Should Writers Promote Their Books Online? Uh…Yes. Duh.

Unless you think a magical marketing fairy is going to sprinkle pages of your book in everyone’s homes, you’re going to have to do the hustling yourself.

Doesn’t everyone know that?

Apparently not, according to this week’s Twitter drama.

Now, let me confess, I’ve been vocal about criticizing self-promoters, but only the ones who are downright annoying. Like the perpetrators of those kill-me-now direct messages from someone you followed three seconds ago. You know the ones:

Hey! LOL. I noticed you followed me and wanted to give you a free gift! It’s a copy of my book! at a discount! And I’d appreciate if you’d pass along a five-star review since we’re friends now.

(They will always start with the word “hey,” which may or may not be capitalized.)

And don’t forget those odd accounts that are nothing but retweets of boring, boilerplate book ads. They’re obviously bot accounts posing as members of the wonderful writing community, and I’ll complain about that kind of spam any day.

But actual marketing and self-promotion? I’ve never had a problem with that.

However, one guy on Twitter does have a problem with self-promoters, and this week he kicked up a big fuss by referring to self-promoting authors as “hucksters.” Don’t bother looking for the original tweet, because he’s hidden it and run off. (I could point a big finger at his account, but instead I’ll be nice let him continue retreating.)

Mind you, he didn’t simply tweet his opinion, he made it personal. This guy tagged specific accounts and called on people to unfollow them, all for the terrible crime of…talking about their books.

But it backfired spectacularly.

Point of order: A “huckster” is a criminal con artist. This is no small insult. Thankfully, those he called out were inundated with waves of new followers, and the collective sympathy even generated some book sales.

The #writingcommunity has a lot of power when they act together, and someone who comes in trolling is going to be quickly rushed out the door.

So don’t mess with writers, because we look out for each other.

And if you’ve got a book to sell, I’d love to hear about it.

(BTW–I’m releasing a fantasy anthology with stories from some of the best authors in the #writingcommunity. It’s called THE LOST LEGENDS and it’ll be out soon! Take that!)

Title drop for my anthology! (Drum roll, please…)

I’m always bumping into writers. Conferences, writers groups, random people on the train scribbling out a first draft. (Anyone else notice that almost everyone is working on a book?)

My favorites are the fantasy writers. Rather than being competitive (my foray into the music world showed me that artists can be terrible to each other) the nerds who gather around to talk about our magic systems and dragon names just want to geek out. It’s like finding your tribe.

But there’s something bittersweet about meeting with these kindred spirits. Believe it or not, there are more fantasy authors at a local writing conference than you’ll find on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. There’s not enough room in the mainstream market for all of us, or even a tenth of us.

We’re not (that) bitter. We’re grown ups who know it’s a narrow field with almost no room to break in, and there’s nothing we can do…or is there?

After thinking about all the fantasy writers I know, an idea slammed into my face: Let’s just put our stories together!

Why weren’t we already doing this? I contacted a few writers I know and said that I wanted to make an anthology. No, I’ve never done it before. No, I’m not published, either. Yes, I’m a nobody. But let’s see what happens when we put our heads together.

I don’t know who could ignore such an amazing offer, but the response was overwhelmingly “YES!”

Since this anthology was for fantasy nerds and being written by fantasy nerds, I decided to give my writers free range. I wanted those stories that didn’t get published because they were too creative, too short or too long, too funny, or just too different. Forget trends and market expectations, I told them, and just write.

And the stories are stellar. Since the submissions started rolling in I’ve been overwhelmed, my inbox bursting with those magical tales that transport me and remind me why I started reading fantasy in the first place. Some of the stories are harrowing, some are full of emotion, and some have made me laugh out loud. (I might add, some of these authors you’ve actually heard of.)

My editing team and I had to find a name for this magical collection of stories. How do you explain that you’ve gathered stories that steal you from this world and throw into a place where adventure is right under your feet and anything is possible? It wasn’t easy. But we managed.

Later this year, it’s going to be my pleasure to present to you…THE LOST LEGENDS: TALES OF MYTH AND MAGIC!

I’ll reveal the cover reveal really soon, and you’re gonna love it. But my writers are going to love it more, because we fit everyone’s name on it.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Writer’s Block

It was an honor to be asked to write something academic once again, but I’ve been out of that game for a few years and felt a little…rusty.

This year I’ve been focusing on my fiction and my upcoming fantasy anthology (stay tuned–title and cover reveal coming soon!) and haven’t written an academic paper in years, so I figured the research would be tough. But that turned out to be the easy part.

I took to the library stacks like a monkey on a tree. I disappeared down dimly lit corridors and emerged clutching dusty tomes filled with lost stories and forgotten essays. I neatly arranged them in an elegant line in the copy room where I (very carefully) scanned their old pages in a blur. Some of the pages threatened to crack and the spines could scarcely hold on, but I handle old books with more care than any mother with her newborn, and each old book was treated with delicacy and dignity as I loosed them from their shelves and resurrected them from obscurity. I was a one-man army in that library, fueled by the knowledge that my research would soon be published in a collection of essays from my fellow scholars.

But something finally went wrong as I began to put words to my thoughts. Right away, the opening paragraphs didn’t “click.” I ignored it and moved on, hoping they weren’t really that bad. Sometimes your writing feels lame at first, but when you look it a few days later you realize it’s fine. That happens. Right?

But that didn’t happen this time. I looked at it a week later and, as I feared, the words that kicked off my essay really were face-palmingly terrible.

After a week with zero progress it started to get embarrassing. I emailed my editor to say I was only a paragraph away from finishing, and they replied saying they didn’t mind. I was still on schedule, after all, but I pride myself on finishing my work early. Early! And here I was frustrated by three sentences! (And, folks, they were really, really bad.)

I started to wonder if I should pull out of the gig and turn my back on academia forever. My thesis about the role of science in the medieval worldview was exciting, but it wouldn’t excite anyone if I wrote about it like someone who let their cat type it up. Maybe, I thought, I’m not cut out for academic work after all. There’s a reason, despite my graduate work, that my first name isn’t “doctor.” I’m not a real academic. I’m just a faker. Maybe it was time I admitted that to myself.

But those familiar pangs of creative frustration reminded me that I’d been there before, and that writer’s block had always yielded to me. Every time. And I suddenly felt confident that I would, once again, triumph over it.

I think those difficult moments are not some kind of barrier from the universe, designed to keep us from making progress, but are really just our instincts holding us back, saying, This part isn’t good enough. Keep trying. Maybe it’s just our own wisdom showing us there’s treasure to be found in those broken sentences if we’re willing to hunker down and work for it.

So I focused on the problem. I wrote down everything I wanted to accomplish in those opening lines and then wrote down every reason they were letting me down. In the past, this painstaking approach has, slowly but surely, helped me tear down those walls.

It took weeks, like I said, but eventually a trickle of an idea came to me, followed by a another…and another…until eventually I was drowning in a full flood of inspiration and I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with my soaring thoughts.

Sure, it took me three weeks to write one paragraph, but it was worth it. I wouldn’t change a thing, because without writer’s block to hold me up I would have turned in a lousy essay.

The New Fantasy Anthology is Shaping Up

My inbox just burst open wide with the submissions for my upcoming fantasy anthology. The stories look great so far (I hope you don’t mind that there’s one from yours truly) and we’re getting excited about the art and design that’s coming along.

I’ll have a cover reveal soon, as well as some other fun announcements, but for now just know that this anthology is going to be exactly what fantasy readers have been looking for.

17 Things I Saw in Roswell

Just finished a trip to Roswell, NM, and I know there’s nothing more interesting than vacation pictures from the desert.

So, here they are:

1 – Alien-Themed Stuff

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It starts well outside of town, so as you’re driving through endless southwest desert (and trying not to pee in the car) you begin to notice a theme…

 

 

2 – Unintentionally Funny Signs

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If you can trust your stuff with Billy the Kid, then who can you trust?

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Someone call Mulder and Scully–we saw a Blockbuster sign.

I couldn’t (from the road) see a big dome made from Ramen, but that image will live on in my dreams.

 

3 – A Newspaper about a UFO

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I think this is gonna be a big story.

 

4 – Those UFOs under my eyes.

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Dear goodness, someone call a bellhop to help me check these bags.

 

5 – A Spot Where the Enola Gay Once Parked

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6 – Emilie de Ravin Making Out

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Okay, that might be something I remember from the show. It’s hard to keep it all straight. Who knows?

 

7 – Aleins. Everywhere.

 

 

 

8 – Aliens Who Have Given up on Life

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9 – Emilie de Ravin Moving Stuff with her Mindtumblr_ok1scvvlow1rerzc4o1_400Full disclosure: This also could be something I remember from the TV show.

 

10 – UFO Research

The UFO museum is a fun slice of Americana, but take a look around back and you’ll find a serious research library with every document a UFO researcher could need.

 

 

11 – The Iron Cross of Germany Embedded in a Creek

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Interesting story. Some German POWs were kept in Roswell during WWII, because it’s the middle of a desert and there’s no where to run. They built lots of stuff before being returned to Germany after the war…but these prisoners found that their homeland was not in good shape (for obvious reasons) and came back, sometimes with their families, to live in the New Mexico desert.

There’s also a lot of German culture in Texas (where I’m from), and most of it predates WWII. It’s a part of southwestern culture most people don’t know about.

 

12 – This Donut Shop with a Happy Alien Landing

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Yes, I prefer the Donut spelling. “Doughnut” takes longer to type and life is short.

 

13 – A Magical Mountain Community

 

Less than 90 minutes from the dry, empty desert of Roswell is a lush mountain community called Ruidoso, where it’s cool in the summer and often rains. (When we first got to Roswell, the temperature was 113 degrees. Ruidoso was in the 60s.) There is endless shopping and excellent coffee, so we felt like hobbits stumbling into Bombadil’s house.

It’s surreal to see such different climates right next to each other, with almost no transition between the two. You’re in the desert, then you blink and it’s the rain forest.

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This dog stood in the doorway of a candle shop. He stared and panted expectantly until we drew near, and then he retreated into the store. We followed him in and he ran to the back to join his owner at the register, apparently proud of bringing in some potential customers. I told you, it’s a magic village. The dogs work the shops.

 

14 – The local TV station and the Live and Amplified Show

Live and Amplified is a podcast run mostly out of Roswell, and since my wife’s a songwriter they asked us to play a few songs for them. I didn’t expect a podcast to have such a technically impressive setup, but these guys really know what they’re doing.

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(The episode isn’t out yet. I’ll let you know.)

 

15 – The Abandoned Air Force Hangar Where (I’m Told) they Kept the Alien Bodies

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16 – Emilie de Ravin was there Posing as Air Force Personnel

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This one I’m pretty sure happened for real.

 

17 – A…Protest Horse?

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This horse is covered in newspaper articles in an effort to combat the official Roswell UFO story. I don’t understand any part of that sentence I just wrote, but apparently there was once a tradition of doing this sort of thing in the Southwest. This country is so huge that lots of American culture seems foreign to me.

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Just a weather balloon? Naaayyyy!

These Four Books Will Knock Your Writing up a Notch

I’ve read a lot of how-to books for writers. They tend to have grandiose titles, like How to Write the Next Big Book Everyone Talks About, and dispense obvious advice from writers who, curiously, are almost completely unknown. But a few have earned a spot on my desk, always within arm’s reach.

1 – Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup

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If you read one book about writing, make sure it’s this one. Style explains everything you need to know about making your words sound cool. Managing long sentences. Describing actions. Lyrical paragraphs. (Even successive sentence fragments.) Every chapter felt like a mystery being unlocked, showing me how to use writing techniques that had previously been out of my grasp. This book is the key to good writing, and older editions are so cheap they’re practically free. [Buy it.]

2 – The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White

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A little obvious, but it’s surprising how many people haven’t heard of this classic (and remarkably brief) set of English lessons. It’s in the public domain, so read it online. It will only take a few minutes. Even though it is novice-level stuff that you’re supposed to already know, many authors produce poor writing because they never bother to brush up on the basics. Don’t be like that. Spend a few minutes with this book to make sure you’re not writing with a huge blind spot.

Still sounds lame? Well, I first heard about The Elements of Style from…

3 – On Writing, by Stephen King

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That’s right. Strunk & White’s plain book about grammar is championed by the Schlockmeister himself. King has a reputation for being edgy, but this memoir  is all about the discipline of the writing craft, like learning grammar rules and making time to write every day. He almost succeeds in making it sound boring, but this book is a must for anyone who wants to know how a writer should get things done. Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors ever, so his advice on getting through drafts and completing projects is invaluable. [Buy it.]

4 – Write Like the Masters, by William Cane.

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This one’s my favorite. I was skeptical about the title, but this little book, written by a rhetoric professor, will take your writing to the next level. William Cane explains the rhetorical devices of famous writers in such a simple, straightforward manner that you’ll soon be impersonating Dickens or Melville with ease. Write Like the Masters also explores the lifestyles and writing habits of these authors to demonstrate different approaches to the creative process. (Balzac’s use of coffee might feel familiar, while Faulkner’s absolute concentration on his projects will make you question your dedication.) Professor William Cane is a very encouraging teacher, and any writer who reads through to the end will feel a surge of energy compelling them to write, write, write like there’s no tomorrow! [Buy it.]

Old Favorites: Understanding Simak’s ‘The Visitors’

clifford_simakClifford Simak might have been a square. He once wrote, “My favorite recreation is fishing (the lazy way, lying in a boat and letting them come to me). Hobbies: Chess, stamp collecting, growing roses,” and every picture of him looks like the standard American Male from the 50s on his way to have his shoes shined and fight communism. But Simak gave us thought-provoking stories that still make me ponder and think.

He began publishing science fiction in the 30s, working regularly for editors like Hugo Gersnback and John w. Campbell. According to his friend, Isaac Asimov, Simak had a respectable “real” job, where he didn’t let on that he was a writer. (I hear there are still people who do that.)

He’s a foundational writer, to be sure, and what makes his work unique is his focus on ordinary, mid-western people. My favorite Simak story, The Big Front Yard, is about a country repairman who finds adorable aliens quietly fixing things in his basement. Rather than writing a Buck Rogers-esque hero, Simak tells us how an incredibly normal guy reacts to an amazing situation.

The Visitors is one of Simak’s last works, written in the 80s, and it gives an unusual take on alien invasion stories. After the opening chapters, the scenes start to become bare with little or (often) no scenery or setting described. Just a a page or two of exchanged dialog and then we’re off to the next chapter. You can almost picture it like a minimalist play, where characters step out onto a barely illuminated stage and say their lines in front of sparse props.

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Like this. With aliens.

At the start of the story, a fisherman encounters an alien craft when he reaches back to cast and his rod snaps in half against a big, black box hovering over the river. The box sucks him up, stares at him, and spits him back out. Then the visitor, which appears to be a life form rather than a ship, begins eating trees and leaving behind strange “cellulose” blocks. The people of earth stand dumbstruck as more silent Visitors descend, eat more trees, and eventually to leave behind offspring in the form of small black boxes.

The visitors never directly communicate in any way, but they do start to create gifts for the people of earth. Strange cars that fly are left behind, seemingly as gifts in exchange for all the trees the Visitors devour. Sadly, the crowds that rush to get the free flying cars become too dangerous and the gifts must be guarded by the military for the public’s safety. Next the Visitors create houses, all identical and a little too perfect. The sight of a shadow moving inside of one of these houses tells us that the Visitors have even replicated humans, and our protagonists have no idea what to make of this development.

As the story nears its end, it becomes clear to the reader that no end is in sight. One of the characters even admits as much, lamenting that their story won’t have a neat Hollywood ending to tie up the loose ends. At the final page, the story ends with some abruptness while our characters watch the situation grow beyond their comprehension and control.

The purpose of this story remained elusive for me until, near the end, one of the characters mentioned a piece of plot from the beginning of the book, something I had forgotten: before the visitors landed, one of our protagonists, a reporter, was on her way to investigate a situation on a Native American reserve. The puzzle began to take shape.

Flipping back, I remembered that the story began with a conversation at the barber’s about Native Americans trying to preserve forest land that companies wanted to use for lumber. Our protagonist thinks the trees should be left alone, at least for the pleasure of looking at them, while his barber thinks it’s unfair for the Native Americans to keep industry from growing. (It’s a brave man who disagrees with his barber.)

As we watch the DAPL fight unfold once again, I find Simak’s book useful. The Visitors may not have a simple, explicit point, but it does give the reader some small insight into the point of view of modern Native Americans. No matter what Simak’s aliens do to smooth things over, they can’t undo the damage done, even if they never meant any harm. Though we think of them as visitors, and even while they come bearing gifts, it becomes clear that these strange beings from the sky can’t help but be invaders.

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Relax and Unwind with A. K. Klemm’s Lily Hollow Novellas

andiA. K. Klemm’s Bookshop Hotel series will make you nostalgic for small-town America where everyone knows everyone’s business and nothing ever changes. This pair of novellas takes us to Lily Hollow, where our protagonist, AJ, opens up a bookstore that doubles as a hotel. Quirky townfolk invade the narrative, and AJ is always up to her short chin in local drama.

Both books reminded me of shows like Doc Martin or Northern Exposure, where friendly, colorful locals flood each scene with their idiosyncrasies. There’s a cranky woman running a book club who becomes obsessed with hats. An out-of-place teenager who hangs out with old people. Couples finding love well into their golden years. All of it wrapped up in charming dialog, similar to something out of Jojo Moyes.

While the setting is warm and wistful, the stories don’t lack for drama and conflict. What do you do when an estranged family member screws up your plans and moves in without asking? Or when a letter arrives on your doorstep from a lawyer who threatens to turn off your livelihood? How do you help the diner owner who suddenly can’t remember to turn on the ovens?

Klemm’s love for reading is evident throughout, as these stories are essentially love letters to her fellow bibliophiles. And what book-lover doesn’t enjoy a charming novella?

Readers can enjoy the debut, The Bookshop Hotel, and its sequel, Lily Hollow. A. K. Klemm promises that more Lily Hollow stories are on the horizon.

The Mountain of Kept Memory is the Escape You Need Right Now

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Rachel Neumeier’s books are always a pleasure, taking you down the sort of rabbit hole that begs you to clutch a warm cup of tea while the story carries you away.

Like much of Neumeier’s work, The Mountain of Kept Memory feature two leads, brother and sister in this case, who take turns with the narrative. Men and women coexisting without a romantic subtext is always a welcome feature to me. Perhaps this is because I’ve always made friends easily with women. Or maybe I’ve just had enough with romance stories. I tend to roll my eyes when an adventure story introduces a love interest, because it invariably slows down the actual plot, but when men and women meet in a Neumeier story I have come to expect an interesting relationship.

Against a familiar backdrop (a medieval-esque fantasy world on the brink of war) we meet a pair of brave characters who turn out to be a lot of fun. Princess Oressa is a grown woman who enjoys sneaking around her father’s palace, climbing the outer walls, and eavesdropping on important meetings. (Exactly the sort of subtle trickery I would enjoy if I wasn’t a clumsy, 6’6″ monolith who couldn’t sneak past a cactus.) Shy Oressa turns out to be terribly clever, while her outspoken brother is a natural leader. They make quite a team.

The opening lines made me smile:

Oressa, curled beneath her father’s throne, her arms wrapped around her knees and her knees tucked up tight to her chest, was precariously hidden behind generous falls of the saffron-dyed silk draped over the seat and back of the throne. This sort of thing had been easier when she’d been twelve. Or even sixteen. Now that she was a woman grown, she had to work much harder to stay out of sight.

To save their country from war, Oressa and her brother explore the eponymous Mountain of Kept Memory to learn the secrets of the dead gods. They find, instead, a cache of ancient technology and a pile of confounding mysteries. The war grows more fierce while the mysteries deepen, forcing our pair of protagonists into a dangerous race for answers.

While the story is satisfyingly dramatic and exciting, it is also a lot of fun. I laughed at Oressa’s attempts to understand men, and felt a kind of sympathy with her brother when he realizes, once again, that his sister has found a new way to complicate his life. And I kept turning pages hoping to understand the ancient puzzle they had uncovered.

The calm reprieve provided by The Mountain of Kept Memory has been much appreciated. It seems I cannot get through five minutes of my day without enduring caustic, political rhetoric. I don’t know about you, but that kind of talk makes me weary, makes me want to leave the planet. This escapist adventure was exactly what I needed.

Forgotten Books: Frank Herbert’s ‘Whipping Star’ is Bizarre Experience

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that expected me to learn so much in so little time.

I found my co13437226_277048829312635_1009455740_npy amidst old volumes in a used bookstore. I’d never heard of it. This copy tore itself apart as I read, because the simple act of turning a page was enough to fragment the stiff paper. It held itself together just long enough for me get to the end. By that time, the final sections were barely bound, with the preceding pages having fallen out as the spine progressively withered.

The plot is intense. Our protagonists approach an alien sphere, interact with the most mysterious creature in the known universe, and learn that every life in the galaxy is about to die–all of this at the very start. Like drinking from a fire hose, we crash into the rest of the setting as the plot unfolds, meeting fascinating aliens and intricate political situations only long enough to know they exist before Frank Herbert rushes us to the next baffling sentence.

iO9 explains it as well as one can:

Herbert’s Whipping Star takes place in the far future after humanity has made contact with several other extraterrestrial civilizations. Together, they form the ConSentiency — a kind of intergalactic government akin to Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets. But this system proves to be too efficient for its own good, enacting knee-jerk laws that disregard their own downstream consequences. In turn, a shadow organization is created to disrupt the system and slow it down.

The Whipping Star universe appears to be as well thought-out as any sprawling sci-fi series, but this enormous story has been crammed into a tiny paperback. The world-building is as engrossing as it is overwhelming. The plot moves at breakneck speed, with nearly surreal details that often made me stop and wonder if I understood what was going on. As another blogger so well put it:

Frank Herbert had an imagination quite out of this world, and this is perhaps his weirdest whim. The one Caleban left is called Fanny Mae – seriously – and she is the manifestation of a star – a sun. And what she manifests as is an enormous beach ball.

That’s just one piece of the insane puzzle.

Another facet provided by Wikipedia:

Fannie Mae agreed to the contract with Abnethe in return for education. Calebans have great difficulty understanding and communicating with the more limited species of the ConSentiency (and vice versa), but Fannie Mae is curious. Abnethe’s wealth provides the best tutors in exchange for Fannie Mae’s agreement to take the whippings. Abnethe has an insane sadistic streak, but a court-mandated Clockwork-Orange-style conditioning session leaves her unable to tolerate the suffering of others. Abnethe needs a Caleban to take the whippings because she still craves a way to satisfy her sadistic urges and Calebans do not broadcast their pain in a way that is easily recognized by other species.

Still, I loved it. And I’m not alone, based on reviews I’ve read. It’s a plot so complex Tolkien couldn’t follow it, but the blinding, bizarre narrative is compelling to the last word.