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Friday, December 23, 2011

Operation Christmas Gift by R. L. Copple

Jeremy stared blankly at the video screens stretching across the Titan station's wall as they scanned Earth's video feeds for crimes in progress. Glimpses of Christmas trees flashed across them as the world he called home, almost a billion miles away, prepared for Christmas the next morning.

"BJ, do you think we'll see Santa from here?" Bridget turned to watch Jeremy's eyes.

He barely cracked a smile. That would certainly get his mind off all the events of the past year. "No, Sis, I seriously doubt it." Jeremy met her eyes. Her short, brown hair brushed her shoulders. "Santa operates under the radar."

She huffed. "You make him sound like a bad guy."

"He does break into people's houses."

She slapped his arm. "To give stuff, not take it."

Jeremy felt his gut sink. "Christmas took my life from me. It took our parents from us." A year ago, he had parents, a normal life. All gone now. All because he had received that stupid helmet for Christmas, had put it on, had become involved with another world's battle, had saved them, then had become the hero who saved Earth from the revenge of the Similarians, but only after they killed his parents. A year later, his life turned upside down, the world moved on as if nothing had happened. He played virtual superheroes instead of living a normal life. Another Christmas came, but without the Mind Game this time. But he still had the hero game going.

She slumped in her seat. "I was trying not to think about that."

"Hey, Bucko."

Jeremy swung around to see Mickey stepping up behind him. "Hey, Mick. What took you?"

"Family returned late from a Christmas Eve service. Said I wanted to go to bed right away, like I couldn't wait until tomorrow." He smiled. "But I don't have to."

Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, you don't have to wait?"

Mickey slapped Jeremy on the back. "Because I have Astro Man right here. Just use that xray beam of yours and I'll know what they are tonight!"

Jeremy shook his head. "Mick, you're crazy."

"Oh, come on. I'm hoping they snagged the latest game--"

Jeremy jumped out of his seat. "What? Another game? Are you crazy?"

Mickey grimaced. "Bucko, what's the deal. It's just a video game."

Jeremy rubbed his forehead. "That's what we thought last year. Just a game. A game that stole my life from me."

Mickey's eyes grew wide. "Ah, of course. Christmas would be triggery for you. I'm sorry."

Jeremy sucked in a deep breath. "Forget it, Mick. It's all I can think about right now."

"What you need is some action. Anything on the vids tonight?"

Jeremy shook his head. "Christmas Eve is pretty quite all over the world it seems."

"Santa," Bridget's voice rang out.

Jeremy spun around to Bridget. "What?"

She pointed at a video screen. "There's Santa. And he's breaking into a house."

Mickey slapped his hands together. "There's our action. Let's take down Santa."

Jeremy held up a hand. "Mick, this is suspicious. Think about it. How would a live camera crew know about a break-in to a home as it happens and be there to record it?"

Mickey shrugged. "Happened to be in the right place at the right time? They've probably called the cops, but are filming it for the drama."

"Maybe." Jeremy stared at it a bit longer. "Aren't there movie plots about Santa stealing things?" Micky stared at him. Jeremy called out, "Computer, find movies where Santa steals." A screen went blank and then a list of titles appeared. The highest rated link read, "The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus" in 1914. Related links followed it.

Mickey read the results. "Are you saying the Zorians are behind this? Else I'm not following you. Santa thieves have been around forever."

"Yes...I mean, no. I doubt it is a Zorian. But it still makes me suspicious."

"Okay, so maybe it's a trap. Maybe it's not. And if it's not, guess who loses?"

Jeremy ran his fingers through his hair. "Yes, you're right. But stay together. My gut is saying something is wrong here."

"Agreed," Mickey responded.

Bridget jumped from the chair. "Sure, but we'll be virtual. We can't get hurt."

Jeremy stood. "Then as you say, Mick, let's do this."

Mickey grinned. "This will be good for you. You'll see."

Jeremy entered the coordinates. "Suit, appear as Astro Man."

The room faded and a breeze blew across his chin sticking out from below his helmet. The half-moon cast a dim glow over the residential neighborhood. A street light flickered a few yards to the right. Activity buzzed to his left where a camera crew recorded the house, waiting for the thief to exit. A siren blared in the distance, indicating the police were indeed on their way. Mickey was probably right. They would save someone's Christmas from being stolen and make some kids happy, at least.

Mickey appeared beside him as Blue Nova. Jeremy could barely make out the blue-green suit, blue briefs, and dark blue cape in the moonlight.

Bridget materialized as Rainbow Girl to his left. Her sparkly mask flaring at the end reflected the meager light.

Jeremy caught her eye. "Rainbow Girl?"

She smiled. "You catch 'em. I'm make 'em cooperative."

Jeremy nodded. "Sounds like a plan. You stay out here. Blue Nova and I will grab this guy." He turned toward Mickey. "I'll use my blinding flash on my gun, and while the crew is blinded, race in there and grab him, bring him to Rainbow Girl, and she'll make him giddy with cooperation."

Mickey saluted. "Sir, yes, sir!"


"Lighten up, Bucko. Have a little fun with this. You're way too wound up."

Jeremy pulled his gun out and set it for the light blast. "You should never let your guard down. Assume nothing."

"It's just a lone Santa thief. What could go wrong?"

"I hope your right." Jeremy pointed the gun toward the camera crew. "Hide your eyes. On three. One, two, three!" Jeremy squeezed the trigger and a blast of light lit up the area. The camera crew rubbed their eyes and swore in the quiet neighborhood. Within a second, Mickey flashed back with a squirming man in his arms. Mickey dropped him on the ground.

"What the--" The man stayed on the ground.

Bridget extended her arms and flow of rainbow colors enveloped the man.

Santa's eyes blinked and a grin spread across his face. "So much for my Christmas. But that's okay. I'm happy anyway."

Jeremy pointed to the street. "Go sit on the curb and wait for the police. Give yourself up when they arrive."

"Oh gladly I will. I was so bad to try and"

Jeremy's eyes widened. "What did you say?"

The back of the news van flung open. A line of soldiers carrying automatic rifles streamed out the door. Jeremy raised his gun to set it for shields, but before he could, a rain of bullets spread over them. He could feel the bullets hitting him. He would have called out to exit the suit, but dying in the virtual body would accomplish the same thing. This did appear to be a trap, but what trap? They would wake up and come back again. Apparently they didn't know much about how virtual bodies worked. But why did the army set this trap?

As life ebbed from the virtual body, he saw Mickey drop out of nova speed and fall to the ground. He hadn't reacted fast enough, despite his super speed. He felt himself falling onto the grass as blackness swept over him.

Jeremy jerked his eyes open. He tried to focus, but the ceiling he saw was not the stucco of his uncle's house at the top of a Montana mountain. Instead, polished metal greeted his eyes. He pushed himself up.

Thick hands wrapped around his arms and another pulled the cowl off his face. "Commander, Operation Christmas Gift has been completed, sir."

Jeremy groaned inwardly. Their bodies had been captured while they were virtual. Two men on either side of him kept a firm grip on his arms, another two stood toward the foot of his bed, rifles aimed at the floor, ready to use. No doubt another two stood behind him.

A higher ranking solider beside his bed examined the cowl. "Very interesting. I'm sure our scientist will have a field day with this."

Jeremy noticed the American flag attached to their uniforms. US military. "Earth's best scientist couldn't figure out how the helmets operated. What makes you think this will be easier?"

A smug smile creased his lips. "We've actually made progress in figuring out some of the Mind Game helmets. But we're missing a point of reference."

Jeremy squinted at him. "What?"

"Point of reference. The helmets, as you know, don't work. And even when they did, the destination was in another galaxy. But with these in hand and the destination being in the same room, they'll be able to trace the energy field being created, and hopefully come up with the remaining pieces of the puzzle."

Jeremy let himself fall back to the cot. The soldier’s hands loosened but remained firm. "No one can use the mask but me. Same with the other mask Mickey and Bridget have. They are programmed to respond only to our voices."

The man shot a stare at Jeremy. "You'll forgive me if I don't trust you."

"Be my guest." Jeremy turned to meet his eyes. "But how did you find us?"

He waved his hand. "Simple deduction. When the superhero appearances began to be reported all over the world, and you're friend and sister's personas helped in defending Earth, it became obvious that the same virtual reality of the Mind Game was at work. From there you were the most logical culprits. We tracked down your locations and set the trap to grab you."

Jeremy stared at the wall. He should have foreseen this possibility. "Why, though? Why revert to kidnapping us?"

The soldier stuffed the cowl into his pocket. "Control, Jeremy Goodhue. The Army likes to have control over situations. And I didn't suspect you'd approve of us gaining that control. But if we can duplicate this technology, our forces would be invincible. We can fight wars on the ground without losing a life. With a legion of virtual Blue Novas to speed in and hit the enemy before they even blink, we could maintain control for decades. Centuries even. Can you imagine the progress? Can you see the peace we could uphold?"

Jeremy knew he didn't want to tell the man anything else. Let him think he could succeed. As soon as the Zorians caught wind of it, they'd shut off the virtual energy going through the wormhole and that would be that. No more superhero days for himself, Mickey, and Bridget. But then again, that didn't sound so bad. He wouldn't mind putting the whole thing behind him, and salvage what he could of his life.

"Peace?" Jeremy breathed deep. "By killing?"

He smiled. "Youthful idealism. I'm afraid the world is a dangerous place. Some people only understand one thing. Brut force."

Jeremy grumbled under his breath, "That's what all bullies think."

"What?" The Commander stared at him for a couple of seconds. Then turned and headed for the door. He paused as he opened it. "By the way. Merry Christmas, Jeremy." He left and shut the door behind him.

Jeremy groaned. "We may have killed Rillian, but his spirit lives on."


The Commander returned to the room after an hour had passed. His face grim, he faced Jeremy lying on the cot. "You were right. We have to use you to get the mask to operate. Come with me." He turned on his heels and headed to the door.

Arms pulled Jeremy off the cot. He stumbled along beside the soldiers as they exited the room and marched down the hall. The Commander stopped in front of a door and pointed at the window.

Jeremy moved to look in, keeping his eyes fixed on the Commander's stoic gaze. He peered in and saw Uncle George sitting on a cot, coveralls and hat as if they'd snatched him while he milked the cows.

"Just want to ensure your cooperation. If you resist or try anything foolish, it won't go well for your uncle, sister, or friend."

Jeremy met his gaze. "We're United States citizens. What about our constitutional rights to due process? You can't threaten us like this."

A smile cracked on his lips. "To the government, the Congress, and the Constitution, we don't exist. You'll have a hard time suing an organization that doesn't exist."

"How do I know you have my sister and friend?"

The Commander nodded down the hall. They stopped at the next two cell doors. Bridget sat on the cot rocking her feet under it. Mickey circled his cot as if deep in thought. "Satisfied?"

Jeremy nodded, and followed the soldiers down the hall, a right turn into another hall, a left, and a few doors on the right, they entered a room. Waist-high tables lined the walls. Chairs sat scattered in front of them, and soldiers worked on different projects. Centrifuges, Bunsen burners, test tubes, microscopes, and various other lab equipment littered the table-tops.

But in the center of the room stood a dentist-like chair fastened with heart monitors, IVs, and a foil ring that swiveled off the top of the chair's back, as if it would fit on someone's head. A moveable light hoovered over the chair. Jeremy guessed the light wasn't to get a better view of one's mouth.

The soldiers jumped to their feet as the Commander strolled to the center of the room. He patted the chair. "Lay down here."

Jeremy didn't see he had any other option. So he crawled into the chair and laid his head against the back. Jeremy watched as the Commander reached onto the table where one soldier stood at attention, and picked up his cowl. He saw Bridget's and Mickey's masks laying beside it.

The Commander held the mask in front of Jeremy. "You will put this on, then appear in this room as one of your characters. If you do not appear here, I will order the termination of one of those we are holding."

Jeremy's jaw dropped. "Murder?" He had to be bluffing.

"Oh, it would be an accident. Your Uncle falls off the mountain. Your sister drowns in a lake. Your friend shows up in an automobile accident while walking home. All after we terminate them and plant the evidence. We could even implicate you in their deaths if we wished. Now you don't want their blood on your hands, do you?"

"Investigators would know they didn't die that way." Jeremy gritted his teeth. "You couldn't get away with such things!"

The Commander stared into Jeremy's eyes. "We have, we are, and we will again. Now are we clear?"

Jeremy bore into the Commander's eyes. If the man was bluffing, he couldn't tell. Nor could he take the chance he wasn't. "You're clear. I'll cooperate."

"Good." He handed Jeremy the cowl.

Jeremy slipped it over his head and leaned back. The ring was snuggled down upon his head. He whispered in hopes they wouldn't pick up they words, but the mask would. "Suit, appear here as Astro Man."

The room dimmed, then reappeared, except he now stood to the side of the chair watching his body breathing in front of him. Feet scurried behind him. "Hand's up!"

Jeremy raised his hands. He saw fingers wrap around his gun and then yank it from its holster. The soldier held the ray gun in his hand. A slight smile spread over the man's lips.

Jeremy nodded at the gun. "Careful with that, dude. Whatever you do, don't pull the trigger."

The Commander jumped to the soldier and pulled it from his hands. He turned it over as he examined it. "Why? What would happen."

Jeremy forced a grin to stay hidden. "Trust me. The last thing you want to do is pull that trigger."

The Commander continued to scan the gun. "Sargent, start the energy trace from the body to the virtual body."

"Sir, yes, sir." Several of the men turned back to their work.

The Commander lifted the gun's barrel and rested it over his extended left arm. He pointed it at the far wall where stood a two-feet thick titanium three by three foot wall. A blackened area covered the center of the metal wall as if lasers had hit it countless times.

"Sir, do you think that is a good idea? We should interrogate the prisoner first to know what it does."

The Commander turned and stared at the officer for a long five seconds before responding. "You're out of line, soldier. This is a ray gun. This dial on top sets the strength. Anyone can see that."

The soldier shrank back to this table. Another officer called out, "Yes, sir. But I saw--"

The Commander ignored the officer and pulled the trigger. The last setting Jeremy had used being the light blast with the camera crew, the room filled with a blinding light. Rifles clattered to the floor as everyone hid from the light.

Jeremy, protected by his helmet's visor, dove to his ray gun falling from the Commander's hand, caught it in midair, spun around, and landed on his back. He flipped the gun to the stun ray before anyone could regain their sight or respond, and spun himself around on the floor, dropping everyone in the room with a series of thuds and clanks.

"Suit, appear here as Inviso Dude." The room darkened and returned with the bluish glow of the invisibility field. He leaped to his feet and grabbed Bridget and Mickey's mask from the table, then scooped up his own body lying in the chair and flopped it over his shoulder. "Man, I've got to lose some weight."

Jeremy stopped by the Commanders unconscious body. "I told you, you didn't want to pull that trigger." He wondered if the Commander had ever read the story of Briar Rabbit. And he thanked God that the Commander was numbered among the men who didn't think they needed to read the instructions.

With the invisibility field cloaking both his virtual and real body, he stepped through the door, down the hallway, and into Mickey's cell. He pulled Mickey's mask from his pocket and threw it onto the cot.

Mickey stopped his pacing and jumped. "What the..." His eyes widened. "Bucko?"

"Put it on, Mick, grab your body once you've gone virtual, and then hold onto me. I'll extend the invisibility shield around you so we can walk through the door."

Mickey flopped onto his cot and yanked the mask on. "Suit, appear here as Blue Nova." Blue Nova materialized beside the cot. He pulled his body onto his shoulder, grabbed hold of Jeremy's arm, and became invisible. Jeremy headed for the wall and they stepped into Bridget's cell.

"Sis, put this on." He threw her mask onto the cot. She smiled and jumped up clapping. She put on the mask and became Comet Girl. Jeremy knelt down and pulled Bridget's limp body onto his other shoulder. "Hold onto me everyone. We have one more person to get. They walked through the next wall and into Uncle George's cell. Uncle George latched onto the chain of people. Jeremy could feel the energy drain on him. "Quick, though this door. I can't hold the field much longer."

Jeremy kept his focus on the energizing the field as they entered the hallway. They released Jeremy, causing Bridget, Uncle George, and Mickey holding his body to become visible again. Jeremy breathed easier.

Mickey glanced down each hallway. "Now how do we get out of here? Wherever here is."

The sound of footsteps sounded down the hallway. Jeremy frowned though no one could see it. "I think they've discovered my breakout. Mickey, give me your body and do a quick recon. Knock out the soldiers coming, and find out where the way out is."

"You're wish is my command." He slipped his body to Jeremy, who piled it on top of his own. Jeremy thanked Holbreth for giving Inviso Dude super human strength.

Mickey sped away into a blur. Jeremy motioned to the rest. "Follow me this way. Comet Girl, scatter some knockout comet dust behind us. Mickey won't be affected by it because he's going too fast."

She nodded. "One dose of sleeping dust, coming up." As Jeremy led Uncle George down the hall away from the coming boots, Bridget extended her hand and scattered dust into the air as she walked backwards.

Sounds of grunts and guns clattering to the floor echoed down the hall. Jeremy doubted they ever saw Blue Nova hit them. Uncle George glanced back. "Is he all right?"

"He's fine. Don't worry about him." Jeremy rounded a corner to find four soldiers pointing rifles at them. Before Bridget could follow him, Jeremy yelled, "Back!" Bullets whizzed harmlessly through him. "Comet Girl, send dust this way."

Bridget stuck her hands around the corner and showered the men with dust. They collapsed onto the floor. Jeremy said, "It's clear." The pair followed him again.

A steel door loomed in front of them. A blue streak stopped in front of Jeremy and Blue Nova appeared. "It must be this way. I checked a few hundred bunk rooms, eating rooms, bathrooms, rec rooms, laboratories, cells, etc., and they were all dead ends."

"Very well." Jeremy stepped through the door and examined the area beyond it. A hanger greeted him dotted with jets. Multiple soldiers worked on the aircraft and guarded the area. A big door that Jeremy bet led outside stood on one side of the massive walls.

Jeremy stepped back into the hallway. "This is certainly the way out. But there are a lot of soldiers on the other side of this door. I'll step you through, Blue Nova, then you can take out as many as possible while I break a hole through this door and we can escape."

Mickey nodded. "Let's do this."

Jeremy held onto Mickey's shoulder until he was through the door, then released him. He watched a moment as Mickey zoomed from person to person, knocking them out with a hit to the head. Jeremy pulled back into the hallway.

"Suit, appear here as Astro Man." The hallway faded to black immediately returned, but seen through the visor of his helmet. "Now I'll use my gravity ray to blow a hole in this door. Stand back, you two." He reached for his gun.

"Halt!" the Commander's voice rang out.

Jeremy jerked his head around. His gut twisted at the sight. The Commander stood, arms crossed, surrounded by ten soldiers pointing rifles at Bridget, himself, and Uncle George.

"Deactivate your virtual personas now, or I'll fire on your uncle." The Commander's eyes bore down upon Jeremy, daring him to disobey.

Jeremy glanced at Uncle George. Uncle George stared at the rifles with wide eyes and backed up against the wall. Jeremy checked on Bridget. She'd closed her eyes and bowed her head as if admitting defeat. He knew there was no way he could pull his gun fast enough to initiate the force field or take any action before they pulled the trigger. And Blue Nova, trapped on the other side of the door, couldn't help either.

"Now, Jeremy!" The Commander lifted his hand to give the order.

Jeremy held up a hand. "Okay, you win." He breathed deep. "Suit--"

A blast of light filled the small hallway. A force knocked Jeremy off his feet. His helmet's visor protected him from the light, but he flew through the air, slammed against the wall and crumbled to the floor. The helmet had protected his head from serious injury, but his body felt like it had been hit with a giant hammer. The force rebounding off the door smashed into Jeremy's body and shoved him ten feet across the hall. Every bone in his body ached, and he could barely move.

"BJ, I mean, Astro Man, are you all right?"

Jeremy felt a hand on his head. He cracked an eye open to see a blurry Comet Girl standing over him. "Was that you?"

"Uh hu. Sorry I couldn't protect you, but I felt keeping a protecting field over Uncle George and our bodies was more important."

Jeremy nodded. "I'll reset myself. Suit, appear here as Astro Man." The room faded and with it, the pain. It reappeared and now he could see clearly and felt strong. He hopped to his feet and examined the pile of unconscious bodies. "Comet Girl sure knows how to pack a punch."

Bridget giggled. Uncle George rubbed her head. "You can say that again."

Jeremy pulled the ray gun from its holster and dialed in the gravity ray. He pointed it at the door and pulled the trigger. It burrowed into the metal, and a red glow spread across the door as the beam dissolved the molecular cohesion, disintegrating a hole into the thick metal.

Blue Nova flashed to a stop in front of Jeremy. "About time. What took ya?"

Jeremy pointed at the pile of men. "Needed to clean up after ourselves."

Mickey smiled and slapped Jeremy on the shoulder. "Way to go, Bucko. That'll teach 'em."

"It wasn't me. Thank Comet Girl here. I was ready to surrender."

Mickey tussled her hair. "I should have known when I heard an explosion in here." He turned back to Jeremy. "But now what?"

"First, let's get out of here. No doubt they have cameras all over this place. We can't discuss plans here. You take yours and Bridget's bodies. I'll take Uncle George's and my body in my ship. Comet Girl can fly. We'll meet again once we are clear of this place and figure out where to go from there."

Mickey nodded. "Sounds good. Let's do this."

Bridget gave a thumbs up. "Yes. Let's."

Uncle George said, "Anything to get out of here."

Mickey picked up his and Bridget's bodies, and Jeremy grabbed his own while Uncle George and Bridget followed him through the doorway. "Watch your step. The edges of the door are still hot."

Once into the hanger, Jeremy called out, "Suit, call ship." A dark jet-like aircraft materialized in the center of the hanger. The wings slicked back and pointed upwards at the tips. The rear tale marked the shape of a V. The glass hatch raised open from the back where the ship's nose narrowed to a point and angled slightly downward. Uncle George crawled into the back seat.

Jeremy settled his body into Uncle George's lap. "Sorry for the tight quarters, Uncle."

"Just get us out of here."

Jeremy saluted. "Sir, yes, sir." Then he hopped into the pilot's seat and lowered the hatch. After firing up the space jet, it rose from the ground. Jeremy aimed the ship's gravity ray and blasted the hanger doors. A red glow spread from the center followed by the disappearing wall. Sunlight poured in as the hole grew. Jeremy shoved the throttle forward. The ship accelerated toward the door and into the air of freedom.

Jeremy engaged the radio in his suit. "Mickey, I'm going to send the government a Christmas present. Give me a minute."


Jeremy banked and came back around to the hanger door. He flipped the ship's camera on and filmed the smoke rising from the side of a mountain. As he dove back into the hanger, slowed to a stop, hoovered around, and then blasted back out, he added the following audio narrative:

"Dear Mr. President and members of Congress. What you are seeing here is the secret base of a hidden military unit, or so I've been told. They kidnapped Astro Man, Blue Nova, and Comet Girl in order to steal our power. I was told you do not know of this unit, that it doesn't exist in the books. And they threatened to ignore our constitutional rights upon capturing us. Even threatening to kill innocent civilians if we didn't cooperate. You can see the coordinates displayed on the video of the site's location. I'm sure you'll figure out how to proceed with this information. Thank you."

Jeremy saved the file, then addressed an email to the president, top cabinet members, and key members of congress, attached the video, and hit send. Jeremy couldn't help but grin. Even if some were in on the plot, now that it was exposed it would die a quick death. And if it was truly a hidden organization, investigations and prosecutions were sure to follow.

Jeremy opened up the radio. "Blue Nova and Comet Girl. Operation Christmas Gift has been completed."

"What was the gift?" Mickey responded.

"The gift of truth. When truth is born, its light forces changes. Usually big changes. Just like it did almost two thousand and fifty years ago." Jeremy smiled. "See that plateau I'm headed to?"


"We'll all met there. We can't return to our homes now. We'll have to take our bodies to Titan and figure out a plan of attack from there. We'll discuss the details on the plateau."

"Will do."

Jeremy focused as he angled the ship for a landing. Now he not only had lost his normal life and his parents because of these powers, he'd lost the last semblance of normalcy he had left: a home.

Jeremy felt Uncle George's hand on his shoulder. "Jeremy, you've done good. I'm right proud of ya."

Jeremy smiled. He hadn't lost everything. He still had family and friends. And that mattered more than being normal. Now that was a real Christmas gift.

"Merry Christmas, Uncle. I love you too."

The preceding story comes from the world of Mind Game, and Hero Game, the next novel in the series expected in the Spring of 2012. Click the link to learn more about the series and to discover where you can buy Mind Game for yourself or as a gift. Ebooks in all formats available.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Agency Pricing Illegal?

Currently, the agreement between Apple and the traditional publishers, known as "agency pricing," is under investigation in the European Union and in the United States for being an illegal and unfair business practice. In both of these investigations, they are examining whether the agreements these businesses made violate anti-trust laws.

Before we get into why that may be true, first my savvy readers need to be aware of what agency pricing is. In the traditional pricing model for books, a publisher sells a book to a retailer at wholesale cost. The retailer is then free to price the book to sell at whatever price they wish. The publisher will have a "suggested retail price," but the bookstore is under no obligation to sell it for that amount. They can sell them for a dollar, if they wanted to, and eat the cost. But the need to make enough money to keep the doors open usually prevent that in any widespread manner.

Agency pricing changes it from being a wholesale distribution model to a leasing model. An "agent" (and thus, "agency" pricing) leases the book to the retailer, and in so doing, retains control over that book, including what the price will be. Being that the "agent" is the publisher, it means the publisher sets the price on what the book will sell for, not the retailer.

In a way, it is similar to the consignment model. An author or publisher puts books on a bookstore shelf, but doesn't get paid for them right away. Therefore, the bookstore doesn't own them, and can't change the price without the author's permission. Once a book sells, then the bookstore keeps their share and passes the author or publisher's share to them.

Most ebooks are sold that way. I put up an ebook on Amazon, and Amazon doesn't pay me anything for doing that. They don't buy several copies of my ebook from me. Then, when it sells, they keep their share, and I get my share. But I own the file sitting on Amazon's servers, and can decide to pull it at any time, change the price, or update it without needing to get Amazon's permission first.

This actually makes some sense when you think about it. Ownership would be if Amazon bought the book from me. I couldn't then tell Amazon what price to charge or to take it down. In such a scenario, Amazon and I would enter into a contract, much like a publisher, where they would pay me an amount for the rights to sell X number of books. Let's just say, 10 books. Once ten sales had hit, they could buy the right to sell another 10 copies from me, and pay me cash. Ownership happens at the point of the cash transaction.

And like regular books, Amazon wouldn't have the right to the content, only the container.  That's what a copyright is for. The author owns the content of a book. You can't change it, copy it, or modify it. But when you buy a book, you own the paper and ink that the content is printed upon and with. In an ebook, the container is the file itself. In many retail transactions when you buy an ebook, you download it onto your computer or reader, and you have the file. Only you can delete it. You own the file, but lease the content.

That has changed some with Kindle, since the files reside on a cloud, and if Amazon decides to pull a title, it will get deleted off your Kindle as well. This is because the agency model of publishing has confused the leasing of digital content with the digital container it resides in.

In effect, the agency pricing model is nothing more than consignment selling model, but with one important difference as it is being practiced now. When you buy a book on consignment, the customer owns the container, but not the content. In agency pricing, the buyer owns neither the container or the content.

So, why is the agency pricing model potentially illegal if it is not much different from consignment? Here's why. The big difference is bookstores, as a whole, have rarely operated primarily, if at all, on the consignment model. They may agree to put a few books from a local author on consignment, but by and large, they purchase all the books that go on their shelves. And likewise, Amazon usually purchases one or more copies of physical books to put in their warehouse before selling them.

But ebooks are the first type of book gaining widespread sales and delivery on this model. Why does that matter?

On the surface, what Apple and the publishers agreed to doesn't seem to involve price fixing. After all, they didn't get together and and decide all books they publish between 195 and 200 pages will sell for X. Price fixing was evident in earlier times, because retail establishments, in order to avoid a price war with a competitor and so lose money, they would both agree to charge a specific price, usually much higher than was justified. The important thing to understand about this is it kept prices artificially inflated by reducing competition and discounting, and thereby circumvented the ability of the free market to keep prices at a fair level.

So, on the surface, it doesn't appear that the publishers did this. But publishing is a different business than selling gas or other products. Both gas stations are selling the same basic product. No matter which station I go to in most all cases, my car will run just as well on one's station's gas as another's. And whether it is Exxon or BP, my car will work. Doesn't matter the company that produced it, or which station I go to get it. However, while I can get Stephen King's latest book at any retail outlet, there is only one publisher that publishes that book. And guess what happens if that one source sets the price? It is price fixing, because it in effect reduces competition and keeps the price artificially high. That one product will sell for the same price no matter where I go to buy it.

If that same book was published by more than one publisher, then competition would enter into the equation. But if that one publisher sets the price, and it is the only source to get that book, that means there is no competition. It in effect becomes a system to circumvent the competition of the marketplace and is price fixing.

The collusion aspect of this is it took all the publishers operating together to force Amazon and other bookstore outlets to go with this model. Amazon could have held out with one or two publishers agreeing not to sell to them their titles, but when they all threatened to hold back their books, Amazon had no choice but to cave if it wanted to keep from losing money. Without the agreement between the parties, they wouldn't have had the clout to force Amazon away from their prior consignment/wholesale hybrid model and into agency pricing.

But the key to this as to whether it violates anti-trust laws is did the move by these parties reduce or eliminate competition in the market place. Well, yeah. It was one of the primary reasons Apple sought out this agreement with the publishers, was to try to straightjacket Amazon into pricing their books the same as what customers would find in the iBookstore, and cause Apple hardware customers to be happy to buy from Apple instead of Amazon or some other discount store.

Because of that, I predict these lawsuits will break up this agreement and return pricing control to the retailers, and that either the hybrid model Amazon was using will become standard, or something along the lines of buying a certain number of copies from the publisher that can be sold before paying for more, equating to buying wholesale.

What may get lost in all this, however, is the right of the buyer to own the container that the content comes in just as they do with a paperback. There should be no difference.

What do you think? Is this price fixing and illegal?

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software

The book is available! My steps to creating your own ebook and putting them up for sales, in one volume you can reference on your ereader.

Want to create an ebook but don't know how? Don't have the cash to spend on programs to generate them? Author R. L. Copple shares his logical, step-by-step method of ebook creation. He begins with setting up the document to write your book, and ends with creating the cover art, the PDF, EPUB and MOBI ebooks, and then putting them up for sale at major online retail outlets. The appendices also describe how to make a PDB ebook and how to use the "nuclear" method to clean hidden formats in a document while retaining italics, bold, and heading formats. All using free software you can download!

The book breaks down the process into seven steps: Step 1 – Creating the Source File; Step 2 – Creating the Cover; Step 3 – Creating the PDF Ebook; Step 4 – Creating the Smashwords Edition; Step 5 – Creating the EPUB Ebook and Uploading to Barnes and Noble; Step 6 – Creating the MOBI Ebook and Uploading to Amazon; Step 7 – What to Do With the Ebooks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Stop Online Piracy Act" and Indie-Publishing

If you haven't heard about it yet, most likely you will. Today Congress held a hearing on a full Senate/House version of the bill known as the "Stop Online Piracy Act."  It seeks to deal with a real threat, the piracy of copyrighted works often through Internet sites where users share their creative work, or not so creative as the case may be. The grandaddy of them being YouTube. The New York Times has an article up on it that lays out the vast overreaching of this bill and how it will end up hurting mostly innocent users of the Internet, businesses, lost jobs, and lost future jobs due to the high cost of compliance by putting the burden on website owners to not allow copyrighted work on their sites or face stiff penalties. Currently, if someone complains about a copyrighted work being on a site, they file a notice to the hosting site, and the hosting site has a set number of days to remove it without any further consequences.

The article and others have detailed the impact this law will have in a very negative way of bringing about censorship and the suppression of creative works in general. But I wanted to focus on what this will mean for indie authors and presses. After all, don't indie authors and presses want to stop the piracy of their works? Isn't making it more difficult for sites to host such things and get away with it a windfall for the authors? On the surface, one would think so, until one digs a little deeper.

The problem is that pirates will be able to get around this, and people will find ways to distribute them illegally. Only those who are trying to play by the rules will be hurt, and that includes authors who self-publish and small presses. How?

Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, probably the biggest host of indie-published works on the Internet, and other companies like Smashwords and Barnes and Noble's PubIt who provide indie-published authors and small presses a way to get their work out there without having to go through the "gatekeepers" of traditional publishing houses, will, if this bill becomes law by the end of this year, be forced to evaluate all submitted works before allowing them to go on sale in order to avoid the liability of the government blocking their access to US book buyers and whatever fines that may incur.

Here's the practical results of what this law will do because of this necessity.

Indie-publishing sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords will now become enforcement arms of the government. They will out of necessity become censors. This presents a problem, in that any mistakes on their part could be costly. What that will mean is that some poor employee evaluating each submission before sending to the site to go on sale or out the reject door, with hundreds to look at, isn't going to take the time to evaluate your story properly. Like an editor, they will be looking for a reason to reject, and anything that doesn't pass the smell test will tend to get rejected without further research. Any doubt about whether your story violates copyright law will be cause for immediate rejection whether it actually does or not. Because they know if one mistake gets through and noticed by any watchdogs, their whole site could be shut down. With that hanging over their head, they aren't going to take any chances. They won't have time to research, to rub their chin and do a Google search. A lot of works which don't violate the copyright law will not be allowed to be published, punishing innocent authors for the transgressions of a small percentage of them.

Indie-publishing sites will be forced to hire new employees simply to comply with this law, simply to shift through everyone's submission to either give them the stamp of approval or not. "Isn't that a good thing, more jobs and working people?" I'm afraid the few that get hired to do that will not offset the many lost jobs. Why? Because hiring those employees and complying with the act is going to cost those companies some money. That will mean one or two things. Either those companies will charge more for their product/services and cut jobs in other areas to have the money to pay for review of all submissions and paperwork they will be required to file, and liability insurance in the event they miss something, and any resulting fines and cost if they are charged, or they will decide the cost simply isn't worth the potential benefits and cancel the programs.

Indie authors and presses are going to make less money. One way the sites may pay for the additional cost is to reduce greatly the percentage they pay authors and small presses. We'll likely say bye bye to the 70% cut Amazon gives us. We may even be lucky to keep the 35%. Or worse case, we'll have no place to put up our work, and we'll be back to looking only to the traditional publishers for our outlets, because these same dynamics will affect POD (Print On Demand) which small presses rely heavily on for publishing their works. The living some indie authors are making will evaporate and/or be greatly reduced.

Forget seeing your book get up for sale within two days. It will then go into a queue waiting for the few overworked employees they do hire to get to them. Expect it to take more than a month or more before you see that story go up. Depending on how many employees the particular company feels they can afford, don't be surprised if it takes half a year or more. That all represents time your book could be making money instead of sitting on a hard drive, waiting for approval.

You'll have less and less options of where to publish. Some companies will probably keep going, with reduced rates, increased processing time, and you cross your fingers and hope nothing in your book "looks" like a copyright violation, causing it to get rejected. But some companies will give up, and shut down, or remove that service from their mix. Companies like Apple will reevaluate their contracts with Smashwords if this bill passes, and access to those channels could easily disappear. Expect to have fewer outlets to sell your work.

Some of those predictions could be off the mark. I pray we don't have to find out whether I'm right or not, because based on the bill and these logical consequences of those actions, I fear I'll be much more right than wrong. And the only way to prevent it at this point is for enough people to contact their congressmen and women and tell them to vote against it.

I'm sure the traditional publishing companies are for this bill, because it will end up shifting power back in their direction that has been flowing to indie authors and small presses over the past several years. We need to let our representatives know that the people who put them in office are watching, and if they don't vote as we expect, they cannot count on our vote. If they get enough of those notes, they will take note. We might not have a lot of money, but votes count for more than money. Enough of them and they will have a change of heart.

Bottom line: this bill is bad for the economy, bad for anyone who wishes to start up a business whether that is a social site or a creative work like writing a book. The government can surely find ways to help prevent piracy without restricting the freedoms of its citizens and making it harder to make money in this recessive economy. Write your representatives and let them know what you think and how you intend to vote come when they are up for election again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Appx. A - Creating the PDB Ebook

Note: these articles will form the core of a new ebook by this title. Disclaimer: I do not work for, represent, or am associated with anyone who works or represents the sites or products I've listed below. I'm not getting any fees for listing them here. Any company names, trademarks, etc, are the property of the respective company.

I didn't include the creation of the PDB ebook in the steps above for several reasons. One, because it isn't as widely used of a format. Two, because it isn't as easy to create as the others, requiring a little more file juggling and editing. Three, because it wasn't needed to upload any files to retailers. Four, because the Smashword conversion creates one that you can download if this format was needed.

That said, if you are going to sell ebooks on your own ebook store, or want a PDB file that will look more professional than the one Smashwords creates, then this can be a worthwhile file to create. Primarily because while not as widely used, the program to read the file can be installed on most smart phones and tablets. And personally, at least on my Windows machine, the computer version of the software is the best way to read an ebook on your computer. Unlike most every other ebook reader software you can download, it looks like a book, flips like a book, and is easy to read than the standard black on white. I like it better than reading a PDF on the computer. And like PDFs, the software to read them is free. So why leave a segment of the market that likes this format without access to your ebook?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to Make an Ebook:Step 7 – What To Do With the Ebooks?

Note: these articles will form the core of a new ebook by this title. Disclaimer: I do not work for, represent, or am associated with anyone who works or represents the sites or products I've listed below. I'm not getting any fees for listing them here. Any company names, trademarks, etc, are the property of the respective company.

What you should have now are the following items, if you've done all the steps in this book: the original book document file, a print version document file, a PDF version document file, a PDF ebook, an EPUB ebook, a MOBI ebook, and your book on sale at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Smashwords, once the book has passed the Professional Status and been assigned an ISBN, will distribute the book to other important retailers, most notably Apple and Kobo. You should also have a good 600 by around 1000 pixel-sized front cover graphic you can use for many promotional purposes.

So now that you have these various ebook versions of your book, what do you do with them? The obvious answer is to sell them. But there are other options. Let's look at a few here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 6 – Creating the MOBI Ebook and Uploading toAmazon

If it wasn't for Amazon adopting this format for the Kindle, we wouldn't bother creating this file format. It is used on some other minor ereaders that have been used in the past, but when a modified version of it was adopted to use on the Kindle back in 2007, it suddenly became an important ebook format to have in one's list. Not necessarily because the "Kindle Direct Publishing" requires this format to upload a book into their service, but because if you sell directly, people can "side-load" this file onto their Kindle and read it. Between the EPUB and the MOBI formats, you are covering the main two ereaders people use most, and the bulk of non-dedicated ereader devices.

As of this writing, Amazon has recently announced their new line of Kindles, including the Kindle Fire, which is planned to be updated to use HTML5 instead of the MOBI format. It will be able to handle graphics for children's books and the like better than the MOBI format. As that develops and gets implemented, I plan on updating this book to include creating ebooks in that format. However, according to Amazon, the updated ereaders will be backwards compatible. Which means the files you create now will still be readable on the newer devices, and they will still be able to read files loaded on them in the MOBI format. For text-only books, there will be little loss to worry about updating then into the HTML5 format when it comes out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 5 – Creating the EPUB Ebook and Uploading toB&N

The EPUB format has become the widely accepted standard for ebooks. Every non-dedicated e-reading device out there (cell phones and tablets) have apps that can read this format, whether we are talking Stanza for the IPhone or Aldiko for Android. Additionally, Barnes and Noble's Nook uses a modified version of the EPUB format, which is why I suggest using an EPUB file to upload your book to their PubIt service. It can take other formats, but if you're going to create an EPUB, it makes sense to upload using their native format.

To manually create an EPUB file, however, is not an easy task. The EPUB file is actually a zipped file containing several files. There are some control files that "direct traffic" so to speak, artwork files for any graphics used, and the text in an html format divided up by any needed page breaks. But luckily there are some programs that will automate this process, even free ones, that will make quick work of the conversion process.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 4 - Creating the Smashwords Edition

If you've followed the formatting instructions in Step 1 as you created the book file, or you have formatted a file to fit those specifications, and you have followed the formatting for a print book at the beginning of Step 3, you are almost ready to put your book up for sale. The first place we will focus on is Smashwords.

Smashwords has what is called the "meatgrinder." It is a program which takes a Word document, and produces several types of ebooks. Then, they are put on sale at the Smashwords site. But that isn't the main reason I suggest putting your ebook there. The real benefit is the third party channels they deliver your ebook to in the format they need. Currently as of this writing, that includes Amazon (yet to be activated), Barnes and Noble, Apple, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, and Scrollmotion, with new ones signing on all the time. That being the case, I suggest you put up your book at Amazon and Barnes and Nobles yourself because you'll get a higher amount of the profit, and you can format your book more effectively than the meatgrinder might, though they are improving that all the time. And you'll get reports and payments much quicker.

But so far my sales on Smashword's partners amount to almost as much as I make on Amazon. By putting it here, along with putting it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, which I'll show you how to do in succeeding chapters, you're ebook will get wide availability with minimal efforts on your part.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Worker Prince by Brian Schmidt

Worker Prince

ISBN-13: 978-0984020904

This review is part of a blog tour for the introduction of Brian Schmidt's debut novel, The Worker Prince.

If Moses had led his people out of bondage in the future rather than the past, it might look something like this story. While at several points the story touches upon elements of the classic Biblical story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt, it doesn't stick to that story, nor is that the only plot line running through this science fiction, space opera style tale. One of the problems when people depict, either literally or by analogy, a Bible story is the predictable ending. That's not a worry here. The second half of the book bares little resemblance to the story of Moses. More like Joshua going to war.

Three elements of this book make it worth reading. One is the world Mr. Schmidt has created. In this world, a group of planets is ruled by a limited king and legislative councils of the main races. Except one race is not represented because they are called "Workers." They mostly live on one planet which appears to be the only planet in the system with agricultural products of any significance, and the rulers treat them as slaves, exporting food to the rest of the system.

Mr. Schmidt doesn't succumb to the tendency to dump a lot of back-story about this world on the reader, but it is worked through the story naturally. The only glitch for me is the rationale for why the Workers existed left me with more questions than answers and was hard to envision its evolution based on how things are now. Some could even take offense, to what could come across as an artificially generated political division, as making a statement beyond the story about our current religious situation. I took it as simply the way history worked out in this world, but did leave me with more questions as to how that could have happened. I'd say more, but I don't want to give away too much.

The second reason I enjoyed this story was the plot itself. The king fears a prophecy that a worker will rise up to release his people from bondage. Like Moses, to avoid the king's decree that all worker's children under a certain age be killed, his parents arrange to ship him off to another world where he ends up being raised by the king's sister as the prince destined to rule the kingdom. The story proper picks up when Prince Davies takes his first assignment away from home, discovers his real birth, and the story unfolds from there.

Like I said, while it touches at points on the story of Moses, it was different enough to keep my interest and avoided being a pure repeat of that story. I enjoyed the way Davies grows and develops into the leader, and his loyalty to the truth. And if a reader likes sci-fi battle action, there is plenty here especially through the second part of the book. Mr. Schmidt does a decent job of describing the action, though there was a time or two I didn't follow him too well.

The third is the characters are for the most part well drawn. One becomes attached to the main character, Davies, early on. Each character has a unique feel about them. And they are introduced slowly enough that the reader doesn't end up getting too lost on who is who, though that danger gets a little stronger toward the second half of the book. Still, I never struggled with that despite a rather large cast, and the characters came across as believable on the whole.

The only two instances his characterizations stretched it for me was Davies' secondary antagonist felt a bit too much of the stereotypical bully to me and the source of his antagonism to Davies was never clearly defined, though hinted at, but seemed stronger to me than merely family jealousy. And the girl Davies ends up in a relationship with seems to lose her initial antagonism toward him too easily. On rare occasion, the dialog felt unnatural. Despite that, I found the characters interesting and believable.

There are three things that could detract from the story, depending on the reader. One, the writing style, while good, does get a little telly at points. While not bad, there is room for improvement. However, this is much better than many I've read in that regard, and I doubt the lack here will throw too many out of the story.

Two, also related to writing skills, Mr. Schmidt has yet to get a solid grip on executing point of view flawlessly. There is a little head jumping in places. Occasionally he would mix one person's dialog with another person's actions, keeping you on your toes as to who is actually speaking. One scene break in particular, the shift in point of view wasn't established until I read about four or five paragraphs into it, so I had to backtrack to discover if I'd missed something. Most of the time I didn't have too much trouble tracking who talked and what point of view I was in, but occasionally it did become distracting.

Third, if a reader isn't a Christian, they may not realize until halfway into the book that this story contains some Christian themes. A non-Christian, getting to that point, may feel "tricked" if they are not aware of that up front. The Christian elements were natural to the story, and didn't feel forced. That said, it offered more of a complimentary plot line than anything essential to the main plot. Other than the stated reason for their existence, religion could be extracted from the story and the plot would still work. But truth be told, much science fiction is artificial in not portraying religion to be active and valid part of society into the future. While not getting too preachy about it, Mr. Schmidt does a decent job of integrating it into the storyline. That said, a non-Christian could feel tricked into reading a Christian novel if they aren't aware of that before they put down the money to buy the book. This review is written prior to seeing any official blurbs that will introduce the story to potential readers, which may make it clear it is a Christian story. Still, it seems many buyers miss that information, even when clearly stated.

I didn't feel those shortcomings reduced my enjoyment of the story or prevented me from finding Davies and the other characters interesting. Mr. Schmidt provides an engrossing story, believable characters, an interesting world, and decent writing. Because of that, I'm giving this a recommended read, holding onto a four out of five star score.

To continue following this blog tour, the next posting will be: October 12, Mary Pax - Guest Post: Coming Of Age & The Quest To Belong/Book Blurb

Note: R. L. Copple received a electronic copy of The Worker Prince from the author in order to review it for this blog tour.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mind Game Vblog

I decided to experiment a bit. I've shied away from doing the standard book trailer, only because there are so many of them out there that it really has to stand out to get much attention. So I decided to try something a bit more low-tech (since I am limited on tech resources) and though I don't think I'm as entertaining as some other vbloggers on the net, I felt this would be at least more personable and allow me to read a section. Who knows, people might like it.

So, check out my new video about Mind Game and tell me what you think. Should I do more with my other books? I figured this one was safe since I self-published it, so I'm not putting a publisher's name at stake if it stinks.  Watch it if you can and tell me what you think. Appreciate your feedback!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Interview and Chance to Win a Book

Yet another interview is up on Zoe Mack's blog. Want to learn the three things you're not likely to know about me? I divulge that information in this interview! An exclusive!

And not only that, if you leave a comment, you'll get a chance to win a free copy of the book that started it all, Infinite Realities. It is a good sampler of the kinds of stories you'll find in the full novel, Reality's Dawn. So if you've not had a chance to read either book, get yourself over to the blog, read it and laugh at me, and then comment to get your name in the running.

Do it.

How to Make an Ebook: Step 3 - Creating the PDF Ebook

This series will eventually become an ebook I'll make available for sale once we complete the chapters and I can make time to edit them. Visit the chapter list if you want to read the prior steps. If you appreciate my efforts and find them useful, please consider a donation (top, right) to aid the continued work on this book. Thank you.

Now that we have the text of the file properly formatted, and the cover ready to go, we are ready to start creating ebooks. The first one we want to work with is the standard ebook format, the PDF. The acronym stands for "Portable Document Format," and has become the most common way to share documents on the Internet. The cool thing about PDFs is they most closely resemble a printed book. That means they can usually display graphics and other elements that are generally harder for other ebook formats to handle. But that is also their downside as well. Because they are more "static" in format, they are harder to read on smaller devices like cell phones, and even on tablets are not ideal. Computer screens make the easiest reading device for these files.

But of all the formats, it is the one most anyone can open and read as the Adobe Reader software is free to download and the format is universally used across all platforms: Windows, Linux, and MacOS. It is hard to find someone who can't open a PDF file. Because of that, it is a good format to have on hand and sell from your website.

And even if you don't plan on creating a PDF ebook, you'll need to do some of the items in this step to prep your ebook for the rest. I'll let you know when to skip onto the next step.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Interview at Precarious Yates

Another person has undertaken the grueling task of interviewing me. This interview was specifically concerning my self-publishing work, and my recent self-published novel, Mind Game.

To check out this interview, visit her blog. You may find some other info there of interest as well!


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So You Want to be a Writer?

There are not too many careers that most everyone thinks they can do just as well as the "professionals." Theology is one. How many self-proclaimed theologians are out there who have never studied theologians of the past to know what mistakes to avoid, what downsides there are to any one position, etc.? And yet, someone who has read their Bible a couple of times will decide they know as much as someone who has studied it all their life.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when the professionals get it dead wrong. They can end up relying upon their creative thinking ability more than the facts, and come up with some really harebrained ideas. But I can guarantee you that the number of harebrained ideas among amateur theologians is much, much bigger.

Being an author tends to be one of those career choices. We see someone rise to stardom among authors and what is the general consensus? They got lucky. Fate smiled upon them. And it seems even more that way when you look at some bestsellers who are generally lambasted for their poor writing skills. People read it and think, "I could do better."

Lester Del Ray also said that, many times. And his girlfriend at the time grew tired of him saying that, and challenged him to write a story and send it in. If it got published, he could keep saying that, if it didn't, then he had to shut up. So he took the challenge and wrote his first short story, and sent it to a magazine. Even he didn't really expect it to get published, but one day a check arrived in the mail for $40.00 (my first sale was for $10.00 over 50 years later...where's that inflation everyone talks about?) Thus launched his career. But it wasn't a straight shot upwards. He struggled to get another one published for some time, and at one point quit writing, coming back to it after a period of time. But at some point, he began selling his work and it grew from there.

While you may get lucky and sell the first time out, or you may have a voice that is compelling on the first novel, the odds of that happening to any one writer is worse than most state lotteries. People tend to think they can one day say to themselves, "Hey, I know enough grammar that I can sit down and write out a story people will be begging me to read, and I'll be rich." Why they think this about writing and not about playing the piano is beyond me. Even after a year of learning to play that instrument, or any instrument, unless there is an artistic prodigy hidden in you, you don't expect to go out on a concert stage and expect people to pay their hard earned money to hear you play. It is the same for being a writer.

So, if you are thinking of being a writer, here are some reality checks for you to consider as you dream of your name on the best seller's list.

1. Expect it to take around a million words of writing before you are writing to a professional level and getting regularly published. And no, rewriting/editing a novel doesn't count. A total rewrite from scratch would. The idea is that for the creative side of your brain to be trained for good story-telling, it has to practice the art of telling a good story. Some get the hang of it earlier, some later. But there are many elements to a good story that a new writer has to master. Elements of a plot, story pacing, characterization, scene setting, weaving in sub-plots, poetic language vs. cliches, and more could be added into the finer points. And we're not even looking at the business end of things, which way too often writers will neglect, thinking their agent will handle everything.

What this means is your first novel is not likely to be good. My first novel is still sitting on my hard drive. I started a total rewrite from scratch because I think the concept is good, but the execution on that first novel, despite the praise from my wife and kids, was very lacking. So it is a waste? No, not at all. It started me on my career path and put in my first 94,000 words of practice. I discovered I could tell a story decently well, but my dialog sucked, and my character motivations and reactions weren't realistic. And I had a lot to learn about point of view. But at the time, my wife had me becoming rich the next year. I was a little more realistic. I figured it would take an additional year at the earliest. But the truth was I had put in the first practice session toward learning how to be a professional writer.

2. It will take for most of us, anywhere from 3 to 7 years to start making any significant money from writing. If you do it right. And that is no guarantee. Many don't ever make much at all. There are many reasons for this. For most, you aren't going to get a lot published until you've practiced enough to write well enough to be published. And once you get published, the amount of money isn't likely to be anything you can live off of, at least at first. It may take a while to build a following, to stand out from the crowd enough to reach the point you can pay some bills from the money that comes in.

3. Be prepared to endure a lot of rejection, criticism, and failure. The only way to learn is to have someone more experienced tell you what you did right and what needs improvement. If you've convinced yourself, like many of the contestants on American Idol, that just because you can put down words on a page they must be genius, and everyone will surely recognize that, you'll feel hurt and defeated or angry that they criticize the pure literary brilliance displayed right before their eyes. They must be jealous of you! Yeah...that's it!

The truth is, for every acceptance you work for, you're likely to have many more rejections. For every novel you self-publish, be prepared for lackluster sales and reviews, if you get any, to lay out your flaws (real or perceived) for the world to see. If you're in this gig for praise, pats on the back, and glory, be aware to get that requires running the gauntlet of scorn and snarkiness first whether from publishers, agents, or readers.

4. On a positive note, you can make a living at this job. Too often, people pain a picture that makes it sound like only a handful of lucky authors can live on writing fiction. By far, the majority of people will not. That's true for anything when it comes to entertainment. The majority of football players don't earn the big dollars or become famous. The majority of actors never make it to the big time. For everyone who has made it, there are multiple people who have tried and given up, often for many of the reasons listed above. They didn't realize what they'd have to do to make a living at this job. It's a competitive field, vying for the attention of readers that your book is worth their time and money.

But, that doesn't mean only a handful of people are able to make a living at this. There are many midlist writers who only write speculative fiction and do quite nicely, up in the realm of 100K a year or more. And I can tell you, they don't do it by putting out one book a year unless they are on the level of J. K. Rowling or Stephen King.

The idea that very few could make a living at this had a little more truth to it in the older days. Days when publishers and agents said you should only put out one book a year, and offered you two to three thousand advance on it. Then you get that sent to you over a three year period, which means you get one thousand a year. If you get another book published the next year, you'll get two thousand. The next, three, and from there, assuming everything stayed the same, you'd be getting a whopping three thousand dollars a year salary! Divide that by the number of hours it took to write and edit three books and you're likely to go get a job at McDonalds, because at least you'll be making minimum wage.

But what if each book wasn't taken out of print but stayed up online forever? What if that book earned around one thousand in royalties a year, and what if you had thirty such books built up over time, by putting out four books a year instead of one? In six year's you'd be earning $24,000. Another six years and you'd have 48,000. And it grows from there. I know not all books are going to sell the same, and all books are not going to earn the same over the life of the book, but you get the point. Traditional publishing sells a book for three to four months, then it goes out of print after several months, means a book doesn't stay on the list making money year after year. Without that buildup of backlist selling regularly, it is very hard to make a living unless you hit it big.

Persistence and producing good stories people will want to read can eventually create a good income one can live on. But it takes a few years of publishing novels. But with persistence, it can be done, and if readers really like what you read and a book catches on, it will speed up the process. But don't expect to be rich overnight. It takes years of hard work, persistence, and love of the craft to reach that point. But it can be reached. Don't let anyone let you think it is pure luck for a select few.

But you may be happy doing it as a side job, earning a little spending cash here and there. That's great. You'll still need to go through the hard work if you want to rise to professional standards, even if you don't expect to live on the money.

But again, the love of telling a story is what carries professional writers onward, despite the obstacles, rejections, delayed gratifications, and hardships. If you jump into the profession aware of these things, there will be less chance for discouragement and giving up down the road.

So, still want to be a writer? Good! May the muse be with you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 2 - Creating the Cover, Part 2

This series will eventually become an ebook I'll make available for sale once we complete the chapters and I can make time to edit them. Visit the chapter list if you want to read the prior steps. If you appreciate my efforts and find them useful, please consider a donation (top, right) to aid the continued work on this book. Thank you.

Placing the Text on the Page

Now that we have our cover art in place, and we know what we're going to do with the text and title, we can start putting the cover together and experimenting. If you only have the front ebook cover with no plans to create a print cover in the future, you can skip the next set of instructions. If you have a full-sized print book cover art, you'll need to designate the part you want to work on for an ebook.

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 2 - Creating the Cover, Part 1

This series will eventually become an ebook I'll make available for sale once we complete the chapters and I can make time to edit them. If you appreciate my efforts and find them useful, please consider a donation (top, right) to aid the continued work on this book. Thank you.

This next step is one which can strike fear into the average author. Unless you've already delved into art, know the digital terms, and messed with graphic editing programs, the process can feel daunting. Of the parts of publishing a book, this is the one most often farmed out to an artist and/or designer.

And there is no way we're going to teach you to become an expert artists or cover designer in one chapter. That said, we can certainly give you enough information to produce a decent quality cover for your ebook. Remember, it is what is inside that eventually sells the book, not the cover. What you want a cover to do is not turn people away. Ideally, capture their attention is the goal, but the last thing you want a potential reader to think is, "That's a shoddy cover. Story's probably not much better. Next book."

So we hope to give you enough information here to put up a cover that while probably not going to win any awards, will not turn people away by and large. And as you get better at them, can even attract readers to check out what your book is about.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Step 1 – Creating the Source File

This series will eventually become an ebook I'll make available for sale once we complete the chapters and I can make time to edit them. If you appreciate my efforts and find them useful, please consider a donation (top, right) to aid the continued work on this book. Thank you.

The most time intensive task in creating ebooks is modifying the source file so that it will process correctly when creating ebooks. Your source file is generally the file you use to initially write your document in, and/or the text containing the print version of the book if you have one. However, there are a few things you can do when you first begin writing your work that can save you lots of time later. So pay close attention here, because this is the foundation that allows you to easy format a file for each type of publication, whether it be print, PDF, EPUB, or MOBI.

Friday, September 2, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Introduction

This series will eventually become an ebook I'll make available for sale once we complete the chapters and I can make time to edit them. If you appreciate my efforts and find them useful, please consider a donation (top, right) to aid the continued work on this book. Thank you.

As of this writing, it is obvious that ebooks will, at some point in the near future, overtake the sale of physical books. The trend accelerated during 2010, and all indications are that the movement has sped up to a road-runner pace during 2011. Publishers have been scrambling to lock down ebook rights on old contracts, while authors who retain those rights, have realized their old backlist is a new gold mine of potential income. More and more readers are buying ereaders like Amazon's Kindle, and Barnes and Noble's Nook, and the expectations for the future look bright for anyone who has hopped onto the ebook train.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

7 Common Pitfalls of Critiquers

You've been there. You join a critique group and submit your baby manuscript into the glaring lights of their red pens, and your story gets dissected, analyzed, and sown back together into a Frankenstein of your writing nightmares. To be sure, the bulk of critiquers are good, and may help to fine-tune a story. But there are those who commit what I'll call the seven common pitfalls of critiquers that I've run into. Maybe you've done some of these yourself. I know I have on occasion.

1. Expounding beyond your expertise.

A lot of new writers, after reading a book or two on writing, suddenly deem themselves experts on what is wrong with your manuscript. The truth is, while reading good books, going to classes, and other helpful sources of training, a new writer isn't going to really know why something is or isn't working until they've written a lot of words themselves. The common suggestion is somewhere in the neighborhood of one million words. Once you've written that many words of fiction, and/or have successfully published and sold your work, then you come closer to claiming the title of expert.

Does that mean I shouldn't give my opinion? Of course you should. Just make sure the tone and message is that it is only your opinion and it could be way off base. The problem comes when despite not having written more than a few short stories and/or a novel or two, you present your opinions as if you're a bestselling author who's earned his or her chops and knows the business, and the author of the story you're critiquing had better listen to you, or watch his or her career go down the drain.

One of the big problems with most on-line critique groups is the people are anonymous, and you have no idea what the qualifications are of the person critiquing your story. They may act as if they are on the bestseller's list, but not have one single story of theirs published. Keep in mind when someone sounds very sure of themselves, unless you know they are a long-time author who's written several successful novels, he or she could be nothing more than someone no more experienced than you, giving you a lot of bluster.

2. Being the writing rule police.

First, let me say, it is important that writers learn the basic rules of writing. But how do we learn those? By writing and practicing one or two things at a time. Let's say you are messing up pov, and doing a lot of telling, and characters are using unnatural dialog, etc. First you take one thing, say pov, and practice writing a story with multiple povs until you've learned to hand off the pov from one character to another, or how to set a new pov in a scene off the bat, or how to avoid jumping outside of that pov. It won't work if you try to practice all the areas you need improvement in at one time. You use each story you write as a targeted practice session, whether it ever sells or not.

But you want to know the truth? The first and only really important part of story telling that you have to get down is to tell a great story that hooks readers in. It is exactly this reason that you will see authors who break nearly every rule in the book and yet end up on the bestseller's list. I'm not saying the rules are not important. I'm only saying they are not the determining factor on whether a story you write will capture and keep the interest of readers. If you have a great story and interesting characters, you can tell all you want and show little, and people will buy it. You can have dialog that the experts laugh at, and sell a million books. Following the rules will not ensure success, nor will breaking them prevent it.

Why? Because the number one reason a reader picks up and reads a fiction book is to be entertained. If you are able to do that one thing, the rest doesn't matter. The whole purpose of the rules is to tell new writers what types of techniques create an entertaining story. They are guides to help you to write a compelling story. But if you have a compelling story and break those rules, they don't matter one hill of beans. Could the story be better if those rules were followed? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Depends on the story. But it can still be successful as long as you write and entertaining story, no matter how that happens.

But in critique groups, some will present a writing rule as if you don't fix this in your story, and do what they say, your story is doomed from the get go. But that is simply not the case. Don't diss anyone who offers such a suggestion, you may need to take heed and practice that technique. All I'm saying here is avoid acting like if the author doesn't fix this broken rule of writing, that their story will never see the light of day.

3. Acting like you know what the readers want.

Let's put this bluntly. If you knew what the readers really wanted, you'd be rich. You sure wouldn't be fiddling around in a critique group. You'd be running a publishing company cranking out one bestseller after another. Since most publishers only hit around 20% successful books in their line up, your company would make millions and you'd have so much money, why would you waste your time being an anonymous critiquer?

And yet, I've heard more than once something along the lines of, "...readers will not read past page one unless you do X, Y, and Z." As a matter of fact, I may have said such myself more than once. But the truth is, none of us knows what the readers are going to do. That is nothing more than one person's opinion. And where readers are concerned, that person's opinion may be a very small minority opinion.

Let me help you out here. Writers tend to be the pickiest readers. They notice every slip of the pen, when you forgot to use a comma right, or will complain to themselves that it should be "its," not "it's." For that writer, seeing that "ruins the whole story" for them. Typos cause them to throw up their arms in disgust. But your average reader out there who doesn't train themselves to notice every little flaw? They aren't going to be bothered by such things, even if they happen to notice it. Sure, there are some who will be, but the bulk of readers are more interested in whether you can tell a good story, not if you have down the proper usage of commas. That only gets in the way when it causes confusion and injures the enjoyment of the story.

So, if you get such a statement, realize the critiquer doesn't know what they are talking about, because nobody can predict what the readers will or will not like. Likewise, resist the urge to make such a statement to an author whose work you are critiquing. All you can do is present what one reader, yourself, noticed and felt. Don't try to speak for the other several million readers out there. That's nothing more than an intimidation ploy in most cases.

4. Demanding the author fix a perceived problem.

This goes along with #1 above. I've had critiquers tell me I couldn't move on with my story until I fixed the problems they'd seen thus far. Now, they had good intentions. Maybe that's how they operate, but I don't. I'll go through a story, gather critiques, then at a later date go back through the comments and decide what needs fixing and how I'm going to do it. I don't tend to make changes to my story in the middle of getting critiqued. For me, that isn't the best time to go making changes. Their opinions may change a little further down the story when they see how that part fit into the whole.

When someone gets mad at me for not fixing it before I move on, that says to me they perceive themselves as the expert who must be listened to, and unless I fix this issue, right now, the whole story is doomed because I've broken a writing rule, and readers will put the book down at this point in the story because they can't stomach what I've done.

Rule number 1 of critiquing someone's story: it is their story, and they can write it however they want. You are being good enough to give your opinion, but to expect them to follow all your advice is silly. It isn't your story. Give your thoughts and then move on, letting them do with your suggestions what they want. There's no reason to feel dissed if the author doesn't take your suggestions, or to get angry and stop giving them your best critique.

5. Never saying what is right about a story.

It never happens that even the best of the professional authors never break a rule or mess up in their writing. It happens far more than they would want to admit. Remember #2 above. It's the entertaining story that sells, not the perfection in technique. Likewise, even a newbie writer is going to do some things right.

Some people say they don't want critiques that are nothing more than "pats on the back." And I agree. I want to know if they didn't like something I've written, and if they can state it, why they think it didn't work for them. If more than one person feels that way, it becomes something I should at least check into. That said, neither is a good critique one that never tells you what you are doing right.

Why? Because an author needs to know what they are doing right as well as wrong, in order that they won't change what they are doing right and mess that up as well. They may not be aware they did something right. Or maybe think they did, but they need confirmation on it. You tell them not to stroke their ego, but as further training in what to do to write a good story.

Take a driving instructor, for instance. Maybe the driver-in-training cuts too close on a turn and hits the curb first time or two attempting the move. The instructor might say something like, "Well, that's no good for the tires, and you could hit someone standing on the corner. Wait until the front end of your vehicle is lined up with the edge of the street before you make your turn next time."

What does the driver-in-training do at that point? Does he slam on his brakes, back the car up, and try again? No. He'd risk backing into a car behind him, or hitting the curve again backing up. It is far harder to drive backwards than forwards. Instead, they go onto the next corner and practice it again.

Then what does the instructor say when the driver-in-training successfully turns the curve without hitting the curb? "Now you've got it. Just do it that way each time, and you'll have it down." The instructor will confirm that the driver-in-training did it right, so they'll know to keep doing it that way in the future. Same thing in writing. Once the writer starts doing something right, you want to confirm that for them so they will know they've got it down, and will stop making major adjustments to it, but move to fine tuning. Why? So the next story they do, they'll know to follow the same principles.

And the other side of the issue is that the negative comments you have are easier to swallow when you also note what was done correctly. I try to start off with what I liked about a story or chapter I'm critiquing, and end with what I liked about it. That way the author doesn't get the idea that I thought the whole thing stunk to high heaven.

6. Starting off with, "I'm sorry, but..."

Anytime I read a critique that starts out with, "I'm sorry," I know what's coming. For what the critiquer is really telling me is, "I'm sorry I hate the crap out of this thing, and I've got some bad news for you about your story, so hold on and get through my coming slam-fest, and maybe, just maybe, we'll salvage this thing you call a story, if you do exactly what I tell you."

Okay, I'm over dramatizing it, but when a critique starts off that way, you know one of two things, neither of which is ever very good. One, they feel what they are about to say will be personally hurtful. Why else tell someone sorry unless you think they are going to feel like someone just clobbered them with a tire iron?

When I critique others, and receive critiques, I never treat them as personal. Sure, it can sometimes be discouraging to realize one of your favorite parts of the story sunk like a rock in a pond in someone's eyes, but if I didn't want to hear that and discover that, I wouldn't have put my story up for critique. That kind of feedback is the very reason I put the story up. If it isn't working, best to find out then than after I've sent it in to an editor. So there's no sense in turning something that is simply treated as a professional improvement learning into a statement that sounds like they expect me to take what is about to be said, personally. Maybe because they would.

Or, two, the critiquer is using that opening as their permission to be disrespectful to me, to make it personal. You see, you can correct someone without making it sound like a parent-child relationship. There is never any cause to treat another author with disrespect, as if they are a five-year-old the critiquer has caught with their hand in the cookie jar. And starting out with, "I'm sorry, but..." does not release you from liability of doing that. I'm sorry, but it does not! Treat even the most newbie of writers, who makes countless errors, as a human God has created and deserves to be treated as an equal, not a literary slob.

And number two goes for those who will tell writers that you have to have a "thick skin" as a writer. In some ways, yes, but that should never be an excuse to take a baseball bat to the writer just to see how thick that skin really is. There is never an excuse for being mean or heartless. You can give honest, truthful, and helpful critiques, telling people where they need improvement, without sounding disrespectful in the process. No one should need to have a thick skin for that.

7. You're not Stephen King.

Have you heard that one before? Every said it, or its equivalent? Here's the deal. When someone points out that some famous author has committed the same writing sin as they have, it would be to point out that the writing sin committed would not prevent the author from writing a good story that people will like. Why? Because so-and-so author did the same thing, and that book became a bestseller.

Now, the rational goes something like this. "He's a successful author for a reason, because he was experienced enough to know how to break the rules for a certain affect. He knew what he was doing." The implication being, I do not. This statement effectively "wins" the point, for most certainly I'm not as experienced a writer as whoever was pointed out, and that author may very well have made a conscious decision to break a rule to produce a certain affect. But nine times out of ten, that writer broke that rule by mistake, not on purpose. Or in his or her day, that wasn't even considered a "rule" for good writing.

No, the real point is, as I stated earlier, is all writers on all levels of experience, break the writing rules by mistake and still write entertaining stories that sell well. What they know by experience how to do is write entertaining stories that people want to read, despite those imperfections. And even the newbie writer who is still working on being able to tell a captivating tale, is correct to point out that popular author X got away with breaking these rules and succeeded. But, what it doesn't mean is it is an excuse to ignore the rules. While they aren't irrevocable laws like the law of gravity, to ignore them as one learns the craft is like discarding the wisdom of countless writers from the past as to what works and doesn't work, generally speaking.

But when some new writer mentions that famous author X committed this sin and did pretty well, instead of pointing out that the new writer isn't author X, and doesn't have the skill set to pull off breaking that rule like author X, help them to see that author X probably wouldn't like that he/she committed that sin either, and might want to correct it if they'd caught it before it was published. And that, yes, you can get published even if you break a rule, but why not make it the best story it can be? If following that rule doesn't help toward that end, then ditch it. But if it could, why ignore it? Author X wouldn't have.

So, there you have it. My seven common pitfalls of critiquers. Do you have others you'd add to this list? Do you disagree with this list?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What is Christian Fiction?

I almost didn't write this one, but some thoughts about it came to me that I felt I should get down, and this is the best place to do that. In part I feared writing about it because I didn't want to beat a dead horse. But then it seemed to wiggle around a little bit, so I'm working to put it out of its misery. Must be a cat, because it keeps coming back to life.

The definition is a little hard to pin down, because it all depends on who is answering it as to what answer you get. Here are the general ideas floating around out there:

  1. Conservative Christians readers: A story that does not mention or promote any kind of sin, including sex, cussing, drinking, or violence of any kind, usually by not mentioning it, or avoiding showing or talking about it.

  2. Less-Conservative Christians readers: A story that doesn't violate their beliefs and principles, whatever that may be.

  3. Christian Author: A story, warts and all, that in the end is redemptive, and is not preachy.

  4. CBA Author: A story with warts removed per publisher's standards in an attempt to market to group #1, but in the end is redemptive, but does have some preachy elements in it, because that is expected.

  5. Non-Christian reader: A story that tries to convert them or doesn't read realistic to their life experiences, and usually the quality is not up to par with the secular market.

  6. Non-Christian author: A preachy, half-baked attempt to convert the masses through poorly written and low quality plots and characters.

So it is no wonder when you get a group of Christians together and ask them what is Christian fiction, you'll get different answers.

For instance, among Christians there are different degrees of Christian fiction:

  1. Overt Christian Fiction: Where the characters are Christian, they regularly quote Bible verses, God plays an active part, you may even get to hear God speaking to people as a character in the story. Often the more speculative stories will allegorize God and Jesus in an attempt to make them more palatable to the non-Christian, but everyone knows who the character represents. Thus keeping it overt.

  2. Subtle Christian Fiction: The more subtle allegories come in here, or even deeply themed works which seek to convey a "message" but in a very integrated way within the story. Usually the names God and Jesus are never directly mentioned, either just not spoken about at all, or a different name for the world is used.

  3. Mixed Christian Fiction: Here usually a Christian character is mixed with non-Christian characters to provide the contrast. Not all non-Christians are necessarily thrown in as a bad light, but the Christian character reacts as a Christian would among non-Christians. Conversion optional, if it fits the story and character.

  4. Worldview Christian Fiction: Here God or religion isn't even mentioned at all, but the worldview of the characters and author form the basis for how the characters act and react, what is shown as good and bad. These are often not at all offensive to non-Christians, but also tend to have themes that few would disagree with, like honor, loyalty, friendship, etc. A good example of this is J. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

So, what is Christian fiction? Here are two more definitions. One practical, and one the core answer.

On one hand, the label, "Christian Fiction" is a marketing term. It defines the type of reader that a particular book is written for, primarily Christians. In the case of CBA books, a particular sub-set of Christians who tend to visit Christian bookstores. Most of them want the clean, sanitized, faith affirming characters and plots found in most CBA books, including someone getting saved at some point. These are as much to support their faith as it is to read a good story. Rarely will these appeal to a non-Christian, as the content seems totally unreal to them.

There is a wider growing market of Christians, however, that want more than that. They want "realistic" fiction. Where the good people sin on occasion. But no matter how gritty, dark, or horror filled, it still leaves one with a sense of redemption and hope along the way. But this market doesn't mind an occasional cuss word if it fits the character and story, doesn't mind reminders that married couples have sex, and sometimes people commit sexual sins as well. Doesn't mind if people are drinking ale, smoking a pipe, or are less than perfect. Some of these books would appeal to non-Christians as well.

But the core definition of what is Christian fiction? It is the fiction that a Christian feels is laid on their heart to write, inspired by God, no matter what category above it fits into. That is why some authors like to say it is fiction written by a Christian, more so than Christian fiction. Then we write it, and God uses it however He sees fit.

All the above categories have their place, and we need authors that write all of them. As part of the Body of Christ, it is pointless for the little finger to say to the little toe, "I don't need you." There are authors writing really good stories in all these categories. Yes, even in the bonnet romances. Some of them are of good quality plots, characters, and writing styles. Why would the writer/reader of "edgy" Christian fiction slap around the bonnet romance folks? Or the bonnet romance folks disparage the worldview Christian writer because he never mentions God in his work? Write what God has laid on your heart, and don't go judging your fellow Christian writer because he or she feels God has laid a different type of work on their heart. God will hold you accountable for what you did with your talent, not what Joe over there did with his.

At the core, Christian fiction is fiction that God can use to further His kingdom as He sees fit. And for that reason, He is the judge of what is Christian fiction. Not you, not me. Him.

Where do you fall in these categories as a reader/writer? What is your baseline definition?