Pyramid Schemes, Dunbar’s Number, and Betsy DeVos

Trump’s latest cabinet pick for Secretary of Education is ‘Michigan royalty’ Betsy DeVos. This is not only a potential disaster for American public education, it’s another sure sign that when Trump says ‘Drain the Swamp!’, he must mean his version of Opposite Day. As in crony capitalism on steroids.

How swampy is Betsy DeVos, in this context?

Neither she nor her children attended public school. She’s on record for many years as an opponent of public schooling. She’s an extremely wealthy woman who champions public money funneled to private religious schools, advocates pro-religious and anti-science teaching, favors racial school segregation under the guise of ‘school choice’, and has sent political dark money to some of the worst of the religious right’s ‘Christian’ PACs and Super-PACs.

What’s the religious angle? Her brother Erik Prince (of Blackwater infamy) has advocated a white Christian theocracy in America. From this article in The InterceptThe Prince and DeVos families gave the seed money for what came to be known as the Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1994 on a far-right platform known as the Contract with America.

But the rot goes decades further back.

Why does Betsy DeVos want to kill public education? Probably because of its Common Core goals of teaching STEM skills and critical thinking, the natural enemies of theocracy.

Where’s the multi-level marketing angle? She married into the family that founded Amway and some other large MLM companies.

I first ran across MLMs in the late 1980’s, while researching money-making opportunities in Arizona. I quickly realized their mathematical impossibility, and didn’t commit myself to any of them. I looked into them again in 2012, while researching their similarities to and connections with several vanity-publishing companies.

MLMs are built on shaky legal underpinnings, since many of them skate near but not into Ponzi schemes. Most can claim they make money by selling real products. The hard truth is that most MLMs make far more money by leveraging commissions on more and more ‘new distributors’ who fuel the pyramid scheme. Only a few people, the early adopters at the top of the pyramid, are going to amass any real wealth. Basic mathematics shows that the pyramid runs out of earning power quickly, in its lower levels.

MLMs pitch a great ‘dream’ with little solid evidence, wrap their pitch in quasi-religious terms, rake in millions of dollars in commissions, and tend to put the blame of failure on their unsuccessful members. In short, they are the perfect compatriots of many Prosperity Gospel adherents and Tea-Party/Trumpvoters.

What’s Dunbar’s Number? A possible cognitive limit to how many social connections individuals can maintain, based upon British anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s studies of primate brain size and social group size.

In this context, ‘social connection’ indicates how many people one person can know well, and still know how everyone in that network relates to every other member. The bigger the brain, it seems, the bigger the ‘tribe’ to which one can maintain loyalty and mutual trust. For most humans, that number seems to hover around 150 people.

That 150 contains our close and distant kin groups, our co-workers and business partners, our social clubs and churches, and can stretch to cover distant and former associates. The ties of religious or social affiliation can extend a person’s allegiance to much bigger ‘tribes’ linked by agreed-upon behaviors. But it can also be co-opted very easily by authoritarian states and leaders, unscrupulous grifters, and others intent on gaming social networks.

The rise of Facebook ‘fake news’ was driven by false kinship signals created by for-profit and/or for-cause alt.right ‘news’ sites.

That 150 is not coincidentally the same average number of people that MLM sellers can beg to buy their ‘products’ or the average sales-to-family-and-friends by vanity-published authors.

John Oliver has a good overview of MLM faults here. Robert L. FitzPatrick has a quick guide to MLM’s here.

What does this rambling post come down to? Betsy DeVos does not speak for true American ideals, and she will probably use her wealth and MLM-honed dirty tricks to advance causes that will damage America.

Trump can’t factually state he’ll ‘Drain the Swamp’ while putting forward such divisive and disastrous cabinet picks. I don’t know whether he’s an evil genius, a practical businessman rewarding early loyalty, or a bored dilettante, but he’s outsourcing the fate of America to people diametrically opposed to our actual Founding Fathers’ Enlightenment goals.

What Donald J. Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that on January 21, 2017, he will effectively be obsolete in the eyes of his Vice President and his more-conservative cabinet picks. He did his job: he got Pence elected, and picked the Pence cabinet.

Trump has already lost control of his narrative.

People like Pence and DeVos will rule America whether Trump steps down in disgrace, is impeached, or killed (and look closely at Pence & Co then!), or simply ignores the day-to-day operation of what will be the Pence administration. That’s great for Pence, the DeVos and Prince Families, and the other right-wingers who want Christian religious rule of America for generations to come.

Not so good for pro-science folks, non-religious people, the LGBTQ community, moderate multi-culturalism, and anyone with brown skin.

What can we do? Be vigilant. Be logical. Prove that our tribe is bigger and better, and will win in the end.

 

How to deal with Neo Nazis

Let’s face it, the alt.right are Neo Nazis, pure and simple. They’re not ‘white nationalists’. They’re not ‘dapper’. They don’t simply want a ‘white homeland’ free from all ‘colored’ influences…they want to crowd out and exterminate the Other. We know this, we’ve seen this dance before.

Their tools are misinformation and resentment, fear, and a hunger for security and relevance.

How to deal with the new crop?

1. Call them out when you see them. Call out their collaborators and apologists. Boycott, call their sponsors, raise awareness, push back.

2. Mock the shit out of them.

SgtSchultzy reminds of that Illinois Nazi scene in Blues Brothers.

Blazing Saddles’ Bad Guy Lineup is an enduring classic, and could almost be Trump’s transition team and cabinet picks.

Spike Jones (the novelty comedy musician) had this gem mocking Hitler back in the day.

3. Remember where this leads (graphic images), and that it sure as fuck CAN happen here.

Don’t make America into Amerika.

Painter 17 teaser art

Corel’s new digital arts platform Painter 17 is out now, and I’m fiddling around with it this week.

I finished this teaser art piece for the new version of Moro’s Price in about 30 minutes, and that was because I was slowly playing around with some of the new Artist’s Favorites brushes. I should have been able to do it in 15 minutes.moro-diamond-for-blog

Of course, I’d already photographed the emerald-cut diamond myself, and long ago designed the palm tree insignia. But now it’s a useful bit of art that may or may not end up as a cover design, once I fiddle with it some more.

Painter 17 so far: gorgeous. Controls are more integrated and intuitive. Customizing brushes, filters, etc is much easier. The help menus make sense. Corel seems to finally be listening more to its coveted base: artists who have some real-world skill with drawing, painting, and mixed media, and who want to recreate those looks in digital media. (And go lightyears beyond!) I’m not alone in my esteem.

If you’ve ever waffled about buying Painter as an actual, real, not-Photoshop digital arts platform, this version is probably the best entry into the Painter world that I’ve seen in 20 years. It’s not cheap, but if you are a student, you might be able to score the more affordable Educational Version.

 

Donald J. Trump will be forced to resign…

…Or be impeached, or even be assassinated (possibly even by his own people). And that should scare the crap out of every liberal in America.

The Trump alternatives are worse.

Even if none of those things happen, Trump has made it pretty clear he has neither an inclination for nor an interest in the details of his new job. He’s already said he plans to outsource much of it, to a core group of loyalists chosen for their early and slavish Trump support, not their qualifications for office. He needs adulation and constant reassurance, and these people will provide it to him.

Why be even more scared?

Because Trump’s #2 guy is Mike Pence, whom the alt.right white terrorists and the ultra-religious conservatives *love*.

I’d even go so far as to say that Donald J. Trump was always going to be someone’s patsy.

His children want a right-wing Kennedy dynasty, and will happily use him as a foundation stone.

The Democrats thought he’d be a wonderful toxic candidate against whom their nominee could steamroll with ease.

The Republicans realized early on they needed someone to reach Angry America, and Trump was handy through his birther/Tea Party connections. He could win. But he was never meant to stay in office. Under this scenario, Trump’s yuuuuge character flaws were an asset: sooner or later, he can be counted on to be forced aside, leaving the field for Pence and an authoritarian ultra-right Christian government. (This would probably have been John McCain’s fate, had he and Sarah Palin won in 2008.)

So I’d say watch Trump, sure, but spend some energy watching what Pence and Bannon have cooking in their political labs.

How Electors can redeem their honor

This is a long shot, for actually doing anything…but you can sign a petition to the US Electoral College to recast or overturn their votes for Trump. They have a little over a month. Try this site, for more information.

Clinton won the popular vote, but not the Electoral. Hmm. When have we seen this before, recently? Oh yes, in 2000. And it was a Republican-engineered takeover then, too.

And we ALL saw how eight years of the Cheney/Bush White House worked out.

Trump is magnitudes more unfit for office than George W. Bush. He’ll not only make America more of an international pariah state and laughingstock, he’ll endanger our livelihoods and our lives. His mere victory has emboldened the alt-right thugs who helped drive his campaign, and he’s shown no sign, willingness, or ability to repudiate them.

Maybe our voices can’t coax the members of the Electoral College to save America from a Trump regime…but it can signal that we’re here, we’re not going away, and we can play the obstructionist long game, too.

Sign the petition for that reason, at least, and pass it on to people who feel the same way.

Narrow Shore

(Soon to be an artist’s book.) For a couple of years, I’ve been taken to task by well-meaning folks who want me to make only positive, light-hearted, beautiful books that affirm life and hope. And I do – I’ve got a lot of those on the workshop table, or in development.

But being a nihilist, I also embrace the darker possibilities.

Almost to the point that I understand what, in a fantasy world, goes into the making and meaning of a cursed object. How beauty and craft can be slanted into devious turns and outright horror, charged with subtle or overt poisons meant to game one outcome or another.

No, I don’t have to accept this ‘new normal’. No, I’m not going to bother to ‘make peace’ with people – even my own blood kin – whose fear, laziness, and entitlement led them to vote for the distilled worst parts of the American psyche: a conman, swindler, chronic tax cheat, science denier, bully, buffoon, and rapist. I don’t have to pretend manmade climate change isn’t happening, because like a gamma ray burst, my lack of belief does not shield me.

‘Narrow Shore’ will be a dark little book, but not the darkest in my CV.

Narrow Shore

 

Every year, the universe pulls away.

Every year, it darkens as the first light fades.

Those who saw the Earth from space

Are growing old.

Their children traded thoughtless lives

For easy gold,

Trapped along the threshold

Of this narrow shore

Between the howling desert

And the uncaring deep:

Too weak to linger,

Too spent to leap.

So that happened

One of the perils of being an Independent voter, as well as mostly a nihilist, is that I often think of the worst possible outcome…and expect to see it.

I’ve never been as completely saddened by America as I am now. #Whitelash and emotion-based politics carried the day over dull competence and multicultural globalism last night.

The scared and fed-up Trump voters fell for a con man who made them feel special. He’s not likely to have a positive long term effect on their lives and struggles, no matter what kind of conciliatory speeches he gives. A man who gleefully accepted and encouraged hate and divisiveness in his campaign, who surrounds himself with ‘advisors’ with similar failings…is not going to suddenly turn around and become Reagan 2.o.

Reagan, by the way, was *terrible* for the US, and came into office under clouds of scandal that were largely forgotten by his current worshipers. Anyone recall Iran Contra? The Reagan Recession? The big lie of Trickle-Down Economics?

How much worse will Trump be?

Instead of ‘draining the swamp’ of government, we’ll have a worse crop of evil and/or incompetent political operatives gaining power and staying in power. Think they’ll give a shit about the angry, lost, scared Red-state voters? Ha. Y’all were marks, doing exactly what the con-man wanted you to do.

What’s next for America? A sitting President continually mired in far worse scandals, with no experience, with a cabinet hand-picked to be the among the worst anti-science, pro-religion thugs we’ve seen in decades.

A lot of damage can be done in four years. #Whitelash is the way the non-whites are now referring to the smoldering hate, anger, and fear of the voters who spoke for Trump yesterday.

With more dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, even the possible 2020 backlash of Latino and African American voters probably won’t be able to do much. The idiots will be in power for decades, until the last of the old white ‘Leave it to Beaver’ 1950s fantasy-peddlers die off.

If you want an indicator of post-neoliberal America, look at the state of Kansas. Sam Brownback swept into power, and now Kansas is suffering for his policies.

That’s the rest of the country, very soon.

We can’t even take solace if Trump is (I think inevitably) impeached, because his VP is another Brownback, squared. The Supreme Court will be packed with ultra conservative judges. Roe v. Wade will be abolished; expect to see common forms of contraception made illegal. Press freedoms will fall to authoritarian crackdowns in the fashion of China, Turkey, Venezuela, or Russia. So goodbye whistleblowers. There won’t be a better answer to health care, other than the old ‘Pay for all of your $125,000 heart surgery yourself, you freeloader’ system. We’ll be a backward anti-science nation in a world where science and high-technology are the only real paths forward. International trading partners and investors will pull away, because America is suddenly a crap investment. We also face new and terrifying international political consequences.

We are one big natural disaster from Balkanizing into smaller, fractured tribal states.

America got exactly the President it deserves. I’m just sorry the rest of us have to deal with this temper tantrum.

 

Election Day

I wear this right angle weave necklace every election and most national holidays.

The seed beads are old stock Czech. The blue and white chevron beads are Chinese or Indian, circa 2006. The glass millefiori button is Japanese from around the 1950s, I think.

20161108_093152I made it right after the 9-11 attacks in 2001. It reminds me of hope, healing, cosmopolitan ideals, and civic responsibility in the face of dystopian chaos.

It also reminds me that our world is going to face much worse things. How we heal from and adapt to them, is a referendum on humanity itself.

#ImWithHer.

Make your vote count!

Warning: I will say some unkind things next.

If you’re a US citizen, are you registered to vote? Will you vote tomorrow? Why haven’t you already voted? (It’s going to be a mess at the polls, and early voting by absentee ballot is so much easier, if your state allows it!)

Some quick notes:

If you are still ‘Undecided’ at this point of this election, there is no hope for you. You shouldn’t be voting, and you probably don’t deserve citizenship.

For anyone under the age of 30: No, you cannot vote by text. That is a scam created by the GOP to disenfranchise (cheat) younger, more liberal and phone-prone folks of the vote. Depending on your state, you must vote the way the rules are set up: at your designated precinct, usually. Seriously, look into absentee ballot by mail and early voting, for the next election. If we get one.

If you are a Democrat or Independent voter, especially a POC, and you feel intimidated at any way at the polls, the ACLU has some helpful guidelines here. The Washington Post has an article about voter intimidation here.

Don’t go alone to a polling place you think might be subject to GOP harassment. Take a friend or family member. They can’t vote with you, but they can watch your back before and after.

Depending on your state rules, you may not be able to take a cellphone picture near or inside the polling place. But have your phone charged up, and set up a method of instantly uploading photos. If someone (a GOP/Trumpster pollwatcher) intimidates or harasses you, bring it to the attention of the people in charge of the polls. If people accost you once you are away from the polling place (on the way to a car or bus) be ready to challenge THEM. Be ready to take pics!

If you feel in real danger, call 911 immediately and get to a safe place if you can.

Don’t believe poll numbers or gossip. In a close election, every vote counts, right up to the moment the polls close. Don’t get angry, don’t get discouraged: go vote!

Take time off work to vote: your employer has to give you that time, and most of them don’t want a major bad press/criminal case over it.

No matter what happens tomorrow, try to be kind. Be reasonable and vigilant. Be better informed in the future: get your news and information from sources that have actually been vetted for truth (hint: that wouldn’t be Breitbart, InfoWars, FoxNews, or any of their surrogates.)

The best that America can be…can still rise above this nonsense.

In memoriam: Sherri S. Tepper

I had to ponder this one for a week, because it hit home. I may be adding to this post over the next few days.

Sherri S. Tepper was a powerful author and outspoken activist, who happened to write science fiction and fantasy.

I first ran across her work in 1983, when my best friend Kathryn shoved King’s Blood Four into my hands and yelped ‘You gotta read this!’ I did. It was damn good.

That started my long and varied experience with Tepper’s work. Like that of Tanith Lee, some of Tepper’s writing was painful for me to read. To paraphrase a certain Discworld witch, it didn’t do ‘Nice’, it did ‘Right’.

Tepper’s decades as a feminist and ecological activist made her fiercely uncompromising on certain principles that younger and weaker writers would never dare reveal in public: women’s rights, abortion and birth control, euthanasia of severely-brain damaged individuals, internally consistent portrayals of alien viewpoints, the importance of reason and logic, and the harsh equations of survival that pit planetary collapse against human activity.

Tepper’s writing could be painful in its honesty, hilariously sly, or shockingly beautiful. Some of it, I couldn’t stand. Other pieces are favorite re-reads. The ‘Mavin Manyshaped’ trilogy links into her ‘True Game’ books, but those books are hallmarks of what can be done with extremely short novels. They’re worth looking at, in this era of bloated best-sellers.

I stole some of my core concepts about the Lonhra Sequence cosmology from her ‘True Game’ books and from Grass. I’d always meant to ask permission to showcase one or two heartbreakingly gorgeous humanist passages from Beauty in an artist’s book, if I could figure out how to present them…and now I’ll have to ask that of her estate, not the lady herself.

I’m still wondering if she was the woman who bought one of my beaded and embroidered tapestries at a Phoenix convention in 1992. The woman looked a bit like Tepper from across the room, but I never found out for sure.

She was a fellow Westerner, Colorado-born, and lived for many years in New Mexico.

If she believed in such things, I’d hope she walks in human-hallowed Baskarone at this moment…and I hope to hell she was able to vote before she died.

***

I found a couple of the passages from Beauty (a hard and lovely book that pulls no punches). The first is worth revisiting, and I hope that showing it here falls under Fair Use and an earnest homage:

What shall I write of Baskarone?

Everything that was lovely of the world when men came into it is here. Everything that men made beautiful while they were in it is here. None of the dross, only the glory. Some gardens. Some monuments. There is even an entire town, designed by a woman of great artistry. I had seen a film on it in the twenty-first. It was built early in the twenty-first and then destroyed by the nationalist terrorists in the Great Reunification War of 2043, the same war that killed all the people in Ireland, North and South, and half those in England and Scotland, as well as sinking the lands of Ireland forever beneath the sea.

In the long run, it didn’t matter who destroyed the city. Fidipur’s ocean farms now cover the place it once stood. If the terrorists hadn’t bombed it and thereby started the war, Fidipur would have razed it anyhow. Mortal man is mad.

There are a handful of marvelous mosques in Baskarone, serene and beautiful. An Egyptian temple is here, crowded with painted columns. A mud fortress is here, its walls glistening with bright murals in tiles. There are structures in Baskarone from Ecbatana and Susa. There is a building from Troy. There are two from the States of America, quite small ones, sculptural houses which look as though they grew from the earth.

Cave paintings are here, fleeing horses and lumbering bison. African carvings are here, and so many things from the Orient I could not see them all, including a city from China, lacquered all in red and gold with dragons upon its roofs.

And all these things are set in gardens and woods and forests and prairies. The flowers that bloom in those gardens are the loveliest that ever grew. The trees in those woods are tall and straight. The grasses on the prairies have never been cut, and the little peeping birds run about among their roots.

There are people here as well. The woman who designed the city, the men who built the fortress, the carpenters who carved the dragons. All those who made beauty with their lives, they are here. Those who climbed. Those whose names ring, like a wine glass in a cupboard, hidden but sounding nonetheless.

The dreams of the men who tried to reach the planets, before Fidipur took everything, they are here. I don’t know how they are there, but they glitter like sequins in the shade of that place.

 

We called it: Trump TV

I suspected a long time ago this election bid of Trump’s was mostly a marketing stunt, until he fell in love with adulation and started saying anything to keep getting it.

Now, in an effort to counter the ‘lying media’, he’s started a ‘news channel’ on Facebook. Guess what it looks like?

trump-waa-for-blog

Hmm. Anyone remember how long the Sarah Palin Channel lasted?

If Trump weren’t such a dangerous gasbag, I’d almost feel sorry for him. The guy is not well, and no one around him is helping him understand that. I’d think at least his kids cared about their old man, and how this is tarnishing his (their) already brassy legacy.

But no, they’re all riding this thing down like Dr. Strangelove.

 

 

Well, shucks…

It’s one thing when a publisher circles the drain, and nearly everyone has known or suspected it would happen for months or years.

It’s another, when a *good* small press fails. One that was, by most accounts, doing everything right: lasting for longer than two years, choosing great books and authors, designing excellent covers, marketing professionally, and offering gorgeous, award-winning books.

Jolly Fish Press is closing at the end of October 2016. This was very sudden and traumatic for them, their authors, and the agents who worked with them. Even doing everything *right*, they still didn’t make enough to continue. They’re reverting rights before the end of the month, so their authors won’t have to go through the extortion hell of, say, Ellora’s Cave.

I had been considering JFP for a fantasy novel submission early next year. I’ll mourn what never had a chance to be. I’m deeply sorry for the folks who did get snarled up in this, and I’m heartened by the outpouring of condolences and second-chance gambits.

There’s still a couple of weeks in which readers can buy JFP books in the wild…go for it, if you can, and celebrate one of the better experiments in small-press publishing. While they lasted, they burned bright!

***

All this leaves me with that nervous butterfly-stomach feeling, about some of my planned projects.

I’ve stopped looking for agent representation for Singer until I can get it rewritten to my satisfaction. There’s no point in looking for rep for the Moro books, since the first is now a reprint and the others are sequels/spinoffs of a reprint. (No legitimate agent will touch that, if my name isn’t attached to a Hugo or a Nebula.) I’m left with self-pub. Or one small press that is lovely, but could follow Jolly Fish at any time. I can hope they’d revert rights as sanely as JFP seems to have done, but that’s a huge risk to take for something that would have to be self-pub anyway, in the end.

It may come down to flipping a coin.

This is the part of the writing life that new writers are stunned and depressed to discover: that the butterflies and the despair don’t end when you finish the damn manuscript. They’re just starting.

________________

Update: October 30, 2016:

Jolly Fish has a buyer, and early reports indicate it’s North Star Editions. The way this has been handled has numerous authors and agents side-eyeing Jolly Fish, for good reason. North Star has some excellent street cred*, but they’re also new. No one knows if the rank and file editors and artists who helped put JFP on the map, will be moving over. Especially since the JFP owner/publisher is out of the deal.

I’m no longer interested, because it appears that North Star is solely a Young Adult and Middle Grade publisher. I’m not knocking those genres, because they are magical and useful (and I still regularly read both)…but I don’t write them.

*Added 10/31/16: the vanity publisher is a different North Star, apparently. Mea culpa. The North Star Editions here is the one buying JFP after Flux, and has some reputation as an educational publisher. More details to follow.

Christmas in October: Ebony and Horn

My quest to create miniature books around jewelry platforms…continues!

After contemplating my woodworking tools (and how much work went into a single mammoth ivory needle), I decided to outsource the jewelry forms. Find people who make stunning pieces from the start, and build on those beginnings.

The latest experiments start here, with five exquisite buffalo-horn rings and one ebony bangle bracelet, from the workshop of talented designer Que.

horn-and-ebony

It took many Google searches and several weeks to find her.

The 2-tone horn ring tops are roughly 1″ square, and perfect foundations for more mini-books. I’m casting around now for page/theme ideas.

The bangle is going to be a 4-in-1 book, with textblocks bound on each flat rectangular face. I’m thinking a ‘Four Winds, Four Directions’ theme.

Check out Que’s shops and drool over images of her stunning horn, bone, and wood necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings, and combs. (Those combs!) Horn is relatively soft (just keratin), but it has its quirks, and is sometimes not easy to work. You’ll looking at the products of masters, from Que and her shop artisans.

Votive Bone Rings

I recently wrote about the materials and inspiration for a series of Dia de los Muertos-themed rings.

I decided to do only an edition of three books in this group, because I have different ideas for the next three.crane-book-dia-book-detail

To recap: Dia de los Muertos votive bone rings. On a platform of carved bone rings, I’ve stacked miniature linen pages embroidered with rainbow ribbons. Bone and leather pin closure, Coptic-bound spine, glass and bone-accented red tassels. Edition of 3, each slightly different.

Here they are closed.crane-books-dia-books-closed

And here they are open.crane-books-dia-books-open

Material: carved water buffalo bone, leather, rainbow-embroidered tan linen, poly-cotton ribbon, glass, waxed red polyester cord.

Ring sizes: variable.

Dimensions: approximately 1″ x 6″ x 1.5″.

 

Jewelry Maker’s PSA: Split Rings

 

Sooner or later, nearly every jewelry maker runs across this problem: how to join loops or links with a sturdy, practical, design-compatible connector.

Closed jump rings are difficult to design around. Open jump rings may pull apart at the worst possible time. Wire-wrapped jump rings and connectors can be strong and beautiful, but time-consuming to make and calibrate.

For durable, beautiful, precise, and secure connections in your jewelry designs, invest in split rings.

split2

Shaped like tiny round key rings, jewelry split rings are half-hard tempered metal wire coiled into stacked, double rings.

How do you use them?

The round or triangular wire ends can be gently pried apart to fit inside a closed jump ring, chain link, pendant or charm bail, or crimped beading wire loop.

If you have strong thumbnails and you are not doing many connections, you can wedge your thumbnail between the split wires, and open them just enough to slip your loop, link, charm, etc onto the ring. (Hint: don’t do this if you are aiming to use several dozen or more split rings in a short time-span. Your thumbnails will thank you!)

You can also use specific tools called split ring pliers, split ring tweezers, or even a narrow, flat piece of metal like a small flathead screwdriver. Push your to-be-attached object all the way around the ring, until it can slide freely over both of the split wires.

The split ring re-closes once the new loop has been threaded completely around the double coil. Tension holds the ring together much more securely than a standard open jump ring (even the ‘Twist-Lock’ style), while the split ring design allows you to change out pendants or dangles with relative ease.

Split rings come in a variety of sizes from delicate (I’ve seen 4-5mm) to ginormous (real key-ring size 30mm across!), so you’ll usually be able to find one to complement your design and metal color.

Many beginning jewelry makers avoid split rings because of the slightly higher price (good manufacturing does cost), but professional designers know these tiny marvels are time and cost-savers in the long run. Try some today, and take your jewelry designs to the next level.

Where I buy mine.

Ellora’s Cave update

(Updated October 5, 2016.) I have just made the saddest $25 win that I ever bet.

(2nd update October 7,2016.) I’ll keep that $25 safely unspent in case I need to return it.*

Because a couple of years ago I privately bet a group of other authors that the embattled erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave was going out of business by the end of 2016. My friends thought the place would hang on longer.

Tina Engler and her mother Patty Marks will be shutting down EC by the end of the year, according to letters sent to the authors still on their contact list. Authors are required to send in a form by early November, or risk having their publishing rights ‘in limbo’. The kicker is that, in order to reclaim publishing rights, EC authors must forfeit any outstanding royalties.

The second kicker is the suspicion that any authors who do NOT accept this ‘deal’ may find their rights in bankruptcy limbo, sold off to EC creditors, or re-claimed by Engler & Marks should they reform Ellora’s Cave (note some funky stuff with Samhain closing then not closing last year.)

Given EC’s creative accounting and reporting procedures, it’s almost impossible to know how much or how little an EC author is giving up. For some authors, it probably amounts to a pizza or two. For others, it could run into thousands of dollars. What is almost certain is that no money will be forthcoming anyway, and getting the rights back may be more lucrative than trying to force a class action lawsuit.

Here’s an overview by another onlooker. Actual screenshots of the ‘We’re closing!’ FB post are a little scarce, probably because EC authors got understandably cold feet about exposing themselves to Engler’s ire.

Virginia Nelson steps up to the plate with her candid account of her time and dealings with Ellora’s Cave.

It’s important to remember that in its early days, Ellora’s Cave was a powerhouse. Stacia Kane has a great post here about her time with EC.

I read a lot of EC books over the years, and enjoyed many of them. One of the big, recurring problems I had was EC’s ‘house style’ of pushing as many sex scenes as possible into the mms, and its preference for ‘dirty talk’ whether or not characters would express themselves that way. It was a logical over-reaction in the early 2000s, to romance publishers who insisted on fade to black or truncated sexual content. But I came to erotic romance from the SFF world, not contemporary romance, so the constant over-the-top EC sex scenes seemed unnecessary. It’s also a problem faced by many small erotic romance publishers, even now.

I’ve been taken to task here and in other online forums for my somewhat jaundiced and cynical take on Ellora’s Cave and other failing/flailing publishers. That comes across as lofty and snide, to the poor authors who did fall for those schemes. Fair enough. I’ve also picked publishers and galleries, early on, that seemed great at first, and then lost some luster. It happens. It’s happened enough times to me that I’m cynical now. I risk what I can afford to risk, and take my chances.

I maintain that the clues about EC and Tina Engler were vividly apparent as far back as the summer of 2012 (and way earlier, if you read the comment below and know any EC history at all). Anyone signing with Ellora’s Cave since 2012, did not perform their due diligence…or took an educated gamble. I’m sorry for the ones who realize they’ve been had. I shake my head at the authors, especially the newer ones, who signed since the EC/Dear Author settlement a year ago, and who are still proudly and shrilly in Engler’s court. Remember, they’re siding with this woman, who threatened bloggers, authors, and the Romance Writers of America for pointing out ‘Hey, we haven’t been paid and your royalty statements are a joke.’

Tina Engler FU

Those authors? They are idiots, and have only themselves to blame.

I hope all the EC authors can do better on republishing the many great works that did come out of Ellora’s Cave in its better days.

* Some folks who are much wiser about publishing have noted that the Engler/Marks letter doesn’t actually say Ellora’s Cave is closing. It offers authors an extremely exploitative route to rights reversion, at the expense of accrued royalties. And a threat that authors who ignore this deal may regret it.

Is EC closing? Is it being sold to a competitor or to creditors? Will Marks and Engler rise afresh with a new business, through the miracle of bankruptcy? Or will they skitter off overseas, to enjoy whatever is left of EC’s once-bountiful earnings?

Stay tuned!

Agents, offers, assumptions, and bad behavior

This was going to be just a section in Filigree’s Rule, but I thought it deserved its own post. (Added info, as of 10/4/2016.)

I have begged literary agents before: please clarify your stance on negotiating publishing offers for querying authors.

We authors need to know beforehand, if you never do this and would rather we not contact you with offers, or if it is something you’ll consider doing on a case by case basis. Please put this in your goddamn guidelines, blog posts, Tumblr, whatever. We’ll be grateful and not bother you.

Otherwise, things like this are going to happen, leaving agents furious, authors confused and angry, and publishers in limbo.

Today we’re going to talk about AgentFails, offers of publication, offers of representation, and the assumption of offers.

I have a writer friend who has a great mms. It’s hard to pin down in genre, but it has good bones and a good editor will turn it into a dazzler. Friend has been trying to get this book in front of agents for a while, through queries, twitter pitch contests, etc. Friend finally gave up on those, and subbed directly to some interesting small-press publishers.

Some of which I liked and some I didn’t, but it’s not my book at stake. Friend got enthusiastic responses from three publishers, and was left with The Choice: 1. A newish press with very little to recommend it yet. 2. A stellar independent press with new capital investment and serious editorial and marketing power. 3. A quiet, niche-focused, but fairly professional press with the same core passions as Friend, and some decent plans for the future.

Friend wrote all three and asked for time. They granted it. At the same time, Friend emailed one of the agents who had asked for a query letter during a recent Twitter-pitch event. Agent agreed to look at mms.

It was then I started shaking my head and mouthing the words ‘Make no sudden moves and back away slowly’ to Friend. Because I have seen some of the online and behind-the-scenes meltdowns Agent has allegedly caused or enabled, going back to the agency where Agent learned to do these things. But again, not my circus, not my monkeys.

Agent…made a tentative offer on just a chapter or so. This is not unheard of, but it’s really strange for a new writer’s first book. Most agents want the full, so they can see where the story goes.

Friend sent off mms, and reminded Agent there were offers on table. Friend asked for a value-added statement from Agent, as in ‘What can you do for me that I can’t, in these current markets?’

No further word from Agent. Faced with offers and ticking clocks, Friend finally stepped back from agent-hunting and took offer #3 from the Nice Little Place. Sent a polite email to Agent, to thank for the time and consideration spent.

Only Agent had just cross-posted, apparently anticipating Friend’s acceptance, and sent an editorial letter with suggested changes and some other markets. A few minutes later, Friend got a terse email generally concerned with the wasting of time, the bypassing of protocol, and unprofessional behavior.

Bear in mind, the Agent made no formal offer of rep, set no timetables, did not contact Friend at all after the first gushing comments on the first chapter read. There’s even some worry on Friend’s part that Agent was planning on collecting an easy 15% for ‘negotiating’ the already-issued offer from the Nice Little Place.

And then Agent tweeted about it in public, in terms both snide and histrionic.

I can actually see Agent’s POV, and the assumption that Agent did a favor and was rebuffed. I know a few weeks to a month is probably not a good time limit on deciding whether to rep a book or not, let alone an author.

But this is WHY professionals trained by professionals FIRST make formal offers with specific timetables, expectations, and concessions…so nobody jumps the gun and writes what they think of as a ‘wasted’ editorial letter. Or assumes that they are the One, the Only, and the Perfect Choice.

And now Friend knows their incredible, uncanny luck, at avoiding having to work with this particular Agent.

I’m really looking forward to seeing that book.

 

The Force Awakens

Way back when, I graduated from high school in the same month I saw ‘Return of the Jedi’. Yes, that is how old I am, ha ha. From 1977 to 1983, I was a ‘Star Wars’ nerd. During the following years, I lost interest in the ‘Star Wars’ universe as expanded in dozens of books. It was too much to follow. I was beginning to build my own fictional written universe. But to this day, buried in the DNA of my Lonhra Sequence stories, are equal threads of Middle Earth and Star Wars.

We won’t talk about the ‘Star Wars’ prequels. Ugh, no.

But I have to cautiously admit that Disney and J.J. Abrams have done well by that universe recently. I like the television properties being run right now. After nearly a year of stalling, I finally saw The Force Awakens tonight.

It was actually quite good.

I can see why my friends think Rey, Finn, and Poe are adorable, and why they think Kylo Ren is a whiny puppy. I can even see the story reasons for some of the plot choices made. I’m looking forward to the next movie.

I can feel the sparks of my second-oldest fandom stirring. Just what I need: more plot bunnies!

 

That first debate

Like a few hundred million other people last night, I watched the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

I thought Trump had a good initial ten minutes in which he attacked Clinton roundly on her support of previous disastrous trade deals (I agree with him in part.)

Then…he lost it. Other people will document his numerous gaffes and lurches. I’m going to focus on a few things that really stood out.

He was proud to be unprepared for this debate. He rambled incoherently and gave few specific answers.

He’s profoundly ignorant about a lot of things…and worse, proud of his ignorance.

He really hates fat people. He mentioned them three times: the mythical chubby coder, the beauty queen, and Rosie.

He is too easily provoked and unfocused to be solid Presidential material.

He lied numerous times.

He ‘mansplained’ and tried to talk over both Clinton and the moderator. (By several accounts, he did this at least 51 times.)

He’s so racist he can’t even see how racist he is.

He tried to claim the higher ground by hinting he wasn’t going to hit Clinton on her husband’s infidelity. Why should Bill’s stupidity two decades ago have any bearing on Hillary’s fitness for office now? She wasn’t the one cheating.

Here’s why: to Donald Trump’s mindset, a frumpy wife is excuse and reason for a cheating husband. After all, *Donald’s* been guilty of this many times.

I noticed that faced with accusations about his business acumen, Trump is proud that he paid no taxes, that he stiffed contractors and creditors, that he settled lawsuits with no admission of wrongdoing, that he used legally available bankruptcy tools to save his companies. That’s just ‘business’, he claimed.

Business skills, even legitimate ones, don’t always translate into politics. His record is somewhere between unsettling and shameful.

I noticed at the end of the debate, when Clinton’s entourage got down into the audience to mingle, Trump’s stayed high up on stage and quickly exited.

Was that another reveal, of how Trump really views most of the Americans not as fortunate as he was?

First look: votive bone ring

Remember those carved bone rings I showed off a few days ago? The first ring-book is now complete.

dia-votive-ring-1I’ve decided the edition of 6 will have a Dia de los Muertos theme because 1) I live in the Southwest, 2) I’ve adored ‘Dia’ celebrations since I was a kid in New Mexico, and 3) It’s getting to be Halloween time, folks!

Colors and materials inspired by Moroccan and Latin-American textiles. Gray-tan linen pages are accented with red cotton edgings and rainbow ribbon applique (in a quiet homage to the Pulse nightclub attack, and in solidarity with my LGBTQ friends).

dia-votive-ring-1-openEach book will have a slightly different closure mechanism of shell, bone, and leather. Each book will be Coptic-bound in red waxed polyester cord, with carved bone and glass-accented tassels.

‘Dia del los Muertos Votive Rings’. Edition of 6. Dimensions: approx. 5″x1.5″x1.75″. Materials: carved bone, leather, shell, glass, cotton, waxed polyester cord.