Virality is a Myth

It seems like every day I see an article on Facebook or Yahoo exclaiming how some Youtube video or story just "went viral." The implication is that this indicates some kind of grass roots, democratic effort where "you: the people of the internet" decided what video, image, or story was worthy of our collective attention.

Well, allow me to offer something a little cynical: virality is a myth.

You should not feel any compulsion to click on anything simply because some greater news source indicated that it has "gone viral." There may have been a time a decade ago when virality was real and there really were items brought to our attention through natural selection, but that time has long since passed.  Sooner or latter all natural processes are absorbed by the segments of the media that are controlled by big dollars.

If you wish to defend the concept of virality, then you're going to have to explain how on any given day there are three Yahoo articles about what Kim Kardashian just had for breakfast. I know a dozen writers who are producing tremendous work and who would get an enormous boost from a single mention on Yahoo to the betterment of all humanity, so it's frustrating to see a daily triumvirate of articles dedicated to some talentless Kardashian (especially when I've never met anyone in person who claims to be a fan of that clan).

I don't mean to come across as a conspiracy theorist, I'm just stating the obvious fact that the media is highly manipulated. Sure there are cases where people without connections break through and find enormous success, but those instances are the exception. Take, for example, a list of your favorite actors. If you do some digging you'll find that a high percentage of them come from families with a lot of clout in the industry. This does not mean that those people do not have talent, but it is an indication that their success was not based on talent alone.

There are hidden gems out there that deserve to be discovered, and the concept of "virality" is an indication that the mass of humanity is seeking such things. People delight in finding quality pieces of work that shake up the collective human perspective by offering something new and brilliant. However, it's hard to find these things because there is lots and lots of mediocre talent out there with tons of money that is able to monopolize the spotlight through bribery. Sometimes I worry that there is a collective negative effect on our whole art culture simply because it's so hard for legitimate new talent to break through, but such an effect would be impossible to measure.

Perhaps the saving grace is that the true artists in our population are dedicated to their craft and nourished by perfecting their art for its own sake. It could be argued that these artists don't even seek attention since that could become a distraction to their purpose (although obviously enough notoriety so that they can make a living is necessary). Finding such talent takes effort on the part of the consumer. The good stuff out there hasn't "gone viral," and it probably never will. That being said, there's probably no point in clicking on articles boasting the discovery of the latest "viral" sensation. 

The word "viral" is just another marketing phrase which we have not yet learned to regard with suspicion.

"The Bone Sword" Has Been Re-Released by Harren Press

I'm pleased to announce that Harren Press has just re-released my novel "The Bone Sword."  The book has been giving a face lift with a new cover and a complete re-edit.  The book has actually been available on Amazon for a couple days, but we've been waiting for all the reviews to switch over to the new listing as well as to make sure the paperback and kindle versions link to each other.  Amazon never seems to be in any rush to take care of details like these.

"The Bone Sword" was originally published with Rhemalda back in 2010.  The novel is a quick, action-based fantasy designed to keep the reader entertained and on the edge of your seat.  I wrote the book while living in Lima, Peru in a tiny apartment I was renting with my girlfriend (now wife) for $120 or so a month.  The thing I remember best about that apartment is that we once discovered the landlady's daughter inside our room without permission.  It turned out that she used to learn the schedule of everyone in the building, then she'd sneak into the rooms when they were out and steal coins, etc.  I changed the locks after that and we didn't have another issue.  Still, it was kind of creepy.  Had she stolen my laptop, this book wouldn't exist.

"The Bone Sword" was originally accepted for publication from Rhemalda Publishing.  Rhemalda was a traditional publisher at the time, but they've since relaunched themselves as a book designer.  Check out their web page here.

Prior to Rhemalda, I'd worked with Epress-online (now defunct).  Rhemalda did a good job, and I think "The Bone Sword" was the second book they released.  The original cover really wasn't up to standard though, so I'm glad to get a new one on the re-release.  Rhemalda's covers got a lot better with other books, including my bestseller so far: "Beyond Birkie Fever."

When Rhemalda ceased operations as a traditional publisher, they returned the rights to all their books to the authors which was a pretty classy move on their part.  There's an amusing thread on Absolute Write where a bunch of snobby writers who don't know anything discuss "red flags" from Rhemalda.  I bet they'd all be surprised to know that the publisher would do something as awesome as return rights to all their authors when they ceased operations.  This is why I don't waste too much time on sites like Absolute Write.  You can read that thread here.

I spent quite a while looking to place "The Bone Sword."  By then I'd already started work on a new series for Perseid called "The Slaves of Erafor."  I was having a great experience working with Perseid, but I felt "The Bone Sword" might get lost in the shuffle there, so I reached out to Jesse Duckworth of Harren about publishing it.  Jesse jumped at the chance and here we are with a new release!

It's great to see "The Bone Sword" getting another chance with a new front cover.  I have fond feelings for this book since it was the first work of mine that Rhemalda accepted, and in many ways "Bone Sword" and Rhemalda really gave me a jump start as a writer.  I think I've evolved substantially as an author since it was released, but those of you who like my work will find plenty to enjoy in this book.  I still get messages from readers asking me when I plan on writing a sequel to this (hopefully I'll get to it in the spring of 2015--Harren said they'd be interested in publishing a sequel).

One interesting little tidbit is that this is the book I sent to Janet Morris which made her interested enough in my writing to request I work up a concept for Perseid--resulting in "The Reader of Acheron."  She heard about "The Bone Sword" because I posed a couple absolutely terrible reviews this book has received.  Here is, I believe, the only 1 star review I've managed to generate on Amazon.  Also, here's a pretty ridiculous treatment of the book on a web page called Future Fire.  I put a comment on that page asking if they'd like to read my latest book and they never answered me...so there you go :) .

As you can see, I'm looking to generate a bit more love for this novel.  If any of you are interested in a review copy, please contact me at: walterrhein@gmail.com.  I have quite a few of the old blue cover ones available, and would be happy to send them out for Amazon reviews.  Those of you who already have copies, please throw a couple words up on Amazon for me.  I want Harren to know that they've got a winner on their hands.

Thanks all, and if you wish to buy a paperback or kindle version of the new release, click here!

Words with S.A. Bolich, author of "The Mask of God"

Can you tell us a little bit about "The Mask of God"?

This is the first book in what turned out to be my all-time favorite series of books that I’ve written (Fate’s Arrow). It’s epic fantasy and SF rolled into one and I had a blast doing the worldbuilding, which is very rich, a blend of elite swordsmen and feudal grudges, warring (and artificial) gods and glimpses of ancient technology left over from the Founders of this lost Earth colony. I wrote it as a stand-alone, but a couple of months after I finished it I had a really intense flash on a scene that logically could have followed from the action in this book. It turned out I had to write a whole book to get up to that scene, and a whole book to resolve it! So, I ended up with a trilogy of three very long books that actually had to be split in half to publish. So now the series is six books instead of three, but the good news is that it’s already written. There will be no endless stretching out of the storyline a la “The Wheel of Time” where the author actually died in the middle of the series. I am currently revising the last two books and when they are delivered they will be coming out on a regular schedule over the next year, year and a half. If you like really layered, immersion-type fantasy, that’s what these are.

I started “The Mask of God” in 1989 with the intention of looking at the whole Middle East mess from a fantasy perspective. This was before bin Laden, before Al Queda, 911, etc. and it was just this neverending conflict spawned by two cultures that refused to understand each other or make peace. So the underlying premise was to examine how the people down the block could be so different that we fail to understand them at all. It’s set on a colony world of Earth that has been cut off for centuries, ever since the galaxy fell to a horde of religious fanatics swarming out from their home planet determined to convert the rest of the universe. My “infidels” are very priest-wary, having survived that fanatical theocracy, which, chillingly, reminds me now, 25 years after I wrote it, a great deal of ISIS. The “heathens” are people who clung to their religions underground throughout the Hadi regime and were disappointed to learn that their victorious fellows who fought the Hadi don’t want any part of priests or gods anymore. So the religious folk fled to the southern desert, the remainder settled into the greener parts...and then somehow accumulated 1000 gods of their own. My agnostic prince, Alarion, doesn’t want to believe in any of them, but is forced to consider the possibility that they have actual power when one of them saves his life. Not to mention the fact that he dreams prophetic dreams that could only come from the goddess Fate. And that the Hadi god and all its priests had strange and well-documented powers... The mystery of how the 1000 gods came to be—and how Alarion tries to disentangle himself from their private war—is the thrust of the first book. The stir he causes trying to do so carries the story forward through the rest of the series.

What's your background with writing?

I won my first writing contest in the sixth grade. Since then I have been an EPIC finalist, gotten to the quarter finals and Honorable Mention phases of Writers of the Future, and had my first published short story earn an Honorable Mention in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I wrote for fun for years, only occasionally dipping a toe into submissions. I always got personal rejections, which I didn’t realize at the time were good things, and thus went back into my corner and went on writing. It was after the internet came along and I joined a couple of writers’ workshops that I realized maybe my stuff wasn’t so bad. People encouraged me to submit, which I did, and started to sell. Six years ago I quit my day job and have supported myself by writing ever since.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

I actually set out to write historical fiction. Got a degree in history and everything. Then I went in the Army (military intelligence officer), and got seriously sidetracked. So, my influences are not the standard genre folk, but authors like Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart, Elleston Trevor and Anton Myrer, Herman Wouk, and other writers of historical or military fiction. However, I also devoured nearly everything written by Andre Norton as a teen, read Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury and a lot of Golden Age SF writers, Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey... I still read widely in both fantasy and SF and lots and lots of non-fiction.

What was it like working with Sky Warrior Books or Hartwood Publishing?

I really like working with small presses. Your books come out faster, the royalties are higher, and you have more freedom to write the books you want to write. Hartwood published my Civil War fantasy/ghost story that agents loved but weren’t sure they could sell because it doesn’t fit into a clearly identifiable niche. Hartwood loved it, and the reviews have been excellent. So, though everyone wants a New York contract, it’s certainly not the only way to get your books in front of readers anymore.

Who was responsible for the cover/book design?

A very fine artist named William R. Warren did the Mask cover. He was wonderful to work with, very enthusiastic about the world, and actually gave me some great ideas that I incorporated into the revisions. Remember that this is a fallen colony, and you see evidence of the Founders everywhere on Ariel, from the building materials they used to the remnants of the spaceport and old broken-down flyers that have been fitted with wooden wheels and are now hauled by oxen. He captured a lot of that feel in the cover, which shows both the trickster Thousandth God rolling his dice across my heroes marching out to war, and the huge signal mirrors that are the foundation of Ariel’s “modern” communication system.

What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

I am active on Facebook and Twitter, do the odd blog tour now and again, try to maintain my own blog and keep people updated with news, etc. Mostly I write, giving people new reasons to like my work.

Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?

Two years ago George R.R. Martin was the guest of honor at Miscon, in Missoula, Montana. It’s normally a small con, but the best one I’ve ever been to. That year the place was packed to the gills, and when George was signing (seated on the Iron Throne, of course), the lines went down the hall, around a corner, and out the door all the way down to the creek that runs behind the hotel. Meantime, all the rest of us panelists and invited pros are sitting in our little book-signing enclave (and there were some very well-known authors among us), smiling hopefully, watching people shuffle past to get their books signed by George. I think one author signed one book. After a while it got to be pretty funny, actually. We now all have a war story about how GRRM sucks the air out of book signings.

What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?

My blog is called Words from Thin Air. I do occasionally write about life, the universe, and writing, but its biggest thrust is the Horses in Fiction series I write, which is aimed at helping writers get their fictional equines right. I can’t count the number of times I have rolled my eyes or chucked a book across the room because the writer had clearly never been without shouting distance of a live horse. Assuming that what you see in Hollywood is how real horses are WILL get you laughed at by all the horse-savvy people out there, of whom there are many, many more than you think.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

I was in the middle of a new book when I landed the contract for my “Masters of the Elements” series, which sucked up all my writing time for the past 3 years. Now that the “Fate’s Arrow” series is almost done in revision, I will be able to get back to that. It’s epic fantasy as well, with some very cool elements I’m anxious to explore. I’m also going through my drawer cleaning up some of the many short stories lurking in there. I’ll be chucking those out to fend for themselves in the market, too.

Is there anything else about you we should know?

Aside from the two horses, four cats, and one ancient dog who claim to be pets but are actually masters of the Bolich universe? They say to be sure to tell you to buy my books so I can keep them fed. Yes, masters...

You can catch up with me on Twitter (sabolichwrites), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/sue.bolich or https://www.facebook.com/s.a.bolich), and of course at my own website (www.sabolichbooks.com). I have a new book in my Masters of the Elements series coming out 1 November, so watch for promo offers toward the end of October. That’s it! Thanks for the interview!  

Review of "Spawn of Dyscrasia" by S.E. Lindberg

Dark, Fascinating Fantasy

S.E. Lindberg’s “Spawn ofDyscrasia” is the second book to appear in the world of Dyscrasia. I haven’t read “Lords of Dyscrasia,” but after having spent some time with “Spawn,” it’s definitely a work that has made its way to my ‘to-read’ list. Although “Spawn” stands alone, there were some times I wished I was a little more familiar with the world, and I think reading “Lords” first would have helped.

Dyscrasia is a pretty fascinating place, and you have to give this novel your full attention while reading. “Spawn” is a dark fantasy novel, but there are elements that provoke emotions that are similar to what you feel from other genres. Some of the early scenes involving artificial life forms reminded me of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”--but not the mindless slasher films the character has inspired, I’m talking about the philosophical, gothic masterpiece of a novel that started it all.

Energy is a major discussion point early on and these conversations reach beyond the scope of the novel. Some characters draw their energy from other characters and I was reminded of the magical system in The Darksword Trilogy that involved all magic users drawing their power through people referred to as Catalysts (it was the only interesting thing in that novel—and the idea wasn’t explored adequately, so read “Spawn of Dyscrasia” instead).

There is also a skull-faced character that reminded me a little bit of Garth the Overman from Lawrence Watt-Evans’s “Lords of Dus” trilogy. Both that series and “Spawn of Dyscracia” manage to generate the same sense of ominous foreboding. The characters are competent and powerful, but it seems like the elements of nature are too indomitable and inherently sadistic to ever be overcome.

I was impressed by S.E. Lindberg’s writing, his words are precise and intelligent. There is a definite purpose here, and you can tell that Lindberg is a well-educated man. Perhaps there are passages that become too didactic at times, but overall it worked very well for me.

This novel really goes beyond the fantasy genre, although I think it will take a few subsequent readings on my part to formulate an idea as to what comments the author intends. I like that kind of subtlety. I’ll probably revisit it again after reading the first volume and update my thoughts. In the meantime, grab your own copies of both of these!

Please give my review a "helpful" click on Amazon (and purchase your copy) here!