Thursday, August 7

In response to Tim's question in the previous Comments section:

There are a number of female HD fans (judging by my fan mail and store-signing experiences), many of whom seem to be particularly engaged by Hari and Shanna's unhappy relationship, and Hari's damn-the-torpedoes commitment to it.

Women sometimes seem to have a more difficult time with BLADE, though a substantial percentage of the positive reviews that book got came from female reviewers.

The real problem with gathering feminine readership for the Acts of Caine, it seems to me, is that HD depends on an SFF-savvy reader -- for it to have full effect, the reader should already be well-versed to the point of exhaustion with the various tropes that the story is twisting into less-familiar shapes. Which seems to be more of a guy thing, overall.

Make sure the woman you lend the book to has already read Conan and Bran Mak Morn, Elric and Hawkmoon and Fafhrd & Gray Mouser and the like, and I'm pretty sure she'll like Caine.

This is a problem with male readership as well. As one editor at Del Rey told me:

"What stops Caine from being more successful is that he's only accessible to people who are already hardcore fans. Write something 'entry-level' -- not necessarily Harry Potter, but even more grown-up entry-level like most of Jonathan Carroll or Neil Gaiman, something where someone who knows nothing about SF and fantasy can enjoy it -- and you're golden."

Unfortunately for me and my career, I've never been able to pull something like that together, outside of Star Wars.

Though I haven't given up on it. Not quite.

26 comments:

Em said...

I must be one of the few female fans who loves both HD and BLADE and isn't engaged by the relationship between Hari and Shanna; I read the series for Hari himself, mostly, and love it for both the sheer kick-assery and for the deeper issues presented.

Andrew Timson said...

Now I'm left wondering what I'm missing in Caine; I haven't read any of those other books, and still enjoy your work.

MWS said...

Ah, those were just representative samples. No generalization will stand up for everyone all the time.

Greene said...

Read two or three pieces of Conan, and you'll get all you'll ever need from Conan, but read all the Lieber stuff, ALL of it, and I mean not just the FatGM stuff. And you can't go wrong with Elric, or Caine, for that matter.

Nathan said...

Eh. I enjoy Conan in small doses -- one story at a time. Love Leiber. Have yet to read an Elric I enjoy, but this could be because, not having enjoyed his early adventures, I have felt no compulsion to dig deeper.

Anonymous said...

It's peculiar. I assumed once that if you liked Leiber, you'd like Howard, and Moorcock even better, and Wagner too, but it doesn't really seem like that's the case. Apparently, sword-and-sorcery isn't all tastes that taste great together.

Greene said...

That was me, btw. My bad on the anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Which reminds me of a question I've been meaning to ask Matt. Would you call this, this being The Acts of Caine, sword-and-sorcery? Heroic Fantasy? Epic Fantasy? I would call HD sword-and-sorcery, maybe even HF, but I'd say Blade is pure Epic.

Greene said...

And for the love of god that was me again. I suck at life.

MWS said...

Part of the thing with Leiber is that his stories F&GM stories are, in many ways, meta-criticism of the popular tropes of S&S and heroic fantasy -- kind of like Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN is an implicit criticism of the gunfighter-glorifying Westerns.

You might say that F&GM is swords & sorcery for grown-ups. The same cannot be said for Howard, despite his undeniable charms. Nor even for Wagner. Elric is only grown-up if you believe that drugs, decadence and anomie are the marks of a mature mind.

As fro what genre Caine falls into, well . . .

HD is hard SF. BLADE is epic fantasy. CBK is a combination bildungsroman and hard-boiled detective story.

Really, Caine is his own genre.

Which is another reason he's never been quite as successful as he might otherwise have been.

MWS said...

It kind of burns my ass that I don't know how to edit comments for typos . . .

Shane said...

Well, don't take this the wrong way as I wish you as much success as it takes to buy a couple of helicopters and an armored fortress, but I'd rather Caine be who he is and relatively unknown than gain super-popularity bought with simplicity.

Tim said...

You could always write a whole bunch of notes for upcoming Caine novels, die, and have K.J. Anderson write horrifyingly bad fanfic from said notes some years down the road in collaboration with your son. It's a winning formula as far as I can tell.

Keith said...

and I just have to mention, I read a great many of the Star Wars novels and yours are the best out there. I know its probably been said to you before, but I had to say it from me. The idea of the force being all one, no dark or light side, is something I carry into my teaching of yoga. Prana is just prana, karma is just karma, it is what it is and you get out of it what you put into it, dark or light is all a state of mind. So thanks for what you put out there, it is appreciated.

heathcliff said...

"CBK is a combination bildungsroman and hard-boiled detective story.:

Wow, that description sounds awesome - and I thought I couldn't be more excited about CBK.

WarlordGrego said...

To be honest, Matt, the only reason I am a fan of yours is because I read Traitor. Before that, I'd never heard of you.

Star Wars is probably the best marketing you can get. They can be your entry-level books.

As far as reaching an audience that isn't already Sci-fi/fantasy savvy...I dunno.

-Greg

John said...

Hi Matt,

Long time reader, first time poster.

I want to respond to your point on women readership of your novels; my older sister had long poked fun at me for reading SFF novels, as she has generally been disdainful of the genre since I picked up my first Star Wars novel. I introduced her to SFF with Blade of Tyshalle, and despite her almost complete ignorance of SFF in general, she is now an avid reader. I gave her Shatterpoint to read, and she literally read it to tatters; she now has read almost as much of the Star Wars books as I have.

I noted to her that a particular D&D book had a very similar flavor to your writings (Insurrection, by Thomas M Reid; book 2 of the War of the Spider Queen series, and an excellent book that I recommend heartily), and now she's read much of the Forgotten Realms, and has now begun to branch out to the independent books that those authors have written.

The point I make is that, in this instance, she did not have to be a hardcore SFF fan to "get" your story. Quite the opposite; Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle made SFF interesting to her for the first time in her life; the only thing she only needed was a hardcore SFF fan to convince her to read it.

The same holds true of others; using your books as gateway drugs, I have hopelessly addicted many to the ways of SFF. Just this morning, in fact, 3 of my co-workers asked me for news of the potential re-prints of your works; they've read them, and they want to buy them, and badly.

Meanwhile, my copies of HD and Blade continue to suffer as I give them to any who will read them.

PS: As to what warlordgrego said, I personally had no idea who you were until Shatterpoint (Sammy Lee can get me to buy anything). I'd actually picked up Blade of Tyshalle at the local Dalton books 3 separate times (the cover art for the paperback is very pretty), read the description on the back, and put it back on the shelf with a smirk. Then I read Shatterpoint, Googled your name, and went "Crap, I know that cover art!"

2 hours later, I was practically smacking my head on my desk for not buying it sooner.

Robert said...

Matt, this may be an odd question but...do you think the fact that Heroes Die's more recent printings have "A Fantasy Novel" slapped on the front cover has acted as an unintended deterrent to some more entry level readers?

Rob Locke said...

So I was stationed in Guam for a few months and find a group of readers that would LOVE the caine series... We head over to a barnes & noble and not only do they not have any books, but stover is listed in their system as having ONE book, and its of the Star Wars type. Also not in stock.
No Lynch either (my backup plan).


Same deal at the only other 2 big stores on the island. You know, if these things actually existed, they'd sell. We're doing a huge word of mouth thing, and I can't even replace my Heroes Die copy that I lent someone.

I realize I was on an island, but its the same story back home. Harry Potter and Steven King take up half the store.

Rob Locke said...

Speaking of King, I flipped through the beginning pages of the first book of his Gunslinger/Dark Tower series out of curiosity. He wrote something very interesting about being an author in his Forward--

"I think novelists come in two types... Those who are bound for the more literary or "serious" side of the job examine every possible subject in the light of this question: What would writing this sort of story mean to me? Those whose destiny is to include writing popular novels are apt to ask a very different one: What would writing this sort of story mean to others? The 'serious' novelist is looking for answers and keys to the self; the 'popular' novelist is looking for an audience. Both kinds of writer are equally selfish."

He then goes on to say he's the type that writes popular novels for other people. Because it sells better.

I immediately thought of Matt, and I remember him saying something along the lines of "If you don't like my book, fuck you." My memory isn't the greatest.

Great writers aren't rich... though I suppose their publishers are once the writers are dead.

Anonymous said...

As a snooty English major, I was fed up with sci fi and fantasy for a long time, I loved the genre's subject matter, but hated most of the writing. The art of the craft of writing was simply missing from the majority of sci fi and fantasy - there was no attention to using language in inventive and surprising ways.

I complained about this constantly to a friend to regularly read 2-3 sci fi and fantasy books per week. He picked up HD at random one day and after finishing it gave it to me and said, "this will meet your lofty, snooty standards of good writing."

Well, he was right, and BLADE was even better, I'm actually about to re-read BLADE.

So even for women with advanced literature degrees, your work makes the cut. I continue to give HD and BLADE out to everyone who asks me for a good read.

Spencer said...

I have to agree with Warlordgrego. I had never heard of you until Traitor, which then led me to Shatterpoint, which then led me to the internet, thinking 'Holy crap, I sure hope this guy has other books I can read!', which then of course led me to HD, BoT, ID, and JM. I don't think I'd call myself a 'hardcore' sci-fi fan. I haven't read any of the books you mentioned. As far as classics go, I only have a fairly limited smattering of Asimov and Heinlein under my belt. I was attracted to your work by your writing, not the genre. You could write the phonebook for Bumblefuck, MI, and I'd pay 29.95 for it. I agree, Star Wars is all the "entry-level" writing you need.

Anonymous said...

Mr Stover
I have purchased numerous copies of your Caine books over the years and read them to death, In each read I always find something new. I have given copies to many people but I'm sorry to say that they just don't get it, but I will not give up spreading the word man.

Bye the way I don't give a shit how your books are categorized I love em

Russo ATL, GA

Pizzope said...

I was hoping that someone could help find Mr. Stover's short stories. I know they exist; I've read them!

LKM said...

Belatedly coasting by . . .

I believe that the interest-level of the books doesn't lie so much in genre, but in what the reader's looking for in a story. I'm not a sci-fi sort, but I am a fan of solid characterization and moral/philosophical complexity. Those qualities trumped the generalized disinterest in the genre. However, this may also explain why some readers who you'd think would like this kind of stuff may not -- namely, what are they reading for? If someone's reading exclusively for a certain type of world, a setting that doesn't conform may be enough to get the book shelved. For people looking for just bubblegum fiction, again, these books may be found to be a little too weighty. (Though I gotta say there's nothing actually wrong with seeking out or writing bubblegum fiction -- sometimes, after certain events, they're the best thing you can do for your brain.)

In fiction, expectation can be a dire enemy. People going into the SW books know what to expect; by contrast, the earth/Otherworld novels can be a little jarring. Personally, I had a bit of cognitive dissonance in the first part of HD where Caine is inside the recording and the Exit sign flashed. I got over it because the rec I'd been given was strong. I didn't regret it.

Going back more to the general works, specifically the romance angle -- I think part of the appeal there isn't necessarily the relationship, which is not an aspect of characterization I usually go towards, but the presence of a relationship depicted realistically. A hazard of (bad) fiction, not just SFF, is that emotions and personal dynamics tend to get whitewashed, oversimplified. Hari/Shanna is probably the most prominent example of one done well, particularly because you let it collapse in Blade (which is a damn gutsy move with a protagonist), but I think the same truth shows up in Kris/Hari and even Tan'elkoth/Hari. A grounding in SFF will help the reader find his feet, but what ultimately defines whether or not a thing will be read and reread -- at least in my opinion -- is going to be the underpinning of character, plot, and philosophy. Genre is nice, but when you get down to the bones of the story it's just a pretty set-dressing.

(Also, though Stover may not be accessible in Guam, I will note that I got my copy of the Ep3 novelization in a Kinokuniya in Osaka, of all places. Go figure.)

Aud8tius said...

"As far as reaching an audience that isn't already Sci-fi/fantasy savvy...I dunno."

I sure as heck do.

But *I* can't do it until I get a book published, which due to research and real life, is going to take years. And even then, there's no guarantee that all your hard work will find the right people at the right time, who will like yours instead of someone else's, so...someday someone already published will come up with this idea, and they'll do it.

More power to 'em.