The androids of Cardinal Machines (an intro).

In the graphic, below, I’m trying to imagine what the cover spec would look like for a Cardinal Machine like Ocean. I might as well. I’m soon going to have to research adverts and ask myself What would an advert or commercial for an android like Ocean look like?

Fig: Btw, it occurred to me that I’ve never noted how I say Ocean’s designator, or C001-Oisín, though I’ve read it aloud a tonne — make no mistake, I try to read all my books aloud to check for authentic conversations and emotional content. Well, I usually say C-ought-oh-1-Ocean. And, yeah, it strikes me as funny that his L.A.P.D. handler is James Ott (ought). I noticed this parallel only after the fact. (Coby17 brush / Anurati font.)

I’ve gone through Heavenly Bodies commercials in the books while Zoey watched. Though they get a bad rap sometimes, Heavenly Bodies are bright, gregarious, attractive androids whose brains more closely resemble molecular computers. Little hint here. In a way, we’re molecular computers, what with our DNA codes. Heavenlies, as they’re called, have a high E.Q. — or emotional quotient (also known as E.I.Q.). There are scientists (and, yes, women scientists) in robotics teaching emotion to robots today. The Heavenlies, with their emphasis on greater E.I.Q. than even I.Q. are the ‘brainchildren’ (if that’s not too on the nose), of this effort.

And it’s clear from the book, that the Heavenly Bodies team efforts work. Zoey has been attracted to Heavenlies, disturbed by their design — which she can often see is over-the-top and exploitative — and surprised by their artificially human emotion. They’re well designed to stimulate human mirror neurons. But with their artful tattoos, glittery bones, and sparkling freckles, the Heavenlies are also designed to evoke a reaction in humans, one meant to be very similar to our delight in gold, silver, and precious gemstones. Heavenlies were never meant to be cast aside and taken lightly.

Cardinals, or, as Heavenly Bodies call them, Cardis, don’t work in the same way. Tall, striking, a little austere, and balanced, they’re a mix of molecular and, on the high end, quantum androids. That’s where Ocean, the C001-Oisín, comes in.

Cardinals like Ocean, Noctis, and Scarlet, are built to physical standards that are nearly impossible of human beings, and utterly impossible over time. As someone who’s had zero-percent body fat in the past, I can tell you, it is not something you maintain, or are meant to maintain, in the long-term, because human bodies are designed to lay in some fat reserves. But Cardinal Machines have a layer, or layers of artificial lipids for cushioning, more than for any other purpose, though I do believe that it can be repurposed for fuel in desperate situations. Cardinal Machines are designed around the hero type — gods and demigods of myth. Like Thoth, they are teachers and scholars first. They’re learners above all else, since Cardinal Machines are designed to learn ‘on the job’ and adapt. But this adaptability and curiosity is a trait they share with all modern androids.

The earliest ‘true’ androids discussed in the books to date, are the classical super-computer models known as Amenity Appliances. They are the most wide-spread androids in Zoey’s world. Slower, mentally, than the Heavenlies and Cardis, they do the lion’s share of the work humanity has shrugged off. They dominate both the moon and earth in terms of android numbers, everywhere but in Soleil moon base. They are not the spacefarers that the Cardis, and, to some extent, the Heavenlies are — scudding off to terraform Mars, among other endeavours. But they are forerunners, forebearers, of androids like Ocean, and respected by all androids, as a result.

Closing in on the end of this new Cardinal Machines novel, which is turning out to be much longer than I had expected, btw, I thought I might share the three dominant android species on earth kind of as a primer. Just because I’m thinking about them a lot at the moment, and all they add to Zoey’s world. I’ll share my author page link here as well, in case you’d like to take a look at the series itself, which is soon to expand: Or you can join me on my newsletter (sign-up is top of page) at my website

Quora Q: How do you write a character who is incredibly gifted at sword-play, but you don’t want them to be a ‘Mary Sue’ either?

So, someone earlier in the thread wrote ‘This ‘Mary Sue’ shit has really gotten out of hand, if you’ll excuse my language.’ and that the trope might need to be retired. Let me put it in stronger terms. This trope is destructive to writers. It needs to be incinerated.

Asking if you can make a woman character adept with a sword but avoid ‘Mary Sue’ is at the heart of the problem. The answer is yes. Show her to be adept. Woman-writer to woman-writer here. There is no such thing as ‘Mary Sue’. It’s smoke and mirrors. So, stop censoring how high your women can rise.

When an author writes a character that acts as a vessel for their insertion into a plot, this can be done well (J.K. Rowling and Hermione), and, of course we all know, this can be done poorly. There are techniques for doing this well (and we’ve seen them in many Classical books), and many ways in which it is done badly, and those methods can be discussed. That’s simply how it is. It’s a bullet point, not a moral failing. Not a sin. Not a matter of biting the apple and blaming the woman for the mouthful you chose to take. Or… is it?

In this day and age, we must create boxes and definitions and labels for everything as if this shorthand can take the place of actual thinking, deciding, and communicating. Once the label is slapped on the box, exactly as with the Postal Service, you can then assign a value to the contents. In this case imagine the values as Good, Rubbish, and Utterly Worthless. The label ‘Mary Sue’ assigns writers, often young women writers still learning their craft, and the things they imagine, into the Rubbish, and Utterly Worthless boxes. At that point, the readership is safely justified in either turning up their nose, sneeringly, or outright verbally attacking the writer as they learn their craft.

I’ve heard a lot of verbal poison spewed at the young writers still in the ‘self-insertion’ stage of writing. Enough that I’m half convinced some of the readers of their fan-fiction (and it is often fan-fiction) have been body-snatched and replaced by venom spitting cobras. And I’m not joking here. The take-down often looks like this:

  1. Call <put her character’s name here> a Mary Sue. ← The first shot fired.
  2. Assign ‘Utterly Worthless’ label to the fictional work.
  3. Make a lot of noise in the fandom about <put her name here>.
  4. Attack.
  5. Repeat.

If you don’t think this happens to famous women writers, think again. I’m not a huge fan of Twilight, but the book wasn’t so bad that it deserved what I logged in and found one day, which was a hurricane of hatred that condemned the author based on her religion. The thread was long, with people feeding on scraps of meat in the margins. Was the assignment of value for the book based on reading the work critically? No. They were attacking her. Bully bandwagons like these need only behave like Gaston showing up to kill the beast, to be popular with their audience. And they so often come for women that even the big publishers helped coin ‘Goldfinching’.

The phenomenon that targets young women, pulls them out of their work, and sets them on fire is one we’ve seen before, folks. There’s a name for that, and you know what it is. Cut. It. Out. There is no such thing as a ‘Mary Sue’. But once the box is ‘real’ the label is too. And so is the value. So, fear looms large in the minds of writers (and often women writers) trying to make their women characters great but not too great (lest the vorpal blades descend). Do they think the same of the men they write? I doubt it. The assumption for those Kylo Rens is that They Did Something to reach their high level of achievement. But for her? There is always the extra barrier of Mary Sue.

Fig. I know that the readers and critics will accept a woman chosen one like Rey!

There is such a thing as using the Mary Sue myth to silence and scare writers, often women writers, since Mary Sue is commonly construed as ‘self-insertion of a perfected version of the writer into the plot’. Or where do you think this question is coming from? When was the last time you heard such a writer say:

“I want to write a character who is incredibly gifted at sword-play-” but I want people to believe that’s possible for a man. I know it will be a tough sell. I’m worried about it. I think that my work might be singled out for it. I’m worried that I will be treated like a hack or amateur, and people will make fun of me and my writing. I may be attacked and told that this book is worthless because of this decision. That I’m worthless. Maybe I shouldn’t write him? Maybe I should make him a woman?

Fig. If only the readers and critics would accept a male chosen one like Luke!

The Mary Sue myth is that — whatever the skill — it’s not possible for a woman to do ‘X’ in the same fated, perfected, miraculous, or chosen way as a male character in the same plot would do ‘X’. Therefore, anything that makes your woman and girl characters that special — makes them Skywalkers, Potters, Geralts, John McClanes, Sherlocks — that is what’s called ‘Mary Sue’ by Sue-believers. The price of hiding women’s contributions to history, and attributing their work to men, is also that it removes the context in which fictional woman can be written as true equals. And we have to fight back, as readers and writers, against that foolishness.

For most the idea of self-insertion is just a phase they will grow beyond. If their hands are not slapped until they leave the keyboard first. It may be annoying, eye-rolling, but often a lot of early writing is like this, regardless of the gender of the writer. To take this notion and use it to leap over the work and throttle a writer silent is blatant bullying. Wheaton’s Law applies here too: ‘It’s okay to not like things… but don’t be a d__k about it’.

So, enough of this. It’s horrifying as a writer to see another writer wondering how great he/she/they can make a woman character before they cross the nonexistent line into Mary Suedom (where they could be Mary Sued within an inch of their lives).

So, how do you do it, questioner? You write her like you never heard the name.

That’s how.

Folded Earth book released!

Hi there! Some of you may know that, once upon a time, I wrote free novels in a couple of different fandoms. I’d long wanted to move a few of those stories into my own writing universe, and, with the help of some really amazing readers from the fandom in question (you know who you are, and you have my thanks!), I’ve made the first jump.

Online, one of the original characters in the fic became the subject of some reader’s artistic representations — there was even a cosplayer! She was shown alongside the subject of the fanfiction. It was about then that I began to consider, seriously, moving this character into her own work. I already loved her and her warrior band, I could see a bit of a hole in the genre where my girl might fit. She is a little different, after all, with her roots in the High North. Some of the elements that make up this character, now called Ora Buckmaster, are derived from a people for whom I feel deep respect. The Inuit. While not everything about her culture harkens back to those storied, resilient, tough, and welcoming people, some things are meant to do. (Even the artistry of one of her crew harkens to the terrific artwork seen in the Inuit people.)

Ora was presented by one of the luminaries of the fandom for which Ora was developed, as an Indian girl of great beauty! This was because I described her with black eyes and skin-tone that was deeper than Caucasian, which could go darker in the summer due to sun-exposure. Representing her as an Indian woman was a great compliment to my character! I was blown away! But only I knew what Ora really looked like. Well. Until now.

By the power of (cover artist) Sophia Feddersen and my imagination, I give you Ora Buckmaster of Folded Earth:

Fig. The question is *How much* whup-@$$. Thank you.

Though she’s not the meltingly beautiful Indian actress that the fandom embraced, she’s the Buckmaster I imagined. Her beauty is wilder, and more a thing of the wintry, untamed places in the world. And she’s clearly aware of her own power, this girl.

I really love this representation of her, from her skin colours, hair, dark eyes, to the tightness of the fabric over her developed arms and legs. Ora is a runner, a free-climber, a swordswoman, and hand-to-hand combat style fighter. Physically, she’s very developed. Her skills often belie her youthful, if windburned, face. I adore the wolf embroidery on her shirt here, as well. Ora’s race is known in the wider Southern community as Northern Wolves, and the detail underscores that cover artist Sophia Feddersen never lets the finer-points of a character slip her attention.

So there you have it! Ora Buckmaster, heroine of Folded Earth, which is available on Amazon as an e-book, or in paperback form.

For more on the book, see:

Considering writing women warriors, a quora question.

I had to bite when this one slid across my desk: What should one keep in mind when writing female warriors? A lot of my writing, published, unpublished, and even old fanfic, has to do with women who fight back, and warriors among them. So, what do I think about when writing women who are warriors? It’s such a good question, I posted the answer to the Vale & Sea patreon page and to quora — oh, excuse me, Quora (need to put that cap in there). Here it is, with hope, surfacing on my Amazon author page.

I mean, just let her know if you object to being rescued by a woman. (Photo: Lance Cpl Robert R. Carrasco — dunno if he’s the guy on her back, though!)

Well, I can say this much, there are some considerations when you’re writing a woman who is also a warrior. But let’s just get some things out of the way up front. A trained woman fighter (think Ronda Rousey or Holly Holm or, any of the many others) is going to mess up your day, potentially forever.

The force of a professional boxer’s fist is equivalent to being hit with a 13-pound bowling ball traveling 20 miles per hour,” per the American Association of Neurological Association. ~ Jacqueline Andriakos (

These are big, powerful women with a lot of training and a lot of muscle fibre. In fact, it may help you to know:

Trainer and record-holding powerlifter Greg Nuckols puts it on his site, Stronger By Science, “Most of the major differences in performance and metabolism between genders can be explained by size and body composition, not gender itself.” Nuckols expands on that thought, noting that, “A woman and a man with similar training and similar amounts of muscle and fat will perform similarly.” ~ Dan Ketchum (

So, you need to take into account the size, shape, and body fat of your character. I can tell you from experience (with very low body fat at one point and lots of muscle) that size does matter (also, small).

Underneath it all, there’s the fact that women, on average, have 30 to 35% muscle by weight and men (on average) 40–50% by weight. Women have more fat deposits in healthier areas (like the hips) than men. Women have more slow-twitch muscle too. So, being a strong, well-trained, woman, tall and big with muscle, will produce similar results to a male of the same composition. But even with a smaller woman in great shape, and corded with muscle, there are perks to the way muscles and fat work, and you can use these in your writing.

Women, who have more slow-twitch (type 1) muscle than men, recover faster. They have more blood supply in their muscles too, meaning more oxygen. Your male runner is faster, but he (on average) won’t be able to run for days like a woman will because their muscle design gives them a lot of endurance. They can pull on fat for fuel too. No doubt, this helps in lengthy childbirth as much as it does on an endurance run. I bet your girl can run for days. Moreover, in a fight, a man’s explosive strength is amazing, but the longer that fight goes, the more the advantage tips to your warrior woman, with her heavily oxygenated, fat-burning metabolism. She’s built for endurance and can keep dishing it out with less fatigue.

There are something like 3000 genes that express differently in muscles between women and men, and, the truth is, there are advantages handed to both men and women as a result. Mostly, you’ll hear about the advantages that gives men. Rarely, you’ll hear about the same for women, but that doesn’t mean those advantages don’t exist for you to write about.

Heck. I write about them!

So, it’s not a simple answer, really. And you need to do your research. If you have other concerns, research them too. One I can think of is ‘What if she’s on her period when the fight takes place’? Well, when your body weight is that low and you’re burning fat like that, your period is sometimes absent. If it’s there, it’s a blip on the radar, trust me. No. You will not get a ‘super-human surge of strength’ from your period. You won’t run from the fight, sobbing, because of some emotional turmoil, because of your period. If you don’t understand periods, please do look them up in a scientific or health journal and apply the learnings to all your women characters. Half the planet has a period. You should know what that means if you want to write women.

Another thing you should know is that the strength of women, in many cultures, is routinely underestimated and even actively disregarded, and that does something to the psychology and endurance of your woman warrior. It’s something you can research for your warrior too. It may lead your warrior to be formidable psychologically.

Lots and lots of juicy things for you to research and write on this topic, so I wrote something.

Ora Buckmaster from my book ‘Folded Earth’ is a Northern warrior, an Outrider Chief, and a highly trained mountain climber. Her cover presentation emphasizes that while she’s one slinky fighter, her arms and legs are athletic. Yes, she can run all day, just like a wolf.

Go gettim, Ora!

Cardinal Ignition now on Amazon (paperback/e-book)

This is just a quick note to let you know about the availability of Cardinal Ignition on Amazon. It’s the third book in the Cardinal Machines series and should be quickly followed up by the fourth! I’m currently working on the title and cover for the next Cardinal book.

This cover is the work of the amazing Clarissa Yeo (Yocla) who has long delivered gorgeous covers to her customers but is now no longer taking cover commissions. It’s a loss! But you’ll see Sophia Feddersen’s covers cropping up. The lady behind the Cardinal Spark cover, I have high hopes for the next book! But for now? Please enjoy the work of artist Clarissa Yeo!

The Cardinal titles move from Machines toward the spark of consciousness.
This is the full cover!

On inner criticism, ‘Sensitivity Readers’, and penning Pablum.

Christopher Perricone says: “The critic is the kind of person who watches the battle from the sidelines. When the battle is over and the smoke clears, he goes down to the battlefield and shoots the wounded.” Accurate? Oh yes.

Is your inner critic waiting to pounce like this?

Hands up if you threw up in your mouth a little after all the hard work of writing/publishing?

Criticism can either be fairly levelled (or seem that way), or, as is sadly common, be a means by which your voice and story are silenced. We’ve seen a wave of this in the marketplace, everywhere from romance writers to young adult genres. Sensitivity Readers abound, many of whom are like massive ouroboros gobbling up their own tails — for example, recently a Black, gay writer, and an Asian, woman writer were the latest victims when they were blocked from publishing by the backward notion that a Sensitivity Reader, and the censorship they espouse, is a good motion in modern writing. After all, publishing houses and Sensitivity Writers have to coddle and protect your sensitive, little ears from the horrors of… reading and judging for yourself. We are infants and children. Or so big publishing stats argue, since — omg — 60% of book readers are women, and not only do they not know what to read, they can’t be treated, or read, like adults (this is according to scathing critiques of the New York Review of Books and not my view).

I don’t know about you, but I can judge for myself (and strongly suspect most all readers would rather decide for themselves). The infantilization and resentment of some of the critical establishment that so many women readers prefer J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins over, say, D.H. Lawrence, is like the spit-up of so many other industries around women’s issues, and women (of every colour, shape, and size) reaching for better representation. Writing, and the changes in writing, will log this in the record of history. I’m a big, fat NO to any force that wants to sanitize that history right out of the gate. And NO to the idea that a writer can shirk the work of trying to be sensitive, even if imperfectly, and hide behind the notion a Sensitivity Reader will make it all okay.

Mistakes will be made, and I believe there is value in mistakes when it comes to learning (well, in the case of the Big 5 or… 4, if your publisher doesn’t drop you like a burning turd, but they’re in quite a limiting bind, trad-pubbed people). It’s not possible to be perfectly sensitive. But then, I honestly don’t believe readers (apart from the self-righteous few) are asking for that. They seem to be asking for consideration, kindness, and growing awareness — the kind of things most writers extend by default. I think they’re asking for your best effort — you, the author, and not the Sensitivity Reader of whatever race, identity, ability, et cetera, hired to do the work for you. There are major problems built into the Sensitivity system too. I’ve yet to hear of any for women’s issues Sensitivity Readers, for example, yet massive amounts of readership are women. Women are so repeatedly exposed to sexism and even brutality in the depiction of women characters, that they take it for granted. Character raped? “That’s how it was back then.” (Across all cultures, equally, no research or truth-testing required.)

Things like this light up a runway of hypocrisy built into the system. Couple that with the risk that a given writer can only write on the walls of their box and it gets dangerous. Anosmic issues can only be written by anosmics. Characters with alopecia universalis only by people with alopecia. Heaven forbid that any other person try to creatively imagine what the world must feel like to or… smell like, to someone else. Using your imagination to write a story your way? That’s crazy talk!

That crazy talk is at the core of writing a novel.

Lately, I heard the low-down from a Trad-pub novelist on what Agents are accepting by way of submissions, and it was this: “No one will accept your work if you don’t stay in your lane.” At the same time, I heard a reviewer blaming the writer for staying in her lane. I’ve seen writers try, make a mistake, and get branded as racists. Stay in their lane, that was a mistake, and get branded as racists. And there you go. The only person who isn’t entitled to an opinion is the person who actually creates all these fantasy worlds. Since writers can’t win for trying. So, why don’t we just do our best to write well, including all characterizations?

Hello. Can you get more ‘GO 4 IT’ than smiley-thumb? Just think about that.

What you don’t want (I hope) for criticism to do is actually impact your writing voice, and your freedom and ability to write. No critic can take away the months of work writing, the years improving, and the pride you take in telling a good story. I get the impulse, and I understand the pain of critical reviews, some of which can entail passive-aggressive condemnation. Some days are full of elation! And some days are:

Faith in humanity? Zero.

What’s the take-away here? Well. Following opinions like they’re instructions only leads to a writer spinning in circles, seeing as the next opinion will run counter, or point you in an entirely new direction. And these comments usually are opinions, not mandates or facts (unless it’s your Agent or Publisher saying it). Instead? Your best bet is to get better. Keep learning and growing. Keep writing. Keep marketing your work. Work at landing on your ideal audience, and work at expanding it. Creatives have to keep in mind there is no shortage of people in the world eager to moralize. We’re not low on people who will tell you what’s ‘not possible’. They’re often deeply invested in this notion: You can’t do it. Rather than changing to suit them, it may become necessary to press on to test their theories. This takes a lot of energy, but it flies in the face of logic to say ‘You can’t write a good book’ when there are millions of them written already. It is your right to dream. It’s your right to buckle-down and try.

As for Sensitivity, we all have it. Or… most do. Be open to reasonable feedback. A poster shrieking ‘You’re a racist’ is volumes different a reader who shows up with ‘This is a stereotype, but you can fix a lot of it on page x’ (and I’ve heard stories of both types of people), but that doesn’t mean you should hear the first and miss the second. It’s probably better for everyone you turn that paradigm around. Also, ultimately, you may choose to let a mistake stand and live with it, grow from it, rather than try to hide it. You are the writer. It’s your property, your legacy, and your decision. Grow. Grow in the next books. Grow as a writer.

As for the current popularity of baseless criticism, there are often a lot more people than you’d guess invested in creatives failing to try, and they will be pleased only if the world conforms to limited thinking. Among them will be some of your harshest critics, these are not the people honestly trying to level with you, they’re the backbiters, the lip-curlers, and folks who take pleasure in the failures of others. Don’t join forces with them! Meaning your inner critic shouldn’t rank among them. If it does, that inner critic will delight in turning your writing into infant formula. Always keep in mind that your inner critic also learnt at the knee of your haters, and take positive writerly action. Write. Listen. Learn. Grow.

Laugh it up, meanie.

It may help to repeat the truth: You have a right to try to practice your art. No matter what ‘authority’ tells you otherwise.

Why don’t we rewrite the stars…. Like, seriously?

What happens to indie writers when they don’t get 5 stars on their Amazon reviews? What happens when they get a 3 or 3.5 star? If you don’t have a publishing house paying for your advertisements (not that they do an even decent job of book promotion that I’ve observed / you could probably do better yourself), what does it mean to have 5 stars… or even less?

These 5 guys turn out to be important, they’re given weight by buyers with stars in their eyes, but there’s no telling how many of our readers actually stop to check the quality of reviews as they do so. Reviews are a bit of a crystal ball, it turns out. Or they can be.

Not all reviews are created equal. I’m pulling on some stats that came from a really brilliant Amazon data review in 2013 (A Statistical Analysis of 1.2 Million Amazon Reviews) but there are newer — though somewhat less openly accessible numbers — to rely on for you mad-statisticians to math with!

Max Woolf, a data scientist with credentials reaching into Buzzfeed and back to Apple, is responsible for some of my insights here. The rest of the supposition (and whinging)? That’s all me.

Astronomy vs. Astrology

People who run the numbers on Amazon and other book sales sites are looking at solid market behaviour. I consider them astronomers — star-gazers who have real data and can make and test hypotheses. They can project ahead, sort of like the Data Guy does. This separates them from the rest of us muddlers who engage in, to some degree, the astrology of stargazing. Oddly, Amazon reviews — all reviews, really — work the exact same way. There are helpful and unhelpful reviewers, according to Amazon’s metrics, but it may be more truthful to say is that some reviews carry more weight than others.

“All the longer reviews have high helpfulness; there are very, very few unhelpful reviews that are also long.”

Max Woolf

Reviews are opinions, of course, but Amazon won’t let you come in and write a review that consists entirely of ‘U suck’, or ‘Great book’! There’s a minimum character requirement. Which means there’s an effort that must be made. That, alone, weeds out a lot of casual trolls and haters. A 100 character + minimum? Too much work! Also, Amazon’s helpful/unhelpful rating of reviews can be used to weed out personal attacks, and junk reviews, foisted on authors (we’ve seen this with even top-sellers, a la ‘It’s x because she’s Mormon’). But authors aren’t allowed to sculpt, or even delete reviews the way you might on, say, This is good, because as a consumer, you see peoples’ honest opinions and not a statistical skew, and bad, because, in a massive machine like Amazon, it’s nigh impossible to contest a review no matter how it might attempt to blackball, or even gaslight.

‘Light ’em up, up, up. I’m on fiiiii-yah!’ Courtesy of Fall-Out Boy. Ahem. Okay. No more singing. Gotcha.

It may be wise to be wary, even when a 3-star comes up. I’ve gotten glowing reviews before ‘I loved the book!’ that were 3-star. Not all people agree on what the star ratings in Amazon really mean, but we still base book purchases off of them.

Truthfully, there’s nothing tying star ratings to any specific type of review. They’re essentially the next galaxy over from their associated review text. One, in no way, has to reflect the real content of the other. Now: Is this bad?

Your fate is written in the stars… or is it?

Yes. Sort of. Also no.

I’ve seen blogs purporting the doom of whole genres due to 5 star reviews, and, I admit, a book with 5 stars across hundreds or thousands of readers is a rare thing. It’s a benchmark, J.K. Rowling, ‘era-founding’ thing. But I think readers usually are being honest, even when they have no idea how to write an actual, book-oriented review, and this is despite the spat of paid-reviews from Fiverr that has Amazon totally discounting the reviews of indie writers on any other book (why not throw the baby out with the bathwater, Amazon — it’s just a baby, right?). As writers, I doubt we have any place extolling the idea that reviewers should be assholes instead of fans: be tougher, be critical, be x, y, z, ‘You’re not being honest enough!‘ (yes, I’ve seen it). Writers probably have zero business in their own reviews — or so I’ve learned. It’s reader-response driven, and reviews really do have the power to bring out a writer’s dark-side. (I’ve been there – reviews can be a bit like alcohol, you gotta cut yourself off before you have a capital-P Problem).

Stop reading them and they’ll go awaaaaaay. (A.k.a. No they won’t, but fewer therapist bills may follow. 😀)

A large number of 5-stars can, in fact, look suspicious in big number sets. But I doubt it’s as damning as to sink the entire enterprise of indie authorship (as I’ve also read in blogs). Amazon Prime TV series can have 4.5 and 5 reviews across huge numbers of people and survive. So can indie books. We’re not magic fairies, after all. I’d like for some blogger to sweep in and and tell those reviewers ‘You aren’t being honest enough‘. Riiight. Because we have the authority to police our readers. What horse-poop.

Light ’em up, up, up! Light ’em – OKAY! Jeeze.

With 510, 434 separate reviewers out of 1.2 million reviews, the sample set is large, but not… what some people might expect. Those 500, 000 odd reviewers must be motivated though. Motivated people tend to be passionate. Passionate people may write longer and more positive reviews (they can also be livid and write more negative ones, btw). The numbers demonstrated that the average star-score is also rising over time — an indication that reviewers are learning the system, and, perhaps, thinning out as reviews become more normalized and less faddish (again this last bit is review-astrology).

Point is, the numbers point at what I call a passion-trend in reviews.

Skyview coordinates + star numerology

More than half of the reviews give a 5-star rating. Aside from perfect reviews, most reviewers give 4-star or 1-star ratings, with very few giving 2-stars or 3-stars relatively.

Max Woolf

I can’t know the mind of reviewers, but this was useful data to me! What does this 1.2 million review data-set find re. how consumers comprehend star ratings? Basically, this is what I take from the statistics:

  • If people went through the trouble to write a review a lot of them are passionate enough about the subject to either give it:
    • a 5SO worthwhile!
    • or a 1Die in fire, product!
  • If they gave it a 4-star that’s a strong recommendation. Rejoice!
  • 2 and 3 stars are neutral / may not exist / a phenomenon I call Schrödinger’s review.
  • 1 star reviews deserve a read to see if the person is fair in their criticism. Are they:
    • Furious about the product for legitimate reasons?!
    • Attacking unrelated elements like shipping, the condition of the box, packaging, or angry that the post does X?
    • Unfairly attacking the writer (passive-aggressively or otherwise) him- or herself?

Basically, I saw an inverted Bell Curve with a skew to the direction of higher numbers. Customers appear to be feeling-out (or averaging out) consensus on what the star-rating system at Amazon means. Maybe readers are going back to books and writers that reward their interests? Maybe Amazon’s categories and keywords are becoming more refined? I’m not sure, but, for me, the numbers shed some light on the matter!

How about you?

The romance and mystery of Cardinal Machines

Cardinal Machines is available on Amazon as an e-book, or paperback, at last! I tackled this book a little differently than I’ve written any other novel, let me tell you, and — maybe as a consequence — it was a blast.

For starters, the mega-powerful Cardinal family, with their young sleuth in the wings, was an old idea I’d researched in the past, but rejected. It seemed to be missing something, and that was saying a lot, considering how attached I became to Zoey, who forged ahead even while the repeated shells of loss blew holes in her life. She was brave, tough, and bleeding, even if she was healing. I thought this was perfect fodder for a Young Adult gumshoe. But something was off, so I set it on the back burner.

It took me a while to understand what was missing was a reason for Zoey to hope again. More specifically, I needed someone to come in under her radar and create grounds for her to let down her defenses. The well-defended fortress had to open herself up to potential joy — and, thereby, potential pain — again. But she was too far gone to let down the drawbridge for anyone. So, what could I do about that?

I could write a near-future science fiction. That’s what.

Enter the C001-Oisín, whose Irish name I Americanized into Ocean — or so I imagined it would be pronounced (it’s actually ‘Ohsheen’ — means deer). The Ocean android is a service unit, not a person, and he ends up in the creaky, old, Victorian Zoey inherited from her uncle, almost by accident. True to his name, Ocean’s stealthy and beautiful. He’s also very good at his work — law enforcement. Sort of. Being that he’s an android, he isn’t granted true legitimacy. But Zoey soon discovers he’s the perfect partner for an up-and-coming Private Investigator.

Once I had fit these two pieces together, the story, long dammed up, and now enhanced with androids and futurism, poured out in a couple of weeks. I was overjoyed and remain that way, adoring these characters.

Yes. Zoey is haunted and injured by her past, but she doesn’t know the meaning of quit. And, certainly, Ocean is an artificial lifeform, but he’s hopeful, headstrong, and often, sadly, ‘the only adult in the room. So, I hope you join me for these mysteries and the unlikely love story threaded through them!


Zoey Collins, as she prefers to call herself, is actually Katherine Zoey Cardinal of a famed Artificial Intelligence company called ‘Cardinal Machines’. Along with her breathtaking Ocean unit, Zoey tackles the mystery of a dead man in a seaside park, and all the popular-kid pool-parties the investigation throws at them.

Dat Cover, folks.

You’ve written a book and, proofed it, read it through more than once for problems, including once aloud. Now… about that cover.

Covers are tricky beasts. I have one friend who wants to make the cover himself. He’s – pardon the irony here – dead set on it. A talented plotter and writer, he wants to use generic Hubble photos with some tweaks. And there’s no dissuading him either. I’ve tried. But just because there’s no way to sway him, doesn’t mean there’s no way to warn others: Covers can be considered your single best piece of advertisement for your book. So it’s best to give them time, and consideration. Art is not incidental and shouldn’t be arbitrary. The cover won’t be ignored.

So, let’s get this out of the way: the content of your books are judged by the cover. Really, that’s the first hint that a reader has about who is in the book and what’s going on inside, so it’s impossible to judge them harshly here. In fact, many readers make a rainbow out of their bookshelves, it’s a whole meme, the cover’s so important (part of what I don’t like about CreateSpace is the inability to dress up the spine of a book, for example). That means, if your cover is a kid’s disproportional and unprofessional drawing, your book could easily be considered amateurish. Likewise, if you use a tonne of different fonts, glaringly bad colour choices, boxy photos from google searches (which could get you in real trouble if the image belongs to someone) … in short, if you wander into these pitfalls, including covers that have little to nothing to do with the book, and doing the design yourself, you could adversely impact your book.

Wow Im Toast
Said the woman who used a pic of a smiling unicorn holding a bouquet of lug-wrenches, because it was the first thing that showed up in Search for ‘roadside miracles’. Don’t be that woman… even though she’s got really good hair. (I mean, damn!)

So what do you do?

You pay a professional designer / artist, is what. And, though you can have discussions and make lots of suggestions… don’t argue with the artist. The amount of disagreement you do usually reduces with the amount of experience they have. Make sure you look at their work first, and then… trust them. You chose them for a reason, and you can be explicit about what you’re paying for: these folks know what they’re doing. Your final product may need a few tweaks in Photoshop or Pixlr (ahem, the latter is free), but you will have accomplished the one thing many writers take too much for granted: you will have made a great advertisement for your work!

Me? I’m an artist. I have a strong image of what I want in my head when I think of a cover. So what do I do? I realize I’m not a designer. I’m not a book-cover designer. That’s why I work with those types. These cover designers are artists in their own right, often trained in the type of technologies you just don’t want to mess with. Work with them, and don’t discount the importance of your cover. After all, what readers see is the first thing anyone will know about your book.

Make the first impression count!

Making artwork for another writer….

There are few things more challenging, I swear, than the work of an artist on Commission! If you know one, be kind with their time and hear them out, if you are one, hats off to you — may you get paid often and commissioned well! Myself? I volunteered to work with another writer to work on the concept of her cover.

It’s just my luck (and, boy, did I luck out!) that she happens to be a veteran of commissioning artists properly, you know, with the proper money saved-up, a good relationship with the artist, and the ability to listen and cooperate well. (I’ve certainly heard horror stories of pay withheld, and customers deriding artists and calling them selfish for charging a fee! But experienced none of these.) From her keen ideas for the book — something of a fairytale retelling, all about a healer — I came up with a watercolour painting that highlighted the healer’s critical role as community medicine woman.

What this girl is training to do is not neat and tidy, not the fluffy dress and slow dance of a fairytale — she’ll get to that, I’m sure — but it’s powerful and mystical just the same. Believe me! 🙂 I’m eager to see what she will choose for the final cover!


Watercolour — erm, watercolor if you’re in the USA — by me! I read the book and came to this image! The book is actually quite good, and I ended up rooting for the heroine!