The dark side of Pinterest

I both love and hate Pinterest.

On the plus side, it’s an incredible resource for worldwide inspiration in every visual art field, curated to various levels of research and granularity.

On the minus side(s), it’s a hot mess.

The app is pushy as hell, and locks down random scrolling unless you log it. Which I don’t always want to do or have time to do. No, Pinterest, you are not my go-to image search app, and the pushier you get the more resistant I get.

Even worse is the citation problem many visual artists feared from the beginning. When Pinterest started, there were few mechanisms to track the original source of an image. Pinterest addressed some of those, but it’s still not easy to tell who first came up with an image, and who merely reposted it.

I’ve been guilty of the same, I’m certain, even though I try to cite my Pinterest sources, and hope others will do the same for me.

For a cautionary story of the right and wrong ways to use Pinterest and other social media image-sharing apps, check out this tale of a mural in Chicago, two artists, and the best First Lady we’ve had in decades.

Tempe Festival of the Arts, Spring 2017

If you’re in the Phoenix, AZ area this weekend, check out the Tempe Festival of the Arts, running March 31 to April 2. It’s a sprawling wonderful circus occupying Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the surrounding side streets: plenty of art, food, live music, and people-watching.

This festival’s Featured Artist is Hannie Goldgewicht, known for her blending of ceramics and basketry. Her pieces have a monumental simplicity, combining the textures of pine-needle basketry with the rich colors of her stoneware base forms.

I’ll expand this blog post later today, to show the festival award ribbons I designed to riff off Hannie’s signature ‘look’ and themes.

***

And it’s now later.

Since 2010, I’ve designed and made the fiber art ribbons used as category and grand prize winners at the Tempe Festival of the Arts. The organizers and I have hit on the strategy of having me focus on themes (such as the AZ Centennial in 2012) or riffs on that show’s Featured Artist’s show poster. When I first heard they were considering Hannie’s work for this show poster, I started getting design ideas.

First, a look back at someone who may or may not have been an inspiration to Hannie, but they were certainly firing on the same wavelength: the late fresco artist Marcia Myers.

courtesy Gail Severn Gallery

I first came across Myers’ work in a coffee table art book, and then in person at a show at Phoenix’s Bentley Projects gallery. Inspired by Venetian frescos, Myers developed her own techniques for creating lush, many layered faux frescos on canvas or board with acrylic mediums (plus other art media). Deceptively simple, these must be seen in person to be really appreciated.

They show the same light-soaked, rich colors and pleasing textures as Hannie Goldgewicht’s work.

How to show those textures and tones in fabric? Ultrasuede: it has a soft nap and leather-like look that almost mimics the textures of fresco or ceramic. I had some oxblood red, aqua turquoise, and caramel-gold suede on hand from other projects.

How to keep a clean, crisp edge without a lot of bulk? Ribbon facing: a black-cherry red satin ribbon binds the edge of the cutout thick interfacing shape. Ultrasuede panels are glued and sewn on top. Bonus: I can use this edge trick on fiber book pages!

Text blocks and logo are digitally printed fabric, sewn in place with satin stitch.

Wood and stone beads (jasper, carnelian, dyed magnesite, various agates, tigereye, and aventurine) made great accents.

How to mimic Hannie’s simple pine-needle basketry? I thought about pine needles, but they are too finicky to work with in very small forms (for me, at least). Pigtail raffia, however, has long thin fibers in a rich straw to green-gold tone. When soaked to soften, then twisted, they were perfect to couch-embroider over the suede panels.

For the raffia accents, I chose very simple shapes to echo the simplicity of Hannie’s work.

The ribbons are finished on back with seafoam-green canvas, frayed out along the edges for more texture. Ribbon ties and pinbacks offer a variety of display methods for the winners of the three major awards, the category winners, and the honorable mentions. There are 23 ribbons total in each show’s set.

I can’t wait to see what next fall’s design is going to be!

Why enter pitch contests?

Other than sheer masochism? They offer a slight shortcut to the usually long query process, they let you meet fellow writers and industry professionals, and they offer the chance to get agent offers and free feedback.

I’ve blogged before about some dangers and darker sides of online pitch contests. Now for a spotlight on the second valuable gift they offer: feedback and editing.

Very few people can write in a vacuum. We need feedback in developmental stages of a mms, and capable editing at the later stages.

Would-be self-published writers, do you know that it can cost between $1500 and $5000 for qualified professional editing of your mms? Most self-pub authors don’t bother, and it shows in the final product.

Many pitch contests offer author-peer and professional feedback, for free or a minor donation! Some offer the finalists or winners a few weeks to a couple of months of pro editing, as well as a final showcase to tempt agents and acquisition editors.

Sure, it’s a long shot, but why not try?

I just finished a rewarding and humbling experience: tightening up my smutty M/M space opera MORO’S PRICE, which is being re-released (in a heavily revised version) from NineStarPress this summer. I have an awesome editor, and I really need her skills. (So many mistakes!)

The experience made me look again at my newly revised high fantasy mms. It’s a better book that the version I shopped last year, but I know it needs editing.

So I’m bashing my head against the mostly-so-far-fruitless pitch contest scene again, and entering this mms in the upcoming Pitch 2 Publication melee.* I have a teeny chance at getting anywhere in that event, but I’ve got to try it.

Because even if I don’t snag an agent, I’ll get strong feedback. All the ‘unsuccessful’ contests last year, plus agent and editor feedback, led to my recent revisions and a much stronger book.

If I need to, I can then self-publish that book.

(I have been known to submit work to top SFF short fiction markets, just for their personalized rejections, for similar reasons.)

*Which has now been postponed and replaced with Revise & Resub.

 

Shame on Samhain

A brief but long overdue update, on erotic romance publisher Samhain. After announcing their closure late in 2015, they regrouped in a flurry of activity over 2016.

But they’re closing for real at the end of February 2017, only a few days after releasing a last round of contracted books. Those first rights are burned, and how much will those authors earn now in less than a week of sales? I’ve seen new authors who actually submitted mms to Samhain over 2016, when many seasoned authors warned them off. Loyal readers are scrambling to back up their digital libraries.

The company had a good run over much of its eleven years. I’m sorry to see Samhain go, but wish they could have kept their first promises and folded more responsibly last year.

The death of the romance industry small presses…claims another round of victims.

Update 2-12-2017: In a move eerily like their announcement in 2016, Samhain announces it will retain a handful of employees and ‘wind down’ company sales to help satisfy customers. During this process, as rights come due, those will be reverted to the authors. Ready-to-launch books will still be sold. Uncompleted projects will be reverted.

Potentially, this means that a Samhain title released in late February of this year might not go out of contract for 7 more years…or by March of this year. We don’t know yet, because we don’t have a ‘lights out’ date for Samhain. A potential title (contracted but not ready for release as of February 2017) would be reverted this month to its author.

Now, this is just a year’s delay of closure, not long in the publishing world. Samhain is closing because of poor ebook sales. So it’s very likely those remaining Samhain authors are not going to see the sales levels they might have, from back in the company’s glory days. How much marketing and promo will Samhain do now, over how long the company winds down?

I still think it was irresponsible of Samhain to solicit and contract more authors between 2016 and 2017, but at least the company appears to have a plan in place.

If you love erotic romances and Samhain authors, keep buying while you can…and back up your digital library!

Of Shade and Soul: A Touch Trilogy Novella

My friend A. G. Carpenter and the great people at Falstaff Books have released ‘Of Shade and Soul’, the second novella in her Southern gothic ‘Touch’ trilogy.

Delaney Green might be dead, but she don’t mean to stay that way. As she searches for a way back to the realm of the living, and the man she lay down flesh and bone for, Percival Cox and his team investigate a series of deaths and stolen souls. But Percy is not the man he used to be. If Del can’t find a way to stop him from waking his past, he could destroy everything, including himself.

This is a powerful continuation of the first book (I was honored to read both in their beta stages and final form). The final product is worthy of a Poe award. If you like moody Southern gothic, horror-fantasy, magical realism with a languid air of magnolia and burnt blood…this is your trilogy. Come read it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Shade-Soul-Touch-Trilogy-Novella-ebook/dp/B01MZE2D64

More publishers behaving badly

As if 2016 hadn’t sucked badly enough before this, December saw news that two more publishers were going under with messy implosions. In both cases, authors and readers were left hanging.

Torquere was a small erotic romance publisher once reasonably respected, but torpedoed by mismanagement over the last few years.

The bigger news a few days ago: the abrupt dissolution of AllRomance Ebooks/OmniLit. This was a digital ebook sales platform that had just branched into direct publishing. For other publishers, ARe/Omni had thousands of titles across many genres, from Big Five houses to small independents and self-published authors. (I even had a spot on ARe, in prep for my future self-pub efforts.)

I lost a few dollars from sales of Maestro this last quarter, I’m sure. I know other authors who estimate they’ve lost $10K or more. Follow the link for more news about this crash (which may have less to do with financial losses than graft and fraud.)

Torquere’s troubles, we knew about at least half a year. The ARe debacle had hints of trouble a few months ago for some authors, but most of us never saw it coming.

We don’t like to see Amazon as the only outlet. For many of us, ARe was the next biggest earner, and its loss will ripple across the romance genre.

Welcome to the future, I guess.

Update 1-2-2017: The AllRomance/OmniLit sites have vanished now, like a once-vast city buried in lava. I remember how big those sites were, especially to romance. It seems surreal that they’re gone.

More disquieting are the hints and rumors of continued odd behavior from Lori James, and the realization that ARe/Omni were on shaky foundations at least two years ago. The good news is that Big Five publishers will almost certainly file suit, but that won’t help the small presses and individual authors also dragged down.

I’m no lawyer or publishing professional. My sense, from listening to people who are: look closely at your publisher. Try to determine if they’re responding quickly and responsibly to these debacles, and to shifts in the larger publishing world. If not, you might want to pull back or get out while you can.

There will almost certainly be small publishers who will lose large amounts of money from what Lori James owes. Some will lose more money trying to pay their authors’ ARe/Omni royalties out of pocket. Some won’t pay, or will only pay the 10% they might get. Either way, some of these publishers won’t survive the financial hit or the exodus of angry authors. If you love your publisher, rally around and help…but be willing to take the risks, too.

As a reader, the most important thing you can do for the writers you love: leave online reviews. Wherever you buy a physical or ebook, give an honest review. Don’t randomly gush 5-star reviews…put some thought into them. Why did you like the book? Why not? Even a guarded 3-star review can have great positive effects; even a negative review can spark the interest of other readers.

Digital books can make an author’s backlist accessible. But no one will buy that backlist if they don’t know it exists. So review!

 

 

 

 

White Walls, Ghost Ship, and the arts in America

While we’re looking at the economic and social issues coalescing around the Ghost Ship fire, we need to accept that exploitation of creatives is so common it’s basically a tenet of American culture.

The vanity publishers I talk about in the ‘Filigree’s Rule’ section of this blog? They’re only one of the more-blatant tips of a big iceberg, culminating in our President-Elect.

Coded into bedrock American culture is the idea that art is frivolous or a luxury, that artists are second-class citizens who don’t contribute much to the greater good. ‘Safe’ art gets a nod from the powers-that-be, while ‘unsafe’ art gets tagged as unsavory and socially dangerous. ‘Play’ is never as worthy as ‘work’, even though play has been shown to be a common behavior among smarter animals, and a core practice of many genius-level humans.

I can hear any number of civic boosters, art professionals, teachers, grants committee members, and charitable foundation members yelping ‘Not so!’ if they read this. While they are all tirelessly working to fight upstream against the very attitudes I just mentioned.

Ask yourselves how much better your jobs would be, if Americans truly valued art and creativity?

From the San Francisco area comes this update on a story I first heard about years ago: the saga of a hip gallery called ‘White Walls’, a grifter called Justin Giarla, and the artists who ran afoul of him.

I was in the art supply retail business around the time White Walls became really famous. I remember seeing the glossy magazine ads for the space. I can see how artists got seduced by the pitch.

Quoted from the first story: “He did this intentionally to people, and bullied them when confronted,” Soukup wrote. “He hid behind the threat that he could ruin you if you spoke out against him.”

Quoted from the second story: When street artist David Young V, also known as DYoungV, saw Harman’s post about Giarla, it inspired him to go public with his own story. “It’s been public knowledge that Justin has been either stealing from or attempting to steal from artists for years,” DYoungV wrote in a public Facebook post. “Yet artists heard all the warnings and continued to work with him anyway. It’s almost like nobody wanted to believe the ‘rumors’ until it actually happened to them.”

Anyone who has been in the art sphere for a while has met a Giarla. I’ve known several, and yes, lost money and art to them. That artists, musicians, and writers have a tendency to shrug off such misadventures as ‘part of doing business’ is a sad but necessary fact of our lives. When any gallery exposure might be the lucky break we need to become famous – or even just solvent – we gamble.

The Giarla story at least has some merit, now that other artists beyond the initial whistle-blower have come forward to admit being scammed, too.

So if you’re a new artist trying to get your big break, what can you do? Here’s some tips I’ve learned from 30 years in the trenches:

It’s a business first, friendship second. Don’t believe anyone you work with, when they call your relationship ‘a family’. The more they emphasize ‘family’, the more you should silently add ‘dysfunctional’, and plan accordingly. Be nice about it, but protect yourself. While you’re at it, don’t completely trust your fellow artists, either – they’re all subject to the same temptations and shortcuts, and you might become a handy patsy or scapegoat.

Get everything in writing. Do not rely on handshake deals, since they can fall apart like wet toilet paper. Even the most well-meaning gallery owner can fall off the wagon, or even the map. Getting terms of your business relationship on paper may help bump you up in the line, if it comes to litigation or bankruptcy courts.

Never risk more than you can afford to lose. Accept that every single painting, sculpture, manuscript, poem, or song you produce in that relationship is subject to theft, in one way or another. Gamble – but spread out your risk factors.

Very rarely is ‘working for exposure’ worth your time. Any time someone asks you to volunteer your labor, materials, and time for free or a pittance, make sure the ‘exposure’ is actually worth something on your CV.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably either a filthy lie from a scammer, or the nonsense from someone too airheaded to survive in business.

 

 

How Electors can redeem their honor

This is a long shot, for actually doing anything…but you can sign a petition to the US Electoral College to recast or overturn their votes for Trump. They have a little over a month. Try this site, for more information.

Clinton won the popular vote, but not the Electoral. Hmm. When have we seen this before, recently? Oh yes, in 2000. And it was a Republican-engineered takeover then, too.

And we ALL saw how eight years of the Cheney/Bush White House worked out.

Trump is magnitudes more unfit for office than George W. Bush. He’ll not only make America more of an international pariah state and laughingstock, he’ll endanger our livelihoods and our lives. His mere victory has emboldened the alt-right thugs who helped drive his campaign, and he’s shown no sign, willingness, or ability to repudiate them.

Maybe our voices can’t coax the members of the Electoral College to save America from a Trump regime…but it can signal that we’re here, we’re not going away, and we can play the obstructionist long game, too.

Sign the petition for that reason, at least, and pass it on to people who feel the same way.

Well, shucks…

It’s one thing when a publisher circles the drain, and nearly everyone has known or suspected it would happen for months or years.

It’s another, when a *good* small press fails. One that was, by most accounts, doing everything right: lasting for longer than two years, choosing great books and authors, designing excellent covers, marketing professionally, and offering gorgeous, award-winning books.

Jolly Fish Press is closing at the end of October 2016. This was very sudden and traumatic for them, their authors, and the agents who worked with them. Even doing everything *right*, they still didn’t make enough to continue. They’re reverting rights before the end of the month, so their authors won’t have to go through the extortion hell of, say, Ellora’s Cave.

I had been considering JFP for a fantasy novel submission early next year. I’ll mourn what never had a chance to be. I’m deeply sorry for the folks who did get snarled up in this, and I’m heartened by the outpouring of condolences and second-chance gambits.

There’s still a couple of weeks in which readers can buy JFP books in the wild…go for it, if you can, and celebrate one of the better experiments in small-press publishing. While they lasted, they burned bright!

***

All this leaves me with that nervous butterfly-stomach feeling, about some of my planned projects.

I’ve stopped looking for agent representation for Singer until I can get it rewritten to my satisfaction. There’s no point in looking for rep for the Moro books, since the first is now a reprint and the others are sequels/spinoffs of a reprint. (No legitimate agent will touch that, if my name isn’t attached to a Hugo or a Nebula.) I’m left with self-pub. Or one small press that is lovely, but could follow Jolly Fish at any time. I can hope they’d revert rights as sanely as JFP seems to have done, but that’s a huge risk to take for something that would have to be self-pub anyway, in the end.

It may come down to flipping a coin.

This is the part of the writing life that new writers are stunned and depressed to discover: that the butterflies and the despair don’t end when you finish the damn manuscript. They’re just starting.

________________

Update: October 30, 2016:

Jolly Fish has a buyer, and early reports indicate it’s North Star Editions. The way this has been handled has numerous authors and agents side-eyeing Jolly Fish, for good reason. North Star has some excellent street cred*, but they’re also new. No one knows if the rank and file editors and artists who helped put JFP on the map, will be moving over. Especially since the JFP owner/publisher is out of the deal.

I’m no longer interested, because it appears that North Star is solely a Young Adult and Middle Grade publisher. I’m not knocking those genres, because they are magical and useful (and I still regularly read both)…but I don’t write them.

*Added 10/31/16: the vanity publisher is a different North Star, apparently. Mea culpa. The North Star Editions here is the one buying JFP after Flux, and has some reputation as an educational publisher. More details to follow.

Ellora’s Cave update

(Updated October 5, 2016) I have just made the saddest $25 win that I ever bet.

(2nd update October 7,2016) I’ll keep that $25 safely unspent in case I need to return it.*

Because a couple of years ago I privately bet a group of other authors that the embattled erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave was going out of business by the end of 2016. My friends thought the place would hang on longer.

Tina Engler and her mother Patty Marks will be shutting down EC by the end of the year, according to letters sent to the authors still on their contact list. Authors are required to send in a form by early November, or risk having their publishing rights ‘in limbo’. The kicker is that, in order to reclaim publishing rights, EC authors must forfeit any outstanding royalties.

The second kicker is the suspicion that any authors who do NOT accept this ‘deal’ may find their rights in bankruptcy limbo, sold off to EC creditors, or re-claimed by Engler & Marks should they reform Ellora’s Cave (note some funky stuff with Samhain closing then not closing last year.)

Given EC’s creative accounting and reporting procedures, it’s almost impossible to know how much or how little an EC author is giving up. For some authors, it probably amounts to a pizza or two. For others, it could run into thousands of dollars. What is almost certain is that no money will be forthcoming anyway, and getting the rights back may be more lucrative than trying to force a class action lawsuit.

Here’s an overview by another onlooker. Actual screenshots of the ‘We’re closing!’ FB post are a little scarce, probably because EC authors got understandably cold feet about exposing themselves to Engler’s ire.

Virginia Nelson steps up to the plate with her candid account of her time and dealings with Ellora’s Cave.

It’s important to remember that in its early days, Ellora’s Cave was a powerhouse. Stacia Kane has a great post here about her time with EC.

I read a lot of EC books over the years, and enjoyed many of them. One of the big, recurring problems I had was EC’s ‘house style’ of pushing as many sex scenes as possible into the mms, and its preference for ‘dirty talk’ whether or not characters would express themselves that way. It was a logical over-reaction in the early 2000s, to romance publishers who insisted on fade to black or truncated sexual content. But I came to erotic romance from the SFF world, not contemporary romance, so the constant over-the-top EC sex scenes seemed unnecessary. It’s also a problem faced by many small erotic romance publishers, even now.

I’ve been taken to task here and in other online forums for my somewhat jaundiced and cynical take on Ellora’s Cave and other failing/flailing publishers. That comes across as lofty and snide, to the poor authors who did fall for those schemes. Fair enough. I’ve also picked publishers and galleries, early on, that seemed great at first, and then lost some luster. It happens. It’s happened enough times to me that I’m cynical now. I risk what I can afford to risk, and take my chances.

I maintain that the clues about EC and Tina Engler were vividly apparent as far back as the summer of 2012 (and way earlier, if you read the comment below and know any EC history at all). Anyone signing with Ellora’s Cave since 2012, did not perform their due diligence…or took an educated gamble. I’m sorry for the ones who realize they’ve been had. I shake my head at the authors, especially the newer ones, who signed since the EC/Dear Author settlement a year ago, and who are still proudly and shrilly in Engler’s court. Remember, they’re siding with this woman, who threatened bloggers, authors, and the Romance Writers of America for pointing out ‘Hey, we haven’t been paid and your royalty statements are a joke.’

Tina Engler FU

Those authors? They are idiots, and have only themselves to blame.

I hope all the EC authors can do better on republishing the many great works that did come out of Ellora’s Cave in its better days.

* Some folks who are much wiser about publishing have noted that the Engler/Marks letter doesn’t actually say Ellora’s Cave is closing. It offers authors an extremely exploitative route to rights reversion, at the expense of accrued royalties. And a threat that authors who ignore this deal may regret it.

Is EC closing? Is it being sold to a competitor or to creditors? Will Marks and Engler rise afresh with a new business, through the miracle of bankruptcy? Or will they skitter off overseas, to enjoy whatever is left of EC’s once-bountiful earnings?

Stay tuned!

(3rd update January 4, 2017) I owe someone else that $25, because EC finally went down on 1-1-2017. Whether or not Tina Engler, Patty Marks, or any other person wants to resurrect Ellora’s Cave in the future, that part of the business is over.

Engler is currently fighting an Ohio bank about a high-end party bus she owes money on (I kid you not). Like the AllRomance Ebooks fiasco, it’s doubtful that authors will ever get their proper royalties (and even whether they’ll ever get an accurate accounting of the EC business dealings.)

Author Mary Winter has a bittersweet post about her time with EC here. As an author who fought to get both her rights and her royalties back, she has some valuable insights to offer writers considering other publishers.

Agents, offers, assumptions, and bad behavior

This was going to be just a section in Filigree’s Rule, but I thought it deserved its own post. (Added info, as of 10/4/2016.)

I have begged literary agents before: please clarify your stance on negotiating publishing offers for querying authors.

We authors need to know beforehand, if you never do this and would rather we not contact you with offers, or if it is something you’ll consider doing on a case by case basis. Please put this in your goddamn guidelines, blog posts, Tumblr, whatever. We’ll be grateful and not bother you.

Otherwise, things like this are going to happen, leaving agents furious, authors confused and angry, and publishers in limbo.

Today we’re going to talk about AgentFails, offers of publication, offers of representation, and the assumption of offers.

I have a writer friend who has a great mms. It’s hard to pin down in genre, but it has good bones and a good editor will turn it into a dazzler. Friend has been trying to get this book in front of agents for a while, through queries, twitter pitch contests, etc. Friend finally gave up on those, and subbed directly to some interesting small-press publishers.

Some of which I liked and some I didn’t, but it’s not my book at stake. Friend got enthusiastic responses from three publishers, and was left with The Choice: 1. A newish press with very little to recommend it yet. 2. A stellar independent press with new capital investment and serious editorial and marketing power. 3. A quiet, niche-focused, but fairly professional press with the same core passions as Friend, and some decent plans for the future.

Friend wrote all three and asked for time. They granted it. At the same time, Friend emailed one of the agents who had asked for a query letter during a recent Twitter-pitch event. Agent agreed to look at mms.

It was then I started shaking my head and mouthing the words ‘Make no sudden moves and back away slowly’ to Friend. Because I have seen some of the online and behind-the-scenes meltdowns Agent has allegedly caused or enabled, going back to the agency where Agent learned to do these things. But again, not my circus, not my monkeys.

Agent…made a tentative offer on just a chapter or so. This is not unheard of, but it’s really strange for a new writer’s first book. Most agents want the full, so they can see where the story goes.

Friend sent off mms, and reminded Agent there were offers on table. Friend asked for a value-added statement from Agent, as in ‘What can you do for me that I can’t, in these current markets?’

No further word from Agent. Faced with offers and ticking clocks, Friend finally stepped back from agent-hunting and took offer #3 from the Nice Little Place. Sent a polite email to Agent, to thank for the time and consideration spent.

Only Agent had just cross-posted, apparently anticipating Friend’s acceptance, and sent an editorial letter with suggested changes and some other markets. A few minutes later, Friend got a terse email generally concerned with the wasting of time, the bypassing of protocol, and unprofessional behavior.

Bear in mind, the Agent made no formal offer of rep, set no timetables, did not contact Friend at all after the first gushing comments on the first chapter read. There’s even some worry on Friend’s part that Agent was planning on collecting an easy 15% for ‘negotiating’ the already-issued offer from the Nice Little Place.

And then Agent tweeted about it in public, in terms both snide and histrionic.

I can actually see Agent’s POV, and the assumption that Agent did a favor and was rebuffed. I know a few weeks to a month is probably not a good time limit on deciding whether to rep a book or not, let alone an author.

But this is WHY professionals trained by professionals FIRST make formal offers with specific timetables, expectations, and concessions…so nobody jumps the gun and writes what they think of as a ‘wasted’ editorial letter. Or assumes that they are the One, the Only, and the Perfect Choice.

And now Friend knows their incredible, uncanny luck, at avoiding having to work with this particular Agent.

I’m really looking forward to seeing that book.

 

Linen Pearl Scarf – Done!

Linen grid scarf drapeA month or so ago I posted a progress report on a scarf project. It’s finally finished. I may or may not sell it, but I’d like to wear-test it first.linen grid scarf long

Materials: natural gray-tan linen, bias-cut cotton, cotton-polyester thread, rectangular mother of pearl beads.

It not only came out close to my initial sketch, it’s even better. I’m usually ready to sell pieces the moment I finish and document them, but I might hold onto this one for a while.

Plus, I’m not sure I *can* sell it, not for the $200 minimum I’d need to recoup materials and labor. I certainly can’t sell it locally, and I’ll rant for a bit on the reason why:

The $200 scarf and the neighborhood boutique.

A decade ago I could have placed this scarf in at least four galleries/boutiques in Arizona. And probably would have sold versions of it for between $300 to $360, at the rate of three or four a month. Possibly more.Linen grid scarf close

Vendors like that still exist in the Southwest, but not many, and getting into them is as much or more of a challenge than snagging a literary agent’s eye.

I love my local clothing and accessory boutiques, but I can’t afford to buy from them often. The internet, the economy, and public buying habits are killing many of the local retailers of fine & funky clothing.

‘Fast fashion’ is affordable and easy to get online or at local malls (even if a lot of it is based on stolen designs and poor quality construction). Outlet stores undercut even the fast fashion outlets. Cheap knockoffs from Asia drive the pulse of the ever-changing market.

The phrase “I spent 25 hours on this scarf” is met not with approval but disbelief, as if why would I waste time on such a thing. Couldn’t I just have bought it from China? (By the time this post is a week old, I probably can.)

I made it because I wanted to see if I could make it. If I sell it, I want at least a pittance to compensate for replacing the raw materials…and I’m even going easy on my labor.

I can’t afford to ‘buy local’ on lots of new clothing and accessories (I’m a thriftstore adventurer, not a Barneys or Macy’s full-price labelhound.) So I can’t afford to sell locally, either. I’m pulling back from local retail markets, and not even trying to place work in higher-end regional or national galleries. That would require ramping up to wholesale production levels, a workload I simply can’t do right now.

carnelian nest necklace 8-10-2014Last year I placed some of these stone and cord convertible necklaces in a local boutique food & drink purveyor, because the owner wanted to offer accessories that fit her store’s vibe. This store is in an established and fairly busy open-air shopping mall, in one of the highest-rent areas of Phoenix. Neighboring stores include trendy, very upscale brands and medium to expensive restaurants. I see the cars in the parking lot, and can estimate the net worth of their drivers.

First problem: the store owner needed me to come down on the first necklace prices. $150 wholesale was too much, she couldn’t sell them for $250 -300 retail. I pulled back the expensive twelve-strand necklaces and brought out some four-strand pieces with lesser stones. I said: “I have more affordable designs. What’s your wholesale price point?”

No more than $80 or $90 retail, she estimated, which left me earning a consignment of $40 to $50. I let her keep two necklaces for show, along with this neckform that I ornamented from a friend’s plaster casting.White Henna neckform

Three months later there were no nibbles on the necklace, or even the neckform. “People liked them, they just don’t want to pay much right now,” the boutique owner explained.

I can’t blame her: she knows her customers. I know her customers. They’ll spend $$$ on her products, because those are worth every penny. But my jewelry looks simple, and isn’t loaded down with gold or faceted gems. So the assumption is ‘Costume jewelry=cheap=probably plastic=I can buy that at the mall or on Etsy.’

Which is why I’m moving most of my sales platforms online, where I’ll be paying lower consignment fees and have a hope of getting paid.

The importance of proofreading

Nobody’s perfect.

That we all make mistakes is no excuse for not trying to prevent them, or fixing them afterward. It’s certainly not a reason to go on the offensive and try to deny there was ever a mistake in the first place.

Own up, early and completely: most sane people will probably forgive you, because nobody’s perfect.

Hell, I regularly find errors in this blog, two or three years after publishing a post. And let’s not forget my debut novel, which I am now revising after getting the rights back last month. This thing was published four years ago and sold a couple thousand copies, and the gaffes I’m only spotting now have been seen by all those people.

That said, when you are offering any kind of public face, proofreading is a vital step that many people and businesses seem to miss.

They may not know any better. They may be cynically counting on a population’s advancing illiteracy and lackluster reasoning skills to conceal the problem. They may even excuse the error, with the idea that it makes them seem more approachable, down-to-earth, one of the masses…

Gene Wilder Blazing Saddles Quotes

But there are enough sharp eyeballs out there, that businesses need to be vigilant about their public facade. The best they face is a private personal correction…the worst is public mockery.

Take this restaurant sign.

ProofreadingThe business owners wrote up the ad copy, and none of them spotted a problem. They paid to have it made by a print shop, either local or online. Nobody there saw a problem, either.

Do you see the problem?

The food might be excellent. I’m going to try it out, to see. This is just a common typo, after all.

But a business or businessperson who misses or deliberately fudges some non-vital stages in their operations, may be missing more critical issues, too.

Today, it’s a turkey panini. Tomorrow, it may be nuclear launch codes or climate change responses.

Orange Carnelian Necklace

Because sometimes, simple is good.orange carnelian necklace blog

Materials: Champagne SoftFlex heavy duty beading wire, sterling silver lobster clasp, heavy jump ring, crimp tubes, crimp covers, and wire guards from Plazko.com. Orange carnelian nugget beads from the Tucson Rock & Gem Show 2016.

Length: 18″

I do have an ulterior motive for making this piece, which you’ll see in a later blog post (yes, it is part of an eventual outfit). But this necklace is casual enough for everyday wear with jeans and paint-covered T-shirt.

Etsy Showcase: some twisted wires

 

This will be an elitist rant about metal wire.

First, soothe your eyes by looking at this piece:

wirework bracelet(Lisa Barth: ‘The Perfect Marriage’ bracelet, photo courtesy of Lisa Barth and Bead & Button Magazine. Link: http://www.firemountaingems.com/resources/gallery-of-designs/f761)

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about wirework jewelry. Sometimes known as wire-wrapping, wire-weaving, or tension wire weaving, this (mostly) cold-forming group of metal techniques is centered around the manipulation of metal wires without the use of hot-forging, soldering, or welding.

I say mostly cold-forming, because great jewelry artists know that techniques are merely tools. They can create lovely pieces through pure cold-forming…but judicious use of forging, annealing, and solder can take work into legendary levels.

Barth’s award-winning bracelet above combines gorgeous wire work with soldering fabrication (the fancy gallery-wire bezel around the central stone), and what appears to be precious-metal-clay or embossed silver plaques (the back plates behind stones and the clasp). Some of the other artists I’m going to link to use metal clay, fabrication, or hot-forging work to add components and shape to their wire creations.

Basic wirework is easy to learn and easier to do badly. Here’s where the ‘elitist’ part of the rant comes in.

I’d estimate that about 60% of the wire wrapped jewelry, masks, and other accessories I’ve seen in online venues (Etsy, DeviantArt, Facebook, Pinterest, Artfire, Amazon Handmade, etc.) are made badly, cheaply, with little skill, design, or understanding of the materials involved.

I’m not going to call out specific examples of these folks, many of whom are selling their work for very low prices to other people who don’t know better.

It would not be kind, and I don’t want to give them even negative advertising.

In many cases, the ‘artisans’ may never learn better. These are the folks who never anchor a wire loop with a spiral wire collar, so it won’t pry apart. Who use low-temp soft solder on their pieces, because they don’t know that 1) it can be poisonous and 2) it has a higher probability of failure. Who use dead soft wire and then wonder why the piece distorts so easily. These are basic hobbyists. I’m happy for their joy they take in their work, even while I shake my head at their results.

As with all my Etsy Showcase posts, I want to focus on some of the very best wire artists of today. I can’t get all of them, so if you get addicted, just follow a few of the many ‘Wirework’ Pinterest categories down the rabbithole, and prepare for hours in Wonderland.

A good starting point, as with the Barth bracelet above, are the yearly winners of the Bead & Button conference ‘Bead Dreams’ show, and the Fire Mountain Gems-sponsored jewelry competitions. In whatever technique you love, you can be sure that the winners and finalists really are some of the greatest artisans around.

From New Zealand: the magnificent fiber and wire jewelry artist and couturier Claire Prebble, whose stunning career was cut short by her early death from cancer late in 2015. Claire is famous for wearable art, clothing, masks, headpieces, and other artifacts that incorporate precious metal wire on a near-mythical scale. Her works live on in video and book format, and (for now) here at her website.

There’s a high-powered group of insanely talented wire jewelers working out of Russia and eastern Europe. All of them are amazing. Here are just a couple:

Vanini Design  And a direct link to one of her pieces.

Nastiva Jewelry  Anastasiya Ivanova is another fearless designer.

Out of Germany, JS Jewelry, a wire artist whose ear cuff and other wire designs got me back into the game.

From the United States, one of the reigning champions, Sarah Thompson.

You may notice a similarity between Sarah, Nastiva, and Vanini – they all use hot-work to create ball-formed, flat arcs, and other ‘fancy’ forms to their basic wire. They’re also wicked good at building large-scale wire forms, then filling them with thinner-gauge wire weaving.

Interested to learn this intricate craft? Pinterest and Craftsy are full of tutorials on how to do it well…even if you don’t want to introduce hot work into your pieces.

Jewelry design is another field that has become more inclusive due to mass-produced components and supplies, as well as the booming hobby industry. Fire Mountain Gems, Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, and Plazko.com are some of my favorite suppliers from sterling silver wires in several tempers (hardness levels) for wire jewelry.

I’m just getting back into wire work, and loving it. I have a long way to go, to get near the great artists I’ve listed above.

black silver ear cuff 2.0 blog

 

 

Faith and Freedom Coalition Survey Part 2 (political rant)

Faith and Freedom Coalition Survey, Part 2 of 2.

Question 8: What is your opinion of the fact that Hillary Clinton says she wants to use the full force of the government to change the beliefs of Christians to conform with support of same-sex gay marriage and support for abortion-on-demand? I’m given, predictably, the choice of Outrageous, Frightening, Concern, or I Support Hillary’s Call for Criminalizing Christian Moral Teachings, or Not Sure.

Facepalm. These are very clumsy leading choices.

I’m beginning to wonder about the conservative obsession with gay marriage. I mean, I write some gay characters (and straight, and asexual, and wow even non-binary!) and I’m not as obsessed as you.

My gay friends are getting married? Great! The world can be a weird and strange place, it’s good to find someone who loves you through all your foibles and faults. I’m exactly as threatened by gay marriage as I am by straight marriage: in that I’m just as likely to roll my eyes and mutter about expensive gift registries.

As for abortion…hmm, guess what. Young people are too busy dealing with dicey job markets and student loans to have much sex. They’re too poor to move out of their parents’ houses, so hook-ups are tricky. Poverty is not an aphrodisiac.

Abortion levels go down with higher education and access to real, proven family planning aids. Abstinence is a joke. Ignorance is deadly in a world with AIDs and drug resistant sexually transmitted diseases. You want to reduce abortion? Make birth control better. Teach real and effective sex education. Make sure girls aren’t married off in their teens to become broodmares pumping out little Stepford clones.

No one wants Chinese-style mandatory abortion. But like pet spay-and-neuter clinics, we need to be realistic about sex, relationships, and messy reality. The GOP needs to stop being the party of of ‘Forcible Rape’. Stop being the base camp for underhanded legislation that claims to be on behalf of ‘women’s health’, but is really aimed at shutting down women’s health clinics. Those happen to offer a lot more, especially to poor women, than just abortions.

Let’s talk about abortion and Zika, to use one heartbreaking example. The abortion laws in America thawed in response to a previous disease outbreak that caused massive, debilitating, and even fatal birth defects. Are you conservatives pledged to spend the millions of dollars to ‘save’ every Zika baby that does not have a functioning brain? To offer the mother a lifelong stipend so she can care for her Zika baby, herself? Because at the moment, the joke among the younger demographic is that many conservative activists will lie, cheat, and steal to get a pregnant teen to deliver…but offer her nothing but shame and scorn afterward. Or they just want the (healthy) baby to only be raised by ‘good Christian’ straight white adoptive parents.

By now, I’ve about had it with this idiotic survey and I’m tired of finding diplomatic answers. So this time, I do vote I Support Hillary’s Call for Criminalizing Christian Moral Teachings…insofar as that pertains to institutionalized sexism, racism, anti-science nonsense, faith-based medicine, child abuse and endangerment, and child rape. No, your cherished beliefs do not get a pass here.

Drumroll…another Issue Summary: ‘FAITH & FREEDOM COALITION believes that 2016 is probably the most important election of our lifetime because America is heading over a cliff in so many areas – and that America is right now at a “tipping point.” We believe that 2016 is our last chance to save America as the “land of the free” for your children and grandchildren.’

Ah, I see. They’ve narrowed down what they think is my demographic. Wrong again, Ralph. I firmly believe that America is only in critical danger from people like you.

Question 9: How strongly do you agree or disagree with this assessment by FAITH & FREEDOM? Yay, I have the choice of Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree, or No Opinion.

I vote Strongly Disagree. I do worry that you clowns will create your own Apocalypse, and I doubt you’ll have the grace to only take each other out. Can we please have a Rapture here, soon? It may just save the planet.

Question 10: Are you currently registered to vote? The choices are Yes and No. The survey then helpfully offers ‘If your answer is “No,” would you like FAITH & FREEDOM COALITION to send you a Voter Registration Kit?’ Again, a Yes or No answer (with my prediction that if the survey reveals someone sympathetic, they are sending that kit anyway.)

I vote Yes, that I am registered to vote. Honey, I am so registered.

Question 11: Will you solemnly pledge right now to vote in 2016 if you are physically able to do so? A Yes or No choice, followed by an official ‘Important: Please sign on this line to verify your pledge to vote in 2016:’

Oh, to quote Sarah Palin: “You betcha!” I say Yes because I certainly pledge to vote. And I sign, but not with a signature that completely matches my legal one (I don’t trust these folks, after all, and this is not a legally binding document.) I am more committed to voting now, than even before. They’ve mobilized me!

Question 12: Will you also pledge to bring like-minded friends with you to vote in 2016, or to take steps to make sure they vote? Yes or No choice, refreshingly urgent in its simplicity.

Again Yes, and “You betcha!” I’m DMing all my gay millennial friends in about twenty minutes. And all my erotic romance writer friends. And a few age-tamed anarchists I know who are still on the fence.

Question 13: Will you send your best donation right now to FAITH & FREEDOM COALITION to help fund this $12.3 MILLION FINAL 90-Day HOME-STRETCH PUSH Battle Plan Dr. Ralph Reed described to you in his letter, so that we can save the America you love for your children and grandchildren?*

*Their words and capitalization. ‘Nuff said.

The America they love is the one with segregation and the Klan, ‘Strange Fruit’ and Emmett Till, banned abortions, banned birth control, anti-science and isolationist factions in power, and the fantasy of a theocratic empire. Where to prevent black people and white people swimming together in the early 60s (gasp!) Lynchburg VA, filled in three public swimming pools. And this home of Christian Liberty University wasn’t the only American city to go to such drastic lengths to avoid following the law of the land.

And get this: my choices literally are:

Yes, because I share your view that the 2016 Elections is our last chance to save America.

No, because I like the direction America is heading.

Of course this is about money in the end. It’s about money for the Coalition. Money that Trump makes off his name-value association during his political stunts, whether he wins or loses. Money made by lobbyists and political appointees. Money lost by the Trump followers, who still believe that Prosperity gospel will somehow transfer the equivalent of The Donald’s wealth to them. Meanwhile all of them are making my America an uglier, meaner, angrier place.

I vote No.

America is already great, and it can be much greater. Ralph, I don’t want to live in your version of ‘great’ America, because I’ve already seen it in post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction. Yuck.

Added later for emphasis: Ralph Reed says he is ‘counting on’ every good Christian to contribute an average of $26.43 to his fund raiser for Donald Trump. Neither of them are getting one greasy penny from me. In fact, this week I’m calling the Hillary campaign to offer my support.

Because she’s the adult in the room.

***

Added October 23, 2016:

Because she didn’t bother to post in comments, I’m adding in an email from a recent reader, Eileen Lupkes. I’m copying her words verbatim.

“Born in Minnesota on a farm, married and moved to AZ at 40.

Where did you learn about life?  I find your comments sad and alone.  Perhaps missing understanding of our Constitution that was framed with an American dream of the common man coming from dictators, monarchs and socialist tyranny in Europe.  It was of LOVE and equality of men found in the Bible.  World Government and open borders will be a disaster letting in more pandemics, and ISIS taking us back to the Dark Ages.

Right now our government is trying to spend it’s way out of debt.  Does your bank allow this?  Ours didn’t and we lost our farm in Minnesota.  Our 4  children had to learn to make their own living.  Our government now is leaving a terrible debt and unsafe  future to our children.

OBamacare has taken billions out of our Medicare and has 21 taxes and an exemption for religions not believing in insurance on page 107.  Insuring 11 million illegals at the expense of our elderly.   $7000 deductibles and several thousand a month premiums?

I am praying for you and your elite friends.”

Thank you for your prayers, Eileen. I’d ask you to broaden their focus to our whole country, our planet, and our species. I agree that many things our government has done have been messed-up and stupid (hence, I’m an Independent voter and not a Democrat.)

I’m sorry your family lost its farm. We need more small-business-friendly infrastructure and investments in family farms, not more corporate giveaways (which have been just as much a hallmark of the GOP elites as with Democrats.)

The Bible has some shining moments of equality. One of Jesus’s greatest teachings was affirming that we are all of equal worth in the eyes of the Deity. But the Bible, yes, even the New Testament, shows some astonishing cruelty and inhumanity. I’d like to think our religions can outgrow the selfishness and evil of their youth, and become forces for true human good. I stopped waiting for it to happen, and became an agnostic years back.

As for the founding history of America, our Founding Fathers (the real ones, not the parody version in Tea Party daydreams) recognized the real horrors of allowing state religions, and of allowing any one religion to dominate others. I agree with them. I’ve got no problem with law-abiding, community-minded Christians…or Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, or whatever religion. I draw my line when any one religion or way of life starts claiming it is the ‘one true path’, and that all others must convert or die. That’s a part of religious Islamic fundamentalism…and if you’ve at all studied European history, you’ll know it is a shameful part of the Christian heritage, too. There isn’t much standing between Daesh (what ISIS really should be called, because it pisses them off) and Christian theocrats.

I draw the line when one group says their right to be prejudiced assholes trumps the rights of other humans around them. Gay marriage doesn’t scare me. Abortion doesn’t scare me. Politically honed and aimed religion…yeah, that worries me. People voting against their best self-interests out of suicidal pride and desperation…that grieves me.

My folks come from west Texas, and have lived in a semi-rural area of NM since the 1950s. We see the real costs of commercial flight and changing demographics, in my home county. Many of us also see that while Hillary Clinton isn’t our best choice, she’s worlds more responsible than a lecherous, entitled New York manchild like Donald Trump…who talks a good game to his followers, but has no real intention of helping them over his own petty revenge and power fantasies.

Trump is Nero 2.0, not Cyrus the Anointed.

Whatever happens on November 8, Eileen’s letter is an indicator that we’re all going to have to work together, to make sane and responsible compromises, to make sane and responsible decisions, to overcome the real divides between urban and rural America.

 

 

Faith and Freedom Coalition Survey, Part 1 (political rant)

Part 1 of 2.

Summary and warning: I get harsh with certain evangelical Christians.

Why did Dr. Ralph Reed and his evangelical Christian Faith and Freedom Coalition send me an advertising pitch disguised as a voter survey? Maybe because I was a registered Republican for many years? I’m a 50ish female Independent voter in Arizona, which is shaping up to be something of a battleground state?

They’re casting their net wide to include me. I haven’t been even a casual Republican for almost 2 decades. I never saw 100% eye-to-eye with many Democratic Party issues, so I became an Independent. I see only the worst tokens of old Republicanism in the Trump cotillion. I also see disturbing parallels to the Nazi Party and Mussolini’s fascist expansion of the late 1930’s.

Even if I were somehow still ‘undecided’, the testimonial letters included in this mailing would be likely enough to push me away. When the likes of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mark Levin, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Tim Scott, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Boddy Jindal endorse your movement, I know I’m not welcome in your Big Tent.

So, I thought, I should at least look at this survey, and see what my adversaries are saying. This is new and unscripted: I just opened the thing, and am alternating reading it and typing this post.

Please bear in mind that most of the grammatical and punctuation errors are simply what I’ve copied from the mailing. I’m not editing it beyond paraphrasing when necessary for brevity. The Faith and Freedom folks have a loose idea about grammar and punctuation, I’m afraid.

  1. The survey itself almost exactly mimics a paper ballot in its layout, paper thickness, and size. I’m in marketing, I know this game. Create expectation and anticipation. Fake reality until enough people believe your lie. Frame your narrative to make your conclusion seem correct and inevitable.
  2. The survey opens with a plea to conservative Christian voters to get out and vote in November. It reminds voters that up to 30 million Christian voters stayed home in 2012. In 2014, the coalition prides itself on reaching out to Christian voters, who were only 32% of the electorate but voted 86% Republican, allowing massive sweeps in that midterm election. (Their numbers. I’m not playing fact-check right now.)
  3. The survey aims to energize registered Christian voters and convince the stragglers to register and vote.
  4. The survey expounds repeatedly on the theme that America is doomed unless Christians ‘take it back’ the ‘Left’s radical anti-Christian, anti-family, socialist agenda to transform America.’
  5. The underlying Vote or Die! meme is continued at lower right of the first page, with the direction ‘Continue Official Ballot Inside’ and a large black arrow. I remind my readers this isn’t a real ballot. It’s a fund raising tool aimed at getting millions more dollars for Donald Trump and lesser Republican candidates.

On the inside, again flipped vertical exactly as a legitimate ballot, the survey embarks on 13 questions. Bear with me, as I grab a black ink pen and go through each one.

Question 1: If the election were held today, for whom would you vote? I get a choice of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or a blank spot for a write-in candidate.

Even with my skepticism about Clinton’s ties to big business…and as tempting as it might be to write in ‘Giant Meteor’…I choose Clinton. Why? Because Donald Trump appears to show signs of several psychological disorders, and can’t be trusted with a New Jersey casino, let alone what I think is still one of the greatest countries on earth.

Question 2: How do you rate Barack Obama’s performance as President? I get the choice of Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Abysmal, or Undecided.

I choose Fair because I think that we did not get Candidate Obama or even The Rock Obama…we got someone who waffled a lot, was under the delusion he would get any kind of compromise from this new psychotic GOP, and allowed the Republicans to pretty much frame the national narrative over the last eight years. A typical Democratic flaw, alas.

Question 3: If Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected President in 2016, do you think she would be an improvement over Barack Obama, about the same, or worse for America’s future? (Nice leading language on that last point, folks. Frank Luntz should be proud of you.) I get the choice of Worse, A Slight Improvement, No Opinion, About the Same, A Big Improvement, and a large write-in spot for Other. (I’m estimating it’s large enough for one of several Fox Talking Point rants.)

I chose About the Same and write it in, because I see no reason she would change. But then I realize there is one good thing about Clinton’s nearly 30 years of experience with GOP adversaries: she already knows their tricks and probably won’t tolerate as many of their tantrums as Obama has. But I’ve already written in ‘About the Same’. And while Barack Obama has disappointed me in many respects, he and Hillary Clinton share an important trait: they’re both intelligent, rational adults.

Before we get to the next question, we have a block of highlighted text announcing an Issue Summary. Why? Because the Coalition wants to make sure we survey takers understand the Terrible Peril We Face if we answer the next question wrong.

Partial summary text: ‘The next President is likely to have three new Supreme Court Justices and will set the direction of the Supreme Court for generations.’ Then follows some dog-whistle language about gay marriage and other ‘outrageous and unconstitutional rulings’. Imagine the liberal orgy if more left-wing judges get appointed! I have two words to answer that: Citizens United. Liberal-leaning judges did not jam that one through the SCOTUS. The Voting Rights

After all that, the next question is almost anticlimactic.

Question 4: How important to you is it that we elect a President who will appoint Supreme Court justices and federal judges who will follow the Constitution of the United States and NOT just make up their own laws in accordance with their own personal ideological views?

Room here for a comment here about psychological transference, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas. I’m given the choices of Essential to America’s survival as the “land of the free”, Very Important, Not Important, Important, No Opinion, or that pesky big blank line for Other (another slot for a Talking Point, yay.)

I’m choosing Essential to America’s survival as the “land of the free”, though not for the reasons these alleged patriots might want. For all his faults, Obama is a constitutional scholar. I think the Supreme Court has been hampered (and its reputation harmed) by the actions of Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas…who all played fast and loose with their take on the Constitution.

Not to mention the deep horror I feel while contemplating who and what Donald Trump might appoint as a SCOTUS judge. A business crony? A horse? His wife? A Putin or Erdogan puppet? If he appoints Christian theological judges, we’re up for the Christian version of Sharia Law. No thanks.

Oh, look, another Issue Summary. More spoon feeding leading statements.

‘It’s now obvious that Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Democrat Party are trying to transform the voting electorate in America by granting amnesty and ultimately citizenship to the estimated 20,000,000 illegal aliens now living in America and inviting tens of millions more illegal immigrants to break into America to become voters. This is how they aim to “fundamentally transform” America (as Obama put it) into a one-party socialist country. According to a new study by the Center for Immigration Studies, 76 percent of immigrants in America who have children are now on at least one welfare program.’

My reaction: What? I think your numbers are far higher than they really are, and I wouldn’t trust any think tank you reference.

I live in the Southwest, I see immigration issues all the time. There are some real problems, but honestly it’s not as bad as you’d think. The real issue, hidden behind all this coded language, is flat out racism, fear of the future, and fear of a Zero Sum Game in which poor white people are last onto the life rafts. Lyndon Johnson pointed out decades ago that as long as poor white people have someone else to piss on, they feel better about their own faults and failures.

Immigrants made the America we love. My Cherokee ancestors might have something to say about all those white people who rolled into Georgia and the Carolinas, and thanks to Andrew Jackson sent my folks on the delightful gallivant known as the Trail of Tears. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure some of those Cherokee ancestors (and English, and German ones) also owned slaves.

I would like to believe in a changing world adapting to terrible pressures, through better social instincts and better science. We are actually in a much less violent world than the one our ancestors knew. We just see more of the awful stuff because of the 24 hour news cycle and the internet. This isn’t a Zero Sum Game in which one group’s gains mean another group’s loss. We can rise together.

So give me what is sure to be your travesty of a next question:

Question 5: How concerned are you about this invasion of illegal aliens that is now overwhelming America’s health care, welfare, and public school system? I’m given the choice of Very Concerned, Not Concerned, Concerned, or No Opinion.

I pick Not Concerned, because this is a straw man issue hiding a lot of other very real problems with health care, welfare, and the public schools. Most of those problems I can lay at the feet of my once-brethren in the GOP, plus a few idiotic Democrats.

Question 6: How concerned are you that, because of this invasion of illegal aliens, we are coming to a point when a conservative pro-freedom candidate will never win another Presidential election in America? I am given the choice of Very Concerned, Not Concerned, Concerned, or No Opinion.

To be fair, I pick Not Concerned, although I would much rather have a write in spot for I SEE YOU, YOU OLD SCARED ASSHOLES! I SEE EXACTLY WHAT THIS IS ABOUT.

This is an issue about freedom, to this coalition: Their freedom to worship and live as they chose, and deny anyone different that same choice. No tolerance. Their way or none. They and ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haram are all the same mindset. It’s just that the Islamic terrorists have gotten away with it by violence, and the evangelical Christians have learned to play the game with politics over the last 50 years. It’s more subtle, but it spells the same doom for the vibrant progressive America that I love.

Donald Trump’s latest angle is repealing some tax-restrictive policies that supposedly inhibit and threaten free worship today…but were once enthusiastically championed by Republicans, when those provisions were drafted to hamper socialist organizations.

You know what, Coalition? I think those tax policies don’t go far enough. I’d like to see NO TAX EVASION from churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship. Get a crowbar into those coffers. Pay your share. Render unto Caesar, and all that jazz. Many churches do wonderful, responsible social safety-net work with their tithes. Many others allow their pastors to have gold toilets and Lear Jets. We’re talking billions of dollars in cash, bonds, stock, precious metals, and property.

What next? Oh, stars, another Issue Summary:

‘We have reached a point in America that government will crack down hard on you if you adhere to Christian moral teachings. Christian bakers, photographers, and wedding service providers are being fined by the courts and threatened with prison for declining to participate in gay wedding ceremonies. One Christian baker in Oregon was fined $135,000 for declining to make a wedding cake for a gay marriage ceremony.’

Ugh. I can’t even ponder the GIF I should use for my reaction. Other than a big fat link to all the fact check sites that tell the real versions of these stories. This is just more dog-whistle code.

So-called ‘moral’ viewpoints on gay issues are sharply generational: if you are under 35 you are much more likely to see gay marriage and other gay issues as norms and non threatening. And that scares the crap out of older white conservatives.

I’m not threatened by gay marriage. I don’t think that conservative businesses should be railroaded as much as they might have been, but some of the Culture Wars anti-gay stuff I’ve seen has been ridiculous. If I were a gay person, I wouldn’t ask a conservative to bake my wedding cake. I wouldn’t sue the baker, I’d just agree to disagree and go elsewhere.

But the baker’s side won’t back down, because their entire moral viewpoint is shaped by shutting down and shunning anything that is not their ‘norm’. They not only do not want me to have their cake if I’m gay or somehow ‘other’, they don’t want me to have any cake, or any wedding, or any legal protection against harassment and violence.

Time and again, I see language from the Christian right that conflates ‘compromise’ with ‘criminalize’. Like this next question, which I saw coming several paragraphs ago.

Question 7: How concerned are you that Christianity (which includes Christian moral teachings) is quickly becoming criminalized in America? I’m given a choice of Very Concerned, Not Concerned, Concerned, or I Want Christianity Criminalized.

Sigh. The choices ignore the nuances of compromise and coexistence. I’m an agnostic at best, atheistic to a degree, and always a skeptic. I would not mourn if the more virulent forms of *all* fundamentalist religions were contained or eradicated. I’ve been reading some fascinating and chilling social studies articles about early human societies and the possible links between religiously motivated human sacrifice, authoritarian government, and oppressed populations. Big religion almost always seeks out incestuous relationships with power and privilege. The Trumps and Putins of the world will always court legitimacy with craven or naive religious leaders.

I’m fairly certain that Putin made his deals with the Russian Orthodox Church not because he believes, but because it’s a useful alliance. In Turkey, Erdogan wants a less secular society because the pro Islamist factions are more likely to prop up his personality-cult style of government. Trump is not a moral person by many of the measures Christian conservatives know. By rights, many more of them *should* be labeling him an Anti-Christ. But they and he think they can each control and use the other.

Like any religion, the moderate expression of Christianity is not a bad thing. I have fond memories of the staunch hardworking Calvinists, gentle Presbyterians, and level-headed Methodists I knew growing up. Instead of the ancient Mediterranean cultures’ focus on individuals as cogs in destiny or a state machine, early Christianity gave revolutionary precedence to individual human beings and their personal relationship with the Divine. (That it also encouraged slaves to meekly accept their earthly lot in exchange for exalted rewards in Heaven is a bit bogus, I’ve always thought.)

So no, I emphatically do NOT want to outlaw Christianity. I would like checks and balances on irrational Christian persecution complexes before they lead to the next American Civil War or World War III.

I vote Not Concerned on Question 7, simply because you assholes didn’t give me a reasonable choice.

Ramping up the persecution complex is the next Issue Summary: ‘Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is telling Christians that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” In other words, she is saying Christians need to change their beliefs to agree with gay marriage and abortion-on-demand (including partial birth abortion) and even threatens saying, “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will,” [against those who subscribe to Christian moral beliefs].’

Okay, wow, let me unpack that for a moment. Cultures change. Secularism and humanism is on the rise, and that terrifies some Christians. Not all, I might add: Reed’s coalition and his like-minded allies certainly do not speak for all Christian-identifying folks in America. Demographics shows that younger Americans are far more likely to be un-Churched if not nonreligious than older citizens. Reed and his coalition know they are on the losing side of history, and this is their last attempt to hold onto their cherished moral beliefs.

Some of which are good, and some are awful. I’ve read my Bible through multiple times, I’ve seen the sublime passages, the ridiculous, the unsavory, and the horrifying.

The conservative right has made demons out of the liberal left. The liberal left has typically passively ignored or mocked many of the right’s complaints. But if conservatives push too far the other way, they risk utterly alienating not only this younger generation, but many more to follow. Moderation and compromise are not utter defeat. If that’s the only language you understand, so be it.

(Continued in Part 2.)

 

Writer’s Dilemma: 2016 edition

I’ve entered a manuscript into the 2016 Pitch Wars.

I’m one of about 2000 writers vying for 128 slots, to be mentored for two months while I revise the mms. In early November, the mentee authors get a chance to have their work considered by a large group of agents and publishers. I have a very small chance to be selected in this first round, and no guarantee that my mms will go anywhere in November.

I’m doing this to meet other authors, and to get fresh eyes on this story.

The Pitch Wars and mentors have rightfully and repeatedly warned participating authors to watch what we say and do on social media. Normally, I’d agree.

But this is 2016 and America is facing one of the most important Presidential elections in our history. I’m about to post two blog entries that will no doubt earn the ire of many socially conservative readers…among them, prospective writing partners, agents, and editors. If so, so be it. They and I would probably not be good social or business partners, anyway. If this gets me bounced out of this contest or other opportunities…again, so be it.

This particular manuscript won’t be harmed if I trunk it again, or query it directly to the Big Five or good small publishers…or self-publish.

My fiction is important to me, as is all my art. But life is even more important. I couldn’t do much of my art in the world that a lot of the strict religious fundamentalists – of any religion – seem to want.

My art is certainly not as important as this election.

So fair warning, readers.

Silver Ear Cuffs, revisited

(And a bonus Craft Credo rant!)

I had forgotten how much fun wire wrapping can be. After a clunky start, I’m picking up on skills I left dormant a decade or more ago. Ear cuffs (aka ear jackets, ear couplings, etc) are a fun but ambitious way to jump back into this technique.

Black silver ear cuff 1.2 blog1) Here’s a slightly reworked version of the first set of blackened silver ear cuffs.

The coil over the top of the ear was too loose, resulting in too many pressure points for comfort. I ran another coil parallel to the first to fill in some of those gaps, and used the excess on either end to make some spiral finials.

Silver wire, ballpins, quality tags, and chain from Plazko.com. Gems largely from Tucson Rock & Gem Show vendors and The Bead Garden of Sedona. These still have issues, so I probably won’t sell them.

Height: 4.75″ Width (outer) 1.5″ (inner) 1.1″ Materials: sterling silver, aquamarine, smokey quartz. Weight: .8oz

black silver ear cuff 2.0 blog2) Here’s the second set of blackened silver ear cuffs.

Note the tighter spiral wrapping over the upper curve, and the more-controlled shapes of the lower hoops. Instead of using manufactured chain, I wire-wrapped chain links from 20 gauge round silver wire, carved crystal quartz (rock crystal), and garnet beads. Why? One, I’m cheap and nobody had premade lengths of similar chain, in the right gauge, for anything near what I can afford. Two, the chain design mirrors the tight spiral of the ear hook.

Gemstones from The Bead Garden of Sedona.* Silver wire, quality tags, and ballpins from Plazko.com. These ear cuffs are extremely wearable, and I’ll likely put them up for sale online in the near future.

Height: 5.5″ Width (outer) 1.25″ (inner) 1.1″ Materials: sterling silver, garnet, crystal quartz. Weight: 1.2oz

Both pieces oxidized with Win-Ox patina solution from Lonnie’s Inc.

*Other gemstone suppliers may include Bead WorldBeads Galore, and innumerable thrift store discoveries. I’ve been at this long enough that I may have forgotten where I got some of the beadstash, over the years. I’m lucky I remember what I have.

Note: there’s definitely going to be another Etsy Showcase blog post soon. It might be fun to contrast the very basic examples of wire wrapping with some of the truly sublime pieces out there. (I have a very high mountain to climb, just looking at the latter.)

***

And now, a rant.

Today’s bit of the jewelry Craft Credo: whenever possible, make your own findings. Customize manufactured findings, chain, etc. with your own touches. I could buy very basic sterling silver ear jackets online for $2.5 to $5.00 each, from a few Etsy stores, and add my dangles.

But I’m picky. Most of those have un-anchored open wire loops that can pull apart. Often, the maker may not know the critical need to file and smooth-burnish every snipped wire end, to reduce cuts and snags. (One difference between hobby jewelers and those of us who sweated and scorched our way through bench jewelry training.)

Like these gold-tone wires, which are good, but not great:

For between $12 to $20 depending on gauge (thickness) I can buy 16 to 30 feet of sterling silver wire from my favorite suppliers, and have plenty of material to play with.

This way if I need a sturdy ear jacket with a certain kind of wrapping, I know it’s mine with a little planning and effort. If I want drapes of strong garnet, crystal, and silver wire-wrapped chain, I can make them myself, to my exact needs.

In nearly any creative field, hobbyists are limited to pre-made items or collections in kits. Artisans can jump right into altering products or making what they need from basic components. (Yes, I know how to smelt silver ore and make my own wire. In two historically accurate ways. I have no real need or time to do so.)

What stops many hobbyists, other than cost? Fear of failure.

Pffft. The first set of ear cuffs above are failures, by my standards. I can’t sell them because I’d be worried about them hurting someone. If the right forewarned victim comes along and offers to wear test them for a decade or so, I’m probably going to say ‘Go for it’. The near-certainty of failure did not stop me from making the damn things.

Because I learned while I was making them. Same with other art forms, trades, skills, and writing (especially writing!)

Fall in love with the process and the journey, and ‘failure’ becomes just another valuable step.

My Pitch Wars bio

So, apparently I’m doing this thing called Pitch Wars next week. I have my first chapter reasonably polished, hammered together something that might pass for a hook, cooked up an 800-word synopsis, and achieved a query that didn’t make my current CPs barf. I am exhausted but happy.

For people stalking my mms, there’s plenty on that buried in the rest of this blog. I’ll make it simple. It’s a big secondary-world high fantasy quest/romance novel about music, ancient bio-weapons, sentient amnesiac black holes, oppressed populations, incipient civil wars, and three people who really need to talk honestly to each other more often. Like I said, simple.

For people stalking me, I’m really rather boring. The most interesting thing about me right now is my hair, which is partly cobalt blue right now. And my terrible taste in socks.

I’ve been a commercial and fine artist for a couple of decades. Some of my areas of expertise chosen obsessions are silversmithing, beadwork, embroidery, acrylic painting, costuming, couture clothing, masks, book art sculptures, and digital art.

I’ve had art in some national exhibitions and fancy coffee-table art books. My book art pieces are represented by two incredible galleries, who sell my work to collectors around the world. I have art online at a few sites, both for display and for sale.

By day I write marketing and catalog copy for an international jewelry-making supply firm.

In my spare time, I write science fiction, fantasy, fanfiction, and original erotic romance. I’m apparently not supposed to let on how much I’ve written.

Some of it has even been published by royalty-paying publishers.

What do I want out of Pitch Wars? Nearly everyone wants an enthusiastic, skilled agent and maybe a very nice deal down the road. But my years in art have taught me that the outcomes and odds can be so improbable that you’d better be doing something you love. That you would do anyway. That you cannot not do. That the journey itself may be more important, and lead to even more amazing places than you ever dreamed.

So I’m hoping to connect with some more mentors who will become good friends, that maybe I can help as much as they could help me. Even if I don’t make it into the later rounds, just doing this has helped me clarify my goals.

Onward!