Monday, 22 February 2016

Dirtbag Rollo of Normandy

Recently in the Ubergroup, Merry Ravenell asked me a very important question about the historical context of my book:

Why didn't the Vikings just abduct the French women and sail home? Why set down roots? Rollo just married a Christian woman, got himself a duchy and ... ?

In response, I present to you the newest instillation of Comically Short Histories of the Western World:

Dirtbag Rollo of Normandy  

with credit to Mallory Ortberg of The Toast for original Dirtbag series, legitimizing the half-assed way I plot my books by establishing a 'stylistic convention.'

Rollo: k, so I'm taking this, mine nao. I'm here with my best bitch Poppa


Rollo: LOL viking

Charles: FU

**Charles attacks**

Rollo: okay I do admit that actually kind of stings but ur still not getting me out of here.

Charles: **wheezes in exhaustion** Well, here's the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte and you're my... vassal. Yes. We meant to do this. You will marry my daughter Gisele and your son with Gisele will inherit. So. It's for your kids. And also my kids. And you're gonna stop raiding churches, because you're Christian now, not a big scary pagan.

Rollo: Fine whatever. Dunk me in ur stupid tub. I don't actually need to keep nicking the shit in ur churches when I have a regular income.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Pitch Wars 2015: #pimpmybio

Jerry here. I've fallen in with the crazy kids over at Pitch Wars, so I'm going to play the mentee bio game. Pick me!

Genre: Late Viking-era historical allegory, set during the Scandinavian conquest of Normandy. Like Arthurian legend with scrupulous period research. Only, instead of Arthur, it's Rollo, and a theory about how the Viking age was caused by selective female infanticide.

Racial conflict. Religious oppression. Women fighting to rule. Maintaining personal ethics against the court of public opinion. You know, the little things. :)

More historically accurate than this, but I haven't gotten my own HBO deal yet.

A few things about me: In my 20s, I was a knight in shining armour by day and a CMS certified sommelier by night. I know it seems like those should go the other way around, but it's really hard to crush your enemies and see them driven before you after the sun goes down.

Now I travel and write full time. I run the Ubergroup, the most intensive writer's workshop on the internet, and run a bnb in Manhattan that allows my partner and I to take turns wandering around the world. We spent last winter in France and Morocco.

You may have seen me around the internet, running my mouth off about feudal nobility, warfare in the western world, and female professions of medieval Europe for Dan Koboldt's Fact in Fantasy, Science in Scifi series.

Why you should pick me as your mentee:

1. I work like a coked-out sled dog. The principles of aforementioned Ubergroup are work ethic, positive attitude, teamwork and helping each other becoming better writers. The main benefits of the Ubergroup are a rigorous structure that provides motivation; devoted moderators that intensively monitor consistency, quality, and tone of critiques to ensure everyone gets a large amount of useful feedback; and friendly, active members that create a positive but not sycophantic environment that constantly challenges us to grow. Yes, I do this for fun. And, you know... personal betterment.

Someone once described us as “a bunch of workaholics,” and that’s pretty accurate. Work it harder make it better.

I have a simple motto: Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep improving. Keep working. I am never 'done.' When I get an agent, it will be time to gut and redraft, when I get a contract and an editor, it will be time to gut and redraft. Sharon Kay Penman released a new version of her breakout 'Sunne in Splendour' with corrections in 2013, thirty years after it was an NYT bestseller in 1983. Robert Heinlein's estate released the uncut version of  'Stranger in A Strange Land,' the way he'd wanted it, thirty years after the original and after he was dead.

Pablo Casals (the musician) was asked at 90 why he still practiced every day, and he said, 'Because I think I'm seeing improvement.'

And to burninate the countryside.

2. I'm happy to kill my darlings. Art is a medium of communication. I never understood how artists could be attached to their untapped potential, yet to interact with anyone else and come alive in communication.

“Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

''Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. 

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

I'm not attached to my manuscript. I'm attached to you. My audience. I want to see you laugh. I want to see you cry and scream and stand up and shout obscenities back at the stage. I want to affect you. The art is in making you feel it. I want to see you feel it. I want to hear you cheer and boo until you're hoarse. I'll kill my darlings a hundred times over until I birth something that communicates. None of the other incarnations matter until we come up with the one that means something to you.

The kick comes from people, buddy boy.

At chest height. Flying through mid-air.

3. I live in Manhattan and love to cook. You needed an excuse to visit NYC. And a place to crash for free in this ludicrously expensive city. And to pet my cat. And to have brunch with me.

Library? Guest room? Why not both?

 Her name is Meyonce Knowles.

Times when life doesn't require champagne: never.

4. I am a mixed-race FTM transperson. Oh god, I never thought I'd say that in a professional venue, but everyone keeps wondering why I care so much about race and gender issues. I present male professionally (although I usually present female socially and you will hear my partner and some friends use the female pronoun.) I feel kind of cheap saying this here, as you're not coming to date me and therefore the bits between my legs should not be relevant... sooooooo let's not talk about this anymore and I'll pretend I didn't say anything and you just take me at face value. Really, I'm pretty hard to offend, I won't care if you use both pronouns interchangeably :)

This is your friendly neighborhood crazy guy, signing off. Hear me now, O thou bleak and unbearable world...

Pitch Wars 2015 Mentee Blog Hop by Christopher Keely

Thursday, 28 May 2015

New York Scribbers Weekly Writing Session

Tiamat House Bed and Breakfast, 413 E 114th street, unit 4E, New York, NY, 10029. Take the 6 train to 116th.

Every Sunday from noon-5pm, starting June 7th.

Free coffee and tea, good wifi.

Crit. Write. Hang out. Get shit done.

No cost, no catch. Snacks or booze to share, or donations towards the coffee fund are always appreciated.

Hosted by the Uberlord.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Handling beta feedback and edits

I was recently asked how I organise large quantities of feedback from beta readers. As some of you know, in my most recent round, I had over 20 readers. That's a lot of feedback, much of it conflicting. Many authors feel stuck when critiquers make opposing recommendations, or simply are overwhelmed by the prospect of sorting it all when they sign up for something like the Ubergroup's beta team and are slammed with hundreds of critiques and pages of debate.

This is all assuming you have gotten as many beta readers as possible. This is also assuming you have a firm idea of your own artistic goals and personal style and have no problems saying "no, thanks." I'm not saying "write by committee," I'm just saying that to understand any large group--such as a whole target reader demographic--more data means more accuracy. So, provided you are confident in throwing out obvious outliers and things you don't like emotionally and personally, it's more helpful to see if 19 out of 20 people agree, instead of having two critiquers who disagree and no other 18 to weigh in.

Assuming you want to take that route at all, here's my advice for how to sort the resulting feedback.

1.) Make everyone talk to each other.

The reason I built the Ubergroup the way I did is because I find it helpful to have everyone hang out and have a round-table discussion. It's modelled on rehearsals for any sort of performing art. Music, dance, theatre, circus, it's all the same idea. You do your thing in front of your troupe and then they all pitch ideas at you, debate and discuss.

I find that a lot of times, people who seem to being saying opposite things in their crits were actually just using different phrasings. When talking directly to each other, and one person says, "I have to disagree with your suggestion in your crit of chapter xyz, because I think..." the other person often says "Oh, yes, that would work, too. My suggestion was just another way to solve the same problem."

That takes all the stress out of going "But person A said this and person B said that!" Having person A and B hash it out directly eliminates conflicts that were simple misunderstanding. A and B are often attacking the same problem from different angles, and discussion may lead to consensus.

So, have everyone discuss together. I usually end up with something like 9 out of 10 people agreeing, and the 10th person admitting graciously they might just be the outlier. On the occasional thing where it's a split 5-5 vote, then I know I really have to look into the subject further. Knowing which topics are so divisive is also helpful.

(Also, who doesn't find it hugely flattering listening to people debate your "literary themes"?)

2.) Sort the everloving shit out of it.

I just finished sorting through the massive 20-page discussion thread from my last beta round, picking out all the salient suggestions and sorting them by general topic. I know know that sounds like a lot of work, but I find it even more work to jump around as I edit. If I change a scene based on one person's feedback, then I stumble across someone else's related suggestion on the same scene like 5 discussion pages later... guh. I hate having to re-edit a scene a dozen times because someone else made a really good point. It's far less work overall to paste all the suggestions on the same topic together, and think about it at once.

It's important to add that I do not leave any of the conceptual ideas in the crits only. As I'm reading the crits, I bring up all the suggested conceptual changes in the dedicated discussion thread, and everyone opines. If there are 10 crits per chapter over 30 chapters--300 crits--Lord help me if I'm supposed to poke through the whole unsorted pile for a vague idea somewhere. I'd much rather copy-paste each individual comment into groups organised by topic the first time I read it, and never have to go through the whole mess again.

It takes about a week, but eventually I condense all the ideas.

Here's the part I think people using the Ubergroup's beta method may find particularly helpful. I bold each general major conceptual issue so I can easily skim through in search of a topic, and then paste together everyone's ideas. For ease of reading, I don't copy parts where people are saying things like "Yes, I agree!" just the sentences containing actual suggestions.

In practice, it looks something like this:

Edmund/John conversation about death and John scolding him for holding onto the dead: "Does John secretly blame Edmund for their mother's death? Does Edmund resent John parental attitude all the more because he just lost his mother as well as his father?” (Laura R) "I think it would be pretty nifty if there's a scene somewhere in the first half where Edmund attempts to talk about their parents with John, just to kind of vent and grieve together and John's totally cold and "We must let go of the dead". " (Dahlia) "It could even be another moment where Edmund don't feel he can be good enough." (Raven) "I never connected the religious 'don't mention the names of the dead' with why their parents were never mentioned. So this talk would show there's a reason why they aren't discussing their dead parents, not just that they aren't thinking about it/don't care." (Catherine)

3.) Think about what I agree/disagree with.

With all the suggestions together, it's easy for me to consider all the opinions on one topic without fear of overlooking someone, look to see if there's any majorities, and decide whether or not I agree. That's important:this is not "writing by committee." I value all 5, 10, or 20 voices, but I'm the director and tiebreaker. So, I decide, and then implement the conceptual changes.

4.) Reread all the crits again.

After I've made all the conceptual changes, I do re-read all the crits again at the very end, looking for line edits. Skimming for highlighted typos, word choice issues, etc.

Hopefully that's helpful to some of you. It's one way of keeping track of an epic-scope project, at least.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Feudal Nobility

Once again, I had the honour of writing a guest article for Dan Kobodt's Fact in Fantasy, Science in Scifi series. I present to you:

A Quick And Dirty Guide To Feudal Nobility

Nothing drives me crazier than authors—or patrons at Renaissance Faires—addressing everyone and everything as “mi’loooooooord.” Firstly, no one outside of possibly a few British comedians in the 1970s has ever pronounced the word “my” that way. Secondly, not everyone is a lord; that notion defies the most basic grasp of economics. Thirdly, there are different kinds of lords, especially in different periods—the system was constantly evolving. Finally, there are specific ways to address each type depending on who you are.

Detailing every type of feudal lord that ever existed is a Herculean task already undertaken by numerous (very dry) textbooks, so today I’m going to break down the underlying reasoning behind the system. As fantasy authors, you do not need to cleave to any existing real world system, as long as yours is created with a reasonable, self-consistent logic. For this mini lesson, I’m going to focus primarily on the English system from the Norman Conquest to the War of the Roses.

Rule 1: Not Everyone Was A Lord

Let’s start with the fundaments of feudalism. As I said in my last lesson, the basic premise was that “those who could take something, did.” The Norman Conquest was exactly what it sounded like: William, Duke of Normandy, trumped up a claim to England, then sailed over from France and took it. That wasn’t the first time, either; William wasn’t French. “Norman,” or “North-man,” was the French word for the Vikings who sailed down from Scandinavia and took half of France, thus starting a long tradition of the English taking whatever the hell they wanted.

The economics functioned as follows: if you were spending all your time practising with your sword to get better at taking things, you weren’t able to grow your own food. You had to convince the farmers to give you a share of their crops, in the original form of income tax: tithe. How to accomplish that? Show up at their houses with all your sword-toting buddies and take it. By now, you’re hopefully starting to picture the king and all his peers a lot less like this: 

And a lot more like this:

Enter the concept of the landlord. Yes, this is from whence modern word originates. Technically, all the land belongs to the king. He permits the farmers to live there and work it for him in exchange for tithe. Since he can’t manage it all directly, he leases big chunks of it to his favourite armed thug buddies, known as “creating” them the Earl, Duke, etc, of a given area. They then receive tithe for their portion, and owe him military service in exchange for the hookup. A lord was functionally the local cartel boss. The Don, the Jefe, however you like it. By nature, there aren’t very many of them.

As of 1307, there was still only one type of lord below the king: an Earl, from Old Norse Jarl. And there were only eleven of them. England may not look very big on a map, but next time you visit, try walking from London to York with only the clothes on your back and as much food as you can carry. To the average person of the era, it was a serious undertaking to get beyond the borders of the Earldom in which you were born. They knew they had a Lord, theoretically, receiving all their taxes, and a king somewhere, but nothing about either of them.

Modern Americans: unless you live in the capitol and work in a relevant business… have you ever actually met the President? Or even the governor of your home state? Do you even know your governor’s name without googling it? There are literally five times as many American governors now as there were British earls in the 13th century, and you don’t walk around seriously expecting to bump into one on the street.

Rule 2: The System Keeps Changing

The fun part about things made up at the whim of a single guy is that the rules keep changing. During the reign of William I, there were exactly three types of nobility: King, Earl, and Baron. The first British duke was created in 1337, when Edward II made the Black Prince Duke of Cornwall. A duke was below the king but above an earl.

In 1385 Richard II created Robert de Vere (already the 9th Earl Oxford) the 1st Marquis of Dublin. “Marquis” is a reference to the “marches,” or borders, as he was defending a border territory. The next marquis, created 1397, refused to use the title because he felt a made-up honour carried no weight. It went unused until Henry VI revived it in 1442. No further titles came into use until the Renaissance. As of 1611, the British hierarchy went:

  • King
  • Duke
  • Marquis
  • Earl
  • Viscount
  • Baron
  • Baronet

To make things infinitely more complicated, the rest of Europe followed their own rules. For the most part the terms and hierarchy were comparable, and variations are pretty obvious in the term used: a Grand Duke, for instance, would be above a regular Duke. Making a word diminutive, such as Count/Viscount or Baron/Baronet implies the new position was just below the one from which it is derived. Count, btw, is the continental word for Earl, and Earl’s wives were still called Countess (probably because Earless sounds like something that happened to Van Gogh.)

It’s important to realize that kings were not the only type of sovereign (ruler with no one above them) nor were they necessarily the king of a particularly large area. There were—and still are—some sovereign duchies, in which the Duke is the top of the line. Pre-conquest England was divided up into dozens of small kingdoms, such as Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex, which were eventually consolidated by the usual means of one of the kings beating up his neighbour and taking the land. (This is true throughout most of world history. The Illiad speaks of a “coalition of Greek Kings” of which Agamemnon was High King. Ramses the Great self-described as “King of Kings” as did many Persian “Shahenshah”s.)

Prince was not always a word for king’s son, either: in its broadest sense, “prince” is a generic term for a top-level ruler. One might refer to a collection of “foreign princes” as being a general mishmash of approximately ruling-class men who might have a reasonable claim to a sovereign rule of a country, including Dukes, Emirs, Shahs, and what have you. For an exhaustive list of examples to create your fantasy hierarchy from, see Wikepedia’s entry on royal and noble ranks.

Rule 3: Specific Forms of Address

A king or queen is addressed as “his/her/your Majesty,” a prince or princess as “his/her/your Highness,” and a Duke/Duchess as “his/her/your Grace.” Everything below that is “his/her/your Lordship/Ladyship.” “His/your Excellency” came much later, and was used for a chancellor or prime minister. You can invent more, but make sure they differ from ones that already exist. It’s also extremely common to refer to someone by the name of the land they own, which is NOT the same as their family name. Sir denotes knighthood.

It is a job qualification, and as such, goes with a man’s first name. Being a knight means you get to be called Sir, just as having your PhD means you get to be called Dr. Lord denotes ownership of property. It goes with the land, not a man’s name, because you are saying he owns the land, not his own name. Most Lords happen to also be knights, but that’s sort of like saying “Most of the largest properties in the world are owned by people who have graduate degrees.” It’s an interesting fact, but the degree does NOT bring the land with it. You can have “Sir so-and-so, who doesn’t own anything in particular,” just as completing your phD does not automatically give you a gargantuan estate.

Master is a last-resort polite form of address if someone is landless and not a knight, likely a younger son of petty gentry, or a tradesman. In general, use the most flattering/important title available, unless the character is purposely being familiar or rude. I’ll use examples from my own fictional world:

Teagan Chambrer, Knight Commander General, youngest (non-inheriting) son of the Thegn of Duck’s Crossing, could be addressed as:
  • Sir Teagan
  • General Teagan
  • Master Chambrer (but this would be insulting, as it ignores the fact that he is an officer)
But NOT:
  • Lord Anything (he’s not.)
  • Sir Chambrer (he, Teagan, personally, is the knight, not his entire family.)
William Huntley, 1st Earl Greenford, knight of the realm, could be addressed as:
  • Lord Greenford
  • Greenford (with no preamble)
  • Sir William (but a bit familiar/pretentious to use his personal name, as it implies that his person is more relevant to you than his status as an Earl. Might be used by friend or a woman flirting with him.)
  • Master Huntley (but again, insulting.)
But NOT:
  • Sir Huntley (he, William, personally, is the knight, not his entire family)
  • Sir Greenford (his property is not a knight.)
  • Lord Huntly (owner of his family?)
  • Lord William (owner of himself?)
Robert Caenid, 2nd Earl Nor’watch, knight of the realm, and Lord Treasurer, could be addressed as:
  • Lord Nor’watch
  • My Lord Treasurer
  • Sir Robert (again, personal)
  • Master Caenid (again, insulting)
  • Lord Robert (owner of himself?)
  • Master Robert (master of himself?)
  • Sir Treasurer (the office of treasurer is a knight?)
Stephen fitz Wheelwright (note, “fitz” means “son of” and wheelwright is a profession, such as baker, miller, smith, thatcher, fletcher, cooper, etc. This is a literal statement that his father is the town wheelwright, not a family name.) Captain of the guard, not a knight, could be addressed as:
  • Captain Stephen
  • the wheelwright’s boy (insulting now that he is an officer. Would have been his form of address formerly.)
But NOT:
  • Sir Stephen (he is not.)
  • Master Wheelwright (that’s his father.)
Use of a first name in isolation of any title or pet name is extremely personal. No one, regardless of comparable rank, addresses someone by a pet name uninvited, unless they are purposely being rude or overly familiar. It sets the tone of the situation – if my boss were to say, “Morning, Jerry!” I might reply, “Morning, Ben!” but if he were to open with “Good morning, Mr. Quinn,” I sure as hell better retreat behind, “Good morning, Mr. Stirling” unless I want to get in trouble.

Generally, all women married to a knight or better can be referred to as “my Lady,” although you would only attach a name if you would do so for her husband. A lady retains her title after being widowed as a courtesy, even if she remarries a man of lesser station. If there is a new woman who can claim the same title, the word “dowager” will be attached to specify. 

Eliza Caenid, widow of the former Earl Nor’watch, mother of Robert, the current Earl Nor’watch, could be addressed as:
  • My Lady Countess
  • the Dowager Countess Nor’watch
But NOT:
  • Lady Nor’watch (that’s her daughter-in-law.)


The biggest thing to remember when designing your own system is it’s all about the land. You only get as many lords as you get mob bosses; when too many try to exist in a given area, turf wars occur. Since the land is so important, the form of address almost always makes reference to it, and you certainly wouldn’t treat someone like he ran the place if he didn’t. (Just picture what would happen if the Godfather overheard you calling some other shmuck “boss” instead).

This is only the briefest of overviews, of course, but hopefully it gives you some keywords to plug into Google. If you really want to get into it, some very thorough (and mind you, antique) resources include: A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire by Sir Bernard Burke, A Directory of British Peerges by Francis Leeson, and The genealogy of the existing British peerage, with sketches of the family histories of the nobility by Edmund Lodge.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Short History of Warfare

I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Dan Koboldt's Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy series today. Enjoy :)

Fantasy authors often buck the idea that technology in their world should progress the same way real history did. Technological advances in warfare, however, are a lot like biological evolution: the result of trying and failing a whole lot of times before something actually works. Tiny fencing swords were not used against knights in plate armour because, plain and simple, they wouldn’t have worked. If you don’t believe me, take the most delicate fish knife in your kitchen and attempt to hack open a corrugated-steel loading-dock door.

Sure, a tiny fencing sword could have been made by the same level of forging technology as a heavy broadsword, and yes, some early ones did exist. They weren’t widely useful, however—outside of duelling with another unarmed layman—so they weren’t made in quantity for the battlefield. Why waste the time and money making a tool that doesn’t work? Nature and economics both refuse to support illogical solutions. Not until the proliferation of efficient firearms made heavy armour obsolete (By the same force of necessity: why weigh yourself down with something that won’t actually protect you anymore?) was it realistic to try to poke your opponent with something fast and light.

Over the next few months, I’ll be trying to help fantasy authors understand the underlying logic of why certain things came after others in actual history. Yes, fantasy by definition means you can do whatever you want, but if “whatever you want” happens to include the physics, chemistry, and biology of Earth–-if your fantasy world has 9.8 m/s/s gravity, a 24-hour diurnal cycle, four temperate seasons, liquid water, mercury that’s poisonous, gold that’s valuable, and a whole bunch of recognisable four-limbed megafauna like horses, cows, and sheep—you need to understand the basic relationship between the limitations of that world and what the bipedal primates running around on it can do with it.

Since a large portion of fantasy takes place in an analogue of the western world sometime in the last 2000 years, today we’ll begin with an overview of that, starting with:

Organisation and deep pockets

The very early Roman Republic—from about the 7th-4th century BCE—followed the example of a Greek phalanx: primarily infantry, long spears, interlocking shields. In the 3rd century BCE, they really started getting organised: mobile, disciplined, and constantly rotating to allow fresh troops into battle. Weapons and armour were quite light. The main advantage was manoeuvrability, good funding, and discipline that came with soldiering as a full-time profession. The Roman army built roads to get where they were going easily. They managed food and supplies carefully. From the 1st century BCE onwards, Roman armies even brought along doctors and staged field hospitals.

The keywords of Roman-era infantry combat: light, fast, organised, aggressive. They took what everyone already knew how to do and did it bigger, faster, harder.

Smarter politics and copying your neighbours

Rome had always assimilated conquered ‘barbarian’ peoples into its army, but as the empire over-expanded, over-spent, and grew corrupt, administrative and support structure declined. The fiction that the chaotic, unrelated tribal mercenaries were paid Roman allies continued into the 5th century, but in reality, the organisation that had made Rome was long gone.

After the collapse of Rome, Byzantium continued to use fundamentally Roman structure, but were clever enough to improve upon it.  Rather than allowing citizens to avoid military service — which required hiring mercenaries of questionable quality and loyalty — they implemented universal conscription. The Byzantines were also quick to adapt clever innovations by their enemies—notably, the concept of heavy cavalry in the form of cataphracts of the Eurasian steppe.

The keywords of Byzantine-era combat: politically savvy, opportunistic, adaptable. They took Roman organisation and added the humility and pragmatism to incorporate whatever they saw that worked.

The Stirrup Controversy

There’s a theory that feudalism in Europe was a result of the introduction of the stirrup. Stirrups enabled “shock tactics”—ie, a fighter with a way to brace himself on his horse could hang on well enough to mow the enemy down. This tactic was so superior, Carolingian France in the 8th and 9th century structured itself around infeudination: rewarding its best mounted warriors with land. Those lords would then turn around and subinfeudinate –- think “sublease,” except the property is paid for with military service — lesser knights with smaller parcels of their land. (This is why, by the way, we still call the people we rent our apartments from “landlords” today.)

10th century Norman Stirrup

Although the causality is debated, it is undeniable that heavy cavalry and feudalism rose to prominence at the same time. Modern gangs are still structured similarly: a charismatic and physically dominant leader both charms and kills his way into power, personally appointing those he favours (who must have similar but not greater personal charisma and physical dominance) as his lieutenants, and so on down from there.

The keywords of medieval-era combat: heavy, aggressive, direct. Fundamentally, medieval society functioned on the premise that those who could take something, did.

Gunpowder and democracy

The earliest known gun appeared in Europe in the 14th century, and artillery became indispensable by the 15th. Fortification designs rapidly began advancing to keep pace, and the importance of nobility in warfare eroded as heavy cavalry lost its advantage. Longbows and pikes, used intelligently, could be very effective against armoured knights, but both required a lifetime of training that made it difficult to amass large forces. As technology improved, “hand cannons” became prominent among infantry. The flintlock musket of the 17th century could kill an armoured man at 100 yards and did not require great physical strength to use. They weren’t particularly accurate, but in enough quantity, they didn’t need to be. By the end of the 17th century, mobility was preferable over the nominal remaining protection of armour, and thus the armour disappeared.

It’s been said that “The musket made the infantryman and the infantryman made the democrat.” The fact that anyone could use a musket made the common man relevant in combat, swelled the size of armies, bred nationalism (drawing men from across the country together to serve in organised corps) and made it feasible for a peasant revolt to have military effects.

17th Century musketeer manual (England)

The keywords of gunpowder warfare: easy-to-use, widely available, equalising. The American 2nd amendment–written in the 18th century, within 100 years of muskets rising to prominence–is grounded in the idea that the muskets widely owned by common men are of adequate technological consequence to overthrow a monarchist government.

This is only a rough overview, of course, and does not even touch on naval warfare. Hopefully, though, it’s given you at least a few starting keywords to plug into google. If you’d really like to roll up your sleeves and dig in, some classic textbooks on the subject include The Cambridge History of Warfare by Geoffrey Parker, The World History of Warfare by Christion Archer, and A History of Warfare by John Keegan.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Personalised querying and rape culture

A question about my queries came up in the Ubergroup:

I've been wanting to get some input on querying agents and how you personalize your queries. I hear of people researching for hours before they even query, yet my sort of personalization requires only about 20 minutes.
I have to admit that the idea of personalizing my query makes me a bit queasy. It feels so much like sucking up. I mean, I'm all for doing my homework, etc, but I dunno - it feels icky.  Then I heard of your success is getting personalized rejections....

My philosophies for querying come from this:

I have very high success rates at Okcupid (not just "getting dates," but using it for social networking. I've gathered platonic groups with common interests without sounding like some creeper with ulterior motives.) It's something I learned to do in person working at Renaissance Faires.

Fundamentally, in that job, I'm 'that big loud crazy actor, approaching you suddenly and starting a conversation.' People, accustomed to screens and recorded media, are wigged out by live actors who can hear and see them, too. "How to approach people in a friendly way without triggering an automatic 'NO' and subsequent avoidance as if you have leprosy" is my most important theatrical skill.

I also spent years as a nightclub bartender. I've watched THOUSANDS of men try and fail to pick up women... and thousands of others succeed. There's a distinct pattern to what works and what doesn't. And I've protected many women from said creepers in nightclubs and on buses because I  know how to give off a "non-creeper" vibe.

Remember: agents are people... frequently young and attractive women who are jaded to being approached. My philosophy to approaching anyone is "Smile, be polite and non-creepy, and promptly explain what you want in such a way that does not come off as spam." "DEAR ANONYMNOUS AGENT READ MY MANUSCRIPT PLZ." is about as appealing as door-to-door salesmen, Jehovah's witnesses, and bums with sob stories asking for change.

Ladies (assuming heteronormativity here, because that's where defences are traditionally highest): if a guy walked up to you in a bar and was like "HAY BEBE CAN I BUY U A DRINK," without even looking at your face, after you watched him do it to every other woman in the room, would it work?

By contrast, if you saw the same guy around in the coffeeshop you usually write in, also working and minding his own business, and he generally came off as cute and non-assuming, and like the fourth or fifth time he was standing in line at the counter behind you he smiles and strikes up an intelligent conversation about the book you're holding... you'd be at least likely to answer his question in a friendly way instead of being like UM NO GET AWAY, right?

Yeah. That. That's why adding agents and other authors on twitter and blogs and being active but not annoying is like hanging out in the same coffeeshop to honestly do your own work and not be annoying or creepy. I tweet a combination of funny links and writing-related ones, talk about the ubergroup a lot, and absolutely NEVER spam "BUY MY BOOK PLZ PLZ PLZ" (like most new-author twitter accounts do.) I write blog posts on writing theory always take the time to answer people's questions about history or writing stuff to the best of my ability.

I want agents, publishers, other authors and potential new readers to have seen me around legitimately doing my own thing and find me to be a decent fellow, With querying, like the "how to write/talk to women" thing, I try to actually start a real conversation instead of being like "no shit, every dude on the planet wants to fuck you, so I'm TOTALLY ORGINAL HERE. I give exactly zero damns about your personality BUT PLZ LETS FUK PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ OMG PLZZZZZZZZ."

So yeah. I pretty much rewrite my query every single time. I look at my template as a "rehearsal." When I speak to someone in person I'll bring up the same topics I've practiced (if it's someone I wanted to take out, it would probably be the fact that I want to take her out. In the query it's that I'd like her to read my book) and I might mention the same selling points (funny stories that I know most people like/my pitch and comp titles) but I'm not literally just copy-pasting my template. Can you imagine walking up to a girl, unrolling some notes, and robotically reading aloud "HI UR PRETTY WILL U PLEAZE GO ON A DATE WITH  ME?"

No. Personal. From scratch. Every time.

You are clearly using twitter/online presence to create a rapport with agents/publishers before sending off your work - thereby setting up the: I'm sitting in the same coffee shop and recognize the book you're reading. But, in terms of personalization - what if the agent I am interested in doesn't have that personal twitter account (the agency company does) or those interviews from which I can glean information?
Granted, that's just the case for a couple of agencies I'm interested in. Thankfully the publisher I prefer does have an online presence. But in the above situation, how would you personalize?

It's a much longer shot. You're effectively walking up to a beautiful stranger on the street and praying like hell this turns out like it does in movies.

I've had one or two of those and I've sent the best cold-call I can come up with. It's the equivalent of walking up, standing a very careful and non-threatening several feet away and saying, "I apologise for interrupting, but I just had to say: you are stunning. Would you possibly be interested in a cup of coffee?" and on the very very likely chance she says no, smiling and saying "No worries. Have a lovely day," and backing the fuck off before I come off as threatening or stalkery.

I mean, hell could freeze over she could say yes, it happens. Best you can do is be confident but inoffensive and very prepared to handle rejection politely.

So basically I need to suck it up and use my twitter account.

Cold-calling DOES work if you're willing to do enough of it.

One of my good female friends (a cocktail waitress at aforementioned nightclub) is constantly letting asshole dudes get away with unbelievable shit. For example, a guy she wasn't interested in kept badgering her every day for six months until she finally said yes and started sleeping with him "to get him to leave her alone." She was uninterested and harried the whole time they half-assedly dated, but would let him badger her into going places and doing things after work and on her off days. It ended when he finally got a long enough prison sentence that she got badgered into dating someone else in the meanwhile. I can't believe she caves to these guys instead of, you know, filing a restraining order. I keep telling her that she is the part of the problem: men like them think they can get away with that shit because some women eventually give in, and the positive reinforcement makes them keep using the tactic.

Yeah. Anyway. What I think of guys like him notwithstanding, extreme persistence with cold calls does eventually work. That's why you see all that stuff on the internet about "just suck it up and get used to rejection, a yes will come through eventually!" To me that reads kind of like creepy rape culture, but it is true. Rape culture does work.

You don't have to suck it up and use twitter if that strikes you as so false you're going to look false doing it--just like chicks can see if you're kind of stalkerishly ALWAYS SHOWING UP AT THE SAME COFFEE SHOP AS THEM HA WHAT A COINCIDENCE. Or fake-trying-to-be-friends when it's really obvious you want to sleep with them.

I'm just saying, be social in a genuine way for your own sake. I always think men who are several years or more out of college and can't get dates just need hobbies. I don't mean "fake show up to the club meeting with a sleazy grin on your face and try to get a number" I mean ACTUALLY get involved in stuff for it's own sake and gradually, naturally meet people. Because I think people are way more open to conversations with people they've seen around who have been genuine and non-creepy the whole time.

The guy who badgered my friend would never have gotten away with the coffeeshop tactic. He doesn't read. If he hung out in coffeeshops fake holding a book and staring at women the insincerity would be obvious. So he uses what is available, that is, cold calling. If you hate it enough you'd sound annoying an insincere on twitter, don't trouble yourself. It's worse to have a lurking ulterior motive in the room. Just cold call.

Me? I'm typing this from a coffeeshop.