#SFFpit: the epilogue

So a few days have passed. I did about as well in #SFFpit as I expected: one of the small publishers I know and trust liked my entries, as well as a few other people. It was a long shot with some hidden value beyond the pitch day, so I wasn’t that worried for the mms’ sake.

However – and not to diss Dan Koboldt or any of the other many people who made the June 2016 #SFFpit happen – it seemed largely a wash. Part of that may just be summer doldrums, and a one-day event sandwiched between the twitter juggernauts of QueryKombat and PitchWars later this summer. Part had to have been the Brexit vote and its aftermath, sucking up all air on the internet during Thursday. Part may simply be twitter-pitch fatigue.

I looked across my categories of interest: fantasy, epic fantasy, high fantasy. I saw some great entries that I wished were available books. Many of these pitches were YA, but not as many as I’d feared earlier. Most of them didn’t get a single agent or editor ‘like’; the best entries seemed to gather only (low) single digit-likes.

Not a lot of play visible from major agents, but the usual small-press/vanity/new company suspects were out in full force. I’ve already written about similar companies and their strategies in ‘Filigree’s Rule’, so I won’t go into a dissection here.

It was a fun experience, but I doubt I’ll do it again in December, or take part in other twitter pitch contests for this particular fantasy mms. I have already queried and had rejections from most of my target agents, with only a few stragglers left on my list. By December, I hope to either have agent representation or (more likely) be working on the process of self-publishing at least 4 novels.

I’d still recommend that every unagented author with a completed and polished mms try at least three twitter pitch events. I’d also recommend they use a scheduling program like HootSuite or Tweetdeck to automatically send their tweets at the right times during the contest hours, especially if they have a life outside Twitter.

The greatest thing about twitter pitches? The incredible community. The second greatest thing? Developing and honing twitter pitches leads to better elevator blurbs, loglines, and teaser copy.

When I considered #DVpit (Diverse Voices) in April, I wasn’t sure I could manage to create a single pitch, let alone three or four. Turns out, those pitches sucked: I used Classical mythology references that younger readers and agents didn’t get, I used 15-year-old or older comparison titles, I relied too much on pop culture shorthand, and I didn’t drill down into the conflicts of my story.

Here are my first three #DVpit attempts:

1 LGBT secworld Orpheus: a warrior, a bard, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #DVpit #highfantasy

2 Sword&planet Orpheus: a warrior, a bard, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #DVpit #highfantasy.

3 The tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live: LGBT Orpheus #highfantasy #Adult McKillip+Kushiel VivaLaVida the novel #DVpit

They were riffs on a description that had gone over tolerably well in a couple of online writing forums, but suffered when condensed to 140 characters. I didn’t know the approved abbreviations for SFF subgenres; I should have used #HF for #highfantasy, for example.

People were unfamiliar enough with Classical themes that they thought ‘Sword&planet Orpheus’ was the title, instead of a theme. My comp titles were so old that only a few agents even recognized them. Using a Coldplay song, while sort of accurate, probably hindered more than it helped. Worst of all, I had no detailed sense of the book’s conflicts.

Out of DVpit I got one agent’s interest on a partial; but the book had too much romance for her, so that went nowhere (I’d already queried her agency in March and had a rejection, so no surprise.)

I noticed a lot of agent likes and editor retweets across the board in fantasy, epic fantasy, and high fantasy…even if a lot of them seemed to be in YA. It was a lively day.

Before stumbling onward to Brenda Drake’s #PitMad (Pitch Madness) on June 9, I participated in Kyra M. Nelson’s #MockPit on June 2. This one-day event is a kind of practice run for #PitMad.

I used the old pitches and got roundly trounced; this was an event dominated by YA authors and agents, and they showed me the deep faults in my pitches. (Though I wasn’t ready to really see or admit them yet.)

On to Pitch Madness!

I refined my pitches to the following:

1 LGBT Orpheus: a warrior shedding her humanity, a bard transcending his, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #PitMad #A #F         

2 Sword&planet Orpheus: a warrior, a bard, and the genderfluid Hades who must keep them alive. McKillip+Lee’s Flat Earth #PitMad #A #F

3 Rebels plot murder: ageless tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live. LGBT Orpheus McKillip+Kushiel meets VivaLaVida #PitMad #A #F

I was still stuck on those beloved old comp titles, even knowing they had to go, but I was getting a little better with my subgenres.

By some rare miracle, a great publisher and a really good agent liked my work. The publisher is one of two I might consider in lieu of self-publishing. The agent now has the full mss. (The agent is old enough to have liked my comp titles. Whee! For that, I can wait another 8 to 10 weeks.) The same usual suspects chimed in, plus a few trolls.

#PitMad was interesting in general because it had the same relatively high agent/editor participation that #DVpit had. Lots of YA, even with many agents specifically asking ahead of time for adult work. This event covers many genres, so it’s very big.

I hoped that #SFFpit would let me narrow my pitches to legitimate agents and editors in my subgenres. With that in mind I threw out most of the old pitches, and decided to take advantage of #SFFpit’s generous 10-pitch limit.

Here are the tweets I used, roughly once an hour from 8am to 6pm EST, plus their character count and the MST times launched:

1 Rebels plot. An ageless tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live. Her lovers just won’t do protective custody #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                               135                         5:05am

When his wife flees from humanity, the last bard of a dying race thwarts a secret war and ancient gods to rejoin her  #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                          135                6:07am

3  A warrior sheds her humanity and a bard transcends his, for love of a genderfluid sorcerer whose life is tied to theirs #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                   137           7:13am

His wife outcast from humanity, the last bard of a dying race thwarts assassination and ancient gods to rejoin her #SFFpit #FR #EF #LGBT               136             8:22am

Ageless tyrant rules only while her two mortal consorts live: one has known from birth, the other is a sworn enemy #SFFpit #A #FR #LGBT                         135                     9:14am

A warrior exiled from the bard she loves; for her, the bard gives up everything but the sorcerer destined for them both #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                              137                 10:26am

Forbidden shapeshifting magic may reunite a bard with his exiled wife, after she sends him to win an enemy mage’s heart #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                    134                    11:07am

8 The last bard of a dying race thwarts civil war and ancient gods to join his outcast wife; a Dark Power loves her, too #SFFpit #A #EF #LGBT                      139                     12:19pm

Rebels plot. An ageless tyrant rules only while her mortal consorts live. Her lovers just won’t do protective custody #SFFpit #EF #LGBT                                         137                       1:08pm

10  Immortal tyrant rules only while her two mortal consorts live: one has known from birth, the other is a sworn enemy #SFFpit #FR #LGBT                              133                   2:21pm

After the day was done, the most likes I got was 4. No retweets. Only a few of the likes from known publishers I trust.

Even so, I think the experience was valuable, in that I have ten slightly different but accurate pitch lines, for when I’m doing advertising pushes for the self-published versions. I have better ideas about plot and sequels. I met some great people: writers, agents, and editors whose conversations have enriched my life.

A good result for a little typing and auto-scheduling, I think.

Even though I can’t participate in it this round, I’d like to do a shout-out for The Knight Agency’s first ever agency Twitter-Pitch event. You can find out date and time here, if you’re interested.

 

 

 

#SFFpit tomorrow, + how about them Dems

I’m an Independent, and I am actually proud of the House Democrats today. They made some history by staging a fearless sitdown in the House, in protest over the Republican refusal to even *look* at upcoming gun control laws. When Paul Ryan booted out CSPAN and turned off the microphones and cameras, he forgot about smart phones and the Capital internet.

That revolution was brought to you by Periscope and Twitter. Whether anything will come of it, who knows? I’m writing scathing letters to my senators and representatives.

One of the key problems is the NoFlyNoBuy bill, which reasonably suggests that if you are on a terror watch list, you probably shouldn’t be buying AR-15 guns and high capacity magazines. The ACLU has rightfully pointed out the No Fly list is riddled with mistakes and bad profiling.

Okay, sure it is…*I’m* on that watch list, for simply being a member of MoveOn.org for years. Let’s have that conversation when we bring up the bill. Others have suggested that the NoFly list’s profiling is not going to catch the ‘lone gunman’ usually crazy, religious, and white, who seems to cause lots of these domestic outrages. Well, duh, that’s why we need to have an adult discussion about gun control in America. Instead of the NRA members who have the luxury of a never-wavering ‘No’ vote every chance they can lobby.

***

In happier (I think) news, I’m going to be participating in one last twitter pitch session this summer, tomorrow’s #SFFpit. I have ten distinct pitches ready and scheduled though the day from 8am to 6pm EST. I have no idea what is going to happen, and I’ll be busy enough during the day that I can only look in during the morning.

Ten pitches. My eyes are crossing.

If you follow me on Twitter (@MCHana2), please do not like or retweet my posts, since that muddies the water for agents and editors. I appreciate all such shows of support, but those are against the session guidelines.

Gotta be honest: I’m not expecting much. I grew tenfold as a writing during these pitch contests, as I shaped new tweets and discarded old ones. Very educational. If it doesn’t help me get agent notice (the odds are very long), the new tweets will certainly help me in marketing for self-publishing.

The Wattys are here

After some hours of delay, assumed coding problems, and many thousands of panicked writers around the world…the 2016 Wattys are up and running.

The Wattys are Wattpad’s *huge* annual writing contest, split among many countries, languages, and genres. It’s a fascinating way for me, as an American, to see some of the best of the best of international writing outside the fanfiction and commercial venues I normally frequent!

Bloodshadow for Wattpad

For my part, just to see if anything would happen, I chucked Bloodshadow into the mix. From now until August 31, if you have (or want) a Wattpad account (they’re free), please stop by and give my old trunk-novel a look. It’s well beyond commercially publishable at this point; all that I can do is heavily revise and self-publish it, and I’m planning to do that anyway.

Etsy Showcase: a few gold chains

In my work I get to see some amazing metal chains, both as premade necklaces and by the foot. During a bout of insomnia + random Google cosplay searches, it struck me that most hobby jewelers and beaders have no idea how to take chains to the next level.

These are the folks content to do a single chain necklace. They might feel unspeakably daring to do a multi-strand ‘statement’ necklace mixing several chain types and metals.

Very few designers branch out and blast completely past those safe limits. I can see why: bulk chains can add up in $$, this kind of work takes actual design and possibly engineering and/or architecture, it’s physically tricky to do (you must have a pinnable sturdy dressform!), and the results are often so time consuming they are unrealistic for hobby sellers.

However…chains and straps are sexy. They are both prison and armor, constraint and freedom, an unabashed nod to bright and dark fantasies in broad daylight. I wish more intermediate level beaders and jewelers could take time to push their limits with chains, leather strips, fiber chains, and beaded nets.

It’s worth the time and cost. (But seriously, get a good dressform in your target size first.)

I won’t steal their work to show it here, but go look at these two designers:

http://www.laureldewitt.com

Laurel’s work is grandly theatrical, even insane. I adore it. Goddesses and gods would wear this stuff.

Zana Bayne

Zana’s collections are at once more demure and more subversive. She flaunts the whisper of bondage gear in the precise geometrics of pieced leather and metal meshes, yet many of her accessories can be worn with office clothes as well as evening garb. Because they’re generally more deceptively simple, they might be more approachable ideas for hobbyist crafters.

Online and art fair sellers: pay close attention to the prices of the finished goods. Those are entirely reasonable given the amount of work. You cannot sell this kind of work for under $100, not and lose money, supplies, and time.

This is ‘Green Beads for Blues Night’, an old piece of mine from almost two decades ago. I spent about three months off and on with it. I made it so badly it cannot be sold. I used the wrong thread for the #8 seed beads that make up most of it, and it’s now shredding under its own weight. It would gone much faster had I used a dressform. It was inspired by costuming on the SFF shows ‘Stargate’ and ‘Farscape’.

Green Vest for blog

No, that’s not me, but the model who graciously wore it when it was featured in a craft magazine piece. Photography courtesy of Bead & Button Magazine.

So next time you score a bunch of cheap but good chains at a thrift store, look at them in new ways…is that a dozen $15 necklaces on Etsy, or one showstopping club dress or cosplay piece?

 

 

 

Continental Divide: 12 years later

In 2004, in the midst of a fairly divisive American Presidential election, I made this fiber art book.

Crane book -- Continental Divide open

This is one set of pages, embroidered in red and blue cotton thread on cotton and linen ground, with fore-edges tasseled in cotton thread and glass beads.

Divide page for blog

This is the original poem I wrote and embroidered into the fiber pages:

From here I cannot see two oceans:

Standing astride this ridge, one foot

Touching sunset – the other, night.

On each side, cool winds taste the same.

From here I see no difference between

Factory or farm, trailer or mansion,

No hint of hand or ideology behind

The lights that in distant valleys bloom.

Thrumming roads, the tight hives of towns,

Diamond cities spilled across the dark –

All nerves flooded by two signals,

Twin prayers voiced and un-uttered.

From here I see only the glorious

Storm,  

And I recall how Church

Painted Cotopaxi (in the shadow

Of Civil War.)

This book is now in the special collections library of a major American Ivy-League university.

Crane book -- Continental Divide new bind back

I’m making a book for the 2016 Elections right now. It makes ‘Continental Divide’ seem genteel. Stay tuned.

 

Orlando (infuriating content)

So this was going to be a narrow-focused publishing rant about Peter Thiel, Pixar, Diverse Voices, and hypocrisy…

But then Orlando happened: first the senseless death of a harmless, gifted young woman, then the carnage last night, more innocent lives lost at the Pulse nightclub. The latter apparently caused by a young Muslim man with access to assault weapons and a deep disgust of gay people.

I have friends in Orlando who are still trying to find their loved ones, this morning.

So now this is going to be a very nasty, confrontational rant with a somewhat larger focus.

My premise: there is no fundamental difference between the flavors of religiously motivated violence. ISIS or Christian, Hindu Nationalist, Jewish Orthodox, African animists, the militant form of Buddhism growing in Myanmar…these groups are only distinguished by what their most violent adherents can get away with. 

I do not contest that religion itself can be a useful social construct probably equally important as trade, to the development of civilization.

But I also propose that *every religion* carries the lurking seeds of its worst aspects: of social oppression, human sacrifice, slavery in many forms, terrorist attacks against its ideological opponents, theocratic tyranny or oligarchy, and the chilling indoctrination that creates a placid or cowed population. If we are to elevate the better parts of religion, we must as a species commit to pruning back the poison weeds that threaten it and us.

I put forward that while ISIS, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda are guilty of horrific crimes against humanity, they are only achieving what many other religious groups appear to fantasize about. ‘Good Christian’ senators and pastors regularly invoke vicious wish-fulfillment prayers against political opponents and targeted minorities. Donald Trump is a master at whipping his largely white, racist supporters into near-violence, then stepping back, then claiming butt-hurt and innocence when fights break out.

We need tolerance, if we are to continue as a species worthy of surviving. If gay people kissing in front of us disgusts us, we need to not take it personally, and look the fuck away.

We need to not care so much what a person looks like, how they dress, or what personal pronouns they use to self-identify.

We need to not tie our daughters to petrol-soaked beds and set them afire, for the crimes of marrying for love, controlling their fertility, or learning to read.

We need to not be hysterical about where people pee and poop…unless it’s to make sure that people can eliminate in peace, in safety, in clean places where they will not be subject to sewage-borne diseases or sexual assault. All people.

We need to rely on logic, teamwork, police work, and yes, even bureacracy to solve crimes like Orlando, instead of mob rule and overreaction. To understand that most of our Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, etc. friends and co-workers just want to live their lives in peace, too. Most humans are not horrible, and can be pretty decent to each other. We actually live in an era where social and military violence have been decreasing. Terrorists of any stripe are terrified of losing their status, so they’re lashing out.

Unfortunately, when they lash out they not only claim innocent lives, they endanger humanity as a whole. We cannot afford to backslide from science, rationality, and tolerance, not when the next few hundred years are already going to be hard enough.

If humanity can’t figure that out, then I don’t think we deserve to survive.

 

Phoenix Comicon begins today!

I may or may not be there, depending on:

Heatwaves. Seriously, folks, it’s going to be 120F on Saturday. I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years. It would take extraordinary enticements to make me brave even crossing the street in central Phoenix if I’m not absolutely required to do so. I will probably be lurking in a dim basement listening to music, gorging on mango popcicles, and drafting a subversive political cross-stitch ABC book. (Cross-stitch skulls, mushroom clouds, biohazard symbols, AK47s, Trump’s Hair, and many other fun things to sketch.)

Work. I love my dayjob. I love my writing and art. They are all hitting tremendous deadline pushes with a vengeance this month.

Clothes. (See Heatwaves.) This is not weather for me to tempt heatstroke with heavy hall costumes. So if I go, I’ll just be in civvies. But you might see me wearing this book pendant.

Marian Crane original design

And I may or may not have a cobalt blue streak in my hair.

Anyway, if you are going, stop by any of the Kids Need To Read events and booths, and buy raffle tickets. Why? Let me remind you that this mask…

First Frost mask by Marian Crane

…is up for grabs, along with (4) $25 vouchers for the jewelry-making supply company Plazko.com.

Carry on.

 

May 25: a mixed-bag day

Down to three unanswered queries out of my list from early February. I have Some Thoughts about this process, but it’s not considered polite to vent about agents while querying, so I won’t. I do notice it’s very similar to certain job interviews, wherein one tries to strike the balance between assertive but not too assertive, and trying to prove one’s work history without coming across as a grandiose jerk. Even if some of the good stuff really is true, you may have to downplay it in front of an interviewer.

Do guys have to do that shit? Because women still do, even when (often, especially when!) interviewing with other women.

In better news, I’ve narrowed down editors and cover designers. One of the really daunting things about prepping to do a self-published series, and not just one book? I have to ‘brand’ the covers and title styles of a proposed 8 – 12 books to create a cohesive look. This is basic publishing stuff, but so important that I’d like to remind my fellow prospective self-pub authors: even if you are only writing standalones, your ‘brand’ needs to be similar from book-to-book.

Related to covers: I’ve made the snap decision (but backed by 15 years of publishing exposure) that if a romance or women’s fiction book has a cartoony cover, I’m outta there. And bribes probably won’t make me read it. If the cover features a Barbie-clone, I can’t get away from the feeling that it may signal the level of the writing. Sorry, cartoon-cover novelists. Take heart that you are not alone in my loathing: I’m also very skeptical of manga-style covers. Some can be gorgeous, but there are some artists who just turn me off.

I’ll be digging out a lilac-colored shirt in a few minutes (though skipping the towel, alas) for the combined observance of Wear The Lilac and Towel Day. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams were founding patrons of my SFF reading. It hurts to think they’re both gone.

Jack Kirby’s ghost must screaming at Marvel right now. Some group of idiot wanna-be-edgy writers decided that:

Nope, we cannot possibly make Steve Rogers have a romantic relationship with Bucky Barnes.

But we can make Steve Rogers a deep-cover Hydra operative.

Whut.

There goes any last remaining guilt I may have had at doing Cap/Anybody fanfiction. Steve Rogers is supposed to be the scrappy, steadfast Everyman, the best face of America…and he’s been turned into Alexander Pierce?

I put forth that the plot twist to make Cap into a Hydra goon is a retcon scheme put forth by Hydra itself, and possibly the Trump campaign.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of slashfic, I say.

Oh hell, no…or bad IngramSpark

This tweet from IngramSpark is getting a category in Filigree’s Rule, but I thought it should have its own blog post, too:

***

is a great way to promote your new book, even if you plan to use a traditional publisher in the future.

***

That’s not how this works…and the Ingram folks know it.

Once a specific book has been self-published, 99% of the time, literary agents and commercial publishers are less likely to promote or publish it.

Why should they? First rights are gone. If the book flamed out without a trace in the market, they’re going to take that as proof it won’t make money in commercial publishing. Even if it was modestly successful and got a few thousand buys, the agents and editors might do a Profit/Loss analysis and decide the market has already been bought out.

Too many self-publishing gurus either imply or outright say that every author has the sales potential of Hugh Howey, C.S. Pacat, Andy Weir, etc.

That’s not true. Yes, we who dabble in self-publishing have to put our best efforts and attitudes forward…but the odds are that we’re still not going to sell much more than a few thousand copies, tops. Effective self-publishing is not well served by self-delusion.

The only way – hedged with many caveats – that self-publishing can help an author go commercial is if they query/sub an unrelated later book to literary agents and commercial publishers. Even then, there will be that P/L report, drilling down on the author’s previous sales…where dismal self-published results can still harm an author.

Everyone spies on everyone else in this industry. We have to, to get a sense of where to jump next.

Why do you think that even agented, commercially published authors are often told to find a new pen name to reinvent their marketability? Or they are cut loose from commercial contracts altogether? Their past performance didn’t meet market expectations.

Self-publish if you want the control and are willing to do the work. Self-publish if there is no other option available. Please don’t self-publish if you want that same book to have commercial potential later!

Literary agents, please tell us…

…If you might consider looking at unagented work that has snagged an advance-paying commercial publisher’s contract offer.

We’re a little tired of doing things this way:

 

And we’re certain you’re tired of dealing with us.

If you already share this? Thank you, bless you, may your authors win many awards and make truckloads of money.

Obviously, if we queried you already and you sent a form rejection, we’ll likely not contact you about the offer.

This one additional bit of information doesn’t have to be complicated. ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘No Way In Hell’, and ‘Never Darken My Door Again’ are all blunt, quick options. It would be helpful if it’s easily found on your Publishers Marketplace or QueryTracker page if you have one, or part of your agency’s online submissions guidelines. It can even be, to quote Douglas Adams: “…on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.”

We’re authors with some basic Google-Fu. We’ll find that damn leopard.

We understand why you might say ‘No’. Many agents want to guide the sale from the beginning, and they’d rather spend energy and time on those clients they signed out of their own slushpiles or private recommendations.

Many of you probably shouldn’t say ‘Yes’ when we ask, because if you are not as enthusiastic about the book as we are, you might not move mountains on its behalf. Tell us ‘No’ ahead of time, and we won’t bother you.

Within many genre niches, there might be only so many agents who know that field. Once the giddy joy of a contract offer settles into reality, we’d like to contact those agents who might be open to an arrangement. We don’t want to appear unprofessional and waste your time and ours, by trying to blindly guess what sort of agent you are.

Thanks for listening.

The Reality of Writing and Diversity, 5-18-2016

Basic, useful writing stuff first. Here is a quick shout-out to Kristen Lamb, who tells it like it is over on her blog…far better than I can. If nothing else, new writers should learn (and tattoo in glowing ink on the inside of their eyelids) that Editing Is Most Of The Damn Job. Some smug bastards will claim they never edit, fine. They’re lucky, famous, ossified, or perhaps (maybe about 10% of the time) actually skilled enough to get away with it. The rest of us should probably edit. Also know that editing too much can kill a story and serve as a procrastination tool.

In the past week, I have watched #QueryKombat 2016 get started, and seen BadLiteraryAgent’s hilarious response in#HumiliationFest. Both showcase some unsettling parts of the promotional side of publication: it’s all a popularity contest. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, folks. Agents and editors have to sell books, and that becomes easier if there is substantial word-of-mouth buzz. That’s why I’m sticking a trunk-novel into a major Wattpad awards contest in the next few months, and why there are some upcoming targeted twitter-pitch contests that I want to try. Why not?

I really hate to use an argument often touted by vanity publishers and ineffective small-press publishers, but it is true: authors need to promote themselves. If they are lucky enough to get a publisher who can do the heavy lifting, great…but they still can’t sit back and just wait for readers. (Not great news to hermits like me, sadly.)

As author T. Frohock explains, great reviews alone cannot save against incompetent publishers and books the public doesn’t know about. Her stuff is what might happen if Ambrose Bierce, Hemingway, Tim Powers, and Anne Rice hooked up for a historical dark fantasy thrillride. That some of the characters are gay is not so much incidental as foundational – and necessary to the plots. She’s seriously evaluating whether to continue writing right now.

In the Curious Case of Sarah Monette: an agented, well-reviewed, modestly-selling, commercially-published fantasy author whose first works featured some gay characters and situations…had to essentially stop, write something else under the pseudonym Katherine Addison, and get some major award nominations to be taken more seriously.

Writers – especially midlist fantasy authors – often face the prospect of taking on pseudonyms in order to revitalize their careers. Often at their agents’ urging. I hate that. I want people to know that Addison is Monette, that Robin Hobb is Megan Lindholm, that any of my other author friends can and should be connected back to the names they’ve had to shelve or scale back. Because that way new readers can find those old backlists, many of which are becoming available again through new publishing ventures.

(In the comments below, Akaria brings up some of the other reasons why author pen names can be problematic, especially in ‘diverse’ books.)

I hate how that philosophy dismisses the readers of one genre, instead of giving them a choice. How it ruthlessly and relentlessly stuffs stories into marketing pigeonholes.

These developments have made me look more closely at one of my genres of choice: M/M romance. I’m certainly not a Name author and never will be, but I have been following the genre (before it was one, since at least 1991.) I’m both thrilled and saddened to see some of the ways it has grown into a listed, cataloged romance genre.

The M/M romance small presses may be dying out, or at least suffering through a necessary drought that weeds out the under-performing companies. (I say this as someone who signed onto a brand-new press last year. Life is full of calculated risks.)

Over the past three years, mainstream Big Five imprints have done reasonably well by expanding M/M romance, especially contemporary, to their catalogs. M/M elements have flirted their way into mainstream Paranormal Romance series, in text and other media.

Women basically cleaned up the whole Nebula Awards last weekend, many of them writing with LGBTQ ideas.

C.S. Pacat has blazed a trail worthy of Rowling through the fantasy genre with her intricate, lush, and dark ‘Captive Prince’ series, with a legendary M/M romance at its core. However, I begin to suspect that success may be more of an anomaly than a genre-bending Black Swan moment. Pacat came to commercial publication after an agent sought her, after her stories had become self-published juggernauts first on LiveJournal and then on Amazon. She has thousands of fans, me among them, and they are a loyal and wonderful community.

For authors without that fan base? LGBTQ characters and elements in fantasy fiction may actually be on the downturn, even as far as other important, well-funded, and well-received novels are concerned.

‘Diversity’ in SFF publishing still seems to be full of token nods and buzzwords. As shown in this tweet, one among many:

The field is probably actually even more narrowly-selected, for LGBTQ writers and stories.

(Edited for clarity) Several recent query pitch contests that I watched over 2015 and 2016 were *full* of pleas for diverse stories, yet the actual agent responses (shared by some fellow writers who want to remain private) were essentially: “Too gay”, “Too much gay romance”, “I wanted more fantasy and less gay agenda”, and similar statements. Without taking away from equally important causes, my friends and I did note that no one who is not a Rabid Puppy dared say, “This fantasy has way too many POC in it”.

Many of my midlist LGBTQ romance friends want to push outside the genre and launch into more fantasy/thriller/mystery/etc. genres, while keeping their LGBTQ roots. Many literary agents appear to be resisting that, actively or tacitly. So are publishers. There’s a pervasive attitude that, because some LGBTQ authors, actors, and stories have broken barriers…that those barriers no longer exist at all.

That LGBTQ authors have it easy now, and we should shut up and stop rocking the boat.

From the M/M romance side of the equation, we’re essentially being shown we’re traitors for looking for more mainstream commercial exposure.

Is it any wonder that many of us are seriously considering self-publishing?

Apparently this is how I write

I’m not as precise or as disciplined about creating character hinterlands as this article suggests, but it’s pretty close to my process.

Of course, this is only fashionable to admit if one becomes a success at it, I suspect. Otherwise, we are told ‘Don’t write so much backstory’, ‘You’ll never finish the actual story, will you?’, and ‘How long have you been writing this?’

 

Spotlight on Maestro, news on Moro’s Price

Follow this link to my interview with the talented and tolerant Theophilia St. Claire, as we talk about the creative process, my experiments with contemporary M/M romance (aka my novella Maestro), and some ‘taboo’ writing subjects.

Some purposefully vague news: If you’re interested in my debut novel Moro’s Price (a M/M erotic romance space opera) and its sequels, keep an eye on my ‘original published fiction’ page over the next few months. And if you’ve ever wanted your own Kindle copy of this version of Moro…now is the time to get it, folks.

For those of you at BookExpoAmerica (BEA) accept my grateful thanks for all the vicarious tweets, blog posts, and news articles. I feel connected and uplifted.

Phoenix Comicon is just a few short weeks away now, for those of you in the Southwest or planning to be here at that time. 110F daytime temps, a huge convention center, a veritable cosplay mecca, and probably 80,000 people. Do we know how to party in Phoenix, or what? Come join us and make memories!

Adding Monsters to Thrift Store Paintings

My stars above, I want to do this. And some of this.

I live near older ‘seniors only’ communities, where the first generation to hobby-paint with Bill Alexander and Bob Ross are now dying out. The hobbyists’ yeoman efforts have been making their way into local thrift stores for a good twenty years. Sounds cruel and it sort of is. But these pieces are eventually doomed for landfill, otherwise.

Add to that the glut of cheap, mawkish acrylic paintings from modern ‘paint-n-sip’ classes…there’s a gold rush of uninspired art out there just begging for new life!

Who’s with me?

First Frost Mask, Phoenix Comicon

In honor of The Sovereign and the Thin White Duke*, and as part of the Kids Need to Read charity’s events at the 2016 Phoenix Comicon, I will be donating ‘First Frost’, a black wire and crystal bead mask** inspired by that wonderful ancient fantasy flick ‘Labyrinth’.

First Frost mask by Marian Crane

This is the second wire mask I’ve made in my life (the last was a copper wire butterfly mask, lost in a gallery move years ago). This one was inspired by the amazing masks from Chantal Mallett and Grin, Grimace, and Squeak. (I’ve since made more, but I am still not worthy, really.)

First Frost mask sideview by Marian Crane

But if you happen to fall in love with this one, you might just win it at the KNtR events! (Along with an even better prize, I think: one of four $25 gift credits to the online bead and jewelry supply company Plazko.com.)

Dimensions: approx. 4″ high, 8″ wide. Materials: black coated craft wire in several gauges, black SoftFlex beading wire, black elastic, clear glass beads, Aurora-borealis iridescent clear glass beads and drops, black metal crimps, clear elastic hanger for display (remove for wearing). Retail value: $125.00.

I’m working my way up to making a sterling silver and labradorite mask from some of the silver wire stock that Plazko carries. Wish me luck, and have fun at Phoenix Comicon!

*I miss David Bowie’s genius, glamour, and heart. For anyone jumping on the potential ‘fascist’ bandwagon, I’d note that Bowie’s Duke days were some of his darkest…and he transcended them. Something to aspire to.

** photography by the talented Viktor Shmyhlenko.

Another year, another Hugo Awards pie fight

3…2…1..let’s do this.

bugsy malone pie fight

It’s April of 2016, and the Hugo Awards nominations have been made public. If you don’t know what the Hugos are to the science fiction and fantasy genre (or don’t care), you might want to leave now. I’ll forgive you. If you stay, I’ll assume you already know last year’s Hugo history.

Predictably, the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies, in order to counterbalance the evil Social Justice Warriors perverting their beloved spec fiction genres, have once again tried to overwhelm the nominating process. The Sad Puppies, led by Kate Paulk, chose a slightly more modest and balanced strategy this year, offering up a menu with many works that probably would have been nominated anyway. The Rabid Puppies, led by Vox Day and Castalia House, have adhered to their apocalyptic BurnItAllDown! ethos.

Seeing as how the RP slate appears to essentially be social media marketing for Castalia, I honestly don’t think they’d know what to do with a current Hugo if they won one (hint: Chuck Tingle has some raunchy suggestions.)

Basically, some very good authors got nominated by some rather awful and/or misguided and/or bitter people, as a way to claim a hollow, unearned victory if those authors win. Some authors have been distancing themselves from the fray. Many of the nominated authors did not want to be on a Puppies nomination list, asked to be removed, and were ignored. Some authors will probably remove themselves, while others will stick it out on their own merit and ignore the Puppies. Some nominating categories were completely swept by active and avowed Puppy candidates, which will probably lead to more ‘No Award’ situations at the actual WorldCon event. Some formal and informal news outlets and blogs have better accounts, if you are really interested.

At least one author (Dr. Chuck Tingle, of Amazon Kindle Dinosaur Erotica fame) was apparently Puppy-chosen for his potential shock value to the fainting left-wing violets. Which shows the former might not understand fannish humor on the left. Because Tingle…Tingle is like ‘Robot Chicken’ meets Larry Flynt, with a generous helping of meth. He’s filthy and hilarious. But I read andy offutt in his heyday, so don’t go by my tastes, please.

I’m probably a bad person for laughing my ass off at this year’s nominations. The entertainment value alone is priceless. I am about as likely to write something worthy of being nominated as I am to be the first mayor on the Moon, so I normally wouldn’t care about the Hugos. But this year at WorldCon (MidAmerica Con, by its formal name), the Hugo nomination and voting procedures are going to be changed by attending members. Which is why memberships on both right and left, conservative and liberal, have soared this year.

Even more sobering, the 2017 WorldCon will be held in Helsinki. Castalia is nominally based in Finland, even though many liberal and progressive locals that I’ve contacted knew very little about Vox Day and Castalia before this broke last year. So odds are, the voting procedures will get snarled in even more chaos this year, leading to many years of Hugo battles to come. (Great. How many more Pie Fight GIFs do I have to find now?*)

I’ll probably buy a membership in support this year, if some art money comes in. But I’m not going. I would not be attending if I won a major lottery tomorrow, because MidAmerica Con is in Missouri, one of Those Four States which I am very leery about supporting with my tax dollars.

But it’s going to be an interesting summer.

*This year’s GIF comes from the movie Bugsy Malone, which I fondly remember for its weird!fun parody of Prohibition gangs, and one killer theme song. Which actually has some bearing on the current Hugo pie fights. It’s a sweet song, and you really should go listen to it. Isn’t one of the enduring rallying cries of science fiction and fantasy: “We could have been anything that we wanted to be?”

Etsy showcase #1: pebble pendant

New feature on this blog: Etsy Showcase. I’m going to be looking at other artists’ work on Etsy, and analyzing pieces that I love, like, or think I could adapt. (I’m also going to try to find the ‘ultimate expression’ of that craft, if I can.)

I did not make this crystal and river pebble pendant, for example. I like it, though.

This pendant is pretty, and I can appreciate the drill-work the artisan did to flush-set the Swarovski crystal flatback gems. But you know what…this would be even better with faceted CZ or Nanogem stones, inlaid not with a flat bezel cutout but a cone to accommodate the pointed base. It’s actually likely to take less work to cut the cone-shaped depression with a good carborundum or diamond bit, and a lot of water as coolant.

I’d also probably use a more artistic single chain or group, because certain details about this photo don’t say ‘high-grade chain’. This steel chain has obvious unsoldered gaps in the links, which can lead to more-easily broken jewelry…yes, even in steel.

SALE - Beach Stone Jewelry - Path of Enlightenment - Beach Rock and Swarovski Crystal Necklace

Here’s the original artist’s buy link:

http://www.etsy.com/listing/87195303/beach-stone-jewelry-path-of

It’s sold at a regular price of $45, and is designed to be worn at two lengths. Not bad pricing, considering the most work is in drilling and carving the stone, followed by gluing in the crystals. I’m not a huge fan of most stainless steel jewelry, but that’s because silver is my go-to metal for design.

This pendant would be totally insane with a more-elaborate faceted cut like a marquise/navette or an emerald-cut gem. Heck, I have some old, weirdly-cut amethysts that might just do wonders paired with a matte-finished river pebble…

***

Added later: Of course, whenever I find a new art ‘look’ or style, I immediately want to see it in its purest, most magnificent form. I want to see what happens when the charming craft of the simple form above is taken into the realm of near-holy Artifact, by masters of the craft.

I think I found pebble art jewelry’s master in Andrea Williams, whose Bound Earth website features some truly stunning pieces. Like this one, which I hope she won’t mind me featuring:

In case you don’t feel like following the site link: that is river pebbles drilled and inlaid with recycled silver, gold, and Venetian glass. By someone who has won some serious awards for refining this technique.

I’m not showing this second piece to ‘shame’ the first artist at all. There is a place for lower-cost Etsy crafts, since most people 1) don’t have the money for Andrea’s pieces, or 2) won’t be shivering down their spine to look at them. I am a jewelry nerd, after all.

One of the things I learned very early in my own craft fair adventures: lots of little pieces often ultimately earn less than several larger, more-involved and better designed pieces using the same amount of material. I get better tangible and intangible rewards for the kick-ass pieces.

Look at the difference in terms of cost, materials, and career viability. From what little I know about the process, it probably takes about the same amount of time to do a hundred $45 single-pebble pieces, the first artist’s way…as it does for Andrea to do one necklace or bracelet. Andrea’s work sells for hundreds to thousands of dollars for each piece, wins awards, and is featured in major fine craft books, galleries, and museums. Her pieces will be treasured heirlooms hundreds of years from now. She’s put in 30 years learning how to make them.

The usual equation of the typical Etsy-crafter avoids such costly, labor-intensive single pieces in favor of smaller, more affordable, more quickly-made and quickly-sold pieces. Such crafters often forget (or don’t care) that their art is usually slated as disposable and ultimately forgettable.

Artisans like Andrea Williams focus more energy and skill on museum-worthy pieces that can ultimately command a much better price-per-piece than the same number of single beach-pebble pieces, no matter how charming the latter. Not only that, there’s the intangible benefit of earned, conferred honors, which help command even higher prices, better publicity, and better commissions. You don’t get into NY galleries with single Etsy pieces inlaid with stock crystal and strung on commercial steel chain.

Having seen her work, I think I can now spot Andrea’s pieces in a gallery, even without tags or captions. I certainly know that I lack the skill to even come close to reproducing it. (But that doesn’t mean I won’t dabble.)

Why am I belaboring this point, other than to drool over some gorgeous, incredible jewelry? There’s a lesson in here for writers, too: about fearlessly honing your skill, and taking your work and inspiration as far as you possibly can.

Harlequin Romance paperback novels, for example, have traditionally lived a dreadfully short shelf life. They usually had four weeks or less on bookstore shelves to sell, before having the covers stripped for bookstore returns and the text blocks pulped as trash. Even purchased, they were such a blight that many used bookstores and thrift stores in the eighties and nineties refused to take them even in trade.

Even now, Harlequin writers can make a decent or nearly decent living writing so-called formula romances (though the formulas have matured and become more complex over the decades.) But they have to write at the same punishing pace as erotic romance writers in the digital publishing realm…often, a book every couple of months. Or more.

There are writers who can handle that pace and still tell exquisite stories. Many can’t. The only reason they survive is by sheer volume, and the fact that digital self-pub is beginning to rescue those nearly-forgotten backlists. (And sometimes plagiarism and book-farming to ghostwriters, but that’s another post.)

Will they win awards? Probably not outside the ‘fluff’ awards popular in the self-publishing and small-press digital publishing fields, which mean very little outside their narrow sphere. Very few of these authors will score serious awards in their genre, be it romance, science fiction and fantasy, contemporary fiction, etc. If they can make a living, they’re happy. A few of them will earn enough to make very good livings, awards or not.

So why are major awards important? Because they can directly or indirectly earn money. Some awards come with grants or prize money. Publishers might be more inclined to give major award-winners better advances and contract terms. Better marketing and stronger word-of-mouth can boost sales far beyond the pre-award estimates.

Beyond that, awards are a way of keeping score, of validating individual artists and writers in comparison to their peers.

So yes, this post is a tale of two pieces of similar but ultimately different jewelry, meant for different markets and clients. But it’s also about ways of looking at our craft, and honestly placing ourselves where we realistically are…and where we might go if we push beyond our limits.

Useful Objects: craft, thrift, and mortality

As I type this post, I’m looking at a small package filled with about $40 worth of art supplies left over from the scrapbooking binge era circa 2003 to 2006. Which I scored not long ago for $3 at a local thrift store.

There are expensive, well-made plastic circle templates spun on tiny ball-bearings. Pewter and bronze ‘affirmation’ tags with self-stick adhesive (how I can tell the date). White shell discs. Blank metal stamping tags. Specialty theme paper cutouts. The main stars of this trove are the soft plastic and silicone stamping plates: vector-drawn florishes and embellishments, geometric and floral medallions, label tags, etc. 

I’ve worked behind the scenes in enough resale stores to know these objects may or may not have been donated together. Whatever original ‘story’ they told, may not have survived sorting and bagging in the back room. If they came in together, they could have been given up due to a move, homelessness, divorce, or death…or just boredom.

Demographically-speaking, they probably came from a woman owner dabbling in scrapbooking (or given as gifts to her). The items seem largely pristine, barely used or not at all.

I bought the package because I know the stamping plates will be useful in my fiber art and painting. This is the main reason why I scrounge interesting objects and supplies at low-cost outlets: not so much my innate covetousness, but the possibility of using these things in my art.

Some of this stuff I scored 30 years ago, always with an eye toward future use. Out of around 350 book arts and painting projects I’ve created since 1997, at least 225 have used items from my ‘hoard’. So those items have been paid for, by the sales of those books and paintings. To non-creative, uncluttering gurus, I have to explain that I have very little emotional attachment to my art supplies…they have value only from what I can make from them. They are capital investments.

I hate buying them at full price, and avoid that whenever I can. (Even though I know that full price sales help support the original designers and design companies.) I like that a whole new creative sub-industry has sprung up around the ‘re-use and recycle’ movement. As with the Gluten-Free movement, it makes my life easier.

I do have moments of sober self-reflection, when musing about the objects I find in thrift stores. There are lots of broken dreams and ended lives catalogued in those bits of detritus. I’m in the latter half of my life, so there’s a good chance that *my* hoard will end up the same way.

I can only hope that my cast-off toys and treasures will inspire another person’s creativity.

 

 

Quantum Computing and lies from the pit of hell

A little compare and contrast game for this election season. (For those of you not American or not paying attention, yes, we’re in the middle of an incredibly nasty presidential election.) My examples have nothing – and everything – to do with the current candidates.

Canada has a new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who stunned and delighted many viewers a few days ago with a seemingly impromptu primer on the foundations of quantum computing.

America has people like Paul Broun, who until last year acually sat on government science oversight committees, influencing funding and research.

We should not be startled when our leaders know at least basic science. We should demand it of them. Likewise, we shouldn’t allow anyone near a government science oversight committee if they don’t ‘believe’ in science.