Monday, December 31, 2007

Free Story and a Sale

It's my turn on the Advent Calendar over at Torquere -- you can read my story "Catching Courage," which is a sequel to "Chasing Fear," here. Things have improved a little since Halloween for Emilio, but not as much as he'd like. Now it's New Year's Eve and they're spending it with Martin's family, which always makes Emilio hunch into his shell whether it's logical or not. Can he convince his gut of what his head already knows?

Includes a free bonus recipe for tres leches cake, although not, unfortunately, Abuela Sandoval's recipe. ;)

All the other Advent pieces are still available through the main Advent page.

Also, my novelette "A Spirit of Vengeance" is on sale for 15% off here through January 2nd.

Happy New Year, everyone! [wave]


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Taking a Breath

I'm actually caught up right now. Well, mostly. I mean, I have a bunch of partially done projects, but I don't owe them to anyone, so they don't count when it comes to being behind or whatever. So yay. :)

I had a deadline on the 23rd (for a fic fest) and one on the 24th (for the Torquere Advent promotion) and both are done. I was actually about 40 minutes late with the first one, but the moderators said it wasn't a big deal, for which I'm grateful. And the second one was a bit late but only on a technicality. I mean, when someone says something's due on the 24th, then right before then they say they're going to be out of the office doing, like, holiday stuff until the 26th, I think I'm justified in giving myself two more days of leeway, you know? [duck] So I got it in today, about six hours ago, and hopefully that's cool and everyone who needs to like it will like it. It's a short sequel to "Chasing Fear" called "Catching Courage," about the same two characters.

And that's it. That's everything I owed to anyone in the near future. Next deadline is... I think a little over a week into January (I'd have to look at my calendar) for my next Romancing the Blog column, but I wouldn't want to write it this far in advance anyway; one never knows when some hot topic is going to go sweeping through the industry the day before your column's due, you know? :) And if not, I have a couple of ideas anyway, so that's cool.

But I don't owe anyone any fiction right now. It feels kind of loose and drifting, but at the same time it's like the world is full of potential. Everything I see or hear or read is a story idea and I could sit down and write about absolutely anything.

Often that kind of freedom is a bad thing; if I have to produce X number of words by Monday, being able to write about "anything" can give me a case of paralysis. You know, when your eyes go big and round and unfocused, and you're looking at such a huge chunk of the world that it seems impossible to focus in on any one bit of it? That's bad, and frustrating. I wrote some really putrid (to say nothing of horribly boring) compositions in high school when the teacher told us we could write about "Oh, anything!" :P

But right now I don't have that Monday deadline. Not needing to produce a finished product at any particular point means I really can write about anything, and if it starts to suck five pages in, it doesn't matter. I can start it over, approaching the same idea from another angle, or I can completely trash it and grab a new idea and try something completely different. It doesn't matter and that means I'm free to dabble and experiment and do something weird or different or just interesting. And that's cool.

Mind you, too much of this kind of freedom can also mean I never get around to finishing anything; having definite goals is a good thing, most of the time. But every now and then it's great to be able to just kick back -- to go web surfing, or read whatever I want, or play a computer game, or go browsing through story scraps and ideas from years ago -- and do whatever. Plenty of time to get all serious and focused and efficient later.

Have a great Rest Of The Year, everyone! Don't work too hard. :D


Friday, December 21, 2007

Review of "Chasing Fear"

Cassie over at Joyfully Reviewed posted about "Chasing Fear," my Halloween Sip. This is what she said:

"Park ranger Emilio Cardenas much prefers being in the woods to spending time with people, but when he gets caught up in a job, he forgets everything else. When he finally finishes his work, he realizes he’ll be late coming home. That might not be a big problem for most people, but when your lover is a Greenman, it’s not good to be late…

Chasing Fear is a very cool story of magic, nature, and facing fears. I liked shy, antisocial Emilio. His Greenman lover, Martín, is both vulnerable and tough. Angela Benedetti did a great job of showing the caring between the two men as well as a slice of Emilio’s painful past. This story is a good read for when you’re in the mood for a little unusual magic."

This is my first review and I'm absolutely delighted by it. Thanks to Cassie for her kind words; I'm very glad she liked my story. :D

The review post is here.


New Release: The Joy of Exchanging Gifts

Lowell is an anthropologist, working with the Enknopans, studying their culture and ways. They haven't completely accepted him, so he's not invited to their year changing celebration. He decides to show his very good Enknopan friend Tiklup some of his own Christmas traditions, but things don't work out exactly as planned. Can he still have a happy holiday?


Well, ho fucking ho, Lowell thought, shifting one more time in the barely-too-tight smoke hole. He knew it was useless; he'd been wedged in for over an hour and a half and all he'd managed to accomplish with his pushing and squirming was to get himself in even tighter.

It'd seemed like a fun idea at the time. Of course, some variation of that statement was probably carved into a million gravestones across the Hundred Worlds, and on billions more memorial markers in various alien languages in the far corners of the universe. (There were actually a hundred and eighteen known human-inhabited worlds, but the Recovery League thought "The Hundred Worlds" sounded better on the news posts. Early in his career as an anthropologist, Lowell had learned that in most cultures, facts had to bow to considerations of marketing and image, or whatever the locals called them.)

The local tribe, the Enknopans, were all gathered somewhere outside their settlement, engaging in some sort of year's turning ritual which involved renewing family bonds. Lowell had been told, very politely, that he was not welcome to participate or even to observe, since he wasn't related to any of the Enknopan clans.

It'd been a sharp disappointment, not only because Lowell was specifically there to study the Enknopan culture and lifeways, but also because he'd come to feel close to the people there; being so firmly excluded was a reminder that he was still an outsider. It'd been a while since he'd received quite so clear a reminder, and it'd stung a bit.

To show that he didn't hold a grudge, and also because the learning and sharing had to go both ways in order to be ethical and respectful, he'd decided to share a Terran year's turning ritual with the Enknopans, and specifically with his friend Tiklup. Tiklup had taught Lowell how to carve wood with a knife, and Lowell had made him a covered bowl with a leaf pattern on the lid. It was pretty crude by local standards, the sort of thing a youngster just learning to carve would make, but Lowell was just learning and he was proud of it. Tiklup had been encouraging, and Lowell was sure he'd appreciate the effort, and understand that it was a tribute to his teaching.

Besides, they'd come to be very good friends, with all that meant to the Enknopans, who had some unusual (to a Terran) ideas about public and private activities.

The local star, called Upiklip by the locals and noted as FUSC-32829 on the most common star charts, was just beginning to show over the horizon. Of course Lowell was facing east, and he hadn't brought his hat or his sun visor. Upiklip was whiter than Sol, where Lowell had been born, and emitted more UV radiation than he was used to. If no one came to pry him out soon, he'd be sizzled good. His first few days on planet, he'd gone without a hat a couple of times and the sunburn had penetrated all the way down to his scalp. He'd looked like he had a terminal case of dandruff for the next week, with huge flakes of peeling skin working their way out of his hair.

Lowell moaned and buried his face in his crossed arms.


Get the rest here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

No, Really, I'm Working

Kate Elliot posted What is Work? at SF Novelists the other day and talked about all the things she does that don't look like work but really are. It's the sort of post you want to forward to your family and friends, just so you can say, "See! It really is working when I'm staring off into space!" :D

Because of course, everyone who writes already knows that the stuff she described is work, along with whatever other things we do that Kate Elliot doesn't.

Personally, I spend a lot of working time playing a game called Sherlock. It's a shareware game that I got back in the DOS days, and have upgraded several times since. It's an awesome game -- it's a logic puzzle, like the ones you see on paper sometimes, where they tell you the names of six men and six women and their six kids and six pets and their six different colored houses and the six different cars they drive (or whatever collection of data) and then give you clues like, "Joe lives next door to Ellie and does not drive a Ford," and "Mary's child is a boy and her house is neither green nor blue," etc., and you have to fill in a grid to figure out how they all go together. Sherlock does this with a great mouse interface and graphic clues and I heart this game muchly.

I'm not always working when I play it, but sometimes I am. It's perfect for keeping the surface of my mind just occupied enough while my subconscious works something out. I'll often write a few paragraphs, play a few games of Sherlock, write a few paragraphs, play a few games, etc., especially if I'm having a hard time getting the characters from Point F to Point M or whatever.

I was also happy to see that Ms. Elliot and one of the commenters both work while walking, and that the commenter actually talks while walking. This is a great relief to me because I do that too. :) For whatever reason, talking a problem out to myself is more effective at times than just thinking about it, and talking while walking is more effective than talking while just sitting at the keyboard, although that can work too. (I don't know what I'm going to do when my husband retires -- maybe rent an office of my own, so I have somewhere to go where I can talk to myself in private...? :P )

Sometimes I'll get good story ideas during that border-time between waking and sleeping. I've gotten new story seeds that way, and also come up with solutions to story problems while my mind is half-asleep and drifting. Occasionally, if I'm having a hard time with something and other methods aren't helping, I'll go try to take a nap. For whatever reason, lying down and thinking about it with my eyes closed and my body horizontal can spark new ideas. I don't explain it, I just take advantage when I can. [rueful smile] So yeah, sometimes I'm working while napping.

What do you all do that's actually working but doesn't look like it?


PS -- if you've never read any of Kate Elliot's books, she rocks. I highly recommend Jaran, an SF book with a strong fantasyish feel to it (no magic or anything, but most of the action takes place on a low tech planet, with horses and tents and swords and such). She creates wonderful, memorable characters and her worldbuilding is awesome.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent Calendar

I keep forgetting to mention this here :P but Torquere's doing an Advent Calendar this year. Each day has a [something] by one of the Torquere writers; so far it's been very short stories or scenes, or recipes, or short stories with recipes. :) And some of them come with news about a discount on one of that day's writer's stories, so if you check every day you might find something you'd like to try for cheap.

My day is the 31st and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do. [grin] I'll post again on the 30th or 31st as a reminder and you can see what I came up with.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dialoging Back and Forth

When I was a baby writer I used lots of dialogue tags. It just seemed to be the way things worked; I've always been a voracious reader and that's the style I picked up, reading through my childhood and teenage years. Then I got online in the eighties and started hanging with other writers, both pro and working on it, and I discovered that dialogue tags were passe. Those in the know sneered at dialogue tags, so I changed my style and got out of the habit of using them. For years you could read entire stories of mine and find nary a one.

Then it changed again. I think it was some time in the nineties when... some writer whose name I can't remember right now said that the most invisible word in the English language, after articles and such, was "said." That there was no reason to avoid dialogue tags, that they were clear and simple and the reader's eye moved over them just fine. Everyone else who supposedly knew How Things Work seemed to agree. OK, fine, I started using dialogue tags again.

Now the pendulum has swung once more and we're back to sneering at dialogue tags. [headdesk] You know, I don't care anymore. I'll use them where I want to and not use them where I don't think I need them, and if my editors want any added or deleted, they can let me know. [wry smile]


Saturday, December 8, 2007

New Release: A Spirit of Vengeance

My novelette, "A Spirit of Vengeance," was released today at Torquere. This is one of my favorite stories and I'm excited to see it go up. :D

When Josh comes home from a business trip to find out that his lover, Kevin, has been killed, his life takes a terrible turn. Even worse, Kevin is haunting him, wanting Josh to exact revenge on his killer. Josh thinks Kevin is a hallucination to begin with, but he soon starts to believe that his lover's spirit is really hanging around.

As he begins to believe in Kevin's ghost, Josh also starts to believe he knows who killed Kevin. He's not sure what to do, and neither is Kevin, who never really considered an afterlife. Can these two figure out how to catch a killer and how to move on with life after death?


[Early in the story, Josh comes home from Kevin's funeral.]

Josh pulled into the driveway of their rented house -- his and Kevin's and Kat's, the shabby old Craftsman the best they could afford by pooling their incomes, the two starving artists and the unknown actress -- stopped the car and just sat. He stared through the windshield at the avocado green paint on the garage door and thought of all the times Kevin had sworn he was going to paint it over some other color, any other color, and forget their deposit.

Another shiver ran through him and he roused himself to get out of the car. He left his suitcase in the trunk but did remember to lock the car before walking through the gap in the privacy hedge up to the front door. Stuck in the crack right above the knob was an invoice from BioClean, the company Kat had hired to clean up the house after the body had been removed. He looked down at the list of services performed -- walls cleaned and steamed (6), carpet removed (3), sofa removed, chair removed (2), windows cleaned (6), floors cleaned (2), misc. unsalvageable debris removed (see itemized list, attached).

Pain slammed through both his knees when they hit the smooth boards of the porch and swelled to meet the agony tearing his heart into fine shreds. He buried his face in his hands and cried, great shuddering sobs that shook his shoulders and jerked his arm and his cheek against the front door; he'd curled up against it when he'd lost his balance and fallen. He'd not cried before, not been able to or not quite comprehended in his gut that Kevin was truly gone, that he was dead, but the clinical, businesslike list of all the things that'd had to be cleaned of blood and whatever else had been spilled, all the things scrubbed and sterilized or torn up or thrown out, added up with a total charge at the bottom, plus tax -- that had clarified all his nightmare imaginings and made it real.

Kevin was gone and Josh sobbed out his grief and loneliness.

:Don't cry for me! Help me!:

Get the rest here.


Why is it that everything's due around the holidays? [laugh/flail] I just got another short story done and proofed and submitted to Torquere last night for their holiday promotion -- gotta love the quick turn-around time of an e-publisher. And NaNo just ate November, except for the chunk in the middle when I was at my mom's, which took its own fairly huge bite. And one lesson I learned last month was to try not to make journal posts of great general interest when I'm supposed to be spending all my free time writing; I cross-posted the piece about badly-written BDSM fiction to my LiveJournal and it got a nice even 125 comments. O_O Of course, almost half of them were mine, posting replies to people, but still, that's a lot and it took up a huge chunk of time of its own.

Still to come this month, I owe a story for a holiday fic exchange, and a short chunk to Torquere for their Advent Calendar. They're posting a short, free chunk of something each day -- story snippets and recipes and whatever all else the writers have come up with, and some of them come with discounts on stories by the writer whose day it is. Check it out. :)

I also have a novelette called "A Spirit of Vengeance" coming out today -- I'll post a link when it goes up on the site -- and I'm spending the day hanging out at the Torquere Social community on LiveJournal, so wander over and say hi. :) I'll be giving away a free copy of the e-book to someone on the community; info on that will go up some time around noon.

Later all! [wave]


Monday, December 3, 2007

Drawing the Line

[Note that I'm dealing with generalities here. There's a link at the bottom to my LiveJournal where I talk about specifics, if you're interested in what brought this on.]

There's a case up in the air right now (meaning that the person claiming injured party status says she's going to sue but I don't know if she has yet) which has made me think about where the line is drawn when it comes to "borrowing" from other writers. Where does browsing and scrounging and scavenging and reworking turn into really lame and uncool copying?

To the best of my knowledge, plagiarism only covers actual words-in-a-row. That is, if I write:

"Bob and Tommy went to the pond to go fishing. They spent the afternoon and caught three trout, but Tommy got sunburned. They hitched a ride home from an old man in a blue Ford, and Tommy had a horrible night because he was burning up."

and someone else reads that, then writes:

"Boo and Timmy went to the woods to go hunting. They spent the day and caught three rabbits, but Timmy was sunburned. They hitchhiked home with an old guy in a blue Honda, and Timmy had an awful night because his sunburn was really burning him."

anyone who read my bit and then read the second bit would be able to tell that the second was copied, although not exactly. The second paragraph isn't actually plagiarized, but if you read the first one and then the second one, you might raise an eyebrow.

What if you read two novels like that?

What if you read two novels that were almost like that, with some lines and paragraphs about that close, and others not?

It's clear to me that the second novel isn't plagiarized, not exactly. Not legally, in a way that a court would accept. (So far as I understand this to work, with the usual IANAL disclaimer.) It's been rephrased, rewritten in places, with all the names and enough key words changed that it's not copying exact words-in-a-row, or at least not enough words, not enough important words, for a crime to have been committed, although someone made a great use of their thesaurus. It's derivative as hell and incredibly uncool because of it, even if it's not plagiarism.

Because seriously, writing a novel that's pretty clearly a MadLib of someone else's story is really lame, no matter what a court of law would say. And publishing it and making money off of it just adds injury to insult.

I think most of us who write have lifted ideas from other writers' stories. Aside from the old (and true) adage that there aren't any new plots, we'll see someone else's character do X and wonder what would've happened if they'd done Q instead. Or we'll see a plot twist or a gimmick or a point of characterization or worldbuilding or whatever, and think, "What if I did this with it...?" Writing a story is rather like making a patchwork quilt, and the scraps of fabric we sew together to make this quilt come from all over our life experience, which includes books we read, movies we see, music we hear, paintings we look at, and everything else. The fact that Stoker wrote about vampires doesn't mean another writer can't do it too. And Anita Blake is just another in a long line of vampire hunters (from Stoker's Van Helsing on), blended with some other characteristics to make her stand out, and many of those characteristics probably came from Hamilton's own experiences of others' creative works.

This sort of thing isn't a problem. It's where ideas come from, and that's fine.

But where do we draw the line? How much can we scavenge before it becomes uncool?

Is it a matter of blending it with enough other scavenged pieces? Like the old saying from uni, "Copying one source is plagiarism, copying many sources is research" -- how many sources do we have to copy before we move from plagiarism to research? And is there a grey area in the middle. If one source is plagiarism, and, say, fifty is research, what's twenty? Ten? Five? Two?

Where do we draw the lines between "just fine" and "kind of iffy" and "uncool" and "lame!" and actual "plagiarism?"

And what can/should be done about those grey areas of "almost", from "almost fine" to "almost plagiarism?" Is the "kind of iffy" level all right, where the source of this or that bit or gimmick is pretty clear, where you can see the scratches on that one chunk where the serial number was filed off but most of the story and world and background are properly scavenged and blended? I've actually read stories like this, where I've recognized a source I was pretty sure the writer drew from, and you probably have too. Is this "almost right," and if so, how close is the "almost?" And what about the other end of the "almost" spectrum, where we have a MadLib novel which is about as close as I can think of to plagiarism without actually being plagiarism. If this is "almost wrong," how close is it to that end of "almost?"

I'd never thought about it before, but there really isn't a single clear line between original writing and plagiarism. And that's disturbing, because so long as there's not, there'll be people who'll push into that grey area, trying to see how far they can get before someone notices and calls them on it. It looks like that's what's happening now, and unless it turns out that this whole thing is a huge hoax on the complaining writer's part, I really hope something happens to the second writer. If she did do this, then having her rep smeared and being unable to sell any other books would be a good start, even if she can't actually be sued.



[I'm trying to keep this theoretical. If you want to see the specifics and haven't already heard about the situation, check out this post in my LJ, along with the links from it, or just Google "plagiarism Massa Amanda" and the first few items will be relevant.]