table carefully, considering, as the four Division One agents watched. She looked herself up and down, fingering the items she already carried. Echo watched as she flipped over the tie and checked to see what was on the label. He smiled inwardly, pleased as he followed her mental processes, realizing he understood how she thought. Finally she reached out, picked up the pen knife, and clipped it to the belt at her waist.

Echo raised an eyebrow in carefully-hidden surprise and looked at Fox, who returned his gaze unemotionally. Romeo and India watched the whole scene in amazement.

“Ready, then?” Fox asked Megan.

“As I’ll ever be.”

“All right. Follow me.”

As Fox led Megan out, Echo turned to the console, put on a headset, and began entering commands. Romeo and India walked up to the observation window, and Echo hit a button. Blast shutters on the window began to close.

“Sorry, kids. Can’t watch this one; you’ll have to go through this yourselves soon enough.”

“Oh, joy,” India muttered.

“You can monitor her progress on this schematic.” Echo hit another sequence of commands, and a panel opened on the wall. It showed the layout of six variously-shaped, interconnected rooms, a number on each room.

“How are you gonna evaluate her if you can’t see what she’s doing?” Romeo asked him, as he and India sat back down at the table, across from the schematic.

“I didn’t say Fox and I couldn’t watch. I’ve been through it. You haven’t. Yet.”

Fox re-entered the room. “She’s ready, Echo.”

“All right, then.” Echo handed Fox another headset, then keyed the microphone switch. “Megan? GO!”

* * *

The door opened, but Megan was in no hurry to charge through it. Any obstacle course that had a funky-looking little weapon like that strange pocket-sized ray gun as one of the equipment options was not one into which she intended to go running headlong. Let alone the armed guards stationed around it. So she eased around the left side of the doorframe, surveying the room from the threshold.

How odd, she thought, as she scanned the room; it looks like an ordinary study: hardwood floors, bookcases lining the walls, cozy fireplace on the far side, with a wing chair and decorative wrought iron side table next to it.

A heavy walnut desk with granite top stood in the center; a lamp and crystal decanter sat on one corner. Waterford crystal, it looks like. An EXPENSIVE study, then.

The door into the next room was in the far wall, to the right of the fireplace.

She stepped forward into the room.

* * *

Romeo and India watched the display as the first block lit up with a big red ‘1.’ Echo and Fox leaned together over the screened closed-circuit monitor.

“She’s in,” Echo observed.

“Aaannd the timers have started,” Fox noted. “Both of ‘em.”

India and Romeo exchanged glances…and thoughts. BOTH of ‘em?

* * *

Megan had taken no more than two steps into the room when she heard a faint, almost inaudible click off to the left. Quickly spinning, she saw bookcase holograms fade away to reveal a blank wall with horizontal slits halfway up. Oh shit, she had just time to think. She dropped flat on the floor as a flurry of projectiles whistled through the space she had occupied fractions of a second before.

Suddenly the fireplace roared, belching a tongue of flame into the room. She rolled to her right, out of its reach, in the barest nick of time. Another projectile barrage opened up. Scanning the room, she swiftly combat-crawled over to and under the desk, where she caught her breath as she analyzed her situation.

* * *

“She actually heard that,” Echo remarked in surprise. “Damn. I knew her ears were pretty sharp, but wow.”

“Pulse, one-twenty and steady; blood pressure, 130 over 90,” Fox read off the sensor readouts. “Respiration, twenty-three. High left hemispheric encephalographic activity. Trigger the plasma jet, Echo.”

Romeo and India spun around and stared in dismay at the two calm men. Plasma jet?!

* * *

A faint whine was the only warning Megan got before the plasma cannon behind the right-hand wall opened up. She crouched farther back, under the desk, until its initial salvo was complete. Then, in a momentary lull between projectile bank, flame-throwing fireplace, and plasma cannon, she reached up with her right hand, over the desktop, and grabbed for the decanter she had seen there. Miraculously, it was unbroken, having been below the level of the projectile barrage. She unstoppered it and sniffed the decanter mouth. Brandy. Perfect. She put on the special glasses.

She timed her next move carefully. In the split-second after the projectile weapons fired, while the plasma cannon built to discharge again, she emerged from her cover and flung the stoppered decanter with all the force and accuracy she could muster, straight at the plasma gun, then she turned and pushed with all her might against the back of the desk.

The desk slid across the polished floor just as the crystal decanter crashed into the now-firing cannon…and exploded. The improvised Molotov cocktail melted the circuitry and ignited the fuel tank, sending a geyser of flame out into the center of the room. But the desk was no longer in the center. Instead, it was now overturned, with its substantial polished granite top largely blocking the flame-throwing fireplace.

Megan held her breath, closed her eyes, and crouched in the desk’s opening until the flames from the plasma cannon subsided and the current round of projectile barrage ceased. Then, slightly singed, she scuttled on elbows and knees behind the wing chair. She overturned the marble-and-iron side table, heedless of the useless trinkets which tumbled off it, and caught it up in her left hand, holding it by the wrought iron pedestal. Using the tabletop as a shield, she moved up into a crouch, ducking behind it when the next round of missiles opened up.

“Aahh! Dammit!” A ricochet off the nearby marble mantelpiece winged her right shoulder. But she had reached the exit door. Still shielding herself with the table, she tapped the door handle warily with her right hand; no booby traps. She opened it; stepped sideways to her right…

* * *

Block 2 of the schematic lit up.

“Pulse, one-thirty and rising; BP, 135 over 92; respiration twenty-five. Hemispheric activity high and equally dominant,” Fox called out.

“Staying calm, thinking fast and getting creative. Great. Fox, did we get the fumes vented properly?” Echo asked, glancing over his shoulder at the two younger agents, so very intent on the largely-blank schematic, with a grin. Good idea Fox had, letting them see only a small part of the test. Ups the ante for ‘em, and gives us a chance to see how THEY react to the pressure.

“Yeah, no problem,” Fox responded. “Didn’t want it building to potentially dangerous levels, anyway.”

* * *

Fumes? What kind of fumes? Romeo and India sat staring, unbelieving, at the schematic while listening to the two men. WE’RE gonna have to go through this?

“How’s she doing?” Echo asked.

“If she maintains this pace, she’ll equal the record,” Fox responded.

“Dayum! Who set it?” exclaimed Romeo.

“I did, about six months ago,” Echo remarked, offhanded, his attention never wavering from the lithe figure going through its paces on the monitor.

* * *

This room was a formal dining room, of all things, complete with chandeliers and elegantly-set banquet table. Funny notions they have about obstacle courses, Megan thought. Whatever she had been expecting, so far this wasn’t it.

Megan discarded the side table and moved cautiously into the room, on the lookout for booby traps now. Her nose caught it first: an acrid, pungent odor. Then she saw the wisps of vapor rising from the floor.

“Acid!” she cried out in horror. The flooring was being eaten away underneath her.

Do they really want to kill me? I didn’t think that Echo-guy would’ve…but at least they would be rid of an eyewitness. Damn. Is this all just a set-up, then? An excuse for knocking me off? I am in such trouble…

An adrenalin-propelled standing leap took her to the near end of the banquet tabletop, irrespective of china and crystal, which tumbled this way and that, shattering. The way out, an open archway, was at the opposite end of the long table, but the opening was far out of reach of her ability to jump. The floor was now out of the question; large holes were starting to appear in it, a bubbling fluid underneath. She looked up.

The row of chandeliers ran almost the entire length of the oblong room, and were of the ornate Victorian candelabra style. Jumping up, Megan caught onto the one overhead and swung on it, tugging, testing. Strong enough, but not far enough, she thought, easing back down to the tabletop. If they only hung a little bit lower…

Abruptly, the table dropped out from under her, lowering by a full six inches, as what was left of the floor gave way. Megan lost her footing and fell, smashing china and sliding across the polished wood, over the edge. Digging her fingernails into the wood, she halted herself, her bent knees mere inches from the acid that now pooled around the bottom of the table. She slowly clawed her way back onto the tabletop. At least now I know how deep the acid is…

Suddenly, she whipped off her tie and belt. She threaded the leather belt through its buckle, making a loop, then used the pen knife to enlarge the last belt notch. Replacing the pen knife securely on her hip, where it clipped to the waistband of her leggings next to the glasses case, she quickly threaded the small end of the silk tie through the hole in the belt and knotted it firmly, jerking it hard to test it. Then she ran to the far end of the tabletop. She didn’t know if it would hold, but there was no time to change her mind. The table legs were starting to disintegrate now.

“Hope the farm skills are still with me,” she muttered as she swung the makeshift lasso.

The leather loop caught a prong of the chandelier, and Megan jerked it tight. Backing up as far as her improvised rope would allow, she made a running start, then swung forward.

No time to check the next room, she thought as she swung through the air. I just hope I hit the door opening straight, or this is gonna hurt bad…

“BANZAI!” she yelled as she reached the top of her arc and let go, flying head-first, arms stretched out in front, hands fisted, through the open doorway.

* * *

“Wow. Nice Superman jump,” Echo noted with a grin.

“Yeah, I liked it too,” Fox agreed, nodding.

Romeo and India just stared at the two men in consternation.

* * *

As soon as she was well through the opening, Megan realized she was in a bad way. Landing hard, she rolled, looked up, and blanched. At the far end of the room crouched a giant, hairy, black spider-like creature, with a leg-spread of at least fifteen feet, in a huge cage. To Megan’s horror, the front of the cage began to slide slowly up.

“Spiders. Dammit. I hate spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?” she muttered.

* * *

Alpha and Omega (Division One)

First in an ongoing series about the adventures of Alpha Line available now for preorder on Kindle with a release date of January 10, 2017.

Buy here

Alpha and Omega
© 2017 Stephanie Osborn
ISBN 978-0-9982888-1-9 (print)
ISBN 978-0-9982888-0-2 (ebook)
Cover art © 2017 Darrell Osborn
Fiction
First electronic edition 2017
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher. All trademarks are property of their respective owners.
This is a work of fiction. All concepts, characters and events portrayed in this book are used fictitiously and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
Chromosphere Press
P.O. Box 3412
Huntsville, AL 35810
www.chromospherepress.com

The Need For Balance

3 Jan

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

-CS Lewis

This isn’t what I was planning to write, but with 2016 now over I think it merits examination.

What, if I may start with a question, is the difference between fascism and communism?

There isn’t one, save for the lies told to maintain the system.

I think a few people may disagree with that assertion, but I think it is basically true. Fascism is a system in which all the resources of the nation are bent towards the needs of the state, a command economy where individuals are seen as nothing more than interchangeable nuts and bolts. Communism is a system where all the resources of the nation are gathered up by the state and used to serve the people, a command economy where – in theory – “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” In both cases, the important issue is that there is a command economy (in the belief that a person or group of persons with absolute power can fix everything) – and that such an economy invariably brings dictatorship.

Why? People don’t like having their goods and produce confiscated, either for the good of the state or for the benefit of faceless masses they don’t know. The leaders of the society, therefore, have to choose between building enforcement arms (the Gestapo, the NKVD/KGB, assorted religious police forces) or accepting the collapse of their society. In almost all cases, particularly when the leaders are unable to back down (they’re ideologically driven or at risk of being brutally lynched), they choose to build the enforcement arms and use them. If they haven’t already developed bad habits, they do now. Violence and brutality lead to corruption and social decay.

And at that point, they are either already dominated by a dictator or a power-hungry official is readying his bid to take over.

The lies told to the public are different, of course. Hitler spoke of the Fatherland; Lenin and Stalin spoke of socialism and communism; Khomeini spoke of Islam (Islamism is effectively a form of fascism). Some dictatorships are more successful than others. But the underlying truth is that extremism – whatever the political/religious base – eventually leads to tyranny. One may argue that fascism is more honest than communism (or Islamism) From the point of view of the people groaning under its weight, it hardly matters. All that matters is survival – and eventually breaking the dictatorship.

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Those of us on the right will recoil- and roll our eyes – when we hear a leftist suggesting that the eventual end result of right-wing politics will lead to a Somalia-like state. No laws, lots of guns, the strong bullying the weak … all in all, a pretty shitty place to live. And, like most childish arguments, it can be countered quite easily. The eventual end result of left-wing politics will lead to a Soviet Union-like state: lots of laws, no guns, the strong bullying the weak … all in all, a pretty shitty place to live.

Both arguments miss the point. There is a need for balance between the right and the left (insofar as such terms are useful these days), between freedom and security, between rights and responsibilities, between individuals and governments. And it is that balance which is steadily being eroded into nothingness.

My regular readers know that my wife and I (and our son) divide our time between Britain and Malaysia. Britain is, in many ways, an over-regulated society; Malaysia, by contrast, is an under-regulated society.

Here’s a very simple example. The place we rented last year was a two-story apartment – we had the bottom, someone else had the top. They also had a garden. During our stay, the people above us did a number of relatively small modifications to their driveway and garden. None of our business, you might think? That didn’t stop the local council from sending notes around asking if we had any concerns or objections before granting planning permission. I don’t think that any reasonable mishaps during construction would have posed a threat to either the building or us personally. And yet getting planning permission – and completion certificates – is a bureaucratic hassle.

The obvious rejoinder to this is that there might have been a threat to our house (which we didn’t actually own). But there was none. The owners owned the property. And yet they still had to grovel to the council for permission to make even a minor set of changes! If they had wanted to do something which did pose a threat, it would be a different matter. But they didn’t.

In Malaysia, things are different. Planning permission is a joke. No one gives much of a damn if landlords change things at whim. But there’s also a significant lack of safety standards and feasibility studies. On one hand, near Kuala Lumpur, there are a number of homes and shopping malls that stand empty, that will probably never be filled; on the other, there have been reports of houses, shops and even stadiums collapsing because the builders skimped on the materials. Many places I have visited, in Malaysia, struck me as terrifyingly unsafe.

There has to be balance.

Consider tolerance, for example. It’s a virtue, right? And yes, there is something to be said for being tolerant – particularly of things that don’t actually affect you. But it is extremely dangerous to tolerate intolerance, to tolerate things that pose a very real threat to the rest of the population. Where does one draw the line?

People have the right, IMHO, to do whatever they like, as long as it is done between consenting adults in private. Maybe it’s a bad choice – and there’s no promise of happiness -but it’s theirs to make. But what happens when it isn’t between consenting adults in private? And I don’t just mean sex. What about guns or drugs or religion? A person may have the right to drink, but they don’t have the right to try to drive home afterwards. And yet, what if they claim they do? Or what if a person’s religion demands intolerance? Or what if …

This isn’t a question many find comfortable. Indeed, there are factions on the right that love drawing lines and factions on the left that refuse to even consider drawing lines. And vice versa. There is, again, a need for balance.

Politeness is another issue. People should be polite to one another. But, at the same time, people should not hesitate to call out problems, to challenge others over issues that need to be discussed, even – perhaps especially – if they make people uncomfortable. Declaring entire regions off-limits for rational discussion is not helpful.

And while too many government regulations can be lethal, so too can too few.

There is a need for balance, a need to keep society stable. And both sides of our increasingly fractured political system have forgotten that. Indeed, in an era where compromise is regarded as a sign of weakness, even those who remember that are reluctant to try to compromise for fear it will be used against them.

Society is a pendulum. If pulled too far to one side, it swings back to the other twice as hard.

Snippet–The Zero Blessing

3 Jan

Hi, everyone …

First, I would like to wish you all a happy new year.

And, to start off the new year, I’ve decided to try to write a YA story (sort of the same age group as Harry Potter and The Rithmathist) called The Zero Blessing. As you will see, when you read it, it really started as a planned SIM spin-off, but as I had the great idea four books into SIM it was too late to shoehorn it in. <rolls eyes>. So TZB is really a stand-alone novel.

As always, comments, spelling corrections, etc are warmly welcomed.

As this is primarily meant for younger readers, please could you also keep an eye out for things that might not be appropriate for them.

Thank you

Chris

Prologue

I suppose I should start at the beginning. It is, after all, a very good place to start.

My sisters and I are triplets, fraternal triplets. We don’t really look that much alike, although we all have dad’s dark eyes and mum’s silky smooth hair. Alana is so pretty you’d think she’d been glamoured; Belladonna would be pretty if she took more exercise and bothered to put some work into her appearance; I, always in the middle, look more like a tomboy than anything else. You probably wouldn’t think we were twins if you passed us on the street, that we were born on the same day. But we were.

Our parents – Joaquin and Sofia Aguirre – are two of the most powerful magicians in Shallot, if not the kingdom. Dad’s a skilled enchanter with a whole string of apprentices working under him; mum’s the best potions brewer in the world. Having three children – three triplets – is a big thing for them. The magic grows stronger, we are told, when children are born and raised together. My sisters and I should have safeguarded the family’s inheritance for the next generation. Instead …

We were seven years old when it happened.

We’d had a birthday party, of course. Lots of presents, lots of sweet foods and a big cake dedicated to the three of us. Our friends came round and we had a great time, but our excitement was dulled by the knowledge of what would come afterwards. Dad had been talking about teaching us magic for some time – we’d already learnt some of the background knowledge taught to every magical child in the kingdom – and today we were going to start. I was excited. We all were. We’d seen Dad work wonders, ever since we were old enough to understand. We couldn’t wait to work wonders ourselves.

And so, when the party was over and the guests had gone, we walked into Dad’s study and sat down at the table. The tools were already waiting for us.

Magic is common, very common, in our world. It’s a rare person indeed who cannot master a basic firestarter, a water-cleaner or the other housekeeping spells listed in 1001 Spells For Practical Work. Fishwives use them to clean the air; broadsheet writers use them to send messages right across the kingdom. But magic, like music, requires talent. Anyone can learn to tap out a tune on the piano, but playing properly is hard. So it is with magic. The sooner you start learning, the better you’ll be.

I was so excited that I could barely contain myself as I picked up the tool. It didn’t look like very much – it was really nothing more than a silver pen – but it was the key to a whole new world. If I could learn how to use it, I could cast spells. And then I could use magic. Our parents had forbidden us from using magic in the past, when we were too young to know the dangers, but they would have to change their minds once we knew what we were doing. I couldn’t wait.

Alana went first, as always. She waved the tool in the air, as Dad ordered, and produced a stream of silver light. She giggled, then twisted the tool, changing the colour from silver to red and then gold. Her dark face crinkled into a genuine smile. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so utterly delighted than the moment she used magic for the first time. And I couldn’t wait to try it myself.

“It tickles,” Alana said.

“That’s your gift responding to the magic in the tool,” Dad said.

Belladonna went next, waving the tool casually in the air. Her eyes crinkled as nothing happened, just for a moment. Dad spoke to her gently, then told her to try again. This time, the light appeared, flickering in and out of existence as the magic weakened. Bella grimaced, then waved the tool a third time. The light grew stronger, floating in the air. Alana picked up her tool and wrote a word in the air, giggling. Dad shot her a quelling look before she could write something that would upset our mother.

“Your turn, Caitlyn,” Dad said.

I picked up the tool, feeling nothing but cool metal. An cold shiver ran down my spine. Alana had said the tool tickled, hadn’t she? Maybe she’d meant after she cast the spell. I held the tool in the air, silently promising myself that I was going to devote the rest of my life to magic studies, then waved it around.

Nothing happened.

Dad’s eyes narrowed. “Let the magic flow,” he ordered. In hindsight, it was clear that he’d realised that something was wrong. “Your instincts should guide you.”

“It’s easy,” Alana put in. “You can feel the magic.”

I couldn’t. I couldn’t feel anything. The tool still felt cold.

I took a deep breath, then tried again. Perhaps I’d been too excited to work the spell. We’d been taught basic breathing exercises, so I ran through them before lifting the tool and waving it in the air again. There should have been a line of light, hanging in the air. But there was nothing. I couldn’t even feel the magic.

“Hah,” Alana said. “She can’t do it.”

“Be silent,” Dad said.

Alana’s mouth closed with a snap. Our father is very even-tempered, most of the time, but when he gets mad … watch out. Normally, I would have enjoyed Alana’s discomfort; now, panic was bubbling at the back of my mind. What if I couldn’t work magic? Bella – lazy pudgy Bella – was drawing line after line in the air, giggling to herself as she sketched out faces. She couldn’t be doing better than me …

But she was.

I tried, again and again. Dad talked me through it, bit by bit. He even held my hand as I waved the tool, despite the risk of using his magic to power the spell. Mum came in and marched my sisters off, leaving us alone … nothing worked. I just couldn’t cast even a basic spell.

“I don’t know,” Dad said, finally. I could hear the disappointment in his voice, clawing at my heart. I loved my father and I had failed him. “We’ll keep trying …”

We did. We tried every day for a year, then once every week … nothing happened. I had no sensitivity to magic at all. My sisters learned to cast hundreds of spells; I sat in the back, reading books and trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Why was I different?

But I never found an answer until it was almost too late.

Chapter One

When our father wishes to punish us, he sends us to school.

Or so my sisters say, after spending four years of their lives in the classroom. They complain all the time, whining and moaning about having to walk to the school and learn about everything, but magic. Most magical children are homeschooled, but we had to go to school and learn. Alana hates it because she’s not learning about magic; Bella hates it because she’s not allowed to get away with not doing her work.

And me? I rather like it.

Not that I would have admitted it to them, of course. Alana blames me for us having to go, even though Dad was the one who sent us there. She thinks that my lack of magic is why we go to mundane school. Dad can’t teach us everything, can he? Mum taught us how to read and write, but they don’t have the time to teach us maths, history and all the other things normal children learn as they grow up. And while I could never work a single spell, I enjoyed studying magic and magical history. I wanted to be a historian before I grew up.

The school itself was a relatively small building, playing host to the children rich enough to afford an education, but lacking the magic or family connections they need to get an apprenticeship with a magician. Half of our classmates would leave at the end of the year, instead of going on to the upper school. My sisters would leave too, now we’d celebrated our twelfth birthday. This was their last day. They would be going to Jude’s Sorcerous Academy, where they’d learn how to turn their already-impressive magic into real sorcery. Dad had already booked their places. I envied then, even as I looked forward to being without them. Having two powerful sisters is a nightmare when you can’t even sense magic. I kept blundering into traps because I couldn’t see them.

The teacher, Madam Rosebud, was a middle-aged woman who eyed my sisters and I with dire suspicion, mingled with envy. I think she probably wanted to be a sorceress in her youth, but she lacked the talent to get some real education. She envied us for our easy magic – I don’t think she realised I didn’t have magic – and didn’t hesitate to point out our failings in front of the class. Dad had told us, in no uncertain terms, that we weren’t to use magic at school, but my sisters were good at intimidating their classmates. Hardly anyone dared to laugh.

“The difference between an Object of Power and a Device of Power is that Objects of Power last forever,” Oz droned. He was thirteen years old, kept back a year for failing the last set of exams. He was handsome enough, I suppose, but his voice was so boring that it put set the class to yawning. “They simply do not fail.”

I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes as Madam Rosebud’s baleful eyes moved from face to face. Oz was right, but really … I’d learnt about Objects of Power from Dad and Dad’s lessons were far more interesting. Dad’s apprentices are very skilled at making Devices of Power. And yet, nothing they make lasts longer than a year. I’d heard of swords, charmed to cut through anything in their path, that needed to be charmed again within months. Dad’s clients found it a constant frustration. Some of them even think Dad does it deliberately, even though everyone else has the same problem.

My sisters snorted rudely as Oz took a bow and returned to his seat. He flushed angrily, but he didn’t say anything. Strong as he was – he was the biggest boy in class – he was still helpless against magic. My sisters could have hexed him before he could even take a step towards them, if they wanted. There were some desultory claps from the front row – the sneaks and swots who were working desperately for a scholarship – but nothing else. Half the class was trying hard not to fall asleep.

“Caitlyn,” Madam Rosebud said. “If you will come to the front, please?”

I picked up my essay and headed to the front row, ignoring the quiet snickering from behind me. For once, I was actually looking forward to reading my work to the rest of the class. I’d been told to write about the history of the Thousand-Year Empire and the Sorcerous Wars, a subject I found fascinating. Hundreds of secrets were lost in the wars, including the technique used to make Objects of Power. My father had so many books on the period, including some that couldn’t be found anywhere else, that I’d been spoilt for choice. Boiling it down to a couple of pages had been a headache.

My sisters were smiling as I turned to face the class. In hindsight, that should have been a warning. My sisters spent as little time with me as they could. I rustled the paper for attention, then opened my mouth. Words came tumbling out …

They weren’t the right words. “Madam Rosebud is fat, fat, fat,” I said. My hands, moving against my will, started to clap. “Madam Rosebud is fat …”

The class stared at me in stark disbelief, their faces torn between an insane urge to giggle and an overpowering urge to flee. No one, absolutely no one, mocked Madam Rosebud. Fat she might be, ugly and smelly she might be, but no one dared mock her. I tried to clamp my lips shut as word after word spewed forth … the spell collapsed, far too late. Alana was covering her mouth to keep from laughing out loud, her eyes sparkling with malice. She must have hexed me on the way up, I realised …

A hand caught my arm and swung me around. “I have never experienced such disrespect,” Madam Rosebud thundered. Her face was so close to mine that I could smell the onions she’d had for lunch. I cowered back, despite myself. “You …”

She marched me into the naughty corner, muttered a cantrip and then left me there, staring at the wall. My feet were firmly fixed to the ground, held in place by magic. I struggled, but I couldn’t lift my shoe. Madam Rosebud’s voice boomed in my ear as she silenced the class, ordering my sisters to take a note to my father. I hated Alana in that moment, Alana and Bella too. Not content with going to Jude’s, not content with being able to escape their hated zero of a sister, they’d ruined my prospects of entering the upper school. Madam Rosebud wouldn’t let me stay in her class, not after everything I’d called her.

And dad wouldn’t let me tell her the truth, I thought, numbly.

I’d never been able to cast a single spell, not one. Even the basic cantrips are beyond me. It isn’t uncommon for children to be unable to cast spells until they reach a certain age, but most authorities agree that magical talent shows itself by eleven. If it doesn’t show itself by then, it isn’t there. And I was twelve … a zero. No magic, no sensitivity to magic …my father had forbidden me to tell anyone, but rumours were already getting out. Alana and Bella, showing off their spells whenever they wanted, didn’t help. People were asking why I wasn’t such a show-off.

I stood there, helplessly, as the class filed out for the day. Madam Rosebud was making me wait, then. I crossed my arms and waited, hoping that Dad would be in a good mood. But I knew he was probably going to be unhappy. Sir Griffons was visiting and that always annoyed my father. I don’t know why he didn’t simply tell the knight to go to another enchanter. It wasn’t as if Sir Griffons was more important than my father. Knight or not, he was no sorcerer.

It felt like hours before the door opened and I heard my father’s measure’s tread crossing the room. I could feel his gaze on my back as he spoke briefly to Madam Rosebud, cutting off a bleat from the harpy before she could work herself into a frenzy. I tensed, despite myself. I was going to pay for that, next term. Very few people would pick a fight with my father – and no one would do it twice – but Madam Rosebud could mark me down for anything …

“Caitlyn,” Dad said. He heard him walking up behind me. “Free yourself. We have to go.”

I twisted my head to scowl at him. The cantrip was simple. My sisters wouldn’t have had any trouble escaping when Madam Rosebud’s back was turned. But for me … it was utterly unbreakable. My feet were firmly fixed to the ground.

My father scowled back at me. “Now.”

He was a tall dark man, dressed in black and gold robes that denoted his status as the High Magus of Magus Court. His dark eyes normally sparkled with light, particularly when his daughters were around, but now they were grim. I knew I was in trouble, even though it was Alana’s fault. Dad … had told her off, more than once, for casting spells on me, but he also expected me to learn to counter the spells. And yet, without magic, it was pointless. I could say the words and make the gestures, yet I always ended up looking stupid. Sure, I know the words to turn you into a frog, but without magic the spell is useless.

I knelt down and undid my shoes, then stepped out of them. The shoes themselves remained firmly stuck to the floor. Dad eyed me for a long moment before sighing and cancelling the cantrip. I picked up my shoes, pulled them back on and followed him towards the door, not daring to look at Madam Rosebud. My sisters wouldn’t be back, next term, but they’d ruined my life anyway. Any hopes I might have had of a life without them were gone.

“You have to work harder,” Dad said, as soon as we were outside. The summer air was warm, but I felt cold. “Your magic needs to be developed.”

I didn’t look at him. “Dad … I don’t have magic,” I said. “I’m a zero.”

“No daughter of mine is a zero,” Dad said, sternly. “You have magic. You just have to learn how to access it.”

I felt a wave of despair, mingled with bitter guilt. My father had expended more money than I cared to think about, just trying to undo the lock on my magic. I’d used tools designed to bring out even a tiny spark of magic, brewed endless potions in the hopes of instinctively using magic to trigger them, undergone rituals designed to put me in touch with my magic … the only thing we hadn’t tried was left-hand magic. Dad had been so furious, the moment it had been suggested, that no one had dared mention it again. And nothing had worked. I was as powerless now as I’d been on the day I first picked up a focusing tool and tried to use it.

“I can’t,” I moaned. If I hadn’t found magic by now, I didn’t have it. “I don’t have any power.”

Dad gave me a sardonic look. “And what about Great Aunt Stregheria? You broke her spell.”

I shuddered. Great Aunt Stregheria was a witch with a capital B, a ugly old crone somehow related to my mother. She dressed like an evil witch from a fairy tale and talked like everyone else, including my parents existed to do her bidding. And she hated kids. My sisters and I had done something to offend her – I forget what, now – and she turned all three of us into frogs. We’d been ten at the time. It was the first time any of us had been transfigured against our wills.

Dad was utterly furious. He literally picked Great Aunt Stregheria up and threw her out of the grounds, then reset the wards to deny her admittance ever again. But, for all of his power, he couldn’t unravel the spell she’d placed on us. Neither he nor mum could undo it. We’d feared – even Alana, who’d got on best with the witch – that we would be stuck as frogs until the end of time, or at least until my father swallowed his pride and asked her to remove the spell.

But the spell on me had worn off in an hour, leaving me human again. My sisters had been stuck that way for a week when they returned to normal.

My father said, afterwards, that I must have used magic instinctively. He insisted that I had somehow broken her spell and freed myself. He even cast spells on me himself to encourage me to develop my talent. None of his spells lasted as long as he had intended either. But it was never something I could do consciously. If I had a talent – and he seemed to think I had something – it wasn’t one I could develop. My sisters sneered that magic was allergic to me.

“Dad, I don’t have magic,” I said, finally. It had taken me long enough to come to terms with it. “I’m just a zero.”

Dad sighed as he walked on. I trotted beside him, looking around. Normally, I would have enjoyed the chance to spend some time alone with him, but now … now I just felt tired and bitter. I’d never backed down in front of my sisters, I’d worked hard to find ways to extract revenge for their humiliations, yet there were limits. They would get better and better at magic, while I … the best I could hope for, I suspected, was theoretical magician. And even they tended to have magic. They needed it to prove their theories.

There were other options. I wasn’t a bad forger, even though I lacked magic; I was smart, capable … I could have found work easily, if I hadn’t been born to House Aguirre. The family name is a blessing, but it is also a curse. I was expected to be a powerful magician and I couldn’t even light a spark! There was no way I could work for anyone without magic, even the king. They’d all expect great things from me.

I sighed as we walked down the street, other pedestrians giving us plenty of room. It was just growing busy as more and more people finished their work and came out onto the streets to shop or merely to chat with their friends. A shopgirl was using magic to sweep dust out onto the streets, a blacksmith was chanting spells as he hammered metal into its shape … a street magician was showing off, but hardly anyone was paying attention. Shallot has a larger population of magicians than anywhere else in Tintagel, as well as Jude’s and a couple of magical universities. You had to do more than swallow fire and breathe water to impress this city.

But that clown has more magic than I do, I thought, feeling another flicker of bitter resentment. Illusionist or not, he was still a magician. And he can do something else with his life.

We crossed the bridge from Water Shallot to North Shallot, the guards on the gates saluting my father as we walked past. North Shallot is the richest part of the city, home to merchants and traders as well as sorcerers, alchemists and enchanters. I’d often wondered why Madam Rosebud and her superiors hadn’t opened their school in North Shallot, although the costs of buying land in the north are much higher. No doubt someone in Magus Court had objected, loudly. Magicians rule North Shallot. Everyone else lives on their sufferance.

“Things are changing, Cat,” my father said. I shivered. He only called me Cat when he was worried. “House Rubén has been making advances in Magus Court. My position may be under threat.”

I looked up at his dark face. He was worried. House Rubén was our family’s great rival, our only real equal in Shallot. I’d grown up listening to horror stories about how they treated their friends and so-called allies. It would be hard for them to unseat my father, I thought, but they could undermine him. Stepping down from his post was one thing; being unseated was quite another. The other Houses would back away from us.

“He can’t do that,” I said. “Surely …”

“He’s trying,” Dad told me. “House Rubén has wanted to win power for generations. Now … they might have a chance.”

“Because of me,” I said. “Because I don’t have any powers.”

Magic is stronger, I have been told time and time again, if children are twins or triplets … there’s even a legend of a witch who gave birth to five magical children. My parents, with three daughters, should have been powerful indeed, their bloodline secure for generations to come. But I had no powers …

… And the trinity my sisters and I should have formed had never come into existence.

House Rubén had only two children, as far as I knew. Twins rather than triplets. But both of them were powerful. There was no weak link.

“You have power,” my father said, sharply. He sounded as though he was trying to convince himself. “The spells I have cast on you … they should have stayed in place until I took them off. But you broke them.”

I looked down at the pavestones. “But I don’t know how!

“Figure it out,” my father said, sternly. He squeezed my shoulder, gently. “Time is not on our side.”

I shook my head, helplessly. Maybe I did have a gift. But it was more likely that I was just a freak, a child born without any magic at all.

A zero.

Out Now–We Lead (Ark Royal IX)!

1 Jan

The conclusion to the third Ark Royal trilogy!

The Second Interstellar War – pitting humans and their Tadpole allies against an enigmatic alien empire – appears to have stalemated. Neither side can push through to the other’s core systems without risking substantial losses, neither side can gain a decisive advantage. But when a brilliant human scientist invents a way to jump across the stars without a gravity tramline, an opportunity arises to strike the enemy in their undefended rear. It is an opportunity that cannot be allowed to pass.

Now, HMS Vanguard and her crew – and the largest fleet ever assembled by the nations of Earth – heads out on a do-or-die mission to challenge their enemies to one final battle …

… And if they lose, they will never see home again.

Nuttall wormhole_final

Download a FREE SAMPLE, then purchase here – US, UK, AUS, CAN.  Reviews and shares very welcome!

Happy New Year!

1 Jan

Before I begin, I would like to take this moment to wish all my fans a happy new year. Thank you very much for reading my books. <grin>

And now, what can you expect from me in 2017?

First, We Lead (Book 9 of Ark Royal) should be up for purchase by the time I post this message. (I’ll do the normal post to the mailing list and so on over the next few days.)

Second, I have the next set of edits for The Sergeant’s Apprentice, which I hope to complete by the 2nd. Ideally, there will be no need for a third edit and the book will go online shortly.

Third, the audio version of The School of Hard Knocks should be out in the middle of January. Watch this space.

Fourth, Books III and IV of Angel in the Whirlwind are coming out in March and June respectively (both should be up for pre-order now). Book V – a standalone – has already been plotted, with books VI-VIII in the works.

Fifth, I have a number of plots written for the coming year. Books 12-14 of Schooled in Magic (Fists of Justice, Poison Pen, Graduation Day) have been plotted – ideally, two of them should be written this year. Books 10-11 of Ark Royal have been planned. Book 1 of The Unwritten Word (the Bookworm sequel) has also been plotted, along with a handful of stand-alone books. You should see most of them over the coming year.

Sixth, and finally, the paperback versions of Semper Fi, The Outcast and To The Shores (and audio versions of Schooled In Magic) are also on the way. As the paperbacks of The Empire’s Corps have largely paid for themselves, I don’t see any reason to delay giving the next set a final edit and then uploading them.

(If you have already purchased the eBooks of Semper Fi and The Outcast, please go to Amazon to download the latest version – a handful of minor corrections and suchlike … and a new cover.)

And I will be continuing my observations on politics, government and other related matters on my blog.

Thank you for reading – and I hope you all have a very good new year!

Chris

An Insult to Self-Publishing

30 Dec

As a general rule, I prefer to leave fisking – taking an article line by line and dismantling it – to the experts, like Larry Correia. But every so often something pops up on the internet that leaves me rolling my eyes in disbelief before putting hand to keyboard to refute it. And today there was this article: Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word.

I have spent much of the last year reading articles that praised Trump and damned Clinton, praised Clinton and damned Trump, praised them both, damned them both … and I can honestly say that this article is still the most ignorant thing I’ve read. If it had been written in 2008, perhaps – just perhaps – the writer might have had a point. Now … the level of ignorance is staggering. Ignorance is not, of course, a crime. But one should at least attempt to remedy one’s ignorance before starting to type.

Looking at the author’s bio, I note that she has written travel books. I’ve never read them, so I have no idea if they’re any good or not. And, frankly, I have no idea if self-publishing is a viable path for travel books. I may be wrong about this, but I do question the value of her experience – such as it is – in writing about self-publishing.

I am a self-published author. Indeed, by the only definition that matters – earning enough to live without a day job – I am a successful self-published author. I do not claim to be an expert on self-publishing, but I have considerable experience in the field. And most of the article’s claims are, frankly absurd.

I’ve put her original work in italics and quotation marks, mine in plain text.

“As a published author, people often ask me why I don’t self-publish. “Surely you’d make more money if you got to keep most of the profits rather than the publisher,” they say.”

Assuming that the book was successful in both traditional publishing and self-publishing, your friends are quite right.

The problem with traditional publishing houses is that they make an investment in authors, furnishing everything from the advance, editing and cover design to promotion and publicity. (In theory – in practice, promotion is very limited unless you’re one of the big names.) They want a return on their investment, so the first profits will go to repay them. This has to be done before you see anything after the advance. And even after your book has recouped the advance, you’ll still receive only a small percentage of the profits.

And then there are countless other problems. You might be declared unprofitable and find yourself unable to write or publish further books. You might find your rights held hostage, preventing you from continuing a series elsewhere. And so on …

“I’d rather share a cabin on a Disney cruise with Donald Trump than self-publish.”

Would now be a good time to point out that Trump’s book – The Art of the Deal – has sold better than you and I put together?

“To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.”

And yet, how many of those gatekeepers rejected Harry Potter?

The problem here is that the gatekeepers are no better judges of what appeals to readers than politicians. Indeed, some of them are really nothing more than interns glancing over a few pages before rejecting the book. (I’ve done slush reading. Trust me – it isn’t anything like as much fun as it sounds.) Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they judge books by their content, sometimes they pick and choose for reasons that make very little sense to a normal sane person.

Even if your book doesn’t fall at any of the obvious hurdles, the publisher still has only a limited number of publishing slots. Their first-rank authors (the George RR Martin types) will have first call on those slots. Your book might be rejected or delayed because they don’t have time to publish it.

I’ve had books rejected by these gatekeepers that I self-published and turned into successes.

I’ve also seen books published that were rejected by the reading public. (Or at least me).

The system has its flaws – and they have become more and more apparent as the internet works to democratise publishing.

“Good writers only become good because they’ve undertaken an apprenticeship. The craft of writing is a life’s work. It takes at least a decade to become a decent writer, tens of thousands of hours. Your favorite authors might have spent years writing works that were rejected. But if a writer is serious about her craft, she’ll keep working at it, year after year. At the end of her self-imposed apprenticeship, she’ll be relieved that her first works were rejected because only now can she see how bad they were.”

There is a lot of truth in this, but …

I had an apprenticeship too. I started work in 2005. My first real success came in 2012. Between 2005 and 2012, I wrote around thirty manuscripts – making all the mistakes common to authors of all stripes. I too had people write in and say “you idiot, you killed this character off in the last book.”

The idea that self-published writers have not learnt their craft the hard way is insulting.

Yes, there are people who put their first manuscript on Amazon Kindle and get laughed at, not without reason. But there are professionally published books that are equally as bad.

“Did you ever hear what Margaret Atwood said at a party to a brain surgeon? When the brain surgeon found out what she did for a living, he said, “Oh, you’re a writer! When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Margaret Atwood said, “Great! When I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon!””

If this is true – and I admit I have no reason to doubt it – I find it odd that Atwood, a hugely successful author, would need to work after retiring. In truth, I think she was having a quiet dig at his suggestion that writing was easy, compared to brain surgery.

But if she didn’t earn plenty of money, this may be because of her publishing contracts, rather than anything to do with self-publishing. Atwood would make lots more money today if she self-published.

“The irony is that now that brain surgeon really could dash off a “book” in a of couple months, click “publish” on Amazon, and he’s off signing books at the bookstore. Just like Margaret Atwood, he’s a “published” author. Who cares if his book is something that his grade nine teacher might have wanted to crumple into the trash? It’s a “published” book.”

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Marge writes a book. (A soppy romantic book in-universe readers take for a reflection of her married life.) Writers loathe it. The idea that writing a manuscript is easy, followed by getting it published … <shakes head in disbelief>.

This paragraph has the same problem. Yes, a brain surgeon could write a book and self-publish it. But there would be no guarantee of success, no guarantee that he could give up his day job. The idea that he could hop naturally from ‘dashing’ off a book to signing books at a bookstore is absurd.

I am, as I said, a successful self-published author. But it wasn’t until the last convention I attended, a gathering of fans in my field, where I sold and signed more than seven or eight books. Most of my sales are electronic.

But tell me. Do you think I would have any sales – that any author would have any sales – if the books weren’t appealing to a large number of readers?

“The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.”

On one hand, there is a good point here. Anyone can publish on Amazon Kindle. But that doesn’t mean that there are no gatekeepers. People can and do post reviews, which help raise the book up high or bury it in the dirt. And yes, most self-publishers could benefit from a beta-reader (or ten) and an editor. But most self-publishers simply don’t have the money to afford one.

And yet, the suggestion that we are an insult to the written word is insulting. Half of history’s greatest hits did not come about because someone wanted to write the Great American Novel. They happened because an author wanted to entertain people.

“I’m a horrible singer. But I like singing so let’s say I decide to take some singing lessons. A month later I go to my neighbor’s basement because he has recording equipment. I screech into his microphone and he cuts me a CD. I hire a designer to make a stylish CD cover. Voilà. I have a CD and am now just like all the other musicians with CDs.”

Except you aren’t. Are you trying to distribute your CD? Are you trying to convince people to buy it? Are you singing in bars and trying to make a splash so some record executive will notice you, or putting your music on YouTube in the hopes of selling enough to live on?

This is the core difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing. The former is an exercise in vanity. It matters very little to the vanity author if anyone buys his books or not -all that matters is that he has it The latter is an attempt to sell books to make money – and a splash. How many indie writers have hit it big, then drawn interest from publishing companies? Those gatekeepers you praise love finding an indie because he already has an audience.

“Except I’m not. Everyone knows I’m a tuneless clod but something about that CD validates me as a musician. It’s the same with writers who self-publish. Literally anyone can do it, including a seven-year-old I know who is a “published” author because her teacher got the entire class to write stories and publish them on Amazon. It’s cute, but when adults do it, maybe not so cute. With the firestorm of self-published books unleashed on the world, I fear that writing itself is becoming devalued.”

I’m a tuneless clod too. I sympathise.

But it doesn’t validate you as a musician, ironically for the same reasons you defend traditional publishing. It may be nice to have, but it isn’t developing your career. The thing that does validate your work – singing or writing – is having people pay money for it. Now yes, anyone can publish a book, just as anyone can upload a video of them caterwauling into a mike while performing a silly dance. But the thing that makes the difference between a successful career and a pipe dream is the money.

The great writers are not devalued by indie writers, any more than the Beatles are devalued by some half-drunk idiot trying to sing Penny Lane on karaoke night.

What does devalue traditional publishing is the simple fact that many indie authors are undercutting them. It’s become a competition, all the worse because indie authors sell eBooks cheaply while traditional publishers manage to price themselves out of the market – an unforced error that is costing them sales. And instead of choosing to adapt to the new world, traditional publishers are slamming indie writers.

And the people who are really hurting here are the traditional authors. They’re the ones who cannot go indie, even though they have the reader base to be successful. They are trapped.

“I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that all that matters?

“And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.”

Except I did spend six years learning my trade. So did every other successful indie author. You’re tarring every single self-published author with the same brush.

The real difference, now, is that the mistakes are public. And yes, they can haunt writers for the rest of their lives. But really, this is sometimes true of traditionally published authors too.

“Author Brad Thor agrees: “The important role that publishers fill is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.””

This is true, but sometimes the wheat gets thrown out with the chaff.

“Author Sue Grafton said, “To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy and s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.””

Unfortunately, self-publishing is only a shortcut for getting a book online. It isn’t a shortcut if one actually wants to learn the trade, let alone turn it into a living. (And this quote could easily apply to the author of the article.)

“Writing is hard work, but the act of writing can also be thrilling, enriching your life beyond reason when you know you’re finally nailing a certain feeling with the perfect verb. It might take a long time to find that perfect verb. But that’s how art works. Writing is an art deserving our esteem. It shouldn’t be something that you can take up as a hobby one afternoon and a month later, key in your credit card number to CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing before sitting back waiting for a stack of books to arrive at your door.”

Good luck trying to sell those books.

You know, I agree – the art of writing is thrilling. But you know, it’s thrilling for me despite being a self-published author.

“Let’s all give the written word the respect it deserves.”

I quite agree.

But this – and all of this – really leads back to validation. And from where, we might ask, does that validation come from?

There is, I will freely admit, a cachet to being published by a traditional publisher. To have someone make you an offer, to haggle over terms, to be paid an advance and watch as your book is edited, then bound and finally turned into a stack of paperbacks … that’s not something I would deny anyone. A person with a traditional publishing contract has a vote of confidence – a publisher thinks that writer can write sellable books.

Because it’s all about the money, really.

But there are some absolute howlers published by traditional publishers. One doesn’t even have to go into the agreements about books that tick politically-correct boxes or written by celeb authors (just because they’re famous, they think they can write books) to realise that traditional publishing has problems. The explosion caused by the internet has altered the face of the publishing world beyond repair. Traditional publishers are trying to force a sinking ship back to the surface by force of will alone. Instead, the people they’re really hurting are their authors. There are no shortage of horror stories about authors trapped by ironclad contracts that were written in the days before the internet …

There is something unmistakably elitist about the traditional publishing world. And yes, going by the tiny numbers of people who have earned contracts, it is an elite. And the one thing elitists hate is the unclean commoners forcing their way into their world. The idea of self-publishers, publishers who hadn’t paid their dues, becoming successful doesn’t sit well with them. The self-publishers have a status that many in the elite do not share, even though they are traditionally published. And this has played neatly into the hands of those who want to force the genie back in the bottle.

Self-publishing isn’t perfect. But to argue that we self-publishers don’t give the written word any respect is absurd. And there are so many misconceptions in this article that, in the end, it is laughably out of date.

I’ll let Heinlein (Life-Line) have the last word:

“There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”