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.

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.

Jewelry supply companies and co-op galleries

There are three jewelry supply companies I have been buying from since 1979, 1983, and 1989, respectively. 1979 and 1989 were once known for high-quality merchandise and great customer service (at least in my dealings with them.) When I first found them, their catalogs, and their stores, I had never seen that many beads outside of my dreams. They and I have shared a long partnership and many gorgeous projects.

But every company has a life cycle, and I think these two are nearing their ends. I can see the signs, sometimes literally.

In the past few years, their catalogs have been weighted more and more toward cheaply produced and purchased ‘trash’ beads and components, and even cheaper finished jewelry. I look for certain materials that herald good-quality stores: well-drilled pearls, gemstones, and glass; good quality precious metals, along with well-finished bronze and copper. On the negative side, I look out for stores carrying a large proportion of fluorite, dyed Howlite, dyed magnesite, pewter, and acrylic beads.

The latter two can be pretty, and useful in costuming for light weight and shine…but yes, they are still base materials.

Fluorite is a lovely gemstone of mingled mint, lavender, and blue hues, but it is so soft and easily cleaved that many professional jewelers and beaders won’t touch it. The chance for later damage is too high, if it not set and/or cradled properly in a protective mount.

Howlite and magnesite (two different stones) are also very soft, but able to take wax and dye to mimic finer semiprecious gems such as turquoise, coral, jade, lapis, etc. I currently regard with deep suspicion any store that offers a wide range of the latter two stones…even if they don’t lie about the origin. These stones are simply too fragile to take much wear, and the dyes often fade or rub off.

What do I find in abundance at these two stores now? Pewter, acrylic, fluorite, howlite, and magnesite. The overall quality of everything but their very high-end merchandise has slipped. More of the formerly ‘good’ beads are cracked, misdrilled, mismatched in color batches, etc. The variety is about half of what it was a decade ago. Hungry for sales, these companies chase cheaper and cheaper products, and try to lure in customers with ‘sales’ that appear to be merely lowered from their gouging real prices. These promotions were once rare, then intermittent, then seasonal…and now, nearly all the time.

The high-spending professional customers have been largely driven off by the thrift-store atmosphere, leaving these stores to chase lower-spending and probably more credulous customers. Cue more trashy gemstones and pre-made pewter and plastic jewelry, fitting every trend they can possibly follow.

Yes, there’s been a recession on. But their competitors at Store 1983 have gone the opposite route by revamping their store and catalogs, getting financial backing, offering better products, and offering more contact and interaction with beading communities. Store 1989 may be gone within a year, and I’ll grieve for what it once was to me. Store 1979 will hold out a bit longer, since it has major customer loyalty and sponsors some well-known beading contests. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets bought out by a stronger competitor…possibly store 1983.

What does this have to do with art and writing? On the writing side, I hope I answered that in this Etsy Showcase post.

In the art side: I can name on just under ten fingers the art galleries I’ve been a member of, or knew about, who started trying to pay their bills with co-op memberships of (mostly) un-juried artists who were willing to pay ‘wall’ or ‘display’ fees to show their art…as well as a commission on sales. Sometimes the galleries were ambitious enough to offer studio space for rent, too.

Because the quality of the art tended to fall over time, higher-end collectors stopped coming in, leaving only the souvenir-seekers, cheap boutique shoppers, and the ‘I’m only looking’ foot traffic crowd.

Foot traffic is important, obviously. The ‘right’ foot traffic. I did great with a gallery in the heart of one of the Southwest USA’s most iconic-expensive resort towns, where 3000 wealthy people a day walked in front of the shop. In contrast, there is a co-op craft gallery opening in my home state of New Mexico that I won’t even contact: it’s miles outside of a small farmtown, has very little advertising presence, and is run by one retiree without a lot of capital or experience. I wish this person well, but not with my art.

Mostly, these co-op galleries died on the vine, either slowly with a whimper or forced out with a bang by high rents. Co-op galleries can work: if the commitment to quality art remains, if there is enough capital to fund rent, utilities, and marketing…and if the gallery spreads its offerings out over both physical and online platforms. If I see a co-op gallery now, I know to research it very carefully before I even query its owners.

Galleries are like publishers: they gather a collection of valuable works, vetted by presumed experts, for public purchase.

If your publisher cannot fund its existence on its own capital, can’t edit and format your work better than you can, and cannot market its authors effectively, it doesn’t deserve the sales money it claims from your work.

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