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.

Diverse Voices pitch contest 4-19-2016

A PSA for writers in multiple genres with query-ready manuscripts (finished & polished): if you and/or your characters meet certain qualifications, you can participate in tomorrow’s #DVpit contest on Twitter.

It’s being sponsored by agent Beth Phelan, and looks to include a lot of well-known literary agents and editors (usual caveats apply).

This is a very encouraging sign of publishing professionals actually doing something about representing diverse authors and books, so it needs as much community participation and support as possible! (But do follow the rules about the actual event, because they’ll help streamline the chaos.)

***

My #DVpit experience was fun and useful. Honing my tweets ultimately helped me improve my query letter. It let me see what works were getting multiple notices, and probably why. I reconnected with an agent whom I’d queried before, but that ultimately led to an expected rejection on genre. I’m still unsure about the utility of editors boosting unagented authors’ pitches when they can’t take unagented pitches…it’s a long shot whether any eventual agent will be able to place the mms on the basis of one retweet months back. Especially for a book already rejected by the publisher in question.

Will I do #DVpit or other pitch contest again? If I have a book more in the YA camp, maybe…it seems that diverse YA gets more traction and notice than adult work. I notice that YA often seems to get more attention and space in other online pitch contests, too.

Rami Ismail talks about work-life balance

Rami Ismail has a great running commentary on a complaint that game design workers are ‘wage-slave’ whiners if they want to focus on a sane work/life balance.

Instead of, you know, pouring 80 to 100 hours a week into a company where the funding, scheduling, and management issues might be so inefficient that the project suffers, the workers burn out, and the game developer turns out a substandard game. (Have we seen this at all, in the last 20 years in the gaming world? Oh, god, have we…)

I used to work at an art manufacturing firm where the management consistently got one thing very, very right: they hammered home: “Work smarter, not harder”, and tried to help the employees do that. They didn’t always succeed, and they had other huge flaws, but I thank them for that lesson.

The game development world isn’t the only one asking brutally-long hours a week from its employees. The financial and stock industry is becoming legendary for suicidal burnout of its members, who are expected to prove themselves or go home. Creative-work folks are regularly expected to work for free, or for ‘exposure’. Exposure won’t pay the mortgage, chumps. Artists need to get paid.

The Japanese corporate culture even has a word for death by overwork: Karoshi. They’re even trying to roll it back. Because science is finding out that yes, hard work can kill you.

One of Rami’s comments resonates very strongly with me: “Your complaint here is literally that someone asked to be paid fairly.”

In an era when dueling business strategies either endorse or bitterly fight higher proposed minimum wage increases in America, the concept of ‘fair wage’ can be fluid between fields and geographic regions.

There’s a point to the understandable resentment of someone who clawed their way to $15 an hour from $8 over years, upon finding out that all the newer, less experienced hires might be starting out there.

There’s still the flip, fall-back fallacy that “Oh, minimum-wage jobs are just starter jobs, people will work their way up.” That’s not what the American market has shown, during this ‘recovery’. More people are working fewer hours at lower-paying jobs. More are at risk of losing their housing and stability, because their rent is a far higher proportion of income. I won’t even get started on the absurdity that is the American health-care system. Even those of us who do have good jobs…are often contractors in charge of our own taxes and healthcare, and with minimal loyalty to our employers.

There’s the veiled or open threat: “Like it or leave” to workers who fight inefficient or extreme hours. All too often, trapped by family and financial obligations, they silently tough it out.

What’s the solution? Probably a nested series of initiatives and programs. Some sane business decisions. Businesses that bother to realistically schedule projects, instead of chronically running on adrenaline fueled deadlines.

“Work/life balance” is not a dirty phrase. It’s survival.

 

Dear reader, I’m sorry my book was too short

(Because usually I have the opposite problem, clocking in SFF tomes of 130K to 160K, which must all be pruned.)

Anyway, I’m glad the reader liked the book. I was a little puzzled at first, when they mentioned, “The book is too short” And I fired off a generalized funny tweet about it.

I’ve seen this before, from readers who call short stories ‘novellas’ or ‘novels’. My inner accuracy wonk squirms a bit, because all of these forms have their limits. They are not interchangeable. Some topics are best served within Twitter’s 140-character-limit zing. Some in vast novels. Some works can never be fully encompassed, even in huge series. In the past, I’d fall back on a sanctimonious listing of SFWA or RWA story length guidelines. But I’ve realized that, while some readers may not know their genre that well, they also don’t care. They are there for the damn story.

So of course, over the day, I realized this reader is absolutely right. That book is too short. It was based on a short story and extended to a skimpy 16K very quickly. I’m well aware there’s more story here, so I’m writing it. I had only the excuse of rushed time and unfamiliarity with a new setting and characters, and that’s not enough of an excuse. After all, I’ve read precise and breathtaking novellas that explored everything they needed to about a story, in 15K to 30K.

Only my fear of a new story set me back. I’ll stop with that, and get on with writing absurdly deep and big whenever I can. Thank you for bringing me gently back to what’s important: the story.

First look: ‘Twilight Arc’ pages

This will be a miniature (under 3″) coptic-stitch fiber art book pendant with inlaid shell covers. Embroidered cotton pages are accented with scrimshaw on white shell plaques. Twilight Arc text for blog

I’m really happy with the technique I learned for scrimshaw on shell, and plan to use more of it in future books. This is a trial run.

The text: “Twilight Arc/Cleaves Day/From Night/Earth Shadow/Cast/On Air/In That/Opal Chasm/Bats and/Night-hawks/Flyte – twilight arc, MC 2016”

Twilight Arc‘ aka twilight arch or earthshadow, is simply the Earth’s shadow cast into the atmosphere, above the horizon opposite the sunset or sunrise.

Flyte‘ from our friends at Wikipedia: “Flyting is a ritual, poetic exchange of insults practiced mainly between the 5th and 16th centuries. The root is the Old English word flītan meaning quarrel (from Old Norse word flyta meaning provocation).”

Plazko: Jewelry DIY for the rest of us

I am very happy to announce my association with the jewelry-making supply firm Plazko.com.

Since 2010, Plazko has been a go-to supply destination on Etsy for high-quality sterling silver and gold-filled wire, jewelry components, and silver charms. Last year the company expanded to its own online sales platform…resulting in thousands of satisfied return clients from all over the world.

What drew me in as a client? Good prices, wide stock, online convenience and reliability, and no-hassle returns.

In 2016 Plazko will be launching some amazing new product lines (including some exclusive gemstone beads and pearls that I’m personally drooling over).

www.plazko.com

An expanded online presence will include more video tutorials from respected and skilled jewelry artists like Bonnie Clewans. (And hacks like me.)

We are also planning an online retail sales platform for fine crafters, artisans, and artists: Plazko Marketplace.

I’ll be showcasing some of my own finished jewelry, accessories, and fine craft artwork. If you’ve liked the silverwork and beadwork pieces on my Photobucket and Pinterest pages…chances are, they’ll be on Plazko Marketplace soon.)

In addition to helping out around the Plazko warehouse, I’ll be part of a team writing blog content, how-to articles, artist interviews, and industry news for the Plazko website.

For now, if you want to contact me regarding Plazko, please use the email address in this blog’s links. And watch this space!

 

An apology from the RWA?

I hope so. Judge for yourself, and maybe come back here?

What do you think, readers? Does it come too late to rescue the Romance Writers of America, as a vital professional organization?

I hope not.

I am not a member of the RWA. I’ve attended a few meetings, I have a fair number of friends who do belong, and I might join when it becomes financially and professionally viable for me to do so. I say ‘might’ because as a reader and friend of romance novelists, I have a long memory.

Way, way back in 2005, something very slimy happened within the RWA, when a survey asked members to vote on whether romance should be redefined as ‘being between one man and one woman’.

Yes, that phrase.

Understand that in 2005, a digital explosion was happening in the romance field. Gay literary writers were crossing paths with fanfiction and original slash writers. Paranormal Romance and Erotic Romance subgenre writers reinvented the stories they wanted to read and tell…in the process, largely sidestepping the more conservative pearl-clutchers of the Old Guard.

This was obviously a terrifying thing to the pearl-clutchers. Thus, that RWA survey. The aftermath was long and epic. Things did change later. Slowly. I’m very happy to see this notice from the RWA today, in which they collectively say:

The survey, however, sparked a discussion that compelled our LGBT+ members to justify their existence to others and to participate in debates about their humanity and their capacity to love. This incident was a low point from which RWA’s reputation has never recovered. The organization later reaffirmed RWA’s commitment to making sure that “any definition of romance should be broad and inclusive.” This statement, however, did not make it clear that, in issuing the survey, RWA failed its members, its genre and its mission. We want to make that clear now.

Bravo for them. Bravo for the writers who banded together to create diversity-friendly groups inside and outside the ranks of the RWA. And bravo for the readers whose purchases and loyalty made that apology not only honorable, but financially responsible.

But let us be very clear and very blunt: in ‘issuing the survey’ in the first place, that 2005 incarnation of the RWA was not failing its mission at all.

Like their current political cousins, those RWA leaders (who were/are readers, writers, agents, and editors, bear in mind) were playing desperately to their perceived base with every dog-whistle phrase and code word they could dredge up. Enough of them did not like having icky gay writers and immoral menage writers in their midst. They thought they should do something about it. Given the current political climate of the day, they thought they could do something about it.

Why, some of those other writers were even writing stories where the gay and poly MCs had Happy Ever After endings! (You could have gay, lesbian, and poly characters before, of course, just as long as the story didn’t reward them.)

I hate to make romance novels (which are often happily, admittedly escapist) into a political tool, but this season I feel I have to.

We’re at a social crossroads between cosmopolitan and conservative values, not just in the US but all over the world. The still-reviled romance novel sneaks its way into the markets of northern Nigeria, into the youth culture of China, into the rigidly controlled Islamist bureaucracies of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran. The spark of romance can kindle and keep alive other sparks: tolerance, kindness, knowledge, and fortitude.

To quote the late, much-missed Tanith Lee: ‘a cry of love is always a cry of love’.

We who tell stories need to remember that.

 

 

 

Do not adjust your screen

For the 14 people who regularly read this thing, do not panic.

The Blue Night blog will be undergoing some cosmetic changes over the next week. I’ve set it up with the WordPress 2016 theme for the moment, as that is supposedly very stable and clean. Plus, no light text on dark backgrounds, for those of us who are finding that increasingly challenging.

Oh, hey, everybody: I can upload art again!

Larrea sketch

A gentle note to fanfic writers

Hell, to writers in general. Stop trolling each other, please.

Yes, fanfiction is a good way to hone writing skills and interact with other fans in a generally supportive environment.

Yes, given the hobbyist nature of the fanfiction genre, I would never expect or offer a rigorous critique…unless the author requested it with full awareness of what constitutes effective and useful criticism. Great fan writers don’t need a critique, and bad ones can’t usually benefit from it yet. I comment on great fan-written stories. I rarely comment on stories derailed by bad writing; if there are too many mistakes in the first few pages, I just stop reading. It would be pointless to go on, and equally pointless to review. I have the same policy about original fiction.

Recently, a fan writer named Katiedid pulled her work from the Archive of Our Own site, after several of her stories got apparently flamed by troll comments. I didn’t see them, and I’d only read a few of her works, so I can’t comment on whether or not the trolls were accurate or just being asshats. I can’t speak for her decision. I wish she hadn’t caved, but I don’t blame her. If anything, AO3’s more open admittance over the last few years has allowed in authors from other online communities where they may have picked up some bad social habits.

The Internet has trolls. That is never changing. I don’t think it should. Exercises in free speech are going to infuriate and emotionally trigger someone, somewhere. Efforts to constrain Internet speech most often seem to result in dumbed-down pablum offerings and even more witch hunts between groups. (Ah, tribalism, rearing your ugly mug again.)

Trolls are not usually real readers, anyway, but fringe group raiders looking for self validation and coup points within their own hierarchies. Both fan and original writers need to disregard troll comments…or learn to hit back with skill and glee. Take some lessons from original writers Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi, on how to moderate open comments.

Katie, come back to AO3 when you’re ready. Who cares what trolls think?

Rejections happen. What do you do next?

In writing, art…really, in life, rejection happens. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our efforts don’t match with what the other side needs or wants.

How we address those rejections can have a vast impact on our future efforts, our risk-taking, and well-earned self esteem. Here are some tips I’ve learned in some 30-odd years of lobbing projects out into the wild blue yonder, and getting (mostly) rejections thrown back.

  1. It’s not personal. Unless the other party is a complete troll or a personal enemy, the rejection is about the project, not me. If they’re a troll, I ignore them. If they are an enemy, I’ll have had other reasons for engaging them, and they will have other reasons for responding. Mostly, impersonal rejections just mean the project wasn’t a good fit. That’s good! Why would I want to work with a business or a partner who wasn’t 100% supportive of the project? Or me?
  2. Learn from it. If the other party has been kind enough to include why they rejected something, maybe that will give clues to either fix or amplify the problem area. ‘Fix’ is a given, if it’s a real mistake. ‘Amplify’ only means that I struck a nerve with the other party, and it might actually be a selling feature to other people.
  3. Was I ready to advance on this project, to begin with? Like all creative people, I sometimes think I’m ahead of where I really am. Rejections and critique from qualified professionals and astute amateurs can give me a better baseline.
  4. Don’t dwell on details. Once I’ve logged in the outcome to a spreadsheet and learned what I can from Point 2, I forget about that particular rejection. No means No. Anything other than Yes is still No, no matter how much it’s dressed up in form-letter blandishments or personal advice.
  5. It happens to everyone. J.K. Rowling just shared on Twitter some of her rejection letters for the first Richard Galbraith book. ‘For inspiration, not revenge,’ she offers. In response, many other writers and artists shared some of their rejection stories.

I think the most important point about rejections: I cared enough to try, in the first place.

Yeah, that moment

You know the moment when something, even the tiniest something, finally goes right?

I’m querying a mms that might as well be a roller-coaster, for all the ups, downs, and death-spirals it has gone through in the last three years. This current round of querying has only been a month-and-a-half, nowhere near the two years I spent ineffectually hawking Bloodshadow.

Sometimes, an offhand email request opens unexpected doors. A publisher I knew only in passing, is suddenly revealed as A Good Publisher. A publisher already dealing with many of the very good agents on my wish list, so just from that I can infer that both sides are of decent industry standing. And the publisher is actually viable, considering my weird mix of genres that might be homeless anywhere else. Not too small, not so big, a good mix of principals who seem to not only know but adore their business.

Thanks to that one email response, I’ve gone from crickets, slamming doors, and numb exasperation, to a small amount of hope for this new book. My query countdown has been given overtime. It doesn’t matter if no one else says ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’. I have two alternate plans now, not just, ‘Well, then I’ll self-publish.’ Of course it’s not a sure thing – nothing ever is. But it’s a step in the right direction.

cowards with bombs

I’ve been away from the news, so I didn’t catch what was happening in Belgium until a couple of hours ago.

My hopes and best wishes go out to Belgium and the entire EU right now. Serious political upheavals are testing that already uneasy alliance.

The ‘Islamic State’ is having a temper tantrum again, and trying to scare us with bombs. People have died. Politicians are flailing around. Political enemies are making deals behind the scenes, to use this tragedy to their gain.

This is the danger of tribalism, and always has been: faced with a cosmopolitan world filled with people who do not think, act, or believe as they do, the tribalists lash out. They claim to be victims and martyrs. They poison their minds until suicide bombers and gun battles seem the only way forward, against a world that does not condone or believe in their stupid backwater little cults.

ISIS is a bloody, cynical, incompetent doomsday club bent on ruining the planet for the rest of us. It and its kind of organization (regardless of their actual religion) are on the way out…if humanity can solve the other problems of energy, food, and water supplies before climate change alters the planet too much.

If we can’t solve those problems, if we backslide another century or two, then ISIS and its ilk will be the dominant form of government. Don’t look to ISIS or the Tea Party for fusion generators, starships, and terraforming other planets – these folks can’t even manage to save a major dam or promote science education in their classrooms. Not beyond the minimum needed for bombs and guns.

Which world do we want? Which world could possibly save humanity, the next time a couple of really large asteroids wander by on the wrong trajectory? When the seas rise and take out major ports and arable land, squeezing the billions even closer together?

I damn sure don’t want theocrats with guns in charge.

Politics as usual

For many years I was a registered Republican. My parents had been, that’s how I started my voting record. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Ronald Reagan was probably a sham worse than Nixon. But I stayed Republican, thinking I could work within the party…or at least help sabotage it from within. I saw the ‘Moral Majority’ doing the same thing, taking over from the other side of an ideological wall. While I was growing more liberal, educated, tolerant, and cosmopolitan…my party was openly regressing.

Around 2000, I abandoned the GOP and became an Independent voter. For years, I’d told myself the Republicans were the party of fiscal responsibility. But trickle down economics never worked. The GOP’s usual mandate of practical business strategies and responsible stewardship took a back seat to social conservatism, to an unholy alliance between big business and religious organizations brokered by shameless social engineers like Frank Luntz.

We now have Young-Earth creationists serving to guide government science departments. From deregulation and underfunding of government oversight…we get exploding fertilizer plants not inspected for 30 years, plus catastrophic lead levels in mismanaged water supplies. Our infrastructure crumbles around us. The openly obstructionist Republican Party has gone from willfully not doing its job because ‘Ewww, Black President!’, to being unable to do its job at all. We’ve gone from ‘Global warming is a liberal hoax’ to ‘Global warming is real but it’s too late to do anything about it, so let’s just pray over it and assume God can save us.’

We have depressed, resentful middle-aged white people lashing out at a world changing too fast for them to adapt. We have depressed, economically-stressed POC being swayed by false promises of inclusion and affinity fraud. We have the most loathsome shadows of our national rascist, isolationist, anti-science past stalking confidently out into daylight, certain of their welcome.

We have the roots of an ISIS-style Christian regime trying to organize out of Tea Party groups, neo-Nazi militias, gun-rights lobbyists, televangelists’ flocks, and disaffected independents who would rather vote for anarchy than workable solutions. (They’ll disavow it, act like victims, and cry slander, but really? If they think they can get away with it, they’ll try. That kind of mindset is about control, not compromise.) Think it can’t happen here? Syria wasn’t a failed state 15 years ago. We need to take a hard look at Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

That’s us, right now.

In Donald Drumpf we now have the perfectly logical end result of all those forces coming together. The Republicans finally have the candidate they deserve, the one they’ve wanted for at least 50 years. The one they made.

He’s not a joke. He’s deadly serious about running for the Presidency, since it seems a fleet of sports cars, trophy wives, business and property acquisitions, and essentially free media publicity all his life have not soothed his rampaging inner drive for validation. I honestly don’t know if he’s got the same crippling Daddy-issues that George W Bush has…or if Drumpf really is the brash buffoon he plays. It’s as if someone shopped a comedy script about a Rodney Dangerfield Presidency, only a conservative think tank decided it was a political mandate. He won’t be as easily controlled as Dubya, though, and his alleged ‘better’ business instincts won’t help him actually govern. If he’s really, truly smart, he’ll be playing to lose. He gains everything that way and doesn’t risk shattering his ‘business genius’ reputation beyond all repair.

I’m an Independent. I can’t vote today in Arizona’s primary. I have complaints and doubts about all the candidates on all sides…but I have no doubt that The Donald is absolutely the worst political choice we could make at this time in our history. The best thing I can hope about him, is that he knows it, too.

The shapeshifter dilemma

In 199X, I sent a story into Marion Zimmer Bradley’s then-prestigious fantasy magazine. I eventually got back a form rejection notice with a handwritten note from the Great One herself, explaining, “Werewolves are done, over. No werewolf fics, please. Same goes for vampires.”

I take a little comfort that the Paranormal Romance explosion was a few short years away then, and it would herald a tectonic shift in reading and publishing. I love PNR for that. I hate PNR for that, and I’ll get to my reasons why soon.

Granted, my story sucked. I still have it, and yes, it does suck. But my biggest problem with that rejection letter? There were no werewolves or vampires in the story. One shapeshifter not remotely human or lupine, running around in a world that wasn’t Earth.

Fast forward two decades or so. PNR has dug itself deep into the SFF and romance readerships, and for good reason. But it’s also a victim of its own success, especially regarding shapeshifting characters.

They’re a genre unto themselves. They are an avalanche. Some are extremely well-written and fun. Some are just tedious trope-fodder. No matter what real or imagined animal/alien species they might become when they’re not slumming as humans…they all get lumped into the reader-writer-agent-publisher hivemind as…

Werewolf.

I blogged about this a little over a year ago.

So when someone tells me “Sorry, shapeshifting is just not my passion”, I have to sympathize. I understand.

The shapeshifters of romance have stolen the thunder from the shapeshifters of SFF, in much the same way that Twilight’s glittery Vampire 3.0 trivialized into automatic parody the vampires of Victorian and Pulp days.

My own attitude as a reader has probably contributed minutely to that shift. I write a few shapeshifters, and I still can’t stop my little internal whine whenever I now see another writer’s were-creature book. Because I’m also probably thinking, “Oh god, not another werewolf story.” A terrible disservice to some amazing writers I’ve met and/or read, across the years.

So to remind myself once more: Fur + Paws + Sentience still doesn’t equal Werewolf.

 

Indiana Jones 5?

Confirmed. I have to say I’m flinching at this. Crystal Skull was just…so incredibly, unbelievably bad. So bad ‘South Park’ eviscerated it. Even with Lucas out of the picture now, there were still too many multiple movie sins for me to think the new one will be better.

Harrison Ford proved in the new ‘Star Wars’ movie that he’s still a great actor. But let’s face it, Indy #4 and #5 should have been made 15 years ago.

The Waiting Game

Publishing…good, effective publishing…has defined stages. Ignoring those stages can lead to career-stalling gaffes like:

Querying before the mms is polished, or even completed. Not researching agents and publishers before querying them. Querying publishers before agents. Not understanding that commercial publishing can have a backlog and/or schedule of years during the publication process.

That’s been the biggest problem I’ve seen with some overeager self-pub authors. They chose that route after realizing it would take at least four to six months before they could write off non-responding agents, and another year or two to query publishers one at a time. Without giving an agent or publisher’s slushpile a chance, they abandoned the process and jumped right into self-pub.

Sure, they got a novel on Kindle very quickly. Is it the best novel it could have been? In many cases, no. I’m seeing some authors who are taking down their early self-published work because it was so bad it was dragging down their later, better work. They’ve grown enough as artists they can now tell the difference.

Reputable literary agents and publishers still have many value-added benefits, which I (and a lot of other people) have talked about before. Good editing. Solid cover design. Effective marketing. Secondary rights management.

The brutal truth is that most unprepared self-published authors won’t be any kind of commercial success. They won’t approach the sales numbers of Hugh Howey, C.S. Pacat, or Andy Weir. Daydeaming won’t make it happen, but some very hard work, skill, and luck might help them carve out niches of their own.

I get all that. I know the responsible drill is: seek agent in your genre>seek commercial publisher in your genre>exhaust those opportunities in a reasonable time-frame>line up self-pub resources>self-pub>write next book. Doesn’t stop me from fidgeting about my own schedules, and planning the next steps along the way. I just have to remember to let those first stages run their due course.

I cannot contain my joy

So, this is going to be really embarrassing for a good friend from long ago. Too bad.

The summary: SleepsWithCoyotes is porting her fanfiction over to Archive of Our Own.

My first reaction: fall over, giggling things like YAY! and OMG!

My second reaction: adding her to the top of my Fanfiction Recommendations list.

The long story: This is one of the incredible writers who introduced me to the idea of slash fanfiction (and original slash) back in the early 2000s. Her work helped teach me how to write. Of course I included her pen name in the dedication for Moro’s Price.

SWC is an amazing writer.  If she isn’t pro-published now she easily could be. Her stories have everything good, from brilliant characterizations to searing sex to intricate plots and settings. If it was all orginal fiction, her back catalog alone could power a commercial erotic romance publisher into the big leagues, and make Big Five imprints blink. For anyone who loved C. S. Pacat’s ‘Captive Prince’ original slash series? SleepsWithCoyotes is one of the wellsprings.

But due to very reasonable career worries, SWC took her stories offline long ago. I can’t blame her decision. I mourned but accepted it.

Except…those stories were damned good, and other folks all over the internet were trying to ‘save’ them by archiving them all over the place. Which annoyed SWC to no end. Again, can’t blame her.

I was aware that she had a limited, guarded presence online, but I didn’t pry. Or include links to her well-guarded sanctum. But now that she’s posting on AO3, I can.

Welcome back, Coyo.