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.