Sunday, December 21, 2008

Katrina's Hidden Race War

This is seriously disgusting. Thanks to Carmen at All About Race for posting the link.

According to an article in The Nation, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some residents of a mostly white neighborhood in New Orleans called Algiers Point decided to protect their homes from looters. Okay, that sounds reasonable, right? They even claim "The police said, If they're breaking in your property do what you gotta do and leave them [the bodies] on the side of the road."

Okay, fine, I can understand that too, under the circumstances. But these men decided to interpret "breaking in your property" to mean "walking down the street within a block or two." Only one of the incidents reported mentions someone trying to get into a locked and shuttered building -- a grocery store -- and the way it's written, it could easily have been someone trying to see if there was anyone inside who'd sell them something. It might've been a looter, sure, but we don't know for certain.

And there are a number of very clear cases of people being shot just for being Black and nearby, because the vigilantes were also interpreting "looter" to mean "any Black man within gun range." Here's the account of a woman who spoke anonymously to the reporter:

Some of the gunmen prowling Algiers Point were out to wage a race war, says one woman whose uncle and two cousins joined the cause. A former New Orleanian, this source spoke to me anonymously because she fears her relatives could be prosecuted for their crimes. "My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy."

"They didn't want any of the 'ghetto niggers' coming over" from the east side of the river, she says, adding that her relatives viewed African-Americans who wandered into Algiers Point as "fair game." One of her cousins, a young man in his 20s, sent an e-mail to her and several other family members describing his adventures with the militia. He had attached a photo in which he posed next to an African-American man who'd been fatally shot. The tone of the e-mail, she says, was "gleeful"--her cousin was happy that "they were shooting niggers."

So it's not quite accurate to say that these were simply people determined to protect their property.

Three of the shooting victims, Donnell Herrington -- who was shot in the neck and would've died if he hadn't made it to a hospital in time -- and his friends Marcel Alexander and Chris Collins, were walking by Algiers Point on their way to the Algiers Point Ferry. The National Guard had "designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site. Rescuers from the Coast Guard and other agencies brought flood victims to the ferry terminal, where soldiers loaded them onto buses headed for Texas." So these three men were headed to a bona fide evacuation site, run by the National Guard and the Coast Guard, hoping to be evacuated. And for the crime of heading for an official evacuation site, all three were shot and Herrington nearly died.

The police were in disarray during the flooding and couldn't do anything about the various crimes being committed in the area. But even now, when there are multiple video tapes of members of the Algiers Point "militia" bragging about shooting people, and describing the circumstances of their having done so (most of which don't even come close to resembling active looting) the police still don't seem to have any interest at all in pursuing these shootings. Or if they are, they're keeping it a tight secret.

The article is long but it's definitely worth a read. Anyone who thinks these attitudes are going to vanish into the ether when a Black family enters the White House next month needs to think long and hard about reality.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chocolate Techniques

Mom and I are making cookies, of course, and I just drizzled chocolate for the first time. It didn't work very well at first [cough] but I eventually got the hang of it. The trick is to not care at all where the chocolate goes. Fling the chocolate around with wild abandon and the cookies will come out looking great. Use multiple layers -- keep going till your chocolate is gone.

Waxed paper under the cookie racks is a good idea. :)


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Editorial Sensitivity?

Erastes on LJ posted a link to the submission guidelines for Eternal Press. They contain this passage:

Send us a cover letter and please tell us what questionable content may be found within the MS as we do not wish to subject our editors to content that may put them at risk emotionally.

I was rather taken aback by this statement. I've never seen any such requirement in any other market's guidelines, so what's up with this? Do they really have one or more editors who are so delicate that they need to have their slush pre-screened for them? Maybe those individuals would do better working for a publisher specializing in children's books, or inspirational lit, or any other publisher that doesn't accept fiction with adult themes; there are quite a few of those, after all. Why would an editor who's that emotionally sensitive take a job with a publisher which accepts:

Mystery, sci-fi, paranormal, historical, suspense, horror, women's fiction, fantasy, thrillers, erotica, gay and all sub genres of romance as well as.

Any of those genres might well include "icky" material, but particularly the suspense, horror, erotica and romance.

[And hey, Eternal Press -- your guidelines need editing.]

They also assume their readers are just as twitchy:

We do put disclaimers about the content if it could potentially disturb our consumers

Umm, why? This isn't traditional, not in erotica and not in general literature. A few publishers have begun to do it recently, but I don't care for the practice and am never happy to see it spreading.

It's not that abiding by this requirement would be horribly onerous or anything. Everything else looks fine (although kidding aside, their guidelines really do need editing, in more than one spot, which doesn't inspire great confidence about the editing of their books) and they pay a nice royalty, but this requirement to put a warning label on the cover of your story just makes me twitch. I mean, seriously, an editor at a publisher of horror, romance and erotica who has to be protected from "questionable" material? That's like going to the vet and having to warn them ahead of time that your dog's been vomiting, because they have a doctor who's icked out by vomit. Sorry, hon, it's part of the job -- you deal with it or find work elsewhere.

It's unfortunate, but I think I'll pass.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Expiration Date?

Over the years I've seen a lot of writers (editors, publishers, whoever) make statements which imply that there's some sort of deadline for starting a writing career, as though creativity has an expiration date and if you don't use it by then it goes bad. A recent blog comment made me think about this, but the idea has been around for a long time -- I've read similar opinions on other blogs, on journals and forums, in books and magazines, and on BBSs in the pre-web days. It's one of those things everyone just knows, or accepts.

But... seriously? The context is usually some sort of conversation between a writer and a non-writer, where the non-writer says something like, "You know I've always wanted to write a book." The writer thinks (or occasionally says out loud) something like, "No, you don't. If you really did then you'd have done it."

Or maybe it's, "I always wanted to write," and "No you don't, or you'd be writing." Something like that.

Or a comment about how if you're capable of not writing for any period of time, then you're clearly not a writer and you'd be better off going back to your triple-entry accounting or whatever it is you've been doing with your life all along.

I've always felt uncomfortable about these statements, though. For one thing, it's pretty obvious that stepping up to say, "Well, I don't write all the time -- I've gone weeks or months or even years without writing any fiction in the past," will bring about the obvious retort, "Well, you're not a real writer, then. Nyah!" which makes the whole thing sound more like the tauntings of a junior high clique in a lunchroom rather than an actual discussion among adults.

Aside from that, though, there's also the familiar trap of assuming that everyone is the same. It's great that some people hit the ground running -- one of my fellow Torquere authors isn't old enough to drink (or maybe just turned twenty-one?) and has nine stories published already. That's awesome, seriously. But George Eliot started at thirty-six -- what if someone had told her, at thirty or thirty-five, that if she were "really" a writer she'd have done it already, and that therefore she should go back to her knitting? Janet Evanovich's first novel came out when she was in her fifties. Laura Ingalls Wilder's first novel came out when she was in her sixties. Watership Down, Richard Adams's first novel, came out in his fifties.

Some people have other things going on in their lives. Is someone disqualified as a writer because, after having a long career at something else, they turn to writing in their retirement? Does that not count? My own first thought is that someone who's lived a full life probably has a lot to write about.

Or maybe someone has confidence problems and can't quite manage to apply seat of pants to seat of chair in front of a keyboard for a year or three or thirty. Dude's got issues? Maybe so. But maybe living with, working through and resolving those issues will give the older writer -- again -- something worth writing about.

How about the idea that you have to write every day? If you can do it then that's great, and it's tough to support yourself solely through your writing unless you do produce daily. Not everyone can, though, for a variety of reasons. So what? If the writer who bangs out words for two hours a day sneers at the writer who only puts in two hours a week over the weekends, what about the writer who puts in eight hours a day? If a 2/day writer thinks a 2/week writer sucks, does the existence of the 8/day writer mean the 2/day writer sucks?

Different people are different, and fiction writers of all people should know that. It's easy to get caught up in a bit of rah-rah-for-us when we're together with other writers, to talk about what it's actually like to be a working writer versus what the general public thinks it's like, to swap war stories about short sleep and insane deadlines and taking a jackhammer to that writer's block, and brag about how anyone who can't hack brutally honest criticism had better not quit their day job. All that's true, and certainly anyone who wants to have a prayer of being a full-time writer had better be able to hunker down and do the work and produce quantity and quality both, and not break down at a less-than-diplomatic rejection or review.

That's not the only way to be a writer, though, and in the middle of all the bragging and snarking and one-upmanship and war stories, it's easy to forget that the person who has a poem published in a magazine qualifies as a writer too, just as much as the person with a shelf full of novels. And someone else who delays (procrastinates, lazes, dithers) and doesn't even start tapping out their first tentative manuscript until after the social security checks start coming is also a writer.

Someone who says, "I've always wanted to try writing," might not be a writer right now. They might never actually be a writer. But then again, they might, some day, and it doesn't diminish any of us to acknowledge the potential.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

How Not to Submit to an Agent

A truly amazing combination of nerve and idiocy here, via Cleolinda on LJ.

Someone faked up an e-mail from an agent (who'd rejected them) to make it look like they were sending a requested partial. And then sent chapters 4-6 of the book. [blinkblink]

Seriously, just how stupid-newbie do you have to be to not know that a partial is always the first three chapters?? Although I guess that goes with being dumb enough to think an agent won't remember that they didn't request anything from you in the first place. Good grief....


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wonderful Vid!

It's actually a musical about gay marriage and Prop 8. With Jack Black playing Jesus! :D

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Thanks to Lostiawen on LJ!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

EPPIE Finalist

I just found out that "A Spirit of Vengeance" has made the EPPIE finals! (The EPPIEs are the yearly awards given by EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection, basically an association for writers and publishers of e-books.) I'm ridiculously happy -- making the short list is a great honor and I can't stop smiling. :D

This was my first time entering and I was feeling kind of hesitant, but now I'm glad I did. Winning would be awesome, but just making the short list has me over the moon!

Congrats as well to my fellow Torquere author Tory Temple, who also made the finals for two of her books! Good luck, Tory!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Freedom of Speech Means Freedom for ALL Speech

Or, "I may disagree with what you say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it."

That sort of thing.

Except, as usual, Neil Gaiman says it much better.

The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you find acceptable and what you don't.

Popular speech doesn't need defending. The speech (fiction, art, whatever) that makes you cringe and snarl and want to hit something is what needs defending, and we all need to defend it or next time it'll be our speech or fiction or art which makes someone else cringe or snarl or want to hit something, and we'll be left blustering about how our writing is different.

No. It's not. To that other person out there, my writing and your writing is just as objectionable as that other stuff you or I consider disgusting or obscene. It's all the same to someone, and that someone might well be trying to get re-elected. So we need to defend it all, simple as that.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Reading Advantage?

Stewart has a recent post up about whether writers can also act, in the context of reading their own dialogue and such. This reminded me of something from my writing youth [cough] and since it's not really relevant to his post, I'm putting it here.

Twenty-some years ago I was in a (realspace) writing workshop and this one woman participant was a very expressive reader. I found her too slow and annoying to listen to for that reason, but she "did" voices very expressively. A lot of the workshop's writers thought she was just wonderful and wanted her to read their stories for the group (the workshop format was to have stories or chapters read right then and there, and then commented on) because her reading made the stories sound better.

I tried to argue that this was a reason not to have her read their stories. The whole point of being in the workshop was to focus on the writing, its good and bad points, and how it could be made better. If the person reading the story is so actor-y that the focus is on the voices and the characters as expressed by the voices, rather than on the writing itself, then that makes it harder to concentrate on the words as they appeared on the page, and give proper criticism.

Of course, I was ignored and a number of people had this woman reading their work for the next few months. Whatever.

But there are going to be times when a vibrant show of lively talent really isn't what you're looking for. If a story has been published and you're doing a reading for prospective buyers to try to persuade them that said story is wonderful and delightful and worthy of their money and time, then getting a really excellent reader to do the performance is probably to your benefit. In a workshop environment, though, where the purpose is to focus on the words and only the words, allowing distractions (no matter how entertaining) is counterproductive. The bare words are what you want in that sort of situation, and if they come across as boring then you need to know that ASAP, not have it masked by a character-actor of a reader.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Support Writing 2 -- Macro

[Continued from Previous Post: Support Writing 1 -- Micro. This was originally a single post, split for length.]

Plotting is another set of notes. As I said above, I don't actually outline, but if I think of an interesting plot twist and am afraid I might forget it, I'll jot it down in the Notes file. If I run into a roadblock, I'll try to work it out by "babbling" about it, and for that I'll usually start a separate file called StoryNameBabble.doc.

I started using babbling as a solution to a story problem during my first NaNo year, when I ran into a roadblock and couldn't figure out how to get past it. I'd been exchanging e-mail with a writer friend who was also NaNoing that year, and decided to ask if she had any ideas. Of course, to do that I had to explain everything from the beginning -- what I'd had in mind and what I'd done and where I wanted to go and why that wasn't working, what the problems seemed to be and why and what I'd thought of to maybe fix them and why the possible solutions hadn't worked... everything.

And in typing all that out, every detail, explaining the problem in so many words from the ground up, to someone who didn't know anything at all, I came up with a solution.

I assumed at the time that writer's block was now a thing of the past for me. It didn't turn out quite that well, unfortunately, but it is a great technique and often helps. Most of my longer stories end up with an associated babble file at some point.

[I'd give a babble example but they tend to run a couple thousand words or more, so....]

The trick, though, is to explain everything. Pretend you're asking for advice from a writer friend -- someone who knows about plotting and worldbuilding and characterization and pacing and POV and all that, but doesn't know anything about your particular story. Write it like you're actually talking to that person, and explain everything, just as you would if you were going to send them that e-mail and wanted to make sure they got what was going on first. They need enough info and details to understand exactly what's up before they can give you any advice. (Heck, if just writing about it all doesn't work for you, you can actually send it to your friend and maybe they will have an idea for you. :) )

Explaining what possible solutions you've thought of already and exactly why they won't work is particularly helpful. What ended up producing a solution for me at that point was that while I typed, I found I didn't want to look dumb in front of my friend, so I was coming up with more and more possibilities. I didn't want her to go, "Well, why don't you just do X?" and have to do a facepalm. And having just explained my story and what direction I wanted to take it in minuscule detail, I had all the info at the top of my head, ready to feed into ideas and options. In trying to cover all my bases before I sent the e-mail, I came up with a scenario that would work, and I was able to get back to the novel again.

It's all about details, though. It's like you're spreading all the pieces of your story out on the desk in front of you, so you can see it all at one time. It seems like it should all be there anyway, in your head, but in reality (or at least in my reality -- your head might work differently, and chances are at least a few of you do) when I've been working on a given chapter or scene, focusing on a particular plot thread, the rest fades a bit, as though it's been filed away. It's still there, and I can get to it when I need it, but it's not right there in immediate sight. It's like the difference between having things out on the desk and having them in your desk drawer.

On my current WIP, I started doing something new. This story's structured differently -- I had a lot of backstory but I didn't want to actually start the story thirty-two years before the main plot begins. [wry smile] Neither did I want to tell thirty-two years worth of flashbacks or reminiscing conversations or whatever, but I really wanted to get some of that past info in; it showed how the relationship between the two main characters developed, which is vital in order for the present-day storyline (a kidnapping story which turns out to be a part of something larger) to work for the reader.

What I ended up doing was going back and forth, scene by scene. The first scene was labelled [Thirty-Two Years Ago] and then the next was labelled [Today]. Then [Twenty-Six Years Ago] then [Today], etc. It was an experiment and at first I was afraid it wouldn't work, that the backstory would be boring or annoying or whatever, but reader response has been overwhelmingly positive, yay. So that's a technique I'll keep in my toolbox for future use when appropriate.

As I go from scene to scene, I bip around between multiple viewpoint characters. Where I am now, I'm caught up with the backstory and everything is "Today," but I'm still showing what's going on at different places, with different characters. To a certain extent, I have some discretion in what order I put the scenes; it won't always ruin a progression or even look strange if I put Scene Q after Scene T rather than before. I've been writing this one as a series of scenes, rather than a single, smooth story flow, so what's been in my head has been ideas for scenes I want to write, each of which has one or more plot points I need to get across to the reader. When I finish one, I grab the one I want to do next -- usually in a different setting and often with different characters from the previous scene -- and keep going.

I've gotten to the point, though (fifteen chapters in) where I can't hold it all in my head anymore. Or rather, maybe I could but it's getting iffy and I don't want to gamble any further and start losing vital chunks. So I've started jotting down notes, like:

SCENE: [2--scene couple of weeks after 1] Blah-blah-scene description, mainly jotting down all the plot points.

This is the fanfic story I mentioned a few posts ago. I'm not comfortable actually giving details in this blog, but you get the idea. The note in [square brackets] links this scene with two others; this is number two, so one of the others comes before it and the other comes after. The three together have to go in a particular sequence, and have to happen a certain length of time apart, so I made sure to hilight it. Each scene in this cluster has a similar bracketed note, in blue to make them stand out and make it visually obvious that they're together when I'm scanning over the list of scenes. I have another cluster of ordered scenes with their bracketed notes in green.

Formatting things this way, I can bang out notes for a scene whenever I think of it, without having to worry right away about what order it'll come in.

[I know it sounds weird, but in many cases with this story it really doesn't matter, up to a point; there are three or four people or groups acting independently in parallel, and until they get together and talk or their activities cross, the fine-grained order doesn't make a difference in the story. I make final ordering decisions as I write, looking at what I need to build a good flow, with rising action and tension in the proper places at the chapter level, grabbing scenes from the pool as needed.]

But I find that I now have notes at the scene level for a little way forward into the story -- seven scenes ahead at this point -- and this is the closest I've come to outlining since my last disastrous attempt. I'll admit I'm a bit nervous about it, but with this many major characters and this many major plot threads which all have to braid together evenly and wrap up at about the same point, however many chapters in the future, I feel like I need some sort of scheme for taking plot notes and planning things out. It's not really an outline, but it serves some of the same functions as one. We'll see how it goes. [crossed fingers]

So how does everyone else work? Do you outline? If not, do you do anything else to help keep the plotlines straight and make sure all the ends get woven in reasonably neatly? What support writing do you do, outside of the story itself?


Support Writing 1 -- Micro

[I wrote this as a single post, but it's a bit long so I'm splitting it. The first couple of paragraphs apply to the whole piece.]

Normally I don't outline -- I think I've mentioned that before. I've tried it and it's crashed and burned pretty miserably, on one landmark occasion taking an entire novel with it. Even in school I never outlined my papers unless the outline had to be turned in for credit, and sometimes not even then; I've essentially pantsed major research papers with footnote numbers in triple digits (and gotten As on them) so after a few failed experiments I've never had any particular incentive to go back and try again.

Which isn't to say that every story is created completely within its Word file, with no support writing. Short stories, sure. But for longer pieces and series stories I find I do need some help keeping everything straight, at the very least for the sake of continuity.

Most of my longer stories have a Notes file, usually called StoryNameNotes.doc. I'll jot down character notes at the top -- full name, any nicknames, age, family/friend/work relationships, physical details, plus things like how they take their coffee, whether they call it a "couch" or a "sofa," where they're from, etc. I'll add to it as I go, whenever anything significant comes up in the story that I think there's any possibility I might need to refer to later. The character notes go first in the file because I refer to these most often, usually protags at the top, then supporting characters, then minor characters. Sometimes I'll cluster characters differently, like in my current WIP where I have the bad guy's notes followed by a bunch of very minor characters who are his henchmen and who pretty much are just names and skills/functions; exactly how I organize things depends on what I think will be the most useful for the current story.

Then I'll start adding setting notes below that, which might be more or less detailed depending on the setting. SF or fantasy gets a lot of notes because every time I make something up I have to remember it, while mundane contemporary settings get fewer. So for A Hidden Magic, an urban fantasy set in modern times in the Bay Area (where I grew up, and lived until I got married and moved to Long Beach), I've got the following setting notes, among others:

Underhill or Under the Hill
It's winter
the wildlands, the chaotic territory Underhill between enclaves
the light Underhill was a perpetual dim twilight and days passed only in the sense that meals and sleeping periods came and went.

The first bit is a nomenclature note; I wanted to remember how I wrote it out and what capitalization I used. (I do that a lot, for consistency.) The bit about it being winter refers to the story period; it's not winter Underhill all the time. The last bit is a clip directly from the story; no sense retyping it, right?

Farther down I have some spells I used:

don't-look -- a magical glamour which coaxes the eye away
banishing -- sending creature back Underhill, chanting & hollow BANG! 2 min. when Aubrey does it
obscure -- spell to block someone who's Seeking

The timing note on the banishing is there because Aubrey's one of the most powerful mages in my world; anyone else doing that spell would take longer and I don't want to forget and have some apprentice-type do it in thirty seconds a hundred pages later. [laugh/flail] Most of what I jot down are things like that, for consistency. It's all right for different characters, who might've been taught by different people or groups or traditions, to call the same spell something different, but if I do that I want it to be a deliberate choice because I was adding depth to my world, rather than accidentally because I forgot what I called it last time.

Swords and Shadows, a fantasy set in a world I made up, has more notes about little things:

Ulder Pass -- main artery through Daro Uldrem, the mountain range east of Pilenem, the capital province.

Five of Arden's brothers were at the victory feast

Pilen -- the Molani language

bridegild -- brideprice

Money -- Molani
terran -- copper coin
lunar -- silver coin
solar -- gold coin

Money -- Ruvori
pes -- copper coin
kas -- small silver coin
vas -- larger silver coin
chas -- gold coin

I start out just jotting things as they occur to me, which is usually as I create them within the story, which is why the ordering might seem a bit chaotic. As I collect more notes, I start cut/pasting to get them more organized. In this file, I separated out lists of gods and other religious matters, because all the magic in this story comes from the gods and the main plot is based on the gods messing with the world, so there's a lot of info piling up about the different gods -- their name, appellation (Ashti, a goddess of travellers, is often called Ashti of the Roads, for example) what they're in charge of, how their priests dress, temple descriptions, etc.

I don't necessarily worry about putting in every detail -- the point is to jog my own memory. There's actually very little verbage in my note file about the one god who's stirring up all the trouble, for example, because I've been focused on him all along and I haven't come up with much that I thought I'd have a hard time remembering. This is for my own utility, so I tune it to my own needs. If this ever turned into, say, a shared world and I had to come up with a bible for other writers to use, I'd have to add a lot.

So how does everyone else work? How do you make sure your character who's allergic to citrus in Chapter Two doesn't slug down a lemonade in Chapter Thirty-Seven? Or that a character who says "dresser" for twelve chapters doesn't suddenly start saying "bureau?" Or that your landlocked city doesn't suddenly develop a thriving waterfront at the climax of the story?


[To Be Continued in "Support Writing 2 -- Macro"]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

FEEDJIT Wierdness

I installed FEEDJIT's live traffic feed -- rather than a map, it's a list of recent visitors, showing what country they're from and what web site they came from -- on my other blog. It gets like zero traffic so far as I can tell, and I was curious to see if anyone was lurking.

I've only gotten three legitimate comments the whole time I've had the thing. I'll admit I don't update it all that often, and pretty much everything that's there is also here (the idea being that readers who weren't interested in the writing craft/industry posts could just watch that one for releases and such) so I wasn't particularly expecting to see a bunch of lurkers reading today. (Although it'll be interesting to see if anyone shows up next time I do post something.)

What I do get a lot of, though, is comment spam. I probably delete at least a dozen a day, sometimes twenty or so. Wordpress has a good filter so they hardly ever get past the Possible Spam Please Moderate queue, but they do show up, and sure enough I've had a few this morning.

When I checked the FEEDJIT list, though, the only hits that showed were my own. o_O So... how am I getting all this comment spam if the spammers aren't actually hitting the site?? Anyone have any ideas?


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Visit Map

I added FEEDJIT's visit map to my sidebar, down at the bottom, just 'cause it looked like fun. (Thanks Writtenwyrdd for pointing out the site.) I have no idea why it thinks I'm from Whittier. o_O

Check out their site, though; they have other cool widgets too, including dynamic lists showing where your visitors are from (I added that one to my other blog, so at least I'll be able to tell if anyone's reading [wry smile]) and what pages are the most popular and such. They're free, and you don't even have to sign up. I have a particular fondness for sites which give me cool things without requiring me to generate another login ID and password, so props to FEEDJIT for that.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Libraries and Sales

Whenever the discussion of free reads comes up, someone always mentions libraries. They're the second-favorite target of writers who are intensely concerned with the bottom line on their royalty statement. (The first being used bookstores of course.) Nathan Bransford mentioned recently that he knows "a few authors who cringe every time a fan tells them they can't wait to borrow their next book from the library -- if everyone did that, of course, the author would get next to zero royalties."

If you think about it, a library is actually more of a threat to one's revenue than a used bookstore. A library copy of a book can be read thirty or forty or more times and then have a new check-out slip pasted into it (or whatever they do now -- I'm thinking back to when I was in school but I imagine there's something more high tech than a rubber date-stamp these days) while realistically, a book is only going to go through a used bookstore a maximum of, what, two or three times? I remember back when I used to practically live at the used bookstore across the street from my high school -- I spent most of my lunch money there for four years -- it was pretty rare to find another used bookstore's stamp in one of The Bookrack's books. I don't ever remember seeing more than one.

But you know what? I'm not worrying about it.

Seriously, I think the "if everyone did that" argument against libraries is looking at the situation wrong-way around. Because before it showed up in a library, that book was bought from a publisher. Every book in a library is a sale.

If more people really did start patronizing libraries, if they really were two or three or ten times as popular as they are now, libraries would probably do everything they could to grow their collections, right? Or specifically, if one of my books is ever popular enough that people all over the country are flocking to the libraries looking for it, then it'll probably be one of those books that all the libraries buy multiple copies of, so they can serve their patrons with a waiting list less than a year long.

According to the relevant ALA web page, the number of public libraries in the US (central and branch both) is 16,543. If they all bought -- let's be conservative here, in the face of this overwhelming display of frugality on the part of the readers -- three copies of my theoretically gonzo-popular book, that's 49,629 sales.

You know what? Even if no individuals at all bought the book, I'll still take those sales numbers.

And realistically, if the book is that popular in the first place, the libraries really aren't going to be the only ones buying it. I wish every library in the country would buy copies of my books. Well, some day when I finally have a hardcopy book published. And assuming I ever write something that a public library could carry without getting picketed. But you know, in principle. [cough]


Sunday, November 16, 2008


Well, it seems like half of southern California is on fire right now. :/ Our area is safe, but as usual we're downwind and getting a lot of smoke. My eyes are itching and watering and my throat feels icky. Much better than having our building burn down, though, which has happened to way too many people and will probably happen to more before this wraps.

They're calling this the worst fire in the area since 1961, and considering we have big fires pretty much every year, that's saying something. The Santa Ana winds blow off the desert toward the coast every fall. They're hot and dry and suck all the moisture out of everything. If a fire starts, it flares up right away and everything's tinder. And the winds themselves blow embers all over the place. Jim and I were watching the news around midnight and they had continuous vids of the fire going; there'd be the main fire line, with a bunch of little spot fires starting up in front of it, growing larger and larger, especially as the wind made them flare.

We were watching video from (the ironically named) Carbon Canyon for a while. The whole thing was blazing and the fire fighters were up on one rim, hosing down the brush and trees right there at the top and just over the rim, trying to protect a mobile home park and a church. The canyon had turned into an oven, holding in so much of the heat that huge sheets of flame were towering over the silhouetted fire fighters. And of course the canyon just channels the winds, too. They had to get right up at the edge of the canyon to get the water over the rim to the top of the slope, since it doesn't do any good to just sprinkle the tops of the flames.

We could only see the fire fighters as dark shapes, and the dark curves of the water. They were tiny compared to the spurts and sheets of fire and it seemed like it must be futile, but the commentators said it was working and that the fire department was optimistic about being able to save the buildings behind them.

There were also photographers down there with them. It was funny -- I'd just finished saying to Jim that the flames were so close, they must've chased all the media away by then, and he'd just agreed with me. (The footage we were watching was from a helicopter, and the on-the-ground commenter who'd been reporting to the station over the phone had hung up to move back a few minutes earlier.) Then about three seconds after I made the comment, I saw the unmistakeable silhouette of someone with a video camera on his shoulder! That's going to be some awesome footage, whoever it was and wherever it gets shown. I'm still surprised they were allowed to stay right up with the fire fighters there like that.

Anyway, I'm okay, except for some minor respiratory stuff. I have several sets of virtual fingers crossed for the people who are losing their homes and businesses, and in some cases already, their lives. :( Good wishes are appreciated for my neighbors in the larger area.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Halloween Story

I just realized I never posted a link to my Halloween story. Torquere's Halloween Blitz was published on October 30th this year -- I couldn't get a reliable connection from the ship, then afterward I just didn't think about it. :/

Mine is Candy Courage. Glenn Bellamy, a divorced dad, is taking his son around trick-or-treating. He confiscates some homemade peanut brittle -- and eats it himself of course -- not knowing that the old man who made it is an alchemist who adds something special to his candy each year. This year it was Courage, so when Glenn and his son hit Neal Sampson's house, Glenn finds himself flirting and making a date for the next day. Will the candy courage wear off, or will Glenn find the guts to go after what he wants?


Sebastiano Fiorentelli studied the calendar -- a freebie from the Humane Society with photos of puppies and kittens on it -- on the wall of his cluttered basement laboratory and observed that it was the thirtieth day of October. Since emigrating to the United States and discovering the Halloween custom of sending children around to beg for treats, he'd made a habit of including something extra in the candy he made for the occasion each year. By the Nineteen-seventies, when hysteria over poison and razor blades swept the population, Mr. Fiorentelli had been living in his San Jose neighborhood long enough that no one fussed about letting their children eat his wax-paper-wrapped candies.

He paced back and forth in front of open cabinets and crowded shelves, pondering what to make this year, until finally he stopped and nodded.

"Courage," he said. "This year, I think I'll make courage..."


The next evening, Robbie Matheson, age eight, refused to share the wax-wrapped peanut brittle he'd gotten from old Mr. Fiorentelli on the corner. His real favorite candy was those little Milky Way bars, but Mr. Fiorentelli made some pretty cool candy and he always knew he had to eat it as soon as he could or his mom would sneak it.

Ten minutes later, he stood in his room and stared out the window into the dark back yard at the trampoline cage. His big sister Stephanie had been bouncing in it since she was five and had been teasing Robbie for being a scaredy-cat for the last three years, because no matter how his sister had taunted or his parents had coaxed or his friends had snickered, he'd refused to even stand on the trampoline.

Robbie knew -- really knew -- that he couldn't get hurt in the cage unless he landed on his head or something. Just bouncing up and down without trying any flips or anything was perfectly safe. He knew that.

Of course he knew that.


Get the whole thing here. :D


Friday, October 24, 2008

"I Had an Idea..."

Well, I can now say I've shared in the Universal Writer's Experience. Two of them, in fact, although related.

The husband and I are on a cruise right now (two weeks -- we'll be in Aruba tomorrow morning, going through the Canal on the 27th [with hopefully less excitement than our first time] and back home on the 5th) and at our table the first night the group did the usual, "So, what do you do?" conversation. I said I was a writer.

Now mind you, this is the first time I've been in a general, mundane sort of social situation with a bunch of people I don't know since I was first published a bit over a year ago. Jim and I don't socialize much, and when we do it's usually with people we know (duh) so people knew I'd been writing and it was more an "I got published!!" sort of conversation. We haven't been on a cruise in a while, though, so this was my first time telling a small gathering of strangers that I write.

Sure enough, one of the men said, "I always had the perfect idea for writing a book," and he told me all about it. (In case you're dying of curiosity as to what The Perfect Idea is, he said I should go sit out on deck, or in a bar or restaurant or any public place, and listen to the partial conversations going on around me and write stories about them. I expect a dollar from anyone who uses this; e-mail me for my PayPal info. [cough])

And another man said, "I should write a book. I have a great imagination. Some day when I have the time, I'll write a book." Umm, yeah. You do that. Let me know how it goes. (I managed not to say that last bit out loud, since I do have a certain basic set of social skills.)

So anyway, yeah, a couple more things to check off on my list. I'm waiting with bated breath for someone to sidle up to me (maybe one of the wives?) and offer to tell me the perfect story idea she has, and suggest that I could write the novel and the two of us could split the money. I'll let you know when that happens. :)


PS -- internet is forty cents per minute here, and that's their cheap plan, so my apologies. I'll be slow responding to comments, and won't be reading anyone else's blog for the next couple of weeks. :/

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why I'm Not Quitting

Spyscribbler asked what we've been doing recently, and my post got a little long so I'm putting it here instead.

I've been writing recently. A lot. Nothing commercial, but I have readers, and fans, and immediate reader feedback. Sometimes I need that. Contracts and royalty checks are great, but a big chunk of my Writer Self needs to connect with the readers, to hear exactly what they think about each chapter of a story, to be able to respond to their comments and have them respond back and have a conversation. It's fun seeing people speculate about what's coming next, or what something means, or how the characters will work something out.

Art is communication and every now and then I really need that communication to be a dialogue rather than just me posting billboards and then going home to wait for my royalty statement. Reviews are great, but they're still few and far between.

I need to connect with my readers, right now, not months later when a review comes out. I love reviews, mind you, but twenty or thirty comments today get me bouncing and remind me why I'm writing and who I'm writing for. This is why I'll probably never give up writing and posting fanfic -- I get something from it that my commercial fiction doesn't give me, and might never.

In the last five days I've posted about 9600 words, in five chapters, and I have three more chapters ready to go, another 6700 words. I started writing on the 12th, and have been posting a chapter a day since the 15th. In that time I've gotten 129 reader comments. That kind of immediate feedback is awesome, and it's probably one of the reasons I've been this productive recently. "Publishing" chapters as you write, even with some padding as a safety zone, is stressful, but the adrenaline is great and channels right back into the writing.

I don't get that from my commercial publications. The thrill of getting an acceptance, or seeing a story published, or getting a royalty statement (I actually get more excited by the statement than the check -- I want to see how many people read my stories) are wonderful and I'm not planning on turning away from them any time soon. But there's something just as cool in the high of immediate interaction with readers; this is why a number of published writers (most of whom are a lot more published than I am) write fanfic as well, for that right now back-and-forthing, the immediate appreciation and dialogue and an actively engaged community.

I want both. So for right now, I'm dividing my efforts, and the lack of money on one side of the line doesn't bother me. Money's all fine but other returns are just as important, and for that I write fanfic, and probably always will.


Thursday, October 16, 2008


I've had a couple of stories accepted recently, which is great since it's been a while. :) "Candy Courage" is a short story which will be part of Torquere's Halloween promotion; the last I heard, the stories were all coming out on the 31st. An old alchemist has lived in a suburban neighborhood for ages. Every year he makes candy to give out for Halloween, and every year he adds something special to the candy. This year he's making peanut brittle, and the something special he adds is courage.

I just got an acceptance for "In the Driver's Seat" tonight. It's another short story, and my first publication which is just a "plain" contemporary -- no magic or SF or paranormal elements. Brian has just been dumped by his latest friend-with-benefits and is looking around for someone new. Little Val, who as a high school kid used to work at the gym where Brian hangs out, is back in town and isn't a kid anymore. Val's grown up and has the air of someone who's already had Bedroom 101; Brian figures Val might be ready for some advanced lessons. No word yet on when this one's coming out, but I'll definitely post when I know. :D


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On Food

Food is an important part of worldbuilding and I've recently come across a couple of things which have me thinking about how food fits into a world, whether SF or fantasy or contemporary.

The first was Alton Brown's latest short series, "Feasting on Waves." He and his crew sailed around the Caribbean in a couple of catamarans and visited markets and homes and restaurants, helped catch and prepare and eat food on a number of islands around the area. It's a great series and I highly recommend it. One thing that struck me, though, was that one of the traditional staple proteins on several of the islands was a dried, salted fish.

Now, you might not think this is at all odd or unusual. They're in the middle of the Caribbean, after all, and there are fish all around -- fin fish, shellfish, lobsters and shrimp, all kinds of seafood. True, there are. But this particular dried, salted fish is imported from Canada.

Seriously, I have no idea how this got started -- neither did the locals AB asked -- but they've been doing it for at least several generations and it's worked its way into a number of traditional recipes.

And I'm not talking about fancy food prepared and eaten by a small number of elites who can afford to import luxury food from overseas. These were all working-class people. The dried, salted fish is cheap enough for them to buy and use regularly.

Which still doesn't answer the question why. Why do these countries in the middle of the Caribbean, where most people live within a mile or two of the sea, import fish at all? I'd love to hear the historical background on this one.

It occurred to me, though, that this is the sort of detail that if someone stuck it into, say, a fantasy story -- island culture, relatively low average income, staple food fish imported from a couple thousand miles away -- most readers would eyeroll and assume the writer hadn't put any thought at all into that particular paragraph. Unless, of course, the story went into some detail on the historical and economic aspects of the situation. But unless that imported fish played a key role in the plot, that much detail would be out of place. And yet just tossing that imported fish into the setting without an explanation could leave the writer with, well, a lot of explaining to do. :) File this one under truth being stranger than fiction, because truth doesn't have to justify itself.

The other item was an article in the New York Times Magazine on the 9th, written by Michael Pollan and entitled "Farmer In Chief." It's a long, open letter to the President-Elect talking about food as a national security issue. Pollan goes into issues including the vulnerability of our food supply to disaster, whether human or natural; the truly enormous amount of ever-more-expensive fossil fuels consumed by agriculture; and the health implications of our nation's reliance upon a fossil-fuel-supported monoculture in our farming sector.

It's a very long piece -- nine pages -- but worth a read.

What makes me mention it here, though, is his proposed solutions to the various problems, which start on page three. Anyone writing science fiction, particularly anything set on Earth in the next fifty or hundred years (or five or ten years) would find some interesting material here, whether you're looking for some clues about how society might change to stave off disaster, or how some food or fuel or ecological or health related disasters which change society might occur. There's a lot of great food for thought here. [cough]


Thursday, October 9, 2008

What do You Mean You Want to Vote?

Apparently it's a standard campaign tactic in the Republican party to do their damndest to get Democratic voters -- especially poor or brown voters -- off the rolls by Election Day. Hey, if you can't win on the issues, keep the other side from turning out the vote. Whatever works, right?

The linked article mentions several tactics, including voter caging -- sending an official mailing to a registered voter's address with "Do Not Forward" on it, and then striking from the rolls anyone whose mailing is returned. And since poor or brown people tend to have less stable housing, spot-checking for addresses is more likely to catch them than rich or white people. Although rich, white Democrats are targetted too -- caging was done in Florida to thousands of Democratic voters who live there during the cold (up north) half of the year and register in Florida to vote because voting is in, like, November. The "Do Not Forward" mailer was sent out in the summer, when the Florida snowbirds count on having mail forwarded to their summer homes up north. Whoops -- all of you, out of the voter pool!

This is illegal, by the way, but Republicans keep doing it. Kris Kobach, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, actually bragged about doing it in an e-mail:

"To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years!"

He's actually proud that his state's Republican party has stepped up its efforts to do something illegal, something the party signed consent decrees agreeing not to do in '82 and '86. Maybe he hopes people have forgotten about it by now?

Or check this out, in Ohio:

In Ohio, they've gone even further, filing lawsuits against the Secretary of State to keep anyone from voting in-person absentee that registered close to the deadline — as the woman pictured did. [Picture at the top of a Black woman holding a ballot at a polling place] Can't you tell she shouldn't be allowed to vote? Can't you just see it in her face? Ohio law allowed people to vote in-person absentee before the registration deadline and the Secretary of State ruled that ballots not counted until election day weren't votes until Election Day. And — horrors — people that might not have the means to get back to the polls a month after they registered did so. Homeless people! Women at domestic violence shelters! The Ohio told the New York Post that they "smelled a rat" in that, because, you know, increasing voter turnout (which is embarrassingly low in this country) through making it easier for legal but disadvantaged voters to vote is totally shady.

And if anyone's wondering, if I were a Republican I'd be just as pissed off about this, because a few dozen highly-placed crooks with no ethics whatsoever can make all the cool, intelligent people who are filed under the same label look really bad. This is disgusting.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New Column


I have a new column up at Romancing the Blog. This time I'm talking about pro writers blogging, and whether it might be a good idea to have multiple blogs (or journals or mailing lists or forums or whatever) for different types of posts, so people who just want to know when your new books are out or how your dog is doing can subscribe to your more "mellow" blog without having to scroll past your political analyses or your dissections of someone else's book.

I'm responding to a couple of other posts that went up within the last few days, but you don't have to read those if you don't want to; I'm pretty sure mine makes sense on its own. The earlier topics were about whether a writer should express strong opinions on their blogs, or even controversial opinions. My thought was compartmentalizing, so readers can choose for themselves what they want to subscribe to.

What do you think?


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Non-Disparagement Clause?

Has anyone hear ever heard of such a thing in a lit contract? I sure haven't, and I certainly wouldn't sign any contract which had one.

From Absolute Write (post #89 and a bit of commentary after) through EREC, someone named Cant was asking whether there's a way out of a contract if you strongly suspect your publisher is about to take a nose-dive, but he didn't want to give many specifics because there was a non-disparagement clause in his contract. (It came out later, though, that it was Cacoethes Publishing, and the discussion was moved to that thread.)

Beth Bernobich, in post #96, said she had a non-disparagement clause in a short story contract once, and that the (unnamed) publisher refused to budge on it. That shows that it's not just a fluke with a single publisher.

In all seriousness, the presence of a non-disparagement clause or anything similar in a contract is, to me, a huge sign lit up in neon saying "We're going to mess you over and don't want you complaining to anyone about it."

I guess that makes it a good thing -- nice of them to give writers such an obvious "Flee For Your Life!" signal. [wry smile]

And just what would "non-disparagement" cover, anyway? Would it cover anything negative or even questioning one might say about the publisher? That sounds awfully open-ended; I didn't think the courts liked that sort of thing. Or would it be more like existing libel and slander laws, where you're free to say what you want so long as you can show that it's true? If that's the case, then a non-disparagement clause wouldn't prevent someone from posting on their blog that "Fly By Night Press hasn't paid me in three years, hasn't answered their phone or e-mail in two and a half years, and I just spotted my book being sold in B&N with the FBN owner's name on the cover." (Assuming it was all true, of course.) So what's the point, then?

I'd love to hear an opinion from someone who's actually up on related law, because this sounds incredibly iffy.


Monday, October 6, 2008


Maybe I'm just slumped more deeply than usual in my Crotchety Old Broad mode, but it's occurred to me more than once recently that if I actually wanted to read someone's Twitter posts, I'd actually get a Twitter account of my own and subscribe or whatever to that person's tweets, right there on Twitter itself. I'm not reading them there because I don't particularly want to read them.

The folks who've posted their Twitter IDs and invited people to tweet with them are very friendly and I appreciate that, even if I've chosen not to take part; I have no problem with the vast majority of Twitter-people. But considering the remaining small fraction, what's the underlying assumption behind posting a day's worth of Twitterings in your blog or journal every day? "Hey, I'll bet there are a bunch of people out there who inexplicably haven't joined Twitter themselves but are just dying to read my tweets anyway!"


These are folks whose (regular -- more than eight-word-long) blog or journal posts I do enjoy reading, which is why I'm seeing their Twitter posts. I don't want to unsubscribe them. And yes, they can post whatever they want in their own blogs or journals and my only option is to read or not read; I get that, and approve very heartily of the principle. Still, I wish I understood what the point of all this was. [sigh]

Angie, who's been skipping a lot more posts lately

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Promotional Items

There's a good post over at EREC about evaluating promotional items. It's not very long, but what I like about it is that it gives a useful framework for organizing one's thoughts on the subject. It's easy to think to yourself, "Well, I don't see this working very well," or "This might be great but I'm not sure it's worth it," but being able to evaluate specifically why something is or isn't a good buy as a promotional item is extremely helpful.

I love her observation that while tiny candy bars wrapped in a strip of paper with your name and URL on them are pretty cheap to produce and will doubtless be incredibly popular as give-aways, as soon as someone tears open the candy to eat it, they're going to throw away your info along with the wrapper. Popular item, not terribly expensive per unit, but essentially useless as a promotional vehicle.

On the other end of the spectrum are things like T-shirts, which are incredibly popular give-aways, but rather prohibitively expensive for your average writer. People love them, though; BayCon has an event each year called the Trailer Park, where an ex-staffer who still has some ties to movie studios comes in with a bunch of trailers and similar short bits to show, and in between he gives away promotional items from the studios. The T-shirts are the most popular, hands down. (Of course, if you're Warner Brothers or Lucasfilm, you can afford that sort of thing.)

If the T-shirts are cool enough, though, you might be able to get people to pay for them. I have dozens of T-shirts I've bought at various SF conventions, advertising the con itself, or a book or movie or character I liked.

Buttons are fairly cheap but not terribly effective; T-shirts often get worn around after the event, where they'll keep spreading the publicity. Buttons rarely are.

Posters are sort of middling popular, especially a really nice one, but I've never wanted one; how would I get it home from the event uncrushed? And if you're at a one-day event, where you can't just pop up to your hotel room for two minutes to drop off the poster, do you make the trek back to wherever you parked your car (assuming you didn't come on public transit) or carry the thing around for the rest of the day?

One really popular item from a few years back, when the movie The Phantom was coming out, was a pair of replica rings like the ones worn by the title character. They were very nice, actual metal, and there was a bit of a frenzy to get them during the convention. Things like that, though, would be better for pumping up enthusiasm in people who are already fans, rather than stirring up enthusiasm in new fans, since the rings didn't have any identifying info on them; to someone who wasn't already familiar with the character, they were just interesting rings. And adding something like a URL would make them look tacky and cut down on the very attraction which makes them valuable. High appeal, but expensive and a low promotional return.

Although now I have an idea about a bookmark.... I like bookmarks and use them all the time. Heck, half the time I use blank 3x5 cards because I have a bazillion of them lying around. I still don't grab every free bookmark I see at an event, though, because there are just too many of them around. But what if that bookmark had a piece of candy attached? :D You have some nice bookmarks printed up, punch a hole in the top to thread a piece of colored string or yarn or whatever through (you've seen those for sale at bookstores, right? with the little tassel-things on them and maybe a charm?) then use the hole to fasten on one of those tiny candy bars, or some other cheap but appealing consumable. It should be very easy to remove the item from the bookmark; if I unwrapped a candy bar and had left in my hand a bookmark with a piece of yarn tied to it and a chocolate-smeared candy wrapper firmly taped to the yarn, I'd probably toss the bookmark before I dug up something to cut the yarn. Especially if I ate the candy at the event, while walking around the dealers' area with only what's in my pockets to hand. Setting it up so one tug of a bow-knot in the string loosens both string and candy from the bookmark would be much better. [ponder]

Anyway, just thinking with my keyboard. :)

Have any of you ever given out promotional items? What did you get, and how well did they work? Any estimates on how well they repaid your investment?

As an audience member, what kinds of promotional items do you like to receive? What'll you pick up at a convention or trade show, and what do you pass over or not even notice? Any promotional items good enough that you've actually paid for them? Anything you've actually used after the event to go find the distributor's web site or product?


Summiting Everest

Everyone and their brother-in-law around the writing-related blogoverse has been posting or linking to this cartoon, and yeah, it can be true, but sometimes it's not. It depends on the skill of the writer, really, as do so many things.

You can be an Anne McCaffrey and make up a lot of words and names which fit your world well and are internally consistent in their tone, derivation, etc., and incorporate them very smoothly into your text such that the reader is never confused about what's what. Or you can be a JR Ward whose made-up words and names sound like she hit up a local junior high for suggestions, only use your own made-up rules when you feel like it, and just toss the new vocabulary into your text however so your readers are always going, "Huh??" and having to flip to the glossary. Credit to her for putting a glossary in her books, and for putting it at the front of the book so you know it's there right when you start, but seriously, the Black Dagger Brotherhood books are an advanced course in how not to make up words and names, and how not to use them in a piece of fiction.

But it depends. It's one of those things which is very easy to mess up, so many writers do and many readers remember the trainwrecks. But the problem isn't with the concept of making up words; it's with the writers and how they do it. There are a lot of aspects of fiction writing -- including many of the subgenres and plot devices and techniques and whatnot which get massive snarking -- which really aren't problematic in and of themselves, but rather which are difficult to do well and so are rarely done well.

But it's like waxing sarcastic about Everest expeditions, just because 99.9% of the people on the planet don't have the skills or resources to actually make the summit. High-end mountain climbing isn't stupid; people who try to do it when they aren't prepared to do it successfully are stupid. Or maybe they're just still learning. But don't blame the mountain if most of the people who try to climb it end up failing. (At least with writing, failure rarely means death.)

I think deciding whether to try a new or difficult device or technique is one of those areas where a writer has to be brutally honest with him- or herself. It's easy to say, "Oh, I've seen this done, so I can do it too." Or "Well, I know a lot of people say you shouldn't do this, but Chris Awesomewriter did it and it was great so what do they all know?" It's harder, though, to make an honest assessment of whether your particular skills are up to the task. Am I honestly as good as Chris Awesomewriter? If not, maybe I should back off on using that one device Chris used to such good effect, but which a hundred other writers have crashed and burned on.

Which isn't to say one should never try new things. I try new techniques and plot devices and character types and narrative voices all the time; it's one of the reasons I have so many WIPs on my hard drive. I just don't share them all, because I've developed a decent sense of when something's working and when it's not.

There's something to be said for a practice piece, or what an artist would call a study. Labelling something as being For Practice means the pressure is off. You don't have to worry about whether it'll work or whether it'll be perfect or whether that train will wreck and take the station with it. If it's just an experiment, then you're free to fail and to learn from the failure and go on to the next piece.

I get uncomfortable, though, when something as basic as making up new vocabulary for an SF or fantasy story is mocked and held up as something which makes a story suck. Only bad writing can make a story suck.

The best way to become a writer who doesn't suck is to practice a lot, try new things, and learn from your failures. Maybe after three or four or a dozen failed expeditions you'll finally make the summit, while the folks who carefully avoid everything that's difficult and therefore prone to failure never make it past the foothills.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Corsetted Waistline

If you write historicals set in a period where women corsetted down to waist measurements less than twenty inches, here are some reference photos. The link goes to Snopes, to an article debunking the claim that the pictured woman has had ribs surgically removed. The photos are real, but she's never had surgery; it's all from corsetting. The lady in question has a 15" waist, described as being "about the same size as a regular jar of mayonnaise."

The look is kind of grotesque, actually, but I do recognize that silhouette from late-period Victorian photos. I remember one or two photos of women with waistlines just like this, and (apparently also just like these photos) the descriptions claimed that the women had had the floating ribs surgically removed. We see here that that's not necessary to achieve this look.

The woman in the pictures, Cathie Jung, said that the floating ribs are flexible and they just moved over time. It makes sense, actually.

Another thing that's interesting is that Ms. Jung is 71, and didn't start corsetting until she was in her forties. That's another Victorian myth blasted -- the idea that you can't have a really tiny waist unless you start corsetting as a child or young teen. I think it was more likely the fact that women started looking for husbands at a very young age back then, and wanted to have the perfect look by their mid-teens. Display packaging and all that.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Epilogue to "A Spirit of Vengeance"

I have a free story up at Torquere as part of their anniversary month. It's called "The Last Anniversary" and it's a longish epilogue to "A Spirit of Vengeance." For everyone who ever wanted to actually see the boys get their Happily Ever After, here it is, along with their first meeting, and some scenes showing what happened in Josh's life after Kevin died.

Included at the end is a recipe for Kevin's Chocolate-Chocolate-Chocolate-Chip Muffins, which appear in every scene of the epilogue. ;D

For anyone who doesn't have a copy of "Spirit," it's on sale right now for 20% off, which makes it $1.99. I don't know how long it'll be on sale for, so get 'em while they're cheap. :)


Saturday, September 27, 2008


My novelette, A Spirit of Vengeance, is on sale at Torquere for 20% off, which makes it $1.99. The free short story coming out on the 30th is an epilogue to this story, so if you haven't read "Spirit" yet, this is a great chance.


Friday, September 26, 2008


I just finished and mailed off a freebie for one of Torquere Press's anniversary promotions. They're doing a Road of a Relationship theme, similar to the holiday Advent promotion back in December, with a free thingy (story, recipe, puzzle, whatever) each day of the month. My day is the thirtieth, which is part of the "Anniversary" chunk of the road; I'll post a link to it when it goes up.

I wrote a sort of an epilogue to "A Spirit of Vengeance," called "The Last Anniversary." It shows the boys finally getting together, along with how Josh and Kevin met, and some scenes from Josh's life after Kevin's death. I also included a Chocolate-Chocolate-Chocolate-Chip Muffin recipe I've been working on for over a year. The muffins appear in every scene, and it was fun to be able to include them. :)

The story part is a bit over 3K words long, which makes it just long enough to be a Sip -- a stand-alone short story. On the one hand, "The Last Anniversary" isn't actually a story; there's no real plot arc. It's just a series of scenes, to let readers see the HEA which was implied in "Spirit," plus a few other key events in Josh's life related to his relationships. It wouldn't have worked as an actual story, or at least I don't think so. On the other hand, writing it was just as much work as writing a short story. On the third hand (hey, I write SF and fantasy, remember? [duck]) the last scene, at least, is something some of my readers have wanted, and I'm hoping they'll be happy to see it.

So, for the writers out there (most of you, I think), how much work would you do for a freebie? I'm not regretting this at all; I'm just curious. I've heard some writers insist they'll never write anything for free, or even that they won't write anything for less than some particular minimum per-word payment. How do you feel about that? Will you write and publish something you know you won't get paid for? How much? Any boundaries?


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's the Adults Who Need the Lessons

I thought I posted this on Tuesday, but it was still in the edit queue. [sigh/headdesk] I was wondering why I hadn't gotten any comments. :/ I just noticed, when I came to post something else, so I guess there'll be two today.


Check out this article about a hazing incident on a high school football team in New Mexico. The kids were at a training camp when some of the older players decided that it'd be fun and cool to rape six of the younger players with a broomstick. Just a bunch of clean-cut American kids, I'm sure. And I'll bet that if you asked them, they'd all say they love Jesus, too.

What's really outrageous, though, was how the coaches and staff handled this.

According to a state police report, an assistant coach told the other coaches during training camp "that some sort of hazing incident involving broomsticks was happening." Another coach walked into a cabin to see "a player on his stomach on the ground, with his legs spread open," while a teammate held a broomstick, the police report said. The coach told the players to "cut it out" and the group broke up.

"Cut it out?" That's it? He finds a kid on his stomach with his legs spread, and an older kid standing over him with a broomstick, and he thinks an appropriate response is "Cut it out?" O_O He didn't question them, didn't pull the kid with his legs spread aside to find out what'd happened, didn't even confiscate the freaking broom?

Rick Romero, the school superintendent, said that the coaches thought "they had intervened in time to stop a hazing incident." Umm, based on what, exactly? If they didn't talk to anyone, how did they know?

I could see them taking about this level of action if they'd found someone covered in ketchup, or saw some wet towels being snapped, or something on that level. That's stupid shit, but it's basically harmless. But when one kid has his legs spread and the other is holding a broomstick, this is very obviously not minor and not harmless and I can't imagine how anyone with a brain wouldn't figure out that it warrants a bit of investigation.

It gets better.

That afternoon, according to the police report, head coach Ray Woods called the players together and told them that if any hazing was going on, it needed to stop.

When Woods asked if anyone had been violated, one 15-year-old player raised his hand. But before the boy could elaborate, other players began making jokes, the report said. Several coaches told investigators that because of the laughter from the players, they didn't believe the allegations were serious and took no further action.

WTF?! Number one, where was this guy's brain stashed that he honestly believed that calling for victims to Raise Their Hands in a group of peers which included their rapists was a good idea? (And since he asked who'd been "violated," I'd say he had a pretty clear picture of what had happened and that he knew it was something which would be deeply painful and humiliating for the victims.) I'm surprised that that one 15-year-old kid had the guts to admit it -- kudos to him -- and not at all shocked that none of the others raised their hands.

Number two, if the coach was going to ask the question in the first place, what made him ignore the answer? The fact that a bunch of the other boys laughed? A man who's worked with teenagers for however many years doesn't know that yeah, there are teenage fuckwads out there who think it's hilarious when they hurt someone? Not that it's only teenagers who do this, but some people who aren't exposed to kids on a regular basis tend to forget what some of them are like and have this rose-colored fantasy image of what kids are capable of. Someone who works with high school kids daily should have no such delusions.

So he exposes this kid to further mockery and humiliation, then dismisses his claim and (presumably) leaves him alone once again with his peer group, the boys who have been so kind and understanding toward him already. Lovely.

The only reason the police got involved was because a woman who worked at the camp as a volunteer heard about the incident. Her husband was a state cop and she let him know what was going on, and when the bus got back to school after the camp was over, there were cops waiting for them.

The superintendent said that the reason none of them called the police themselves was because they weren't sure what had happened. I call bullshit. The phrasing of the head coach's question, when he asked who'd been "violated," tells me that he knew exactly what had happened.

And I love this toward the end:

Romero said lessons about bullying - already a regular part of the elementary school curriculum - are planned with students at all grades. High school students will also learn about sexual harassment.

See, this is part of what the problem is. All kids know what bullying is, know that when some other kid hurts or humiliates you, that sucks and it's wrong. They know that -- whether it's happening to them or to a friend or whether they're the one doing it, they know it's wrong and the bullies do it anyway because they think they can get away with it.

The only possible good these "lessons" could do would be if they were in response to lessons given first to the teachers and staff about bullying, because apparently the adults have forgotten what it is and how to properly respond to it. The first lesson should be that when some kid says he's been "violated" -- especially if it was bad enough that he's willing to say so in front of all his teammates, including the ones who did it -- you don't assume he's lying just because a lot of the other kids are laughing. Once the adults know how to respond, then you can give the kids "lessons" about how they can feel safe going to the adults to tell them they've been bullied. Until the adults get their shit together about their response to the problem, all the lessons in the world won't do a thing to prevent the bullies from bullying.

"This was a very violent, very serious form of bullying," the superintendent said. "Until we do a better job of identifying and dealing with it, this is not going to be the last time we hear about it."

At least he's figured that much out.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another Review of "A Spirit of Vengeance"

I just ran across this great review of "A Spirit of Vengeance" from back in June over at Two Lips Reviews. Obviously I don't do enough vanity searches. :D

Reviewer Bella gave it 4.5 kisses and said:

Josh is still reeling from the death of his lover, Kevin, when strange things begin to happen that make him question his sanity. In the middle of the numbness that has wrapped Josh since the news of Kevin’s death, Josh has started to “hear” Kevin’s voice in his head. And that can only mean that Josh is losing it, right? But as Josh begins to believe that Kevin is really there, he also feels compelled to find and punish Kevin’s killer.

Will Josh survive Kevin’s visits and eventual absence?

A Spirit of Vengeance is a heart-wrenching paranormal romance that will make readers hope for the “life” after death that is experienced through Kevin. Both men will invoke strong feelings of love, sadness and joy as they come to terms with what is left after Kevin’s death. Angela Benedetti did a wonderful job of creating characters that will pull at every heartstring, while delivering a quick paced and entertaining suspense. A Spirit of Vengeance is a great read that should not be missed!

Thanks so much to Bella!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm Sorry, These People Are Morons

Rachel Bird and Gideon Codding got married in Roseville, CA, but refused to sign the marriage license because the blanks on the form say "Party A" and "Party B" instead of "Bride" and "Groom." This is a huge deal to them, apparently -- they claim that their rights are being violated because this form, which they'll likely never see again once they sign and submit it, doesn't refer to them the way they would prefer.

"We just feel that our rights have been violated," [Ms. Bird] said.

Right. Because this form doesn't have exactly the terminology they want, that's a huge violation of their rights. Clearly everything should be put back the way it was a few months ago, because their supposed right to see "Bride" and "Groom" printed on a form has to override the rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California to get married at all.

I guess no one suggested to them that they sign the stupid form and then refer to themselves however they like. [eyeroll] No, clearly that won't do. In fact, Ms. Bird's [she's still Ms. Bird because their marriage hasn't been legally registered] father,

Doug Bird, pastor of Roseville's Abundant Life Fellowship, said he is urging couples not to sign the new marriage forms, and that he is getting some support from congregants and colleagues at local churches.

"I would encourage you to refuse to sign marriage licenses with 'Party A' and 'Party B,' " he wrote in a letter that he sent to them. "If ever there was a time for the people of the United States to stand up and let their voices be heard – this is that time."

Wow. That's special. And I'm sure it's going to make a huge difference in millions of lives, while harming no one. [cough]

So her father, who's older and should be advising her with the wisdom of age about when to stand up and fight and when not to sweat the small stuff, is right there rooting for her courageous stand. Cool. Hopefully if she or her kids (she has two from a previous marriage -- her new not-quite-husband has three) get sick or injured, her so-helpful father will foot the medical bills; since she's not legally married, neither she nor her children are eligible for coverage under her not-quite-husband's insurance.

But obviously it's worth taking the risk that Ms. Bird or one of her children might suffer an overwhelming medical emergency, treatment of which could cause the family financial devastation, while they stand around being stubborn over a couple of words on a form. Yep. Absolutely worth it.

Thanks to Telesilla and Darkrosetiger on LiveJournal for the link. [sigh]



I just finished a story a bit ago and sent it in to Torquere for their Halloween promotion. (I had a story in last year's and would really like to be involved this year too.) It's my first actual submission since December, and only the second story I've finished since then, so I'm pretty darned jazzed. I'm hoping this means my dead streak is broken and I'll be able to get back into the regular writing thing again now.

Everyone send positive thoughts for them taking my story? :D


Friday, September 12, 2008

Why I Hate Southwest

(And TSA sucks too.)

Caitlin Kittredge asked for travel horror stories over on the League of Reluctant Adults, and since my favorite [cough] travel horror story is a tiny bit long, I decided to post it over here and just link it. Maybe she'll count it and maybe not, but hey, spreading the aggravation helps one's blood pressure, right?

Okay, so I was flying up to Reno about a year and a half ago and I got to LAX pretty much exactly two hours before my flight -- about 11:25am when my flight was at 1:25pm. This is standard for me and my husband and it's always been plenty of time before, even when the lines have been horrendous around holidays and such. This time the line to check baggage on the sidewalk with the Skycaps (which is what I usually do) was longer than I've ever seen it, seriously. Even about a year after 9/11, when people'd started flying again but the security bozos hadn't gotten their act together (so much as they ever did) and things were insane -- this was worse. I thought maybe the lines inside were shorter so I wandered in, hauling my suitcase and my laptop bag, but the lines inside were even worse, winding back and forth and around their little tape-and-stanchion maze and then way off to the other end of the terminal building and out the door, with the line heading some unknown distance in the direction of Terminal Two. OK, forget that. I go back outside and get in line.

For a while it was moving pretty well and I wasn't worried. I'd been in bad lines there at the Southwest terminal before but it'd always moved well and I've never had a problem. And whenever we were close to being late for our flight, the airline had sent employees down the security line (which comes after the Skycap line and is usually the really bad one, if either is) pulling out people whose planes are leaving soon, bringing them to the front of the line and making sure they made their flights. So I wasn't worried about it. Now, though, people in line were talking and I was hearing that they'd stopped doing that -- they don't pull people out of line anymore. Nor do they hold planes for a few minutes if a significant number of passengers are stuck in line. They just ignore the problem and let people miss their flights. Umm, okay, if that's true then it sucks.

After I'd been in line about an hour it slowed way down. I don't know what happened but it was really slow for about half an hour or so. And this was while people were leaving the line -- people who had bags small enough for carry-on were deciding not to check them after all and were going right to the Security line. Other people were either missing their planes while standing there on the sidewalk or just knew they were going to, so they got on their cell phones and switched their reservations to either later that afternoon or the next day, whatever was available, and then got out of line. So there were all these people getting out of line at intervals and it was still very slow.

Finally it was 1pm and my plane was leaving in twenty-five minutes and I realized that my chances of making it were slim to none. I was nearing the front of the Skycap line but I still had to go through TSA bags and then X-ray and it probably wasn't going to work. There were other flights to Reno so I wasn't too worried about having to go home or anything, but I was getting kind of annoyed. This guy ahead of me (who earlier on had been like six people ahead of me but everyone between us had left) was bouncing all over the place talking to people, and a few minutes after one he went inside and talked to some people there. He came back and said that there was a lady in line inside who'd gotten to the airport at TEN IN THE MORNING and was still there, waiting to check in. [headdesk] At least I knew I'd made the right choice in staying outside. :/

So I get close to the head of the Skycap line and learn that they weren't the ones who were lagging behind. They were working down the line, with guys coming down and asking for your boarding pass (with Southwest you can go online and print it out yourself up to 24 hours in advance) or your ID and what flight you were on, taking stuff back to their station and printing out the luggage tags (and boarding passes if needed) and then bringing them back, so there were people standing ten or fifteen feet back from the "head" of the Skycap line who had their luggage tags and all; they weren't the ones holding everything up. The line just kept going past the Skycaps to the TSA people -- that's where the hold-up was. :( For some reason they'd decided to open up Every Friggin' Bag and swab the inside. Usually they just do the handles and the zipper pulls and stuff and that's good enough. Not today. Lovely.

My plane took off while I was waiting for the TWO guys they had working the TSA tables to get to my suitcase.

So I went inside and up the escalator. The security line (the one to go through the metal detectors and all) was very short. There was a lady at the top of the escalator telling people which line to get in and I went where she sent me. That line was moving pretty well too, but a few minutes later she came down and sent a bunch of us off to this other line way off to the left where they had this weird booth-style thing which was apparently an explosives detector rather than (as well as?) a metal detector. So fine, whatever. We headed over and started getting ready to go through, taking off shoes and pulling out laptops and all. Then I got up there and the guy said, "No, leave your shoes on." Well, sorry, too late. I didn't think it was a big deal but apparently he did.

"Go ahead and put your shoes back on, ma'am."

"I'm sorry, I can't. I'll just put them through X-ray with my other stuff."

"You'll have to put them back on."

"I can't just put them back on while I'm standing here."

And I can't -- I'm too fat to just bend over while standing and put on sneaker-type shoes; I need to sit down to do it. I told the guy that if he's going to insist then I need a chair, figuring he'd shut up and just have me put my shoes through X-ray. No, instead he started asking some other guy back there to bring me a chair. Whatever. I was annoyed by the hold-up over something this ridiculous but I knew that arguing with these people doesn't accomplish anything.

Then a third guy came over and asked what was going on, and said I can just carry my shoes through the booth. Okay, fine, whatever, I can do that. He and the first guy both walked away. Then a minute later the first guy came back and told me to put my shoes in a bin to go through the X-ray machine, which was what I'd said in the first place. [eyeroll]

Somewhere along the line I told him that he should tell the lady who was sending people over to his line to tell folks not to take their shoes off. Over by the other lines there are all these signs that say you have to take your shoes off and we're used to doing it anyway. Now mind you, it's an incredibly stupid thing to do and accomplishes nothing and I hate having to, but I'm not going to get stroppy with the folks working the lines 'cause they don't make policy. But if they're going to change the procedure for this one line with the weird booth then they need to tell people in advance, like, before they take their shoes off. His response was that the lady working the line didn't work for them (they're TSA and she's with the airline) and they had no control over what she did. [eyeroll] Like they couldn't just talk to her and ask her to tell people not to take their shoes off?! I didn't say that but I was thinking it rather loudly. Jeez! Idiots.

Anyway, I went through the booth and got my stuff on the other side of X-ray and found a chair and put my shoes on and went to the gate my flight had left out of half an hour earlier, which was dead now 'cause everyone was gone. I told the lady I was caught up in the mess outside and was still on the sidewalk when the plane to Reno left and what should we do now? She sort of eyerolled and gave me a sideways smile and started tapping away at her keyboard. She knew exactly what was going on and told me that her second shift that day was going to be working downstairs. I commisserated and we both did the, "OMG it's insane down there!" thing while she worked out my new schedule. I got the impression she'd already done this a few times and that she'd probably do it a few more times before too long. So she said there's a plane leaving at 2pm for Oakland and then there'd be another plane from Oakland to Reno at 5:40. She printed out my boarding pass for the Oakland flight, then scribbled the number of the Reno flight on my little folder-thingy and I scooted 'cause the Oakland flight was close to leaving.

So I made it to Oakland, then found another Southwest desk where the agents weren't too busy. "Hi, I got caught up in the mess down at LAX and missed my flight to Reno but the Southwest lady down there sent me here and said there'd be a flight to Reno but I can't read her writing -- can you figure out what my flight number is and where I'm supposed to be?" She did the eyeroll-and-sideways-smile thing and said no problem. She looked at my info and tapped on her keyboard and said yes, it was all in here and it'd be fine. She printed me out a boarding pass for the flight to Reno and told me which gate it'd be at. I asked what'd happen with my baggage. She said it would've gone on the next flight to Reno (even if I hadn't) and that it'd probably be there waiting for me. Okay, coolness, thanks. We chatted a bit about what a zoo LAX was that day and how insane it was and then I went down to Gate 30 (which was about half a mile away, of course) and settled down to wait.

I got to Reno all right and up to this point it was cool. The delays hadn't been Southwest's fault -- they couldn't control TSA being a bigger pack of idiots than usual -- and everyone had been good about it.

Then at Reno I went to the Southwest baggage office with my claim check. I told them I'd gotten caught up in the mess down in LAX and I was supposed to've been here hours ago and the lady in Oakland had told me my baggage would probably have beaten me here. The Reno lady did some keyboard tapping and then said that the next direct flight from LAX wasn't getting in until 9:10, but that they might've put my bags on the same flights I'd taken and I should go check the carousel. Okay, fine, so I went to check and it wasn't there. I went back to the office, where there are two other women in line with the same problem, whom I assume took the same route I did. I got up to the front of the line and the Southwest lady said that my bag would probably be on the 9:10 flight and that I could come pick it up.

Ummm, right. I told her that my mother lived out on the edge of town and that I didn't think it was right to ask her to drive all the way back to the airport to get my bag. She said they had a delivery service and that I could call that evening and it would probably cost around $35. Um, that wasn't quite what I meant. :/

I said, "Look, I know it's not your fault if three thousand people decide to show up and it slows everything down. But it wasn't my fault either and I don't think it's fair that I have to pay to have my bag delivered. I was there two hours early and I was in line for two and a half hours. I know you have contracts with delivery services for when people get separated from their bags." She said they did but that in this case my bag had a "Late Bag Check" tag (I knew that because I'd seen it -- and I'd seen everyone else in line getting that same tag because the damn line was so slow we were all late by the time we got up to check-in) and that they had no way of knowing I'd gotten there two hours early.

Umm, right. So basically she was saying that she has no way of knowing I hadn't lied about when I got there, therefore it was my fault I missed my plane and my fault my bag was coming in late and I could go whistle for it.

What I thought was amazing was how every Southwest employee at LAX, including the ones a story up and an entire building away, knew exactly what an insane zoo it was downstairs, and the Southwest lady in Oakland had known exactly what I was talking about as soon as I mentioned it, but the three people working the Southwest baggage office in Reno had no clue that anything unusual had gone on that afternoon, despite the fact that they'd had three people in a row (and who knows how many others when I wasn't around) come in and tell them about it, but they still had "no way of knowing" that our missing our plane wasn't our own fault. [headdesk]

You'd think that they'd have been cool about this in the name of customer good will. There were a lot of travellers inconvenienced by this mess and I wouldn't be surprised if it caused at least a few people a lot more serious problems than it did me. I'm sure someone upstairs in corporate decided that since they technically weren't responsible, they could save a few bucks by stonewalling everyone who got separated from their luggage. It was a little thing but it would've been easy for them to take care of and it caused me (and the others I'm sure) a lot of inconvenience. It wasn't just this one lady being dim, either; there were two other customer service people in that office within arm's length of her while we were having these conversations, and nobody said, "Oh, no, we take care of that sort of thing!" It's pretty clear to me this was corporate policy, not individual stupidity.

My mom and I, and another friend who was visiting her, ended up hanging out near the airport until after 9pm, rather than driving back to her place, then back to the airport, then back to her place again. I'm still pissed off about how this was handled and I haven't flown Southwest since.