The characters always win

M/M romance author L.A. Witt has a great post today on how to write out of sequence.

I’ve been doing that for a decade or so. It helps shake up my staid writing routine. I have an excuse to jump back and forth in a story whenever I have an ‘Ah ha!’ moment.

But something L.A. wrote has deeper resonance, and I’d like to touch on it:

“If the characters and outlines disagree, the characters *always* win.”

Remember that. Print it up and put it above your writing space where you will see it every day you write. Learn to trust it, in modern character-driven fiction of all genres.

Newer writers hear many debates about plotting-by-the-seat-of-the-pants versus writing-to-strict-outline. It’s easy to get sucked into one camp or the other when you don’t know yet how you function as a writer. The messy truth is that many of us fall somewhere in between.

I have to use at least a base outline to guide my work, or I get bogged down in eternal worldbuilding. But I’ve learned over the years to give my characters goals, motivations, and conflicts*, turn them loose, and see how they respond. Most of the time they surprise me. Most of the time, the new character-based solution is stronger than my outlined idea.

The best fiction I’ve written to date happened when I let go of the outline, and ‘listened’ to my characters.

No, I don’t believe they are real, or that I’m somehow channeling independent entities. I know how my creativity works. Once I build in enough parameters, my characters and creations can be a little more predictable in how they respond to certain stresses. Which, paradoxically, opens up my plot to more interesting variations.

*GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, by Debra Dixon. I’ve shilled this book before. I’m doing it again. since it is an incredible resource for those of us still flailing around to write strong characters.

 

 

Why we research publishers

…Because stuff like this keeps happening, to people who should maybe know better, but let greed, hope, and inexperience cloud their judgment.

image from http://www.fireretardantpainting.com/

image from http://www.fireretardantpainting.com/

Case 1. Silver Publishing

When I first started looking at publishing erotic romance in the summer of 2011, there was a rock-star publisher rising in the ranks, with some gorgeous covers, great writers, and good editors. I looked at their site. I heard stories of outrageously high royalties paid to some writers, and stories of other writers who hadn’t been paid at all. I asked someone in the business, a pro who knew much of the dirt on nearly *everyone* in the romance genre.

She said: ‘You didn’t hear this from me, because there are Silver supporters who will harass and try to blacklist anyone who speaks up. Do not sign with this company. Do not send them anything. Don’t even query them.’

Less than a year later, irregular doings at Silver Publishing were much more out in the open, if at least as hotly denied by the aforementioned supporters.

As of last Monday, all the excreta hit the fan. Silver Publishing has died in a flurry of shell companies, tax evasion, unpaid royalties, liquidation of property, and the flight of its proprietor to South Africa. You can begin to get a clear picture of timelines and discoveries starting off at Tymber Dalton’s blog, where she gives links to some ruthless sleuthing by several angry writers. It’s only because of their efforts that authorities were called in, and writers will get rights back to their books.

One of the most heartbreaking parts of this story? A few Silver authors knew exactly what was going on as far back as the summer of 2012, around the time of a Silver-sponsored writers’ retreat at a luxurious resort. They said nothing as the owner overextended himself and began openly ransacking authors’ royalties for personal expenses. Some of them encouraged new authors to sign up. Silver continued to post submissions calls. Major review and author promotion sites were kept in the dark. Why? Because as some wise and/or suspicious authors were getting their rights back from Silver, Silver needed a steady stream of new authors and books to keep up the Ponzi scheme.

This is not only why we research publishers before we query them, we keep abreast of the industry and its undercurrents. No publisher is immune to downturns in trends, even the honest ones.

A lot of eager loyalists will ask ‘what’s the harm?’

You lose first publishing rights, no matter what. Your book is now ‘used up’ by the market. If it has a great track record it might be picked up by a new publisher. If an author has too many low-selling books, they might have to change pen names to break away from that stigma. Or self-publish their old books. In a really bad situation, the author can lose all rights to their own work for years, while the publisher’s assets are sorted out by creditors.

Why the emphasis on first rights? A debut novel has the same weird status as an upper-class virgin in a patriarchal society: it’s untouched, an unknown quantity, able to molded and pitched to best effect to just the right readership. Publishers like first rights to new novels, since novelty can sell.

Once that’s gone, it’s gone.

Case 2. New, little, inexperienced publisher I can’t name.

Silver is a case of a publisher imploding at the end, after a slow decline that effectively hid its house-of-cards problems from many authors.

But once a new author learns to dissect ad-copy and do research, possible problem publishers can show their stripes from the beginning.

On an online forum, I read a recent discussion about a SFF convention organizer’s dilemma: his fellow organizers had invited a new publisher in their area, because there were a lot of fan fiction writers and original fiction writers among the convention membership. No one bothered to effectively research this publisher beforehand.

Thanks to the forum discussion, it’s been shown that the publisher has two books out in two years of being in business. One of those is by an author whose previous book was vanity published by a notorious for-pay publisher; he appears to be one owner of the publishing company. The other book is by the other owner, and doesn’t even show up on Amazon.

The publishers are a husband and wife team who show very little evidence of verifiable publishing/marketing/editing experience. Their website copy is full of the same spiel found in many new and inexperienced publishers, essentially boiling down to ‘Let us make your dream of publishing come true’. There’s no indication the publishers have any experience in writing or marketing SFF genre novels. Much less proof that they can actually match bigger, well-established genre publishers in the areas of editing, formatting, and marketing…thus, no proof that they’ll earn the royalty income from other authors’ books. Especially if, as is often the case, they make their authors do all or most of the selling.

They started their press to publish their own books. That’s fine, as long as they’re the only ones risking rights and future sales while they learn the business. The moment they begin to recruit, it becomes a problem. The fact that they’ll be recruiting at a convention where the membership is predisposed to trust them under the assumed badge of ‘authority’ is another problem.

The convention organizer is now left with the choice of:

1. Uninviting this publisher and looking rude. People who’ve run cons for years have absolutely no difficulty doing this, by the way. It avoids many future headaches. 

2. Keeping the publisher as an advertised guest, and not providing convention members with any corrections to the misinformation surely to follow. This also opens up the convention to exposure if there is later bad blood between angry authors and the publisher. See Choice 1.

3. Keeping the publisher as a guest, but offering another panel on pitfalls in publishing, to give general strategies on ways to research publishers.

I have no idea what the organizer will do.

I’ve seen this same thing go on at small media conventions, writers’ workshops, and community fairs for years. If an author meets representatives of *any* publisher at any gathering, it’s a good idea to verify everything the rep says before offering them the author’s hard work. Some great small publishers show up at cons. They won’t mind questions at all. Some charlatans show up, too, knowing they have an audience predisposed to listen to anything they say.

Can you predict every publisher meltdown in time to safely escape with your rights and reputation intact? Nope. Which is why paying attention to the market and being skeptical is so important.

The Origins Project, and more good news

Part 1.

Last Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend another one of the Origins Project presentations at Arizona State University’s Gammage theater.

‘Transcending Our Origins’ was a wonderful group presentation across many scientific fields of expertise, including astrophysics, political science, human evolutionary medicine, criminology, biological anthropology, business, and genomics. The presenters were Lawrence Krauss, Erica Chenoweth, Richard Dawkins, Esther Dyson, Eric Horvitz, Sarah Mathew, John Mueller, Randolph Nesse, Steven Pinker, George Poste, Adrian Raine, Kim Stanley Robinson, Craig Venter, and Richard Wrangham.

All presentations were fast, clear, and hard-hitting. They linked into what would be to many mainstream viewers a startlingly counterintuitive theme: Humans are getting less violent. Technology is opening up new paths, new advantages, new ways to see and interact with the universe. The future could still be a great place.

Sure, we see the results of war, coup, crime, religious strife, and poverty during most of every 24-hour news cycle. But on the whole, even counting for the violence of two World Wars and other actions, the twentieth century was far less violent than the preceding eras. And the twenty-first century may be even less violent, especially if we as a species learn to co-exist with each other and the planet’s changing ecosystems.

Like the others in this series, the ASU Origins lectures are available on YouTube. Overviews can be seen here at the Origins site: http://origins.asu.edu/

Part 2.

Let me return to the presentation’s title: Transcending Our Origins.

One of the biggest complaints leveled at scientists by anti-science proponents, often including those of fundamentalist religious bent, is that science merely gives us a cold uncaring universe and the hard lessons of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’.

Over and over again, I’ve watched pro-science presenters patiently explain that it’s really the opposite.

We humans have adaptations that give us the chance to become self-aware about our instinctive bad behaviors and change them. The ‘better angels of our nature’ are not literal guardian angels; they are our minds, our social consciousness, our learned and exercised traits toward curiosity, empathy, and co-operation. When the grinding needs of survival can be addressed without violence and xenophobia, humans seem to show a tendency to get better at all the social things.

We’re in a race now, one that many of us don’t know about or ignore. In the end it will be humans + technological advances versus climate change. Despite what Fox News, the petroleum industry, and conservative religious groups across the planet might like to believe, our world is heating up. We’re probably to blame for most of that shift; even if we aren’t, it falls on humanity to deal with it. This is going to have profound effects on geopolitical and social levels. It’s already been happening: stronger storms, longer droughts, rising sea levels, falling crop yields, the destruction of many oceanic food-chains, the advance of tropical diseases into previously cooler climates.

It may be too late to throttle back the worst changes, but the presenters of the latest Origins lecture proposed ways we could help ameliorate them.

Instead of tamely accepting Armageddon, we can turn it into Paradise. Or at least, a pretty decent future.

 

My first paper submission in years

To anyone who isn’t a writer, that statement might not make sense.

Publishing has changed so much in the last two decades. Once upon a time, the only way to send manuscripts and queries was by hardcopy: formatted a certain way, in a certain family of fonts, and flat in a box or envelope. With either enough postage to return the poor rejected item or (if it was a ‘disposable submission’) a self-addressed stamped envelope for the rejection/acceptance letter from the editor or agent of your choice.

This got to be fairly expensive. It also took forever. The etiquette of manuscript submissions to major magazines and publishers meant sending out that query, short story, or manuscript to one place at a time. Multiple submissions could end up in ruffled feathers and withdrawals of publishing offers. (Still can.)

The internet wiped much of that upfront cost and delay aside with email queries. Sure, we still wait forever to hear judgment on our work. And we either suffer through dial-up or pay for faster access. But writers can now send a query or mms by email (depending on the publisher’s guidelines). I give preference to places that allow e-queries, and push the hardcopy places way down the list.

There are two exceptions. My agent likes a hardcopy to read as well as a digital file. Two or three major science fiction magazines still ask for hardcopy as part of the initial story submission.

bone letter opener for blog 2I’ve made the tactical decision to delay self-publishing Singer in Rhunshan for yet another two months, while I submit a paper copy to one of those top-tier markets. Even though I’ve never sent this story to that market, the chances of acceptance are slim. But the potential payout in money and publishing credit is worth the attempt. In my wildest dreams, I doubt that Singer would make as much in its first two months, if I self-published this week. Or get as much notice.

So why is there a picture of a fancy letter opener alongside this post?

In 1990, when I still had no idea of what I really wanted to write, much less how to write it or sell it, I found the bone section of this letter opener in an antique mall. I was poor, but the letter opener was cheap because its handle was broken, and it looked like it could use a home.

As bad as things can seem for me now, the early 1990′s were worse.

The carving along the blade I did myself, in a private motif that still has meaning for me. The sphere in the handle once held a miniature scene behind a glass peephole – I filled that empty spot with a piece of black coral. I made the silver chain, filigree stations, and the bail for the rock crystal pendant. Later, a flattened round bead of purple-black rainbow obsidian proved the perfect addition. All the silver has been blackened with a sulfur patina.

I made this letter opener with the idea that I’d be opening my future rejection and acceptance letters with it. Perhaps it would be an elegant accompaniment as the latter gradually outnumbered the former. Didn’t happen. My first real sale came ten years later. By the time I was sending out work more seriously, I did almost all of it by email.

But I scanned the letter opener tonight for this blog post, knowing that in a month or two, I’ll probably have another rejection letter to open with it. Upon that occasion, the letter opener will get retired – or sold, or given away. Singer in Rhunshan will be self-published, for better or worse. And I will have started a new part of my writing life.

 

Dragonfire necklace*

*Also known as ‘That Stark Necklace’**, or ‘I Need To Make Something Red This Week’.

**This has absolutely nothing to do with that TSTL family in Game of Thrones.

When I was about five, I had a clear red plastic pendant that may have come from a quarter vending machine. The pendant was roughly an inch-and-a-half long, tear-drop shaped, faceted, and it was the most amazing thing to see flashing in sunlight. I have no idea what eventually happened to it. To this day, ruby-red gems hold a place of honor with me – as does anything richly, gloriously red. More points if it’s iridescent or sparkly.

Back in 2012 I returned to right-angle bead weaving after a hiatus of nearly a decade. My first piece was this. I liked it, but the CZ pendant was just slightly off-drilled, so it always hung a little awry.

Crane Jewelry -- Red and gold necklace 1

I muddled around with more right-angle weaving over the next year or so. Then I recently found some old Aurora Borealis-finished red glass seed beads in my collection, their surfaces frosted then fired with a subtle iridescence that made them glow. They are the same type in the main bail of the necklace above, just smaller.

My fingers started itching to make something from those glowing red beads. The blue flash from the iridescent coating reminded me of two pieces of rainbow blue dichroic glass I’d had for years. I’d incorporated one into a rather unconvincing necklace back in 1999ish. The other was a little cabochon so translucent it seemed lost by itself.

Red glass seed beads. Bronze glass beads. Red glass rounded navette pendants, top-drilled. Bronze Nymo beading thread and half a dozen teeny beading needles: all check. Tear apart old, unconvincing necklace and liberate chunky dichroic glass pendant: check. Back pale cabochon with opalescent dark blue foil: yeah, baby, now it glows like a blue star. Wrap cabochon in a beaded bezel, then make two long cords of red and bronze seed beads. Look again at old red necklace from 2012: it looks lonely, let’s give it some friends and a new dress.

Dragonfire necklace for blog

Here’s the end result. I am very, very happy with this piece. It’s just quiet enough that I can wear it in the daytime, without having to be a little embarrassed by the size of many other so-called ‘statement’ necklaces. (Sherri Serafini, I adore your work, but I don’t go to many of the parties where I could wear things like it.)

I can get a small private smile over the mix of colors.

The design follows my fond memories of the over-the-top Neogothic costume jewelry I saw in the early seventies. There was a Sprouse-Reitz variety store in a nearly defunct mall in my home city; if I was very lucky I got to drool over the gorgeous glass and gold-or-silver-toned base metal costume pieces from Kenneth Lane and other designers. 

I may sell this eventually, if I can find anyone willing to pay a few hundred bucks for it. But for now, I’m wearing it.

 

Tempeh For Two – Karenna Colcroft

Karenna’s an AbsoluteWrite buddy of mine, and a fellow M/M romance writer. One of her most charming series has been about a vegetarian werewolf pushed into heroism far beyond his comfort zone.

KC_Tempeh_for_Two

The last (so far) is in the series was released today: Tempeh For Two. The main buylink at MLR Press is here. Karenna’s website is here, with a lot of other great books. The woman is scary prolific in her writing, and it’s all fun reading.

Blurb:

The Anax, ruler of all werewolves in the United States, is bent on controlling the werewolf world, and only Tobias Rogan is strong enough to stop him.

Tobias Rogan never wanted to rule anyone, but in the past several months has gone from quietly running the smallest pack in the U.S. to controlling the Northeast Region. And now, to save the werewolf world, he must challenge the Anax, ruler of all werewolves in the United States. But Tobias’s mate, Kyle Slidell, is being held as blackmail, and Tobias must choose: Issue his challenge and risk Kyle’s life, or allow the Anax to declare war.

Here’s an excerpt you won’t find at MLR or Amazon:

We found the others in the kitchen, where Kendra and Avery were bustling around cooking and setting food on the island. Ordinarily they would have had everything ready before our friends arrived, but I didn’t blame them for the oversight this time. Too many things had happened for them to have their minds entirely on their jobs.

Dave and Ramon stood at one end of the island. Brianna sat at the corner of it with Trey beside her. When we entered the room, Brianna jumped off her stool and hurried toward us. “Tobias!”

“Hello.” I gave her my first genuine smile of the day.

She faltered and stopped a few feet from me. “I’m sorry, Arkhon. I should—”

“You should call me Tobias unless I tell you otherwise.” Werewolf titles held a horrible weight for Brianna. She had never been permitted to address the alpha of her first pack by name, and she had been used by him and most of the other males in that pack. Saul had insisted on a different title, one which should have been earned not demanded, but he’d made her call him “Alpha” at times as well, from what she’d told me.

The day she’d joined my pack, I’d told her she would only be required to call me by title on formal occasions. This wasn’t one. Seeing my friends from Boston brought a lightness to my heart that had been missing since March. This was a celebration.

“Tobias.” Brianna’s smile returned. “It’s so good to see you.”

“And you.” I reached to touch her and stopped at holding out my arms, giving her the choice of whether to accept a hug.

She did. She was sturdier than she’d been last time I’d seen her. Back then she’d looked half-starved, even after two months of healing and life with Carlos. She’d put on some weight now, and it looked good on her. She appeared healthy.

She allowed me to hold her for only a moment, but it was enough for me to sense the growth and healing within her. She pulled away and turned her smile on Kyle. “Hey.”

“Hey.” He grinned. “Mated life looks good on you.”

Brianna’s cheeks colored. “Yeah, sure.”

I walked over to Trey, who had also stood but had remained at his place. “Hello, friend.”

“Hello, Arkhon.” He tilted his head.

I rolled my eyes. “Do I have to say this to each of you individually? Titles are formal. We’re friends here. Unless I tell you otherwise, use my name.”

“Hello, Tobias,” Trey said in a half-sarcastic lilt.

“Have you taken over being wiseass of Boston North Pack?” I grinned. “How are Mikey and Jeremiah?”

“Mikey’s doing all right.” He sobered. “Still has nightmares sometimes about what happened back in January. Lately nightmares about his mother’s family, too. And he told me to tell you to watch out for the colorful wolf.”

“I will.” I had no clue what Mikey might mean by “colorful,” but if the boy had seen fit to send me a message, I would listen. If we’d listened more to Mikey in the past, some of the events we’d dealt with over the winter might have been avoided. At least we would have been better prepared.

“Jeremiah helps him a lot with the psychic stuff,” Trey said. “He’s been teaching Mikey how to filter things better, for one thing. He’s keeping an eye on Mikey and Tareth while we’re gone, and if Tareth has the baby before we get back, Mikey will stay with Jeremiah.”

“The baby had better not come while I’m away,” Justin said in a near-growl. “I will be there to see him born if it kills me. He and Tareth need me.” He paused. “I need to be there. I can’t miss the birth. It’s too important.”

“I’m sure Tareth doesn’t want to have him while you’re gone either,” I said.

He nodded and relaxed. “I know. Just keep hoping.”

“Hey, Kyle.” Ramon’s white teeth flashed in something between grin and grimace. “I have a joke for you.”

“Oh, how lucky for me.” Kyle shook his head. “I don’t know if I want to hear this, but go ahead.”

“If tofu turkey is called tofurkey, what do you call tofu duck?”

All of us stared at him for a second. Kyle caught on first and started laughing so hard he had to lean on the island. “You asshole.”

The rest of us laughed with him, and the lingering tension and anger from Kyle’s trial finally went away. The darkness didn’t completely leave my mind, but for the first time in two days, I felt completely happy. I was with friends. This was how it should be.

 

Show me, don’t tell me

This is a classic piece of advice for new(ish) writers. It’s also one of the most frustrating, for a couple of reasons.

Often, we simply don’t know how to do that yet. It takes time and work to gain the skills to ‘show’ instead of merely narrating important details. Even the critical reading skills to analyze other works for show-don’t-tell moments, still take a lot of reading to internalize. We often see more in our writing than there actually is, a function of being too close to the work. That’s why we need beta readers – and at the professional level, great editors.

One of my biggest failures as a writer, for many years, was the ‘flat’ nature of my characters. I might have thought I was emulating the ceremonial fable-like minimalism of Andre Norton, or the sly subtlety of Tanith Lee. But to an outside reader, my characters didn’t show much of their thoughts and emotions.

The current SFF fiction model is exactly the opposite: all emotion, all the time, as much as possible. It’s one reason why series such as ‘Twilight’ and ‘Divergence’ are so popular: they’ve hit the levels of emotions expected and needed by many younger readers. The romance genre by its very nature is laced with emotional responses.

I’m finally beginning to understand how to write what should be on the page, without taking for granted what I thought was already there. Over the last year, I looked carefully at my 6K short fantasy story ‘Singer in Rhunshan’ and expanded it to 23K. Not by padding, but by fleshing out every major scene that I’d previously narrated.

The first dry paragraph, circa 2009, looked like this:

One morning after breakfast, Eridan Singer’s big-boned wife and bodyguard turned into a female sonnaroi. 

Eridan’s wife Sfassa is the love of his life. The reason he makes such a dangerous quest later. In the first version, she’s only a cardboard symbol. Readers need to see them as real people, see how much these two love each other, and what they’re prepared to give up to be together. I’ve expanded that dull opening to six pages of post-sex cuddling, a married couple happily bickering over job opportunities, hints of the two major emotional conflicts, a bit more worldbuilding to establish place and social status, and then ripped my main character’s safe little world apart:

***

Eridan planted a messy kiss over her scar. “Breakfast, then? If you’ll settle for waterwheat porridge with nuts? I promise to at least look at the Danessa letter.”

“There better be more honey and butter, and less of your dried twigs and greens. You little Dana folk eat like herd animals,” she teased. “Of all the prices I pay for loving you, the lack of meat is one of the hardest to bear.”

“Predator,” he shot back, grinning. “You’ll just get a skewer of burnt venison or something equally horrible later at the market, and wash your mouth out with mint-water before you come home.”

“Yes, dear,” she said, without any meekness. She uncoiled gracefully from the bed, facing away from him and stretching up her arms until her fingers brushed the carved-plank ceiling. She’d sway next, into the flowing stances of her morning exercises.

He never missed them by choice.

The linen curtains were still closed, but Eridan saw a golden glow supplanting the gloom. Morning sunlight was just creeping over eastern cliffs, and down the terraces of Demuaira to the docks on the river.

He had time for one replete sigh at his life. A vague interest in the Danessa offer. Ancient golden books or not, he’d probably sideline it by lunch and his afternoon lectures. If he wanted any future chance, he’d have to draft a careful reply to the Queen of Danessa, and not leave it up to the frantic Chancellor or Sfassa’s forthright idea of diplomacy.

Then Sfassa gasped. Groaned. Stretched backward until her spine audibly creaked. “Oh!”, she said, and turned into a female sonnaroi.

***

Though it’s not perfect, I am much happier with this opening. And irked. If I’d figured out how to do this years ago, I’d be a much better writer now.

Shards of Time – new Nightrunners novel!

Way back in 1996, I’d heard rumors of a great new fantasy author. The news ran sort of like this: Lynn Flewelling – Del Rey – new fantasy world that wasn’t Robert Jordanish – great map – cute male thieves – cute male thieves fighting corrupt wizards and nobles – cute male thieves crushing on each other.

That got my attention.

I tracked down her debut novel Luck in the Shadows at a posh bookstore at a posh local shopping center during lunch. The novel looked yummy. I’d been at what was to be one of my all-time dream jobs for a few months by then, and felt settled enough to spend a little money. So I walked to a nearby posh salad bar restaurant, and settled in to inhale a salad and the first chapter or two.

I didn’t finish the eight-dollar-salad and I was thirty minutes late from lunch. I shoved the paperback at my then-boss, gabbling something like: ‘New fantasy book, cute male thieves and spies, they might be gay for each other!’ I worked in an understanding environment. I think Lynn sold another book or two from the same store later that day.

Lynn’s books and Lynn’s dashing Seregil and Alec have been long-time fictional companions of mine through the intervening years.

Some of the books have been better than others, the plots smoother, the twists less predictable. But that’s only because the best of them were superlative. Every book was a glorious, spine-chilling mix of adventure, romance, and dark dark fantasy. Every one of them advanced the characters (main and secondary), left me laughing, and left me crying. Lynn didn’t write specifically about two bisexual male characters; she wrote about two characters in a culture and time when no one batted an eye about two men in love, or two women, or any mix of possibilities. Her female characters were as strong, flawed, and wonderful as her men. Her villains didn’t mess around. The stakes began high and ramped higher, an undercurrent of vast menace threading through ‘lesser’ adventures like the tick-tick-tick of a thaumaturgical bomb’s clockwork timer.

Lynn herself turned out to be a pretty good email friend and intermittent mentor (like she is to all of us newer writers).

Now the seventh – and possibly last – book of the Nightrunners series is out, Shards of Time, and I’ll be picking up my paperback at my local indie bookstore this weekend. I admit I’m going to be a little hesitant to thumb past the title page. It’s going to be good. But each page after that is a little closer to the end.

Check out Lynn Flewelling’s brand new website, and all her gorgeous books.

Congratulations, Lynn!

I love Painter but I hate Corel (adult ranting advisory)

Seriously, Painter has to be one of the greatest digital art tools ever created. For what it does well, it runs circles around similar functions in Photoshop. I’ve been noodling with it since Version 3. But I’m about ready to shit-can Version 12, and I’m not interested at all in Version 13. To the point that I let my free 30-day trial of 13 lapse without having tried it once.

Why?

Because 13 and most of 12 had been rendered unusable by multiple glitches.

Because Corel, who now owns Painter, does not appear to care about customer service, its customer base, or broadening the software’s reach in the artist community.

A friend of mine has been having the same problems I’ve been having with the new versions. When he asked Corel nicely for help, he was referred to the Painter community forums, a very skilled group of artists who have had to take up the slack on Corel’s lack of service. No, bad company, your customers should not be having to do their own customer support, much less serve your entire customer base.

When my friend wrote back recently for clarification, this is partially what Corel had to say:

“Thank you for contacting Corel Warranty Support.

While you are within your warranty period, the question you have submitted falls outside of the scope of your coverage as troubleshooting issues are considered priority services. Your Free Limited Warranty technical support incident is meant to resolve issues related to installation and activation to get your product up and running.

Strike one, Corel.

If the issue is not resolved, we recommend the following options:

1) You may purchase a Priority Support ticket: http://www.corel.com/corel/product/index.jsp?pid=prod4150136 or a Training and Support plan: http://www.corel.com/corel/pages/index.jsp?pgid=800173 to get immediate direct access to priority technical support services.  This will get you in touch with an agent directly, who can provide personalized assistance, and in many cases even remotely access your computer and help resolve the issue.

Please note – if you are reporting a validated product defect we will be happy to provide support at no charge. Rest assured if the issue is confirmed to be a Corel product defect, you will be reimbursed by the technician investigating your case.

So, we pay MORE money, which may or may not be reimbursed at a time of Corel’s choosing, so a Corel rep can maybe answer our questions?

2) We invite you to visit our extensive online Knowledgebase: http://corel.force.com/index for frequently asked questions and answers, troubleshooting articles and step-by-step instructions.

Tried that. Got nowhere.

3) Additionally, one other place we often suggest for support would be our user forums – you can find some of our most knowledgeable and helpful users there, and we continue to be impressed with the creative suggestions solutions that are found in the Corel Communities: http://www.corel.com/corel/pages/index.jsp? You can also check out our Corel Support & Learning Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/corelsupportlearning

Oh, you mean the artists who love Painter enough to try to do your whole support job for you?

Honestly, Corel, if you don’t care enough about the Painter software to support it and market it properly, just sell it to Adobe.

Fabric art award ribbons

A little case of mistaken identity has been brought to my attention.

I am not Diane Tessman. I am Marian Crane, when I wear my art hat.

As a fiber artist, I periodically create sets of award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts, held twice-yearly in Tempe, AZ. These are generally sixteen category ribbons 15″ x 4″, and one Best of Show ribbon 20″ x 5″. I am paid for this, but it’s a relatively low rate I grandfathered in because I love the Festival and its staff. And I’m crazy.

Tempe 2013 Spring ribbon group for blog

Each year I get to see the chosen Guest Artists’ work chosen as a Festival logo/poster piece, and work up a design based on or complementary to that work. I’m told that the artists love my ribbons, are happy to frame the awards as artworks in their own right, and that the unique pieces are a small part of the marketing and cachet of the Festival. That, and the great portfolio images I get, are wonderful recompense for the insane two-week effort to build each set of ribbons.

This involves creating digital sketches for Festival approval, and material sourcing if I don’t have it. I then assemble backgrounds of constructed fabric from layers of cotton batik and/or dye-painted linen, accent images of appliqued fabric, digitally-printed labels and topical background fabric, accent beads hand-sewn in place, and bias tape or selvage edgings. Finishing touches include a ribbon tie/metal pinback combo so artists can more effectively display their ribbons in their booths during the Festival. Each piece is signed and dated on the back.

Tempe 2014 ribbon shots for blogI am not at this time looking to expand this service to other regional or local arts festivals. I have enough fiber art to do already, between wall art and book arts pieces. I’d have to substantially raise my award ribbon prices for that new workload: to around $60 to $100 per ribbon, I’m afraid, depending on complexity.

Someone recently mistook one of my Spring fiber art award ribbons for those made by Diane Tessman, of My Artzy Ribbons. I’d like to rectify that by posting a link to her site, which feature her own charming and intricate take on fiber award ribbons.  http://www.myartzyribbons.com/index.htm 

Diane’s richly-textured fiber art awards deserve plenty of second and third looks, believe me. 

Glad to have that cleared up. On with our regular programming.