Sage & Copper Tailcoat

I don’t go to costume parties and I barely go to science fiction conventions anymore, so I have no logical reason to make hall costume pieces. Call it a challenge?

The ‘Hamilton’ musical brought back tailcoats to public view, though steampunk and vampire costumers have always loved them. I’m also a big fan of the work done at Damsel In This Dress, but I can’t afford their corsets and skirts.

A couple of years ago I found this sage-green Faded Glory eyelet jacket at Goodwill. (Not this exact one, which showed up on Ebay recently.) For those of you who don’t know, ‘Faded Glory’ is a clothing brand most often retailed at Walmart.

It was in my size. The lines were interesting, and the inside construction far better than I expected. I was already planning some kind of tailcoat look for a hall costume. This one seemed like it might save me some sewing time. I bought it for a few dollars and put it away.

Over the next two years I found a similar-toned cotton grayish green striped Martex twin sheet (Goodwill), olive and copper ‘window’ beads (JoAnn), and some bronze colored buttons (SAS Fabrics). All bought on the cheap and put aside.

While scrounging for metallic fabrics for another project this January, I found (also at Goodwill) two long two-tone color change taffeta table runners in copper/sage green. I thought the green shade might be really close to the ‘Sage’ jacket I had stored, so I grabbed them. They didn’t work for the unrelated project…but yay, they matched the Faded Glory jacket.

This is a good image of similar fabric.

What followed was a exercise in sewing madness.

While hammering away at the spring 2018 Tempe Festival of the Arts award ribbons, I was also drafting patterns for the Sage & Copper Tailcoat. The two-layered skirt consists of the twin sheet and the table runners, pieced out to a 105×20″ long panel. I tapered the sheet at both ends to provide a graceful look, but left the table runners as a straight rectangle (because the seams were already done, I am lazy, and I can always pin up the sides.) Raw edges got turned, pressed, and sewn. The two panel layers were joined across the top edge.

The excess material from the table runners became cuff bands on the sleeves, along with a bit of striped sheet.

To create a full swishy skirt, I pleated the panel down to about 34″ wide, enough to hit just forward of the side seams of the Faded Glory jacket. To help accent the back, I added a small pleat ruffle in a similar sage colored linen.

I pinned the skirt to the jacket, hand-basted the seam, then anchored it with machine sewing. (My old Elna machine almost didn’t forgive me, since I was also making it sew leather and denim on the ribbon project.)

The tailcoat still looked unfinished. I cut up more of the Martex sheet into 60×1.5″ ribbons, sewed them into flat cords, and did a floral fold to create four long snowdrop passementerie dangles. I disguised the center seam of each flower with a flat glass olive/copper ‘window’ bead. Those went at the sides and back (flanking the mini ruffle). Here’s some finished detail.

And here’s some shots of the whole piece.

Not long after I completed it last month, the Thrift Store Gods saw fit to deliver (for cheap cheap!) two embroidered trousers in sage green, plus some gorgeous black leather Ecco Hobart riding boots ($200 new, $13 at thrift store). I have a leather hat (yay Goodwill) that can be dyed black and embellished. Back in 2012, I made a bronze and crystal steampunk necklace that would be a perfect accessory.

Hence, one vaguely steampunky outfit, which a reliable outside witness calls ‘Dead sexy’. Total cost including sewing thread, beads, and buttons: under $40 (and the boots were the most expensive part). Plus several years and a bit of basic sewing skill.

If you have the patience and eye for detail, you can craft some great costumes this way.

If you want to make your own pieced-together tailcoat, start with a cool jacket *in your size, that you can wear in your climate*. Look for interesting button, neckline, sleeve, and front details. Look for good inside construction, or at least seams you can reinforce yourself.

Alternatively, if you really like to sew, invest in some period sewing pattern pieces.

Lots of quick-n-dirty costumers advocate trimming down a suitcoat to make a tailcoat, and it works for a straight-line tail skirt. But I like using crop-waist or peplum jacket forms because they give a flattering shaped waistline look, and the attached skirt can be as full as you want.

Look for as close as possible matching fabric for your coat skirt. Think thrift store sheets or fabric warehouses! Your tailcoat skirt has to end up just long enough to hit between the side seams of your jacket or about four inches forward. It can be only thigh-length or reach your ankle. For me, that meant 105 inches pleated down to around 34 inches, with a finished depth at mid-calf.

You can do this by hand, but having a good sewing machine really helps.

Split the sleeve seams up to almost the elbow, if you want to add cuff embellishments. Re-sew them when you’re done.

Use a lot of brown Kraft paper to adjust your patterns, if you use any. Keep tiny clear plastic bags with your properly sized buttons and fabric swatches, so you can more easily match store finds to projects.

And have fun…this isn’t theater costuming on a deadline.

New jewelry ideas, new markets

Amid my busy scary schedule this week, I’m contemplating the kinds of jewelry pieces I’d need to make to effectively ‘go wholesale’. It’s a tricky calculation. Too elaborate (my normal setting) and I could never afford the time or materials to set up even a hundred-piece order with a boutique. Too simple, and I run the risk of looking like every other Etsy jewelry seller out there.

I have a few thoughts on what might work, given the time and price point constraints of most wholesale work. My painted shell and stone jewelry pieces, accented with simple beadwork or silver findings?

Sterling silver pieces, if I can simplify from these themes…or find more pricey boutiques willing to try them.

Some of my slightly more modest beadwoven designs, maybe.

Simple but luxurious fiber art pieces like this mother-of-pearl beaded linen scarf, perhaps.

The fallback, if I can market them properly, would be the nest necklaces in knotted cord and semiprecious stone and pearl. These babies sold like crazy a decade ago in galleries in Scottsdale and Sedona, and I’ve only become more skilled at making them.

My biggest obstacle to wholesale orders is my inclination toward one-of-a-kind or small-batch editions. It’s where I’m most comfortable at. I’d like to find boutique and gallery clients who feel the same way about showcasing unique works.

Can that happen? Can’t hurt to try.

#

What won’t work in wholesale, except at the highest end reaches (We’re talking national and international juried shows, which I do not have the capital to enter right now):

Gonzo jewelry like this, which has to be OOAK because it takes me about 60 hours to make one piece.

Detailed and obscure tapestries like this, which might do well at a big science-fiction con art show, but just confuse the Normal People.

Most of my fiber, leather, and wood book art. Coming to terms with this is rough, yet every artist has to identify the audiences they probably cannot reach. I love book art. People who don’t even read regular books likely won’t have any resonance with my book art sculptures and jewelry.

I could make purses and clean up at the bank. I don’t *love* purses, and sooner or later that would show. Maybe shoes. I do have a weakness for shoes, but then we get into shoe sizes, alas. Hats have the same problem as tapestries: I put too much work into them for boutique prices. And my hats are weird.

Marian Crane Pussyhat Legionnaire Cap

It takes all kinds of clients to respond to different types of art media and themes. Learning and respecting that is a major life lesson for artists.

Amazon, KDP, and Self-Pub Stuffers

Amazon finally made a move on (one) Kindle Publishing scammer.

Read the Forbes article here.

Why is this important? Given the difficulty of snagging a literary agent and the slow pace of commercial publishing, many authors are choosing self publishing as a side hustle or their main living.

Amazon, for better or for worse, is the biggest game in publishing right now. If you want to make money publishing, Amazon is going to be a large part of your portfolio.

Authors have a choice when using Amazon as a purchasing outlet. ‘Go wide’, publish with many different platforms, and accept a smaller royalty from Amazon. Or publish solely with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Select, get a higher royalty, and share in the profit pool from all sales.

Like every other lucrative money-making platform, Amazon is a scammer’s paradise. Every time Amazon refines its rules and algorithms, the scam authors quickly retool their approaches. Lately, KDP Select has been paying out ‘per pages finished reading’. The scammers figured how to ‘stuff’ a book with hundreds or thousands of pages of their own previously published (or plagiarized) content, then include a table of contents that induces a reader to skip to the end, and thus signal to Amazon that the reader *finished the whole book*.

The scam stuffer may get $100,000 per month from Amazon, just by gaming page views.

Especially in the Romance categories, stuffers abound in the best seller self-pub categories. They employ large text, weird stretched formats with many spaces between paragraphs, large empty spaces per text line, and big gaps between chapters. They load samples of all their other books (sometimes very large samples) in the back. Often, the title mms may only take up 25% of the ‘book’.

I write big books, between 100K and 150K. I know what that looks like when it’s professionally edited and formatted. I also know what it costs. Most 400 to 800+ page ‘stuffed’ self-pub texts don’t resemble properly formatted work. They also sell for enticingly low prices, usually from $.99 to $2.99.

The Forbes article quotes David Gaughran’s note that many current Amazon bestsellers are showing some form of stuffing behavior. Gaughran is kind, and doesn’t name the KDP Select author he referenced.

I know who it is. This person writes sexy contemporary romance. I won’t link to her; a little Google Fu will tell you her name. She comes from Book People, and should know better than to treat her books and readers like this. Pick any of her bestselling novels, and you’ll probably find the hallmarks of stuffing. She and fellow stuffers get away with it because of readers who excuse bad writing and worse business practice. Those readers may not grasp they’re being played…or care, as long as their readerly itches are being vaguely scratched.

But watching stuffers get boatloads of cash, when my more-honest self-pub author friends are making *pennies*, has made me look skeptically at Amazon’s KDP program. I suspect the only reason Amazon has cracked down is the public embarrassment, as well as trying to woo the thousands of authors who won’t go near KDP right now.

Because who makes the biggest profit in the page-view scam, even at $.99 per book? Amazon.

 

 

Tour Necklace/Bracelet

I love book art. I love jewelry. More and more, I’m finding ways to combine them.

I also really love the wrap jewelry from designer Chan Luu, and recently learned how to do my own wrap beaded designs.

Cue a shipment of mini books back from a gallery, and a match that would be eerily perfect (if not for the fact that turquoise is one of my default color settings.)

So ‘Tour’ the mini book became ‘Tour: the necklace/bracelet’.

The wrapped band combines braided turquoise cord and semiprecious stone beads: agates, hematite, jasper, aventurine, serpentine, and snowflake obsidian, with an antler button clasp.

More about ‘Tour’ and its original form here.

I’ll eventually put this piece on Etsy for around $200.00.

 

First look: ‘The Truth Remains 2.0’

Back in 2002, I made this book: ‘The Truth Remains’, for the San Francisco Public Library’s ‘Reversing Vandalism’ project.

That was a one-of-a-kind fiber art piece about silencing marginalized populations, but the text continued to resonate with me years later.

In December of 2017, my own high school went through a school shooting that left two innocent students and the shooter dead.

Then the Parkland shooting happened. #NeverAgain happened, and the MarchForOurLives.

Honestly, I have a tiny bit of hope for our future. I’d worried that a steady diet of YA dystopias might make the Millennial and Aughts generations less-inclined to create a positive future. What they seem to have learned from Potter, Hunger Games, etc. is teamwork, conviction, and really scary-good social media skills.

I’m so proud of them for pushing back, when the best we older liberals could manage was ‘Lean In’, and the Boomers essentially sold their souls to would-be dictators and conmen.

When I made ‘Continental Divide’ in 2004, I had no idea I’d look back on the Cheney/Rove era with some perplexed fondness. They were crooks managing an incompetent president, but they were at least efficient and capable crooks.

I decided to release ‘The Truth Remains’ as a second version in an edition of five fiber art books. They’ll be 7″x50″, with ten accordion-fold pages on each side, and double-sided. That gives me 20 pages plus fabric covers…a lot of room to cover! Think of embroidering a 70″x50″ quilt, and that’s about the amount of work I’ll be putting on on these books.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be showing progress pictures. The books will blend digitally altered and sketched maps of US mass shooting locations, my embroidered text, patriotic commercial fabric appliques and printed fabric, and metal embellishments (pewter assault rifle charm pendants are available online). It’s about gun control policies, the racist reaction to the Obama presidency, and  the culture wars simmering in the United States.

Plus I get to snark at the NRA, its overtly political mandate, its ties to US white supremacy and Christian theocratic movements, and its disturbing links with the same groups in Europe and Russia.

 

Paid Reviews

Writers need to be careful when they’re approached to pay for book reviews. Some of these are real opportunities for marketing, some are well-meaning junk, and some are simply heartless cash-grabs by the organizers.

Paid reviews are simply where the author pays the reviewer. Kirkus has a branch dealing with this. It’s somewhat legit…but only in the sense that it is a review, which may or may not impress people who don’t know it’s a paid review. With the right marketing plan, paid reviews can get vital information out to large-scale book buyers like libraries and book clubs. Here’s a quick overview of review types. 

A paid review needs to be professional, or at least literate. There’s a dank underbelly of publishing where scammers and hacks who can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag convince impressionable (usually self-pub) writers to pay $$$ for a ‘review’. Craigslist is rife with Amazon and Fiverr scams offering the chance to buy 5-star book reviews. Hint: those are generally not worth the money, and can even make your book stand out in the worst way. Check out the cautionary tale of Harriet Klausner.

Here’s an example of one such review request, that has been going around the internet for the last few months. I received mine a day or so ago, but the same spam message went out to thousands of writers:

Hello M,

I hope you do not mind me emailing you; I am emailing you because I would love to review your work on my website: https://redheadedbookloverblog.com. My site is a book reviewing website which has received a great response from readers and now that I have a loyal following who I adore, I am always on the lookout for great books I can feature for them. I discovered your work and I loved what I saw, so that is why I am emailing you today! Your work looks wonderful, and you clearly are passionate; passion is a quality I love because I am very passionate about reading so I hope we are able to work together.

Please feel free to email me if you are interested in my services. I do not want to bombard you with information in this email but am happy to let you know more about what I do and how I work. I have statistics to share with you, including my Amazon selling stats which will show you that my reviews enhance discoverability as well as increase sales and generate an ROI for the authors I work with.

Thank you so much for reading, please feel free to visit my website as well as email me any questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you have a wonderful rest of the day!

All best,
Aimee Ann

***

Note the intentionally vague pitch, which can stretch to fit whatever book the hapless author has actually written. I doubt ‘Aimee Ann’ has read any of my work; ‘Filigree’s Rule’ should have warned her off approaching me.

Here’s what Writer Beware has to say about this particular reviewer. The same person running this game is also offering to ‘edit’ for self-published writers. Ouch.

Tempe Festival ribbons: Spring 2018

They’re done! They’re delivered! The Tempe Festival of the Arts begins this Friday, March 23. Check it out if you are in the Tempe AZ area.

This show’s Featured Artist is Tucson sculptor Adam Homan, who does edgy and elegant things with metal.

This ribbon gig has lots of fun stages, beginning with how to translate the Featured Artist’s signature look into twenty-some-odd fiber art ribbons. With Adam’s work, we knew we wanted the colors of steel, bronze, silver, copper, and gold, as metallic as possible without verging into total cheesiness.

We picked ‘wings’ as a starting motif. From there, I found or already had bronze silk and pewter satin, some denim with a blued-steel look, and lots of metal steampunk embellishments and glass beads. A narrow vertical ribbon of appliqued sky blue adds brighter color.

The wings themselves are leather from a fabric-by-the-pound place, painted with metallic acrylic paint, sealed with a flexible varnish, and machine-sewn over the background appliques.

Every ribbon series has a narrative for me, generally evolving by the time they are done.

“Inside a vast, dim workshop, strange machines lurk dormant under old cloth drapes, or hang suspended from steel chains and huge hoists. A metallic rumble shakes the chains. A side door begins to open, letting in a glimpse of blue sky outside. The wind pushes inside, blowing back clouds of dust and age-browned muslin, setting the chains clanging. The machines wake, and unfold into the shapes of huge steel and bronze wings…”

A special shout-out to the Young Artist winners: we’re proud of you!

 

 

Diversity, Catfishing, and the Santino Hassell disaster

I’ve been following this thing since late February, when someone I know on Twitter made ominous subtweets about a catfishing scandal (yet again) in the world of male/male romance publishing.

This link from The Salt Miners gives a better overview and details.

Riptide, one of the most outwardly prestigious publishers in the genre, got caught with its racism showing (openly saying they won’t put POC on cover art, because that doesn’t sell). *

A major star in Riptide’s ranks was revealed to be substantially different than what ‘he’ claimed, and (worse) accused of gaslighting and harassing other authors. A senior editor was revealed to have deeply unprofessional interactions with some authors. Other authors have been accused of being ‘in the know’ and covering for or joining in the abuse.

I don’t know any of the people directly involved. I have had personal doubts about Riptide for some time, mainly based on what I considered to be bi-erasure in their writing guidelines.** But since I don’t write for Riptide’s largely contemporary market, it was unlikely I’d ever query them. I’m a fantasy and space opera gal.

For years I’ve suspected that many literary agents and publishers (in both romance and SFF) only jumped on the ‘diversity’ bandwagon to capitalize from it, after they could no longer completely ignore it.

I beg my fellow readers and authors *not* to boycott Riptide. That would only hurt some damn fine and innocent writers. Give the publisher a chance to clean its house.

Be selective as a reader. Buy good books, especially good books written by and about people of color. Stop giving bad books a pass because they’re in your current obsession/trope/fandom. When you read great books by POC authors, review them! Reviews sell books. We all want that, right?

The male/male portion of Romancelandia is already an uneasy alliance between gay & lesbian literary-fic writers, and authors (often women) writing in the erotica genres derived from fanfiction. Each group has its own clubs and causes. There’s scrabbling for territory, fierce infighting, virtue signalling galore, fraud, theft, and a terror of the alt-right and conservative world intruding into ‘our playground’. On its best days, m/m romance is a heady combo of the Wild West and the stock market on a roll. On its worst…well, we get scandals like Santino Hassell.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s do better by each other, as writers and readers.

* I’ve seen this firsthand with other publishers. I had to fight Loose Id a bit in 2012 to get a POC character on the cover of my debut novel. Did it soften sales? I have no idea. I know that for its new release last year with NineStar Press, we focused on only one character (not the POC guy). I can also say I have every confidence NineStar can effectively showcase the POC in my next novels, because the publisher’s lineup already features great POC covers.

** Added 3/17/2018: Back in 2012, I ran into accusations from other writers that Riptide was bi-unfriendly in a specific way. Male/male romances were allegedly not allowed to have either of the main characters be involved in a het relationship, as well. This tended to shut out bisexual and pansexual characters.

At the time I was shopping a very large fantasy/space opera saga with several bisexual characters and some het characters in equally important relationships. I knew a conventional romance publisher at that time would not be interested in the gay and lesbian relationships. I also knew many male/male readers would be equally turned off by my bi and pansexual characters. I trimmed my focus to one space opera novel with two bisexual male characters, and eventually sold that to an erotic romance publisher.

As of a couple of years ago, while beginning to query another mms, I was assured by Sarah Lyons, then-senior editor at Riptide, that the publisher *was indeed bi-friendly*. While she’s no longer at Riptide, I feel her words might offer some clarification of Riptide’s policies (at least from around 2016):

“We absolutely do NOT have a policy of no active het relationships, period, the end, no matter the orientation of the characters.

We have literally just published a het book (http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/…d-the-restless) and have at least another TWO coming next year (only one has been posted so far: http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/finding-your-feet; the other is male/trans female).

We also have bi menage books: m/f/f and m/m/f. I am, of course, very aware that poly/triad relationships are not the same as monogamous bi relationships, but I kind of want to show that we have it available.

As for monogamous bi characters in relationships with characters of the opposite gender…no, we absolutely do not have a policy against that. “

[Here is the part that gave me pause:]

“What *might* have happened is generalized content guidance of either “m/m readers generally don’t like seeing a main character in an active relationship with a character (whether male or female) who is not the primary love interest,” or “m/m readers generally don’t like seeing a main character have sex with a woman.” But that is guidance based on sales and reviews of past books and is by no means a requirement or incontrovertible Riptide policy. If the author is given that guidance and chooses to keep the hetero sex in the book, then…the hetero sex stays in the book. We absolutely do NOT have a policy against it. Our only “policy,” when it comes right down to it, is that at least one of the main characters be queer in some way.

And if an author has a different experience — that is, has had a Riptide editor tell them to take out hetero sex, or has had a Riptide editor tell them they can’t have hetero sex in a book — I’d *REALLY* like to know who that editor is, please. So I can correct them. Because that is NOT Riptide’s policy at all. Period.

If an author has a different scenario in mind than those I’ve covered here, please feel free to forward any/all specific questions of “Well, what about this?” and I’ll happily answer them. But, as a queer person who’s been in relationships with both men and women, I’m very aware of what it means to be bisexual, and Riptide would absolutely not require an author to hide or ignore those realities.”

So from this, I took that Riptide’s policies had softened toward bisexuality, but that they were not sure their main readerships’ had. That meant (to me) that books with bi characters might not get the marketing push that some of the male/male star books were getting.

In doing more research around that time (2015-2016) I noticed that most of Riptide’s ‘fantasy’ offerings seemed to fall in urban fantasy & paranormal romance categories. My mms didn’t fit that model. Nor did fantasy and science fiction seem to be a large part of Riptide’s catalog. So I never followed up with a query to Riptide.

I earnestly hope Riptide survives. I hope it grows stronger and even more diverse. The MOGAI (marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and intersex) erotic romance genre has a tendency to go boom and bust, and it seems like we are in a consolidation/attrition phase of the market. We need all the good markets we can get!

 

It’s Hugo (and Nebula) Award Season again

Pie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2018 is shaping up to be an interesting year for two of the most venerated (and often controversial) Science Fiction and Fantasy awards: the Hugos and the Nebulas.

Here’s a Wikia page about 2018 Hugo Awards nominations, if you are eligible to nominate stories (or just want to see what’s already nominated.)

Here’s a handy list of available stories and samples, if you happen to be eligible to vote in the Nebulas.

These are pretty damn good stories to read (or buy!) too.

Why the pie GIF? Because while the Nebula Awards are a little more locked down as far as voting blocs and eligibility, the Hugos are still a battlefield between competing factions in the SFF community.

I’m out of the fray for at least a few more years, due to not attending the voting conventions, not having a standalone SFF novel to query agents or sub to large publishers, and general ennui with the process of literary awards.

That’s on me, though. I still would encourage authors and readers to follow along with the Hugo and Nebula adventure.

 

Two Jade Buttons

The book is done!

I haven’t even had time to list it on the 2017 Book Art page, but it’s up on SaatchiArt now: https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Sculpture-Two-Jade-Buttons/799858/4038430/view

Here’s a teaser. Yes, those are detachable cufflinks in Burmese jade and buffalo bone, on the lower right panel.

And the covers:

Spring Garland Earrings

Not quite the first completed project of 2018, but the first one ready to show off:

 

Spring Garland Earrings!

2″ long asymmetrical tendrils of beaded vines make up these lightweight, dramatic earrings.

Findings: .925 sterling silver leverback ear wires from Plazko.com.

Beads from Creative Destination, Drumbeat Indian Arts, Fire Mountain Gems, Bead World, Bead Garden of Sedona, ArtBeads, and other sources.  (I’ve only been collecting beads since 1985, so I’m getting a bit fuzzy on where and when I scored some of them.)

Beads: Czech pressed glass accent beads. Size 11 seed beads in peacock green iridescent matte finish. Size 14 and 15 glass seed beads in various shades and finishes of green, gold, and iridescent black.

#14 and #15 seed beads are around 1mm in diameter, give or take a hairsbreadth, so they are finicky little beasts to wrangle on nylon beading thread and a size 12 quilting needle.

Super-tiny seed beads are always useful in bead embroidery. I just had to buy more for a beaded hatband project coming up, so now I have about 25 colors. I love Creative Destination and Drumbeat, because they’re local to me, and both have a *vast* selection of #14 and #15 beads in hundreds of colors and finishes…and small vials for smaller projects. Fire Mountain and Artbeads stock larger packages of thousands of colors.

I recently re-used a bunch of beaded vines from this old 1999 folding screen project, and decided it would be fun to make new vines.

I might possibly be insane enough to make a matching necklace sometime.

 

Ornament Magazine

For 43 years, Ornament Magazine has been documenting personal adornment through the world’s highest levels of wearable fine craft and art media. The magazine itself has a physical beauty that has never been compromised: thick paper, glossy finish, stunning photography, and deeply-researched articles.

I first encountered Ornament in January 1979 in the skimpy magazine section of my local jewelry supply store in northern New Mexico. Having farted around with bead stringing, weaving, and embroidery, I was starting out in ‘hot’ jewelry-making (due to the Christmas gift of a tiny butane Microflame torch like this, some flux, a soldering block, and some copper wire. Thanks, Dad.)

In the late 70s, the Four Corners region of the American Southwest was a nexus for serious jewelry design.

The local Native American tribes had ancient, vibrant stonecarving and fiber traditions married to relatively-new silversmithing exposure. In the early 20th century, Fred Harvey and other Anglo entrepreneurs helped make ‘Indian’ jewelry and fashion popular with the outside world, opening up a vital industry for Native crafters. Arizona Highways Magazine often showcased Native jewelry designers. In Albuquerque, Saul Bell had made Rio Grande into ‘the’ jewelry-making supplier of the region, as well as a powerhouse of artistic and technical networking. From the Latino population came another lush, riotous tradition of decorative and wearable art.

It was a good time to be a young artist inspired by all of these intermixing elements. In the fall of 1979 I started learning from an actual, serious jeweler (who quickly trained me out of most of my self-taught jewelry bad habits.) Ornament and Lapidary Journal were mainstays in his library. From him, I first heard about the Tucson Rock & Gem Show and Fire Mountain Gems.

These days I return to Ornament for regular, and often wistful, recharges of my creative batteries. I may not always agree with or even like the featured artists or scholars, but I always find *something* to inspire me.

Earrings and other conundrums

Artisans make bread-n-butter pieces: smaller, simpler objects that feed the bank account. But they also need room for the big or complicated gonzo works that feed their joy and skill.

I don’t have pierced ears, I don’t intend to ever have pierced ears, and clip-on earrings tend to hurt me after about an hour. So when I design jewelry I tend not even consider making earrings. (I’m all about ear cuffs, however, which are usually absurd and overblown.)

For 2018, I’m trying more earring designs. They’re small and generally less tricky to do than a big necklace project. They make a good test of new stitches and bead types. Because they take less time and material, they can be more affordable for both artist and buyer.

I love painting on matte-finished shell, but I need more practice to get my knack back. Hence: earrings.

A few of my beading friends make the bulk of their show and Etsy income from earrings. For various reasons I need to follow in their footsteps this year.

But earrings (and beaded amulet bags, bracelets, barrettes, and other small projects) have a hidden cost: the time and material spent making them is lost from bigger, more ambitious projects. There can be a strong temptation to *only* make earrings to sell. This same tendency befalls many Etsy artisans and artists attempting to load juried festival booths with cheaper buy-sell goods. Cheap and fast = lots of small sales. Especially in a recession.

What do artists lose when they focus solely upon easy sales targets? They can’t build up stocks of larger and/or involved gallery-and-museum-worthy pieces. That robs them of the opportunity to enter career-advancing contests, or apply for single-person gallery retrospectives. Unless those artists run across an earring-only gallery, they’re out of luck. Without museum-worthy pieces, artists cannot reach the one market that has so far thrived in this era: the wealthy private collector or corporate collector.

Artists who do have the luxury of building and storing stocks of finished pieces, can take advantage of those opportunities. That usually means they’re either selling enough work to make it a fulltime job…or they’re being subsidized somehow. Sometimes this can occur through family ties or marriage, sometimes through thrifty budgeting or a great non-art job.

I know an artist who is one of the finest realistic painters I’ve ever met. She’s rarely sold work, and almost never shows her pieces. I only know about her because I met her while I worked in an art supply store. She paints because she loves it, she’s damn good at it, and she’s got enough outside resources to ensure she’ll never need to rely on her art for a living.

I know a fiber artist who lives in an upperclass environment in a country and culture where servants are the norm. This artist can afford to spend months on single pieces, and keep them just for fun. Her work has a density, exuberance, and purity that a more sales-driven artist might give up as inefficient.

Art myth: many artists pride themselves on being scrappy and socially edgy, thriving on the rough and impoverished margins. Art truth: supplies are expensive, poverty is terrible for creativity, and most prolific and ‘successful’ artists have well-planned revenue streams.

I’m faced with some changes in my art sales this year: two venues are on hiatus, while several more are ramping up. That means I need a balance of over-the-top jewelry and book art pieces…and earrings.

 

 

2017 in review

What a year, gang.

We’ve seen political upheavals mingled with newly energized activism. Lazy intellects, desperate anger, slick marketing, and pathological distrust of expertise resulted in everything from Trump’s election, Brexit, serious Flat Earth conspiracies, anti-vaccination movements, pseudoscience, and the disastrous return of Lysenkoism to Russia. We’ve seen brave, fierce scientists, journalists, and ordinary people standing firm against blind ideology, snake oil sales, and craven greed. I’ve never been prouder of my fellow liberals.

A rising drumbeat of climate change warnings is shifting the human equation from ‘prevention’ to ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. Some geographic areas may benefit, many others will not. In delicious schadenfreude, the places most benighted by narrow religious and pseudoscientific beliefs may be among the worst affected by climate change side effects. But make no mistake: we’re all in this mess together.

Science did cool things in 2017. The solar eclipse was amazing. We’ve proven that gravity waves exist, and can be used for cosmological exploration. Paleontologists have found more ‘missing link’ hominid fossils that show humanity is a vast sprawling bush with an ancient lineage, not a narrow tree. New technological advances like CRISPR and gene therapy herald major changes in medicine.

Personally, it’s been a year of triumph and terror. I’m thrilled at new options to bring my art and writing to the public. Look for some great art and fun projects in 2018.

I’m now intimately acquainted with the US costs for kidney failure (a friend’s, not mine): $235,000 and counting, even with decent insurance.  It’s made me coldly and carefully consider my own responses, if I have a major medical issue. People who don’t live in the US don’t understand the choices that poor to middleclass Americans must make: balancing earnings to maximize insurance subsidies, long term healthcare vs family bankruptcy. The Baby Boomers are the last generation of Americans with even a chance at retiring on liveable pensions…and many of them are discovering their planning has fallen short.

I have no idea what 2018 will bring, much less the next decade. I live, therefore I hope.

Mamie’s Fudge

After seeing this made when I was a kid, I’m trying out the recipe for ‘Mamie Eisenhower’s Fudge’.

It’s a really friendly recipe if you’re scared of candymaking. Just remember: no touching the fudge until it sets overnight. Cover the pans with foil and keep in an *undisturbed* room temperature location. Chill after cutting into *very small squares*.

Here’s the recipe I followed, from Southern Living Magazine. https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/mamie-eisenhower-chocolate-fudge-recipe

I divided the mix…one got toasted walnuts, one was plain.

Note: this is neither diabetic nor diet-friendly candy. The *bowl* is too rich for one person to lick clean.

I’ll post pictures when it’s done.

 

‘Rocketship’ Fiber Art Books

These are coming along nicely. The teeny rocketships are all embroidered, and now both sides of the text blocks are sewn together.

I debated hand-sewn seams to anchor the folds, but my hands and schedule said ‘nope’. So my trusty old Elna sewing machine did the work, in about a quarter of the time I’d take by hand. (And much less agony.)

Now for the cedar wood covers.

To get a sense of scale, each of these books folded up will measure around 2.75×1.75×1.5″.

Doug Jones and the Republican Soul

As I write this at 6am on a Wednesday morning, several major news organizations have called the Alabama Senate special election for Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican candidate, the odious Roy Moore, has yet to concede.

This is a big deal for American politics. Early exit polls and anecdotal evidence suggests this is more a demographic victory than a Democratic one. Minority, younger, and urban voters faced off against entrenched white, older, and rural voters, amid a blatant barrage of vote-suppression tactics engineered by Alabama Republicans.

How bad was it? Mother Jones Magazine has this report. The Alabama Supreme Court set in motion measures intended to immediately destroy paper ballots and erase electronic traces, acts intended to ‘protect’ a Republican victory from claims of vote-rigging. Anti-Moore voters persisted and gave enough of a victory to (probably) be safe from a recount.

The Democrats and associated #Resistance folks are understandably jubilant. Donald Trump has so far offered an uncharacteristically mild congratulation to Doug Jones, followed by a tepid claim that Luther Strange would have been the better candidate (instead of Moore).

The Republican majority in the Senate has shrunk by one more vote, making their legislative effectiveness even more questionable. Moreover, this election can only be seen as a warning to Republicans: their party direction under Trump could tarnish their ‘brand’ for generations.

Do they care?

Understand that, to the Evangelical Christian bloc, Donald J. Trump was always an unsavory but useful tool. As long he is useful to their Culture War efforts, he’ll be tolerated. Mike Pence has spent decades grooming himself as a logical Evangelical choice for POTUS. The year he’s spent kowtowing to Trump has undoubtedly been hard for him, but he probably views it as a divine test of his faith.

Mike Pence is one heartbeat or one impeachment consensus from being President of the United States of America. This is right where he wants to be.

And right where his right-wing allies –from KKK and alt-right Nazis, to ultra-devout Evangelicals and ultra-rich donors, to even Russian interests — want him to be.

The new Republicans understand they are at a crossroads: control of the US hinges on demographics and voter engagement, pitting largely older whites against largely younger minorities. Freezing out those younger, poorer, easily disillusioned voters with suppression and misinformation was *the* core goal of the 2016 Presidential Election. It worked then.

Will the election of Doug Jones signal a new era of engagement and cooperation among liberal voting blocs in the US? It’s a promising start, but only one battle in a long and dangerous war.

President Pence is not where sane Americans, or the world, want to be on the eve of global recession, nuclear threats , and climate disasters. Donald J. Trump can be reliably said to only be out for himself (with his blood family a distant second). Pence has a Mission from God, and it’s not the one from the Blues Brothers movie.

What is so bad about a President Pence? His allies, for one: a world-spanning collection of oligarchs and devout thugs who will stop at nothing to cement political and economic power. The ‘tax reform’ bills making their way through consensus in the US House and Senate are proof enough of that. These bills take away earnings, freedom, and security for most poor and middle-class Americans, and reward the ultra-rich.

Pence’s Russian ally Vladimir Putin has led and refined a dangerous game of concealing his own incompetence and inadequacy by creating a false-equivalence narrative. ‘Everybody cheats, everybody lies, there is no moral high ground, and democracy is a lie.’ His ultimate goal is not the ennobling of Russia, but the degradation of its opponents. Donald J. Trump is undoubtedly Putin’s puppet, but Pence and the Republicans are his useful equals.

Far worse is Mike Pence & Co’s enthusiastic acceptance of End Times beliefs: the idea that the world is ending in a series of events predicted in the Biblical Book of Revelations.

End Times is the *only* reason Christian Evangelicals support Israel. They don’t like Jews, but according to Revelations, Jews and Israel are necessary to kickstart the return of Christ. Christian Evangelicals of Mike Pence’s strain are likely to be anti-science, anti-tolerance, anti-climate change, and anti-alternative energy.

They don’t think the world is worth saving. They mask that belief behind a practical pro-business, anti-tax strategy that bills itself as good for the short-term economy. But at the root, most End Times believers (who can be every religion from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and far-right Hindu, among others) think the End is going to come in their lifetime, so why build anything for a secular future? They recognize their views are unpopular with liberal mindsets, so they’ve set out to minimize liberal challenges while they can.

My takeaway from the Doug Jones election is this: liberal voters and politicians need to be ready for anything, and committed to landslide victories and constant vigilance…or the resulting alt-right empires will make Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale look like Disneyland.

Abusive agents and how to spot them

This will eventually have its own spot on Filigree’s Rule, but I thought the problem merited its own longer post.

Literary agents are human: they have likes, dislikes, foibles, and triggers like anyone else. Sometimes an author is lucky and their quirks will mesh with the agent’s. This is one of the major reasons to *exhaustively* research agents before you approach them.

Commercial publishing is a rough business. As reasonably well-informed authors, we know literary agents offer our best shot at decent sales with a trade publisher. Agents…good agents…do a lot to earn their 15%.

Note: I’ve had two literary agents between 1992 and 2016. Both are lovely people and skilled professionals, and they would *never* dream of treating authors the ways I’m about to list.

Bad agents can ruin your career, your sanity, and your joy in writing. I’ve watched dozens of agentfails over the last eight years, as I researched publishers, agents, markets, trends, and my fellow authors. It’s not always easy to spot bad agents ahead of time.

What is a ‘bad agent’? For this post I’m only talking about commercially successful literary agents, with excellent documented sales and large client lists…who have, with certain authors, failed so epically and horrifically that no one should ever query them again.

But very much like the current focus on sexual harassment in work & politics, I can’t actually name these agents without opening myself to legal jeopardy. Their awful treatment of some authors is an open secret, if you take the time to research. Writer Beware and www.absolutewrite.com offer a depth of information going back many years. Simply watch for authors announcing they are seeking new representation, and track back through their & their ex-agent’s social media posts.

This post follows one particular author and agent, with enough of the serial numbers filed off for me and the author to remain safe. (The agent could be inflicted with boils and bedbugs, for all I care.) Do I know who it is? Sure, because I have basic research skills and a good memory.

Author: three well received SFF novels from a large publisher. Books compared favorably to a master of the subgenre.

Agent: really well known in SFF community, but has some previous problematic social media gaffes.

Author was typically over the moon upon initial signing of first mms & two proposals, but noticed quickly that agent didn’t pay attention to the next two books’ outlines. Agent obviously wanted a massive bestseller/award winner, and pushed that outcome over the author’s story preferences. Agent insisted in being the sole go-between for author and editor, not allowing independent contact between the other two parties. Agent tried to rewrite books without author’s input or permission. Called on that no-no, Agent then withheld useful criticism during edit processes, but began complaining about the writing in published versions. Agent was incommunicado for long stretches of time. Agent began gaslighting author about poor sales and promo. Agent appears to have torpedoed the final book proposal, leading to its refusal from the publisher.

Finally, after several years, the agent ‘fired’ the author recently, essentially telling the author they were a terrible writer, a useless person, with no usable ideas and poor skills. That no respectable publisher would work with the author after seeing their poor sales. This shattered the author for almost a month, before serious intervention and their own resilience prompted the realization: ‘That agent is a horrible person and seriously unprofessional’.

The author could look back and and see early warning signs, enough to agonize over ‘I should have left earlier’.  But we’re authors, and it’s damn hard to give up on having an agent, especially one advertised as having industry clout.

I queried that agent a couple of times for different projects, got form rejections, learned some squicky things about the agent on social media, and never bothered with them again.

I honestly hope they leave the business. How they treated this author is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern with this agent and agency.

End of an Era: Loose Id

 As per this Facebook post, the erotic romance publisher Loose Id is closing. https://www.facebook.com/LoosenYourId/posts/10156261079630101

The four owners (The Quad, in LI nicknames) have decided not to squander the market’s good will, and are winding down the business by May of 2018.

This was my first romance publisher: they took on the first edition of my M/M space opera ‘Moro’s Price’ when no literary agencies or Big Five publishers would. For the most part, for the first few years with Loose Id, I was satisfied with sales and marketing. When it came time to renew rights again in summer of 2016, I decided to end my contract. I have no ill feelings toward LI at all. It just became apparent that my style of writing wasn’t going to sell that much in their current catalog. Eventually, ‘Moro’ went on to NineStar Press, a stunning new cover, a tighter revised second edition, and a whole new series opening up in the next couple of years.

What happened to Loose Id?

Amazon, certainly. The rise of Amazon’s behemoth publishing schemes have decimated earnings at many smaller publishers. The abrupt closure of All Romance Ebooks last year sent many publishers panicking, as it had been (on paper) sometimes a bigger seller than Amazon. Loose Id’s prices had always been read as high compared to other romance publishers, and their attempt to bring down those prices in recent years was apparently too little too late.

The romance publishing industry is changing in interesting ways, as well. Big Five and larger independent imprints are at least paying lip service to diversity in romance, which may be opening up new opportunities for authors formerly only able to publish with smaller niche presses.

While romance readers still make up the majority of genre book readers, crossover stories with other genres are becoming more common and popular among both romance readers and other genres like mystery and SFF. Readers (and agents and editors) are more open to LGBTQI and POC characters and writers. The super-raunchy, at-least-one-sex-scene-a-chapter formula (adopted by many early 2000s erotic romance publishers) was a reaction against the ‘fade-to-black’ coy sex of most mainstream romances in the 1980s and 1900s. But a counter-backlash is building against excessive or gratuitous sex scenes, especially as Millennials ramp up their buying power and preferences in the reading market.

Quality of work, not unrelenting quantity, is a sought-after feature especially in the saturated self-pub romance markets. Writers can still make a bundle from releasing at least one book a month, but the quality has to be there, or seasoned readers get quickly bored.

I hope Loose Id is able to unwind with as little stress and confusion as possible, and their remaining authors find their way to new opportunities. I hope remaining erotic romance publishers take note of the changing market, instead of wallowing in denial (like Ellora’s Cave, for example.)

On agents and publishers

Hint: if your publisher pops up and declares they will no longer consider submissions from agents, and requires their authors to sever existing ties with agents…your publisher is either predatory, clueless, or both.

This post prompted by the hilarious meltdown from Tyrant Books, an independent literary press based in Rome & NYC. Tyrant *has* published some great books, but apparently reached the breaking point recently over agents ‘stealing’ authors away to bigger presses.

Authors with agents have jumped into the fray, explaining how their agents helped their career.

Tyrant’s authors have joined in, calling the publisher fiercely devoted to quality in a world of vanilla, low risk commercial publishing (and they are also right.)

If you are an unpublished author (or a midlister disillusioned by your career arc), it’s tempting to treat getting a reputable agent as an impossible goal…and from there, a short sour-grapes hop into ‘agents are just leeches and scavengers’.

I’ve pulled my submissions to agents, in favor of working with NineStar Press. I’ve had two agents in a quarter-century, and both are amazing people. Just not the right agents for me, as I’m not the right client for them. The large story arc I’m working on has already had segments published (Moro’s Price) or contracted (The Purist) through NineStar…so the whole series is now unlikely to be worth an agent’s attention. I’ll need to write something else to go back into the agent query game.

But this doesn’t mean I’m against all writers looking for agent representation.  Writers with skilled agents generally get better contracts, subsidiary rights, better marketing, and protection from publisher collapses. (I may have a great story to tell about that in a week, about an author whose work I adore.)

But for now, here’s an article link to the Tyrant controversy.

Authors accuse publisher of exploiting writers by banning literary agents