Friday, October 19, 2012

Sanity Vacuum cover reveal!

Ladies and gentlemen-

My good friend and colleague, Thea Isis Gregory (that'd be the pretty lady to the right) is releasing a new book just in time for the Christmas holidays! Taking a break from her usual zombie fare, she's unleashing a space sci-fi novel called Sanity Vacuum upon the world!

My job today (and I've chosen to accept it) is to help her drive her readers crazy tantalize her readers by providing a sneak peek at the cover!

And so, without further ado...


Isn't it a beaut? Here's some info about the book.

The Premise:
Vivian Skye just finished university, and qualified for her first-choice internship. Not many would consider the distant and isolated Extra-Galactic Observatory cushy, but it's a dream come true for Vivian. Hailing from the low-tech planet of Aurora, she studied hard for this opportunity--and to leave her old life, and planet behind.

Her assignment is simple: perform a routine upgrade for the station's supercomputer, quIRK. Her reception isn't a friendly one, and eccentric quIRK becomes her only friend. However, the station's administrator, Bryce Zimmer is obsessed with quIRK--he suspects that the station's computer may have achieved sentience, something explicitly prohibited by the ABACUS Protocol. Compounding their issues, Bryce's traumatic and privileged past makes him distrust Vivian from the beginning. Desperate to keep control, he sabotages quIRK in order to eliminate Vivian. But, his plan threatens to consume the entire station and send them into the unknown void of intergalactic space.

Vivian must struggle to survive not only Bryce's megalomania, but also the emerging artificial super intelligence that is quIRK. Can Vivian and quIRK learn to trust each other and work together, before it's too late?

Sounds like fun, no?

Meanwhile, here's some info on Thea herself:

Thea Gregory is a firm girl from English Western Quebec, a total nerd, and she loves science fiction, zombies and physics. Between marathon cooking sessions, her clerktastic day job, and part time studies, she manages to find time to write. Author of the Zombie Bedtime Stories, her debut sci-fi novel, Sanity Vacuum, releases December 6, 2012. Thea's blog can be found at

So, in summary, I'm super-excited about this one, and you should be too. Tell all your friends about the gorgeous cover! Let's help make Thea's release day a success!

Friday, September 28, 2012


A couple of big pieces of news to report.

First, Atticus for the Undead has a new cover! Like all my covers lately, it is done by Steven Novak, an awesome artist who all of you authors reading this should totally use for your covers! I'm super excited about this one, so, without further ado, here it is:

Isn't that gorgeous? Yes, friends, as soon as Amazon finishes uploading it, that gorgeous cover will be on my book!!!

Second, a reader named Hattie Gunter posted a very fair (and so thorough!) review of Weaver on YouTube. I thought I'd promote both my book and her YouTube Channel at the same time by posting it here!

That's all for now, folks!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another Reader Learns The Secret of The Stitch-Faced Man!

The following 4-star review of The Void comes from the book's Barnes & Noble site.


This is turning out to be a pretty good series! I know it has to be, because all I can think of now that I have read the first two back-to-back is how long I am going to have to wait for the next one to come out?

This series has surprised me. I liked the first one (Weaver) a lot, but this was even better. It is an exciting read with action and surprise. The characters have been a little more developed and we are starting to see how the Wells Society got started and why they think they can do what they do (no plot spoilers here!) There is no graphic sex and no unnecessary cursing. There is a little violence and death to deal with, so I think maybe teen and up (no little children). Hope I don't have to wait too long for the next one.

Another indie writer to love and watch for!!!!! Great job Mr. Abramowitz!!!"

Author's Note: S/he even spelled my last name right! Woot!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can You Get Rich On 99 Cents?

On this fine Saturday evening, I thought I'd weigh in with my thoughts on the 99 cent price point. This has been the subject of considerable back-and-forth among the indie author community, but I have, so far, stayed out of it. Well, after having been "in business" for a little over a year and experimented with a wide range of marketing techniques, I'm ready to share my experiences.

When I wrote my first two novels, Weaver and Atticus for the Undead, I initially priced each at 99 cents. Having read that now-famous indie authors like Amanda Hocking and Darcie Chan skyrocketed to stardom after pricing their books at 99 cents, I thought that this might be a good way to encourage people to give my novels a try. I was an indie author, after all, who was launching his career during a recession, when people were going to be naturally hesitant to spend money. 99 cents made sense. So, with a deep breath, I gave it a shot.

It was a failure. A rather miserable failure, actually.

The 99 cent price drew few readers, and, what's more, since Amazon only lets you keep 35% of the royalties for books at that price, my profits on the books I did sell were beyond anemic--they were pathetic. I went months and months without a single royalty check to show for my efforts. So what was I doing wrong that Hocking, Chan, and the rest were doing right?

Of course I can't answer that question with certainty. I have no idea what's in the minds of potential readers, and even the most experienced writers and publishers say that there's simply no predicting which books will take off and which won't. Part of the answer may be that my genre (urban-fantasy novels which tend toward the thriller side of things) is simply less popular than the genres embraced by my more successful counterparts. Or it may simply be that I'm just not a very good writer (though for the sake of my ego, I try not to believe this).

But I believe that part of the answer is that there is actually a stigma associated with 99 cent pricing now, related to the stigma that accompanies indie authorship. I think many readers realize that big publishing houses wouldn't charge such a low price for their books--indeed, many traditionally published e-books are, in my opinion, now badly overpriced. Therefore, when potential buyers see a book at that price, they assume it can only be an indie novel, and the aversion to indies kicks in.

So I changed tactics. I marked Atticus for the Undead up to $2.99 (which is still probably cheaper than traditional publishers would charge, but I hoped the price increase would at least eliminate some of the "you get what you pay for" mentality). When The Void (Book 2 in The Weaver Saga) went live, I made Weaver itself free. The results of this move were dramatic--especially this month, now that Amazon has gotten around to price-matching. Copies of Weaver flew off the e-shelves, and The Void has delivered me my single best month of sales yet. It has even outsold Atticus during the months that Atticus was available on KDP Select. (If you're wondering why the "you get what you pay for" mentality kicks in for a book at 99 cents but not a book that's free, don't ask me.)

The lesson I learned? If you want to use low prices to encourage readers to try out your work, just go ahead and make it free. You don't make much money on 99 cent books anyway, and the heightened potential for exposure more than makes up for any losses you do incur--especially if, like me, you write series. I still hope to one day get rich as an indie author--but I won't be doing it at 99 cents.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Can I Stop The Signal?

Does anyone else find themselves accidentally channeling their favorite fictional characters when they're writing fiction?

For example, I'm sure it will surprise no one who reads this blog to learn that I am a HUGE fan of Firefly. Have been for years. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to write Atticus for the Undead and, quite unintentionally, found that Hunter had become Mal! Now, if you've read the book and watched the show, you'll know that they have little to do with each other. There's no space travel in Atticus, and, though he lives and works in Texas, Hunter is no cowboy. He might own a brown coat, but if so, it's purely coincidental. And yet, every time Hunter said something on the page, it was Mal saying that same thing in my head. (I may or may not have had to stop myself from inserting "gorram" and "shiny" into Hunter's dialogue a few times.)

Similarly, when I was writing Assistant Director Odell Graves, Moira's boss in The Void (Book 2 of The Weaver Saga, Book 1 of which is now free everywhere, by the way), I found that he wanted to sound very much like Agent Broyles from Fringe. (In this case, it probably didn't help that one of my beta readers for the book is a huge Fringe fan and actively pushed me in that direction.) I suppose this one is more understandable since both men are FBI Agents and both are the bosses of the main characters in their respective series'. And I do like the Broyles character quite a lot. But he's not allowed to body-snatch my FBI Agent, dammit!

And then, tonight, as I was working on Identity Theft (sequel to Atticus for the Undead), I was writing an exchange in which Hunter's new client asked him why anyone would ever willingly let themselves be mind-controlled. It took true force of will to stop Hunter from replying, "Some people juggle geese." So not only does Hunter want to channel Firefly, he can't even stick to a single character. Curse him and his zombie-defending ways!

Seriously though, am I the only one with this problem? Do vampire writers ever find their vampire characters talking like Spike or Damon Salvatore? Do space fiction writers ever have Han Solo or Admiral Adama earworming them as they write? This can't be just me--can it?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Yes, I AM still alive!

So I bet you guys have been wondering where I've been the last couple of weeks.

The answer: I've been bunkered up in my writer's cave, trying to get my head around the sequel to Atticus for the Undead. So far, the book is following several of John's Rules of Novel Writing. For instance:

  1. However many words actually end up in the book, I've written about 3 times that many. It never fails. In between normal editing, scenes I end up re-writing because I decide to take a different approach to them, and scenes I end up chucking because they just, well, suck, what looks like a 50-60k word book is usually a 150-180k word book on my end. This book is definitely no exception. Combine that with:
  2. Beginnings are always the hardest. By the time I get to the end of every book, I'm always really looking forward to starting the next one, if only as an escape from the many frustrations I've invariably encountered with the current manuscript. What I always forget is that writing the opening chapters of a new book can, well, suck. You have to introduce (or, if you're writing a sequel) re-introduce your characters in a way that makes them interesting to the reader, give the reader a taste for the flavor of your world, involve the character in some sort of event that hooks the reader into your story while you're introducing him or her, and do all of these things in a way that isn't ridiculously clunky or heavy handed. If you have more than one point-of-view character (all of my books so far have had 2, including this one), you have to do that for each character. Fun fun fun!
What does this mean for you? Hopefully, nothing! I'm continuing to work on the story and still hope to have it ready for you by year's end. But I thought you should know that just because I haven't been posting lately, doesn't mean I don't love you, or that I'm evil--well, I am evil, but that's not the point! Or, okay, it is sort of the point, because I put a lot of my evil into my novels, so this whole enterprise is sort of powered by evil (which is kind of awesome when you think about it), but... ah, you know what I mean. I think. I hope. Maybe. Kind of.

Keep the faith,


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Writers, Take Heart!

The thing about being a novelist--or anyone who tells stories with the written word--is that the medium offers you a million ways to fail. Someone who excels at plot may be weak at characterization, while a writer who has mastered both may still fall short on scene setting. An author who is apt at mood creation might have trouble convincing readers to suspend their disbelief. And so on. There are a million different ingredients that go into the storytelling process, and very few people are experts at all of them. In fact, I'm not sure anyone is.

Does this sound daunting? It shouldn't. To me, it's a source of tremendous relief. The fact that you are certain not to write a perfect story (does such a thing even exist?) frees you from the obligation to try. Which isn't to say you shouldn't try to write a good one, or even a great one--flagrant disregard for your readers is disrespectful and insulting to them. But it means you get to make mistakes and do things imperfectly--everyone will. Work as hard as you can to make your story the best you can, but if it's strong in nine ways, don't spend too much time panicking about the tenth.

Remember that most readers will not be going over your work with a fine-toothed comb or a score sheet, giving you marks on each aspect. They're in it for the experience as a whole--for the forest, not the trees. If you have an engaging plot and make your readers feel what the characters do, those readers probably won't care if one or two of those characters are one dimensional. And remember that you won't always be consistent between stories, either--not every set of characters will be as great as the ones in that one novel, not every plot will be as gripping as the one you came up with for that short story.

In short: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Getting nine out of ten parts of your work right is damn hard as it is--don't drive yourself crazy if you don't get the tenth. Trust your readers to stay with you for what you did right--because usually, they will.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


After this 90-day term, I will be ending my contract with the KDP Select Program, in which ATTICUS FOR THE UNDEAD, my most popular novel, is currently enrolled. What does this mean? It means that while the book WILL remain available on, it will also return to distribution on the Nook, as well as other e-reader platforms. It also means that I will no longer be able to host "giveaway" days for the book on Amazon, as those are only available for books enrolled in Select.

Every book enrolled in KDP Select gets 5 free days per 90 day term. At the moment, ATTICUS FOR THE UNDEAD has 1 free day remaining. This means that folks who have not already downloaded the book have one last chance to do so, free of charge.


Let's make it a good one. How can you help? Easy!

IF YOU HAVE REVIEWED THE BOOK (as many kind book bloggers and fellow authors have), I ask you to please re-post your review at the top of your blog on July 8th, for that day only, along with a notation that the book is free for the day.

No problem! There are still all sorts of ways to spread the word, liiiiiiiike:
-Twitter! Do a Tweet or two (I have some if you're not feeling creative)
-Facebook/G+ - put either the book's Amazon page or the Legal Fiction page on my blog in your timeline
And last but not least,
-Good old conversation! Tell some people. Tell LOTS of people!

Who's with me?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Interview With Rhiannon Frater!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'm not even going to pretend I haven't been looking forward to bringing you this one. Seriously, there's been squeeing. Lots of it. And so, without further ado....

She is the award-winning author of the As The World Dies zombie trilogy and the author of several other books: the vampire novels Pretty When She Dies, The Tale of the Vampire Bride, and The Vengeance of the Vampire Bride as well as the Young Adult novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. The first two books in her zombie trilogy, The First Days and Fighting to Survive, are available now in bookstores. Siege will be in bookstores April 24, 2012. She's also just released a new novel, The Last Bastion of the Living, which she's here promoting.

Please welcome, the lovely and talented Rhiannon Frater!

John: Let's start with the basics. What made you decide to be a writer? More specifically, what made you decide to be a zombie writer?

Rhiannon: I've been telling stories since I learned to talk, so I'm pretty sure I was born to be a storyteller. As for the whole zombie thing, they chose me. I considered myself to be a horror writer, but I had no desire to write about zombies. They scared me too much! Then one day a very intense vision of a young woman standing on her front porch staring down at the zombified fingers of her toddler pressed under the front door straining to reach her popped into my mind and I was hooked. I had to write that story. And it ended up being the As The World Dies trilogy.

John: You have a knack for coming up with vivid, eye-catching titles. What's your secret?

Rhiannon: Most of my stories come to me in dreams and so do the titles. I think the only one that ended up the product of a title generator online--of all things!-- was my YA book The Midnight Spell.

John: Let's get past title and into content. There are lots of zombie books out there--what makes yours special?

Rhiannon: According to my fans it's the cinematic feel of the story and the characters. I am often told by readers that they feel they've just watched a movie instead of reading a book when they finish one of my novels. Also, they love the characters and end up deeply emotionally invested in them. My fans tell me that reading one of my books is an immersive experience, so I suppose that is why they are "special."

John: Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Rhiannon: I'm an organic writer. The stories just come to me. The characters appear and it's my function to figure out who they are and follow them on their journey. That being said, I don't usually plunge into writing a story until I have a fairly good idea of where it's headed.

Now that I'm dealing with a major publisher, Tor, I am forced to write a synopsis for my proposed books. It's hell! Ugh! I hate it so much. I try to make them as general as possible because I know things may change along the way.

John: You're currently here promoting Last Bastion of the Living. We'll get to the substance of the book in a second, but first, as a Joss Whedon fan, I have to ask: Is it an accident that the woman on the cover looks distinctly like a black-clad River Tam?

Rhiannon: That's the first I've heard that. LOL. But I think the woman in the leather catsuit is a genre staple, so people may see Catwoman or Selene, too.

The artwork actually precedes the bok. It's an art piece by Claudia McKinney of Phat Puppy Art. WhenI was writing The Last Bastion of the Living, I had it on my screen for inspiration. I liked how it perfectly captured the mood of my novel. When I finished the book, I realized it was also the perfect cover. I contacted Claudia and was pleased when she agreed to sell it to me. Claudia just altered a few minor things to fit the story. I love it.

Personally, the dead terrain, the look on the woman's face, the pose, just everything, accurately reflects the story. It's a perfect cover for the novel.

John: Well, River's clothing was slightly different when she did her zombie-killing. Also, as I recall, she was using machetes, not knives. And I should probably stop talking about this in case anyone hasn't seen Serenity. *looks around guiltily*

ANYWAY! Now tell us about Last Bastion itself. What's it about? Was it fun to write? Do you have any favorite parts or scenes? (Without being too spoiler-y, of course.)

Rhiannon: The story is about the last living city on earth known as The Bastion. It houses the millions of surviving humans behind a high wall. The world was destroyed by a viral plague that created undead creatures called the Inferi Scourge. The last of the surviving earth governments worked together to create a fortified valley in a mountain range with only pass into it. That pass had an enormous gate  that was closed and locked once the last of the surviving humans entered the valley. The Bastion sat in the center of the valley surrounded by ranches, farms, a mining facility, a hydro-electric plant and a lake. It was supposed to be the New Eden. Then the gate to the pass failed and the Inferi Scourge swarmed into the valley. The Bastion ended up cut off from its resources and hundreds of thousands of people died.

Flash forward and the city is on the brink of death. Vanguard Maria Martinez is conscripted for a top secret mission that will help close the gate and eradicate the Inferi Scourge.

My favorite parts of the book are the prologue, which is an epic battle scene, and the ending, which I consider to be perfection.

John: What inspired the story?

Rhiannon: I had a really vivid dream about Maria Martinez looking out her window of her fiat and saw The Bastion. I love science fiction, dystopian, and zombie books, so I was hooked immediately when I saw the world.

John: What writers (or other fiction-makers) inspire you?

Rhiannon: George A. Romero, Joss Whedon, and Alfred Hitchcock are definite influences. Romero taught me to concentrate on the characters, Whedon taught me to kill my darlings, and Hitchcock taught me how to build up suspense and deliver surprises.

I've also been inspired by Bram Stoker, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury. All three have written stories that have completely transported me to other worlds.

Modern writers that I really enjoy are David Dunwoody, J.L. Bryan, Scot Westerfeld, Susan Kay Quinn, Ann Aguirre's sci-fi and dystopian works, and Ally Condie.

I can't name a favorite since I read in so many different genres and it depends on my mood.

John: Whedon fans unite! *high-fives* The biggest compliment I ever got was a Tweet from a reader yelling at me for "Joss Whedon-ing" her. That may or may not have had to do with a character I killed off....

What advice would you give to others who are considering writing as a career?

Rhiannon: It's very hard. Educate yourself not only on how to write a novel, but on the publishing business itself. The first major task is to actually finish a book, but chances are your first book will be rubbish. Don't give up. Keep writing, keep learning, and choose the publication path that you are willing to put all your time and energy into.

John: When you write a series, do you find fans' expectations intimidating? Does fear of not living up to those expectations make the writing process harder?

Rhiannon: Writing a series is a pain in the ass. That is why I'm trying to limit how many I'm working on at one time. Right now I have three. As The World Dies Untold Tales is one book away from completion. The Pretty When She Dies trilogy needs two more books. And the Vampire Bride series is probably going to be my long-term ongoing series.

I've already learned the important lesson to write the story that wants to be told and disregard all other influences. Yes, I want my readers to be happy with the story, but at the same time I have to stick with the rules in the world I've built and with the personalities of the characters. Sometimes characters do things that readers won't like and that's just the way it has to be. I don't meddle in the story. I learned that lesson long ago. If you try to force a character to do something that is against his/her nature or push the story in a direction that doesn't fit the plot arc, the whole thing derails. I know things happen in my books that readers may not necessarily like, but at the same time most of them understand why.

When it gets very hard is when you're on the last book of a trilogy and there is so much expectation in the minds of the readers. But again, I write the story that wants to be told and hope they enjoy it.

John: Imagine for a second that a movie studio (perhaps Lionsgate?) approached you and wanted to make your As The World Dies trilogy into movies. Suppose they wanted your input on casting. Who would you want playing Katie, Jenni, Travis, and Juan?

Rhiannon: As The World Dies is optioned. I have even helped with the pilot script. Whether or not it's greenlighted or not is a whole other story.

For Katie I would love Kristanna Loken, Odette Annable for Jenni, Kuno Becker for Juan, and Ben Browder for Travis.

John: Wow, didn't know that. Good for you. If it does get greenlighted, I will definitely be going. Congratulations.

Now then, let's look into the future. You seem to have several projects in the works at the moment. Care to tell us about them?

Rhiannon: I'm presently writing Pretty When She Kills, the sequel to my vampire/necromancer/zombie book Pretty When She Dies. It's a lot of fun to be back in that world after a four year absence. After that I hope to finish up my YA collaboration with dark fantasy author, Kody Boye, before moving on to a new standalone novel.

In the near future I have two short story collections coming out: As The World Dies Untold Tales Volume 3 and Cthulhu's Daughter and Other Horror Stories.

John:  There's been a lot of grumbling lately (including from me) about the KDP Select program and Amazon's new sales algorithms. Any thoughts on that whole kerfluffle? Has it affected your sales?

Rhiannon: Not noticeably. I tried the KDP Select Program with mixed results. I'm keeping one or two books on it, but took Pretty When She Dies off. I'm hoping to continue to establish my name as a solid writer so that my primary marketing strategy is name recognition.

John: Are you, like every other author out there, planning world domination? If you are planning it, will you be silly enough to tell me so?

Rhiannon: The world? Bah. Universal domination is what I'm aiming for.

John: Not lacking for ambition, I see. Well, Rhiannon, it's been a pleasure having you on the blog, and I hope you'll come back for your next blog tour.

Readers (or potential readers) wishing to find Rhiannon around the web can do so at:

Her website
The As The World Dies website
On Facebook
On Twitter
And on her blog

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Joss Whedon!

Though I'm sure he doesn't read this, I feel that it's appropriate today to send birthday wishes to the man without whom On The Bird would not exist.

I have said before that Whedon influences my fiction in a variety of ways. My interest in storytelling, and in writing, pre-dates my having any idea who he was, but it was only after consuming his work (over and over again) that I learned to tell stories well. Devouring episode after episode of Buffy and Firefly (RIP) proved to be the ultimate object lesson in character development and narrative pacing, witty dialogue and mood mixing. (One of the most flattering things a reviewer can say about a story of mine is that they loved the dialogue. That's when I know I've learned well.)

More importantly, though, Whedon's career provides an object lesson in artistic courage. As an indie, it is frequently tempting to "fall in line," to sacrifice my own artistic vision to the demands of the market and create a cookie-cutter, derivative version of Twilight or Lord of the Rings. From a business perspective, this might well be the sensible thing to do. But Joss never did that. He continues to tell stories that mix or jump genres, despite acknowledging that this has probably hurt his career. He made Firefly and kept fighting for it for years after cancellation (even though, "in Hollywood, people like that are called 'unrealistic,' 'quixotic,' 'obsessive....'"), eventually getting a movie made. He bypassed television and movie studios entirely and brought us Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog directly--a first-of-its-kind web show. And, in an age when mindless brain candy seems to be the order of the day, he made Dollhouse, a show explicitly designed to challenge viewers to think about prevailing cultural and social norms.

Granted, this may have been easier for him to do, since he comes from well-established Hollywood pedigree. And I'd probably still enjoy his shows even if he were to do more "mainstream" work. But there's something to be said for sticking by your vision even when it hurts your bottom line.

So, happy birthday, Joss. To many of us out there, you're still a Big Damn Hero.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

4.5 Stars For THE VOID

The following is a review of The Void (Weaver Saga #2) Denise Lhamon. It is presented here in its entirety. Those who have not read the book should be aware that the review contains some spoilers.

"Okay, let me be the first to say: I am *so* happy I volunteered to review this book. It took me by surprise how much I actually enjoyed it, and how much I want to go back and read the first one. To be honest I had no idea I was reading the second in a series, until my brain caught up with all the information I was missing within the text. Luckily, Mr. Abramowitz does a well good job of filling in enough detail for someone to at least guess at what happened in the first book.

Keeping that in mind, I've had to tailor my review because there *are* chunks I am missing from the story. This tune mostly sings toward character development. Obviously there's a difference between reading a character from book one and book two. One would hope the author has progressed his or her characters far enough to notice some sort of change in them.

In this case, Mr. Abramowitz has done well by his characters in that they seemed to jump off the page right from the get go. Alex was believable as a teenager who believes that her Weaver powers are the only thing that make her special. What kid wants to be normal, anyway? Her father, mother, Agent McBain and other supporting cast are written in a way that I was able to grasp their personality within a few words *and* jump to conclusions that later proved wrong. A wonderful surprise.

The other part is back story. There is plenty I don't know about with how Alex's mother, Ainslin (sic), treated her in book one. All I have to go on is that she was not a very nice person. Another conclusion that had me startled as more of her character was revealed. Without going into too much detail (I don't want to employ spoilers, as it would ruin the whole thing), Alex's father has left her mother because of what she was doing to Alex. Basically, injecting the poor girl with nasty shots to give her these Weaver powers. Like any good dad, he got his daughter out of there quick, fast, and in a hurry. Well, from what I can gather, a Weaver, has visions about Xorda attacks. Some are visions in the future, other visions are about the past. Alex's visions are about her mother in her college days. So, what dad said about mum and her badness may not be entirely truthful. In the Weaver Saga the FBI gets involved. Well, a part of the FBI that no one really knows about and that employs Weavers to help them locate the Xorda and get rid of them, for reasons I'm not quite sure about yet. Other than the soul-sucking bit. You know, which is never fun. Now normally, the FBI doesn't employ 15 year old girls. In our universe, anyway. However, in this universe, they do.

I think I would have been more open to the fact had I started from book one. It was a tough pill to swallow coming into book two, but not all that unrealistic once the scope of the Xorda problem and these 'Weavers' were explained.

In short, it worked for the world I inhabited for 190 pages.

Overall it was a fun and exciting read, the action moved along fairly quickly and the pages kept turning as my interest in Alex and her plight grew. The dialogue was snappy, though it felt forced in some places, and it was relevant to the situation-there was very little deviation into nonsensical conversation that, overall, had nothing to do with the plot as a whole. I immediately found myself attached to the characters and interested in what was happening to them.

A right feat considering the audiobook I *was* listening too (sic) was a nominee for the Hugo and Nebula awards. But, that's another blog post.

The only problem I could *really* find with the book was some of the fight scenes. Reading through them proved troublesome, as some of the action got confused. There was only one unrealistic scene I could find, when Agent McBain had a Xorda a few inches away from her face and kicked hi in the head. I had to raise an eyebrow at that one.

Other than that, the book was fun, well written, and an awesome read. It, and its predecessor, are available on Amazon's Kindle Store.

For me, the book gets a solid 4.5 for its characters, fast pace, and overall excitement. Well done, Mr. Abramowitz, I look forward to the next one!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On The Bird To Host Rhiannon Frater on June 30!


I am delighted to announce that On The Bird Publishing's scheduling department (composed of one incredibly tall and wickedly handsome Texan who I hear is a pretty good writer, too) has booked Rhiannon Frater, author of the much-acclaimed As The World Dies trilogy, to appear on this very blog! On June 30th, she'll join us for an interview as she promotes her newly-released book The Last Bastion of the Living.

Ms. Frater will discuss her current projects, her feelings about KDP Select, and our mutual love of Joss Whedon (!!!), among other things.

I hope you'll all join us for her appearance on the 30th! In the meantime, check out her website and see what she's up to!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

So What's Up With Amazon?

Is it just me, or is their pagination way, way off? For instance, Amazon lists my novel Atticus for the Undead at 162 pages. But at just over 53,000 words, by my calculations, this severely shorts the book page-wise. If we assume 250 words a page, that's 212 pages—50 full pages more than the Amazon listing suggests. This has caused several reviewers (including Kirkus Reviews) to refer to the book as a "novella."

We find the same problem with my latest novel, The Void. It clocks in at just under 62,000 words. At 250 words a page, that's 248 pages—244 if we round down and assume 61,000 words. And yet Amazon lists it at 190 pages.

To fit 62,000 words into 190 pages, by my calculations, you would have to put around 326 words on a page. To fit 53,000 words onto 162 pages, by my calculations, you would have to put 327 words on a page.

Has Amazon suddenly starting fitting 326.5 words onto a page? That would be a believable explanation, except for the final plot twist.

My first novel, Weaver, is also my shortest, by the word count. It's just under 44,000 words long, just over 45,000 when you include the preview of The Void that I added at the end of the most recent edition. (Weaver is also free everywhere but Amazon, and 99 cents on, by the way.) But according to Amazon, its page count?

168 pages.

For those keeping score, that's six full pages longer than Atticus for the Undead, even though Atticus is 8,000 words longer than Weaver, even counting the sneak peek at the end. Fitting 45,000 words onto 168 pages, incidentally, means putting approximately 268 words on a page.

So, someone who understands how Amazon's formatting works better than I do, please, I'm begging you, explain to me: What is going on here??

Friday, June 8, 2012

On Wisconsin

This American thinks it is time to stand up for public sector employees as the bravest, most selfless, and possibly the least-appreciated people in the country.

I recently read an article in The Wall Street Journal which began with a firefighter going grocery shopping with some of his colleagues. As he loaded his cart up with steaks and other things, he was accosted by another shopper, who said roughly: "Who do you think you are, getting a meal like that on the taxpayers' dime?"

I don't know who that particular firefighter thinks he is, and I don't know how he replied. But here's how I would have replied, had it been me: "I'm the guy who rushes into your burning house and saves your cats, your kids, and you!" Come on! We're really going to begrudge a guy who chose a career that means being willing to put his life at risk on a moment's notice a good meal every now and again? Really?

My mother was a public school teacher for much of her career, and frequently encouraged me not to follow in her footsteps. That confused me -- why would I not want to pursue a career that meant helping people, shaping young minds, and training the next generation of American workers? Sure, the pay wasn't stellar, but money wasn't my priority -- I wanted to do something that mattered. What better way to make a difference -- a real, tangible, appreciable difference -- than to be a teacher? I didn't understand.

Well, now I do. Despite mounting evidence that charter schools (whose teachers aren't unionized) produce no better results than regular public schools (and, in fact, often produce worse results), the idea that teachers unions are the root of all evil and that "accountability" is the answer to all of our educational problems remains a popular one in the public debate. In case anyone thinks I mean this as a partisan screed, it isn't only Republicans who've embraced this slipshod premise -- President Obama endorses it as well.

Knowing this, here's what confuses me now: Why would anyone want to enter a profession where they're paid like crap and treated accordingly? Why would anyone want to spend their lives working every waking moment (as teachers often do, if my mother is any example) only to be vilified every time they turn on the news as the source of the very problem they're working so hard to solve? I don't know whether I'll ever have kids, but if I do, I certainly won't encourage them to become teachers. Why should they?

Remember the Zadroga bill? That was the one to provide health benefits to 9/11 first responders. Remember how it only passed the Senate by the grace of Jon Stewart? (To their credit, after Jon Stewart spoke up on the issue, others, such as Shep Smith at FOX News and Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, followed.) And that's for the first responders at the scene of the greatest American national tragedy since Pearl Harbor.

Why is it that cutting the pensions or freezing the pay of these heroes and others like them is "fiscal responsibility" while raising taxes on people who make vastly more money than they do is "class warfare?" In what world is the second more "divisive" than the first? You're taking money out of someone's pocket either way.

I realize this is supposed to be a blog about books, writing, and pop culture, and I normally give politics a wide berth on this site. I don't think telling (or appreciating) good stories has anything to do with whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, or a Socialist. Art is for everyone. But on this issue, I can stay silent no longer. This is ridiculous.

Nobody likes bureaucracy. It is cumbersome, irritating, and prone to making mistakes. The abundance of bureaucracy in government makes the public sector an easy target for those who are tired of being put on hold. I understand that. But the idea that "government jobs" -- which include teachers, firefighters, cops, prosecutors, and, oh yes, the military -- are somehow "less real" than their private sector counterparts is a self-defeating delusion that should offend Americans of every political stripe.

Let's put it to rest.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Interview With A Vampire Hunter

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my next project -- specifically, I blogged about how I didn't know what it would be. That remained true until an old college friend of mine contacted me and suggested that I consider submitting a short story to the With A Twist anthology, edited by a talented young woman named Heather Coman.

The idea for With A Twist is to take the traditional mythos/tropes/stereotypes about a particular fantasy race and, well, twist them. This edition of With A Twist focuses on vampires and vampire lore. As anyone who's read my Weaver Saga or Legal Fiction Series (or The Antlerbury Tales) knows, defying genre conventions is one of my favorite pastimes, so I jumped right on it.

And now, after several weeks of frenzied writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, and editing, I am proud to announce that my short story Interview With A Vampire Hunter will be featured in the upcoming edition of With A Twist.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of Interview because the story is best experienced "blind." Spoiling the plot twists would be mean and would diminish the emotional impact of the narrative. So all I will say is that it's a 4,500 word genre-bender of a story. I am very proud of how it turned out and believe I have managed to fit quite a lot into so few words. Whedon aficionados in particular should be on the lookout for a couple of well-placed Buffy references hidden in the text.

So in short, I'm super-psyched. My first anthology publication! I can't wait for you guys to read it.

Now to go back on break for a few weeks and hunker down over Hunter's second coming....

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

KIRKUS REVIEWS Speaks Out on Atticus For The Undead!

Without further ado, I post their review here, in full.

"In this novella, a young attorney risks his career and life to bring justice to his wrongfully accused clients—zombies, vampires and other arcane species shunned by society.

In this action-packed novel full of ironic, esoteric characters, Abramowitz spins a tale full of twists, turns and danger. Reversing the roles of so-called threats to society and defenders of public safety, Abramowitz creates a world where it is the inhuman creatures who must be protected from power-hungry district attorneys and supremacy groups that target innocent victims under the mask of heroism and protection. The novel touches on high concepts as Hunter Gamble, the book’s lead, works against the social biases and stereotypes that ultimately keep the justice system unjust. Not only does Gamble face the standard difficulties of trying to persuade a jury, police and court officials, but he must also build trust
with his arcane clients who, in the beginning, place him in the group of lawyers who “wore suits and had sticks up [their] asses.” Abramowitz uses this complex dynamic to develop characters, their fears and ultimately their ambitions. Gamble’s ambition is large—he won’t stop until he saves an innocent client—but the goal is complicated when his young assistant, with whom he has a growing mutual endearment, is threatened and attacked by the Salvation Alliance, a group of vigilantes who use moblike tactics to target innocent creatures. Once his assistant and young client are attacked, Gamble knows his fight for justice will be larger than saving a few clients: He’s now up against the constructs that allow social inequality. Abramowitz writes with punchy dialogue, sonic action and vivid description. His characters sing, bellow, shout and stumble; one even flies through a public bathroom into a fancy gala, shattering the door behind her. There’s never a dull moment as Abramowitz earns his high-concept theme with tight dialogue and full characters who often display as many human vulnerabilities as they do supernatural abilities. Danger shadows each chapter and the courtroom battles will have the reader flipping pages in anticipation. Fortunately, the characters’ witty exchanges and Gamble’s inner monologue provide a measure of levity to the more intense scenes.

A surprisingly fresh, funny and fiery mystery that envelopes the reader in a uniquely colorful world."

Monday, May 28, 2012

On This Memorial Day

I'd like to take a moment to salute all the men and women who serve this great country in uniform.

What I do would not be possible without what you do.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why Should YOU Read THE VOID?

I'll let Miranda Wheeler over at Ricochet Reviews say it for me. Here is an excerpt from her 5-star review of the book.

"Overall, it was a great read! Fast-paced, fascinating, creative, and curious, the entire novel sped through an insanely unique plot - pulling old and new enemies into the storm and slicing the work up with an intense journey, darker creatures (zombies, Xorda, and wolves - oh my!) graver circumstances, worse consequences, and an epic cliff-hanger ending. Trust me, while The Void is a definite must-read - its definitely not somewhere you want to be." (Emphasis mine.)

You can find the full review here! Thanks to Miranda for taking the time to read it and compose her thoughts, and for understanding what I wanted the book to be.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Today I'm proud to host fellow author Darlene Jones (that'd be the lady on the camel). She's here promoting her new book Empowered, which launches on May 16! So you might say I'm empowering her to bring you Empowered. Though really, you'd probably only say that if you're lame.


Darlene, take it away!

EMPOWERED by Darlene Jones

The power of Jasmine’s childhood visions convince her that she cannot be harmed. But trusting these visions can lead her into danger, possibly even death. Jasmine pursues Victor relentlessly, believing he is her soulmate. But, the visions promise much more than a lover. They warn of a threat to Jasmine’s perfect life. She will wrestle with unknown forces that drive her, and with the knowledge that she has lived before. Who was she in that other life? Why is she so sure she is invincible? Where will her beliefs lead?

And Yves? He is the celestial being assigned to watch over her, and to provide the people to protect her. He must experience again the agony of losing the woman he loves to another as Jasmine and her lover fulfill their destiny. Will Yves jeopardize his rise in power by going to her on Earth? Will he give up his love? Or …


Initially, I intended to write “a” novel. The story and characters took over and the ending of EMBATTLED demanded another. EMPOWERED is that “other.” I've always believed we can't be the only beings existing in the vastness of the universe, There must be others “out there somewhere” and I'd like to believe they're not all that different from us. Those beliefs are reflected in my writing. My novels stay, for the most part, within the realities of our world, but I've found that I love the magic the sci-fi element of other beings could bring to a story.



My website:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's Here!

The Void on Amazon
The Void on Amazon UK
The Void on Barnes & Noble
The Void on Smashwords

"Captivating and compelling...." Stephen Ormsby
"This book showcases Abramowitz's growth as a writer ... If you're looking for a fun summer series, you can't go wrong with this set." My Mercurial Musings

Problem solved! The Void, Book 2 of The Weaver Saga, starts now!

The premise:
The zombie apocalypse is nigh!

The trouble is, Alex Cronlord is the only person who knows it. She is a Weaver -- one of a group of superhuman children who are able to see the future -- and she can still remember the vision she had just weeks ago of being chased by a shambling undead horde. But that's all she's seen of the coming horror, and lately, her visions have mostly been confusing. Dead bodies in dumpsters, a strange place called "Pinnacle," and no sign of a Xorda anywhere. At least, not at first.

As Alex struggles to make sense of these bits of information, a stitch-faced assassin surfaces with a vendetta against Ainsling Cronlord, Alex's mother. Ainsling is a member of the enigmatic Wells Society, a secret order of women who genetically mutate their own children to turn them into fighters against the Xorda. She is the person who gave Alex her Weaver powers. And she is the person Alex can least afford to trust.

But when the stitch-faced man steps up his campaign against the Cronlord family, Alex begins to realize she may not have a choice. As she learns the disturbing truth behind her recent visions, Alex must decide how far she is willing to go to save the world.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Under The Influence

As I kick off the Weaver Saga blog tour, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss what some of my influences for the Saga were and weren't. Since launching the first book in the series, Weaver, last August, I've had several people compare it to James Patterson's Maximum Ride series. While I'm deeply flattered to be compared to an author of Mr. Patterson's prestige, the fact is that any resemblances you see are purely coincidental. As of this writing, I have never read the Maximum Ride series -- though I certainly intend to now.

The initial inspiration for The Weaver Saga was a real person -- specifically, an old college friend of mine. One of the many remarkable things about her was that every night, she had incredibly vivid, detailed zombie dreams. When she awoke, she took great pleasure in regaling us with the story of the previous night's adventure -- I believe she once said that it was like getting to see a free zombie movie, every night. One day, as I was waxing nostalgic about those good old days, I thought -- what if there were someone like that whose dreams came true the next day?

Thus began The Weaver Saga.

Of course, the idea of psychics and superpowered children is hardly a new one, but I like to think I've added some unique touches to my tale. In fact, I would say that, when writing The Void (Weaver Saga, Book 2, which launches May 12!), my biggest influence was The Godfather, Part II. This may seem strange, for a book with two female protagonists and which is, in some ways, designed to appeal to female readers (though there's plenty here to keep male readers interested, as well), but it's true.

At its core, the story of The Godfather is a family story, and so is The Weaver Saga. The Xorda and the visions and the chases and the soul-sucking are window dressing -- the meat of the story is about the Cronlord and McBain families, and also about the impromptu family that Alex, James, and Moira form. But more specifically, The Godfather, Part II is a generational story, tracking the parallel movement of a father and son as they are confronted with similar choices. I don't want to say too much to avoid spoiling the novel, but The Void follows a similar narrative arc: two of the novel's central characters are confronted with parallel sets of circumstances, and the audience gets to see the choices those characters make -- and the effects those choices have on the characters.

And the Wells Society is kind of like a mafia, too, I suppose. (Maybe I should write that horse's-head trick into one of the remaining books. I can totally see Ainsling doing it.)

Remember that Weaver, the first book in The Weaver Saga, is now free everywhere but Amazon, which hasn't gotten the hint to price match yet. I'm hoping they will soon.

Also, I'm holding a giveaway for two free advance copies of The Void. The giveaway is open until the stroke of midnight tomorrow night. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog entry. I'll pick the winners at random and they should receive their copies on May 9th. Be sure to enter for a chance to be among the first to read this exciting new book!

Launch day is May 12! Soon you, too, can learn the identity of The Stitch-Faced Man!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Atticus for the Undead and KDP Select

So I'm trying an experiment.

For th"e next 90 day period, starting today, I have enrolled my novel Atticus for the Undead in the KDP Select program. This means that members of Amazon Prime can now read the book for free by borrowing it from the Kindle Lending Library. (And by the way, when you do that, I still make money!)

I hesitated to do this because I didn't want to shortchange the non-Kindle owners who like my work. But the reality is that the book has sold perhaps a dozen copies on all non-Kindle platforms combined since I published it in November, and I think that readers being able to check the book out of the Lending Library might help it to get better known more quickly.

If this experiment flops, or if I get a sudden flood of hate mail (that's, folks) from Nook owners asking how I could do this to them, then, at the end of 90 days, I'll put the book back on B&N, Sony, etc. And the Weaver Saga novels will remain available on all platforms.

But in the meantime, you can now try the book at no cost! Tell all your Kindle-owning, Amazon-Prime-subscribing friends!

By way of a reminder, here are some of the things folks are saying about the book:

"...I must say, I'm impressed ... This novel is one of the best I've read in years." Lorraine Nelson

"...creative genius and exceptional writing." Christine Butler, author of The Awakening Trilogy

"It just flies along, and it kept my interest for every page." Book Briefs

So come on -- join the fight for arcane rights! You've got nothing to lose!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

So what's next?


It may sound a touch absurd to be discussing my next book/project when I haven't even launched The Void yet, but that's how I roll. So what is that next project, you might ask? As you might be expecting, I can't tell you. But what you may not be expecting is why I can't tell you.

Quite simply, I can't tell you what my next project is because I don't know.

That isn't to say I have no ideas. Far from it. I have ideas for no less than three potential new series in the pan. Each lights up different pleasure centers in my brain, and I'm sure any one of them would be thrilling to write. So what's the problem, you ask? The problem is that I can't get any of them quite to the point where I'm ready to start writing them yet. I've been doing plotting for all three, on and off, since about 48 hours after I finished principal writing work on The Void. But in each case, something is wrong. In each case, there's a roadblock -- some vital element that I can't get my mind around or that won't fall into place the way I want it to.

So I continue to plot, and plan, and read other authors' work in my spare time. It's nice to be a consumer of fiction every now and then rather than a creator of it. Also, I'm hoping that something in their words might inspire me, and fill in that last piece of the puzzle.

So, here's where things stand: The only other book I'm promising this year is Identity Theft (Legal Fiction #2), which I'm hoping to have out this fall. That does not, however, mean that that's the only other entertainment you'll get from me this year -- the other projects were never intended to be books. They are being designed as serials. I will continue to develop each of those universes if and as ideas for it come to me. If one of the worlds hasn't fallen completely into place in about two more weeks, I'm just going to start writing Identity Theft -- aside from editing The Void, I haven't put pen to paper in about 3 weeks now and am starting to get guilty conscience.

In the meantime, keep telling your friends about The Void. The more hype we can build up by release day, the better. And remind them that Weaver is free on most platforms (except Amazon, which won't price-match). And keep watching this blog for updates.

Good things are coming soon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Inspired by Geek and Sundry, a Subscribe-a-thon!

UPDATE: Need to make very slight change to the terms of the Subscribe-A-Thon -- it looks like Weaver has actually gone free everywhere but Amazon, so don't bother choosing that one as your reward. :)

All right, folks, here's the deal: inspired by the lovely Felicia Day and her marvelous internet startup Geek and Sundry, I am proud to announce On The Bird's very first SUBSCRIBE-A-THON! This is your chance to help me build my membership base -- and get rockin' free stuff in return! Here's how it works.

At the moment, I have three stories available: two books and a short story. Specifically, they are:
Weaver: Revised Edition;
The Antlerbury Tales; and
Atticus for the Undead

So! If you become an On The Bird member (with the Google Friend Connect tool below) -- I will send you any one of these three, for FREE! Your choice!

"But wait, John!" you say. "I'm already a member. Now I feel left out and am going to go cry in a corner."

No no, wait! If you're already a member, all you have to do is get a friend to join up. Then all they have to do is leave a comment on this post saying that you referred them, and I'll send you both a free book of choice! Sound like fun?

I hope so, because it gets better. How, you ask?


If you go pick yourself up an Amazon copy of any of the three stories listed above (again, your choice), I'll send you both others free! Yes, really. 3-for-the-price-of-1.

How can you go wrong?

Note: This Subscribe-a-thon will last until the stroke of midnight, Monday, April 23, 2012. After that, it will turn into a pumpkin. Or self-destruct. Or something.

So, that's the deal. Let's build this city on rock-and-roll (or zombies and cheesy jokes, one or the other)...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weaver: Revised Edition

UPDATE: Weaver: Revised Edition is now available FREE on Smashwords!

Just uploaded the Amazon edition. Apparently you can't make books free on Amazon, except for the 5 freebie days on KDP Select. Does anyone know differently? I really don't want to break the "It will be free forever" promise I made.

Please leave comments if you know how! I R begging!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An interview in Jolly Ole' England!

I recently sat down with Sharon Goodwin, a book blogger over in the UK! I'd like to thank Sharon for the time it took to do the interview (I know book bloggers are busy people), and also convey how impressed I was with the effort she put into doing her homework on me and my projects when writing up the questions.

 Here's one of my favorite questions and answers from the interview:

Q: Joss Whedon has an influence on you. In what way has this affected your writing style?

A: The better question is, in what way hasn't it?

I think that consuming a lot of Joss Whedon's fiction is what gave me the tools I needed to make my writing good. As I said before, for a long time it wasn't. I took creative writing classes, read books in which other writers talked about their craft, and all sorts of things like that, but I still wasn't telling stories the way I wanted to tell them.

And then I found Buffy. The things Whedon did with his plot and character arcs just blew me away. He took his characters to places you didn't think they were capable of going, and he did so believably. Whedon's development wasn't BOOM, this bad guy is now good. It was gradual, it was step-by-step, and Whedon made you understand why the characters were taking each step they took. For a brief period in the series, he had turned things on their head so successfully that he had me feeling more sympathy for Spike than Buffy. That was when I knew that this was how I wanted to tell stories.

There are other things, too. For instance, I learned genre-mixing from him (although he has said that it has hurt his career). I won't say I got mood-mixing from Whedon, since that was something I already liked in my stories. I wanted fiction that could engage all my emotions. But he definitely taught me how to do it better.

The full text of the interview can be found here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

THE VOID cover reveal

It's finally here!

At last, I present the cover for The Void, Book 2 in The Weaver Saga! I think you'll agree with me that it was very much worth the wait (and so is the book!).

I can also announce that the final, for-real, not-changing-this-time release date for the book is May 12th!

Until then, look for Weaver to go free next month, and read the Who Is The Stitch-Faced Man? teaser to whet your appetites!

Be afraid ... be very afraid...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Weaver: Special Edition cover reveal!

I am approaching the end of principal writing work on The Void, Book 2 in The Weaver Saga. It's been a long, hard slog, with almost every chapter being re-written multiple times. But, it's finally over, and after talking to the copy editors and the review bloggers, it looks like we're going to have an early May release date.

Before that happens, however, the first book in the Saga, Weaver, is getting a re-launch. Weaver: Special Edition will hit the virtual shelves early next month. What's special about it, you may ask? Well, a few things. First, there will be a sneak peek of The Void at the back -- a different sneak peek than the "Who Is The Stitch-Faced Man" teaser I posted here earlier. Second, I'll be fixing a few technical problems in the book that I caught after publication and which have bugged me ever since. These are only technical fixes, the story will remain unchanged. Third, the book will now be free on all formats (assuming Amazon will let me do that without going KDP Select). And fourth, the book is getting a new cover, thanks to our friends at Novak Illustration. Take a look at this little beauty!

Now, does that make you want to pick up a copy, or what?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Politics of Storytelling

"So, why do you write these strong women characters? Because you're still asking me that question."
-Joss Whedon

*I started writing this before reading Jane Espenson's marvelous discussion on women in screen writing. I didn't intend it to be a "second act" to my contribution to that discussion, but it serves that purpose well.

It's time to tackle an uncomfortable subject: the intersection of gender, social politics, and storytelling. What does that mean in English, you might ask? It means I'm going to talk about how I square my personal politics (i.e., my belief in the need for gender equality and my dislike of the weak female characters that have traditionally dominated fantasy stories) with my beliefs about storytelling and my need to keep my audience hooked.

I start from the belief that fantasy fiction should not be a "man's game". Traditional fantasy fiction relegated women to supporting roles (at best) far too often, with most of the plot-critical action (and certainly the brave, heroic acts) being performed by men. This is absurd. There are many, many women in the world who are just as strong and smart and capable and clever as any man, and there's no reason that they shouldn't have their turn at picking up a sword and killing a Ring-Wraith (or whatever the action of the story demands). I have little tolerance for female protagonists who exist only to have their boyfriends save them at every turn when I'm consuming fiction, and I have even less patience for such characters in the fiction that I create. If that's what you want in a girl, you should look elsewhere.

And yet, we're all human -- women and men alike. None of us are perfect, none of us are good at everything. So I think it's important that all my characters have flaws, and that none of them be instantly able to handle any sort of challenge that's thrown at them. That's not realistic. I consider myself a decent writer, but if you put a physics problem in front of me? I'm a confused mess. Someone who's good at football might be terrible at debate, or vice versa. Etc.

So I treat my characters -- male and female -- the same way. All of them have strong points, but those strong points are counterbalanced with weaknesses, blind spots, or failings. Sometimes I feel bad about the weak points I give my female characters, because I worry that they feed into traditional stereotypes about women. For instance, Alex Cronlord, one of the protagonists of The Weaver Saga, isn't particularly physically strong, and tends to run from things rather than confront them.

I can hear the screams of protest already: But wait, John!, you say, didn't you just say that you weren't interested in writing weak women? What's up? Well, I'll tell you what's up: Alex may not be great in a fight, but she's also a psychic. That's something that no one else in the story -- male or female -- can do. If she could see the future and kick ass? Well, there's a two-word term to describe that, and it's something I also have no interest in writing. (Mary Sue.)

It's also no accident that one of Alex's main character arcs in the story is being confronted with her own tendency toward flight, rather than fight, and working to overcome it. People have flaws. When the circumstances demand it, they work on those flaws. This is realistic, and it avoids the creation of one-dimensional Mary Sue characters. In addition, I deliberately made the person in the story who is arguably the most physically capable, Moira McBain, female (whose weakness, in turn, is being emotionally stunted due  to events in her past that I'll not reveal here).

On the other hand, I'm a storyteller, not a polemicist. I have a strong political and social belief system (anyone who knows me in person will tell you that), but I have no interest in using my stories to make political statements. That's not to say that my stories don't have messages, they do, but I convey those messages in the context of telling a good tale. If I have to choose between the narrative and the message, I'll choose the former every time. I won't name any here, but lots of authors have written "characters" who are basically belief systems or arguments dressed up in human clothing. You won't find that here.

The trick, I think, is to avoid "howlers". A character who's entirely passive and brings nothing to the problem at hand is rarely very interesting, and is also "extra baggage" on the story -- that character takes up narrative space while serving no useful narrative purpose. So I don't write those characters. A "Chicken Little" character, who is always whining and running to others to solve her problems, is both uninteresting and unsympathetic. So I don't write those characters. And I don't write people who always need saving (which isn't to say that they never do).

In short, I think it's very possible to write non-misogynistic portrayals of female characters without writing a feminist tract. (You can write a feminist tract if you want to, but that's not a story.) Most of the secrets to writing strong, interesting women characters are the same secrets that apply to writing strong, interesting men. It's all in their actions (or lack thereof).