Wednesday, 20 March 2019 15:18

Bringing Ragnarok Dev Diary 13

Wow, how is it late March already?

That's time, I suppose. Unless you are a Time Lord, of course.

I have to admit to being a bit behind where I wanted to be on Book 3 of Bringing Ragnarok. Part 1 is written and going through the re-write phase (me going line-by-line on the digital manuscript to make it sound like I wanted it to in the first place), but I had hoped to be through Part 2 by the end of March.

So I expect to publish in July, possibly late July - but I have a good reason for the delay!

I don't generally talk about details of the home life, because I'm a rather private person when it comes to anything but my ideas. But suffice to say, my spouse has been going through a difficult medical condition, called trigeminal neuralgia, for most of the past year. It's a nasty, terribly painful condition, but we're exceptionally lucky in that we live about an hour away from a hospital that employs one of the world leaders in treating it, and there's hope for relief in sight - albeit, after a major operation and a lengthy period of convalescence at home.

So writing has been a bit interrupted, both by my obsessive need to care for anything sick in my household, as well bringing my academic career to a conclusion.

On that - if you've dared to read through any of my other (too-long) thinkpieces on this site, you can probably guess that I spend a lot of time reading dense academic literature. This is because for most of the last eight years, I have been working towards a doctorate in the social sciences.

Since my undergraduate days at Berkeley, I've had an autistic-obsession with understanding how the world works. Not just the physical world, but the human world as well. So after moving to Oregon - a terrible mistake in terms of building a viable academic career, for reasons I'll go into on another post, sometime - I took the opportunity to go to grad school. There I took classes in almost every discipline you can imagine (and some you probably haven't) and learned every method I could, eventually earning a spot in a doctoral program.

But I never was, or wanted to be, a traditional academic. And the longer I stayed in the Ivory Tower, the more I hated it, because the contemporary American university is not about education, but about learning how to become a proper white suburbanite.

Make no mistake - American academia has baked-in racism, sexism, and elitism, that make it exceptionally difficult for anyone who doesn't look or sound like the established tenured academic's idea of a colleague to build a career. If you are not a white, middle-class, neurotypical and able-bodied American male, you will experience exclusion and discrimination at some level.

Many people rise above, and do great things, and more power to them! I have personally known quite a few brilliant, capable scientists dedicated to improving understanding. But unfortunately, they're the minority. Most faculty are tenured or tenure-track white men desperate to fit in, because that's how you get employment-for-life, regardless of your actual skills. A great gig, if you can get it - and ultimately, all else gets submerged in the dismal political-economy of tenure.

Me, I have learned throughout my life, working in a bunch of different industries, that sucking up and fitting in is only ever a short-term solution. I had hoped academia would be something of a meritocracy, as it is billed, but my own experiences of actually doing meritorious stuff proved that standing out in any way not explicitly approved by your department is exceptionally dangerous, whether you get published in a top journal early in your career or mix hard science methods with critical theory and send a proposal to the National Science Foundation.

Anyway, long story short, in the past year medical crisis and family losses convinced me it is time to leave academia - at least, American academia. So the past few months, I've been wrapping up my academic projects, while working as a research assistant for a professor in the area. I've also been trying to build up my savings a bit, to make sure I have plenty of capital to invest in taking Bringing Ragnarok to the next level.

I've at least obliquely mentioned in past Dev Diaries that I've been learning how to do marketing and advertising as I go, and been generating some interesting results. Having pretty much zero experience in this world, save as an extension of theory and methods I've learned over the years, it has been a definite learning experience.

But about nine months in, I've paid for enough clicks and examined the results in enough depth to get a sense of how Bringing Ragnarok is being received. Here are some takeaways:

  • Genre is a tricky thing. I don't think or write in terms of genre, I just like particular kinds of stories - historical, character-driven, philosophical - written by people with something interesting to say. I incorporate themes and tropes from Fantasy, Science Fiction, War Literature, and Norse Mythology. All of which makes marketing difficult in an industry where genre provides the structure allowing people to find books they like.

    Genre-ing Bringing Ragnarok has been difficult. And rather than decide the genre before hand, I've chosen to use the data to tell me where it fits. This strategy has had downsides - there is a subset of readers (mostly male) who guard the boundaries of their favorite genre. Bringing Ragnarok contains elements of litRPG, gamelit, alternate history or alternative history, and technothriller, but it isn't any of those things exclusively. Most of my poor ratings have come from genre-readers who didn't even get through half of Book 1 - or Nazi sympathizing white supremacists.

    Ultimately, the best fit as these things go appears to be cyberpunk science fiction and a mish-mash of epic and historical fantasy, with Norse mythology providing the connecting tissue, so to speak, and war fiction providing the action. So, I am narrowing my marketing and advertising to target these categories - and seeing results.

  • Women like my work more than men. Now that I've hit two dozen independent ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, I'm able to apply some actual (very basic, given the small n) statistical analysis. Women, on average, rate Bringing Ragnarok a half to a full star higher than men - and I'm pretty sure I know why.

    There is a strong subset of white males who react negatively to any inclusion of women or people of color in what they see as their fiction - science fiction and fantasy. I knew going in that I would run into these twits, and because Amazon and Goodreads let me see what sorts of books people rating Bringing Ragnarok like, I have a decent sense of why certain people (a subset of males) don't like it.

    I'm writing not only sci-fi/fantasy, but war fiction. I send six characters to war in three different centuries as a way to explore war in a comparative sense - a technique drawn from my academic studies. There is a great deal of parallelism that should become apparent as a reader gets deeper into the story. And war fiction (and video games), sadly, remain largely the province of males who want to read about tough men having adventures.

    This is silly, because women have always read in this genre, and there are hundreds of thousands of female veterans across the world who have known war, and waged it. I'm content to write for these readers - and I'm starting to get evidence that they're finding Bringing Ragnarok and enjoying it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to reach them, while filtering out the sexist and racist males. But I'll keep trying to figure that out!

  • Norse Mythology has a white supremacy problem. As in any other sort of fiction where males have traditionally dominated the authorship, Norse/Germanic Mythology (really, a deliberate mis-reading of it) attracts a small subset of Nazi types - as it always has.

    The problem, however, isn't the mythology itself - read the Eddas, and women are present throughout, despite the writers of most myths probably being male - hence, why you have probably heard of Odin and Thor, but not Freyja, Frygga, or Idunn. As with most history we have, males did the writing, and all too often failed to include the female perspective.

    Neil Gaiman has done much the same thing, while also making the mythology a set of campfire tales, diminishing them in favor of his colonial, neoliberal narrative about "new gods" displacing "old gods" as people's belief changes. I want to offer an alternative to this, and reclaim my Anglo-Saxon heritage from white supremacists and American colonialists of all stripes - hence, why many of my "Norse" gods aren't white.

    Tolkien's work too has suffered (presently suffers) from the same kind of whitewashing. Note how almost all the main characters in the televised versions of Lord of the Rings are white - despite this being patently ridiculous. Tolkien wrote Middle-Earth as as "real" version of Earth some ten thousand or so years ago. People migrated across the face of Middle-Earth, and the Numenoreans lived for generations on an island at the equator. Aragorn, the people of Bree, much of southern Gondor - they should actually be played by people from the Middle East and India, with the Riders of Rohan representing the primary intrusion of a "white" culture, derived from Tolkien's study of the old Anglo-Saxons.


    Ultimately, one of my long-term objectives is to decolonize Tolkien, and save it from white people - same as my goal with Norse Mythology. Of course, this is guaranteed to provoke the wrath of alt-right and white supremacist types, who I am now certain comprise the bulk of my one and two star reviews.

  • And finally - praise the gods! - a growing number of people are actually loving my work. My Kindle page reads go up and up, and oddly enough raising my price to $4.99 increased sales. I'm not exactly breaking into bestselling categories yet, but I'm getting there slowly but surely - and getting Books 3 and 4 out this year should secure the series.

    If you're reading this far, I expect you are actually someone who did enjoy Book 1 (and, I hope, Book 2 as well) and is looking forward to Book 3. Hello! And thanks much! Now, if you have a moment, would you mind clicking over to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a rating? The vast majority of ratings are 4-star and 5-star, and I'm not one of those people with a big social network, so almost all ratings are organic, from readers who discovered the book on their own.

    Once I break down the 24 total ratings across the two sites, and subtract out the four 1-star and 2-star reviews from people who apparently didn't read the whole book (mentioned by two of them), that leaves 9 5-star, 9 4-star, and 2 3-star reviews as of present counting. That's a 4.35 star (out of 5) rating among those who actually wanted to read the book in the first place, and a 3.91 star rating including the poorer reviews.

    Not bad for a first book by an indie author (not actually my first book, but the first presently available). Not bad at all. And given that I get a sale or lend on Kindle Unlimited every day (2-3 towards the middle or end of the month) I'm slowly accumulating a readership sufficient to make this author thing a paying career.

So that's it for another long update! Happy reading, and stay safe out there in this mad world.

Also, go pet some cats. It makes everything better.