Etsy.com, Amanda McKittrick Ros, & RiffTrax

Etsy.com and Amanda McKittrick Ros are brilliant examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.”

Or, in street-speak, “You are not only not as talented/smart/beautiful as you think you are, you are too ignorant/self-delusional to understand that.”

Amanda McKittrick Ros was someone I first stumbled onto in college, where she was trotted out by a world-weary English professor who wanted to gently warn all of us Speshul Snowflake Creative Writers about being clear-eyed and honest with our writing. (Thank you, Dawn!) Dear old Amanda is going through a revival of sorts; I just saw an article about her on Slate.com, and it brought up the old twinned horror and fascination I’d felt in college.

Here was a 19th C social climber more shameless and oblivious than Hyacinth Bucket, a hair-trigger litigant more ready to defend her honor and property than a wolverine on meth, a woman with apparently no discernible sense of humor, and possibly the worst writer in the English language. Her works go beyond the merely terrible. Read too much unadulterated Ros, and even sparkling prose begins to look bad. I’m not kidding. The Slate writer and Aldous Huxley both noticed this. I have heard it rumored that the late great Douglas Adams may have modeled Vogon poetry after Ros and her efforts.

Some movies are like that, too, such as Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’, or *anything* from Uwe Boll. Both of these unsung geniuses get the same general reception as Amanda, especially on the hilarious media commentary site RiffTrax LLC

Yes, that is a paid affiliate link for one of my favorite online comedy sites. If you click on the link and decide to try one of the RiffTrax commentary streams alongside your own copy of the movie, I’ll get a few cents. But I’m including RiffTrax in this post for Reasons beyond making this blog earn its way now and then. Read on…

Etsy.com is an internet site originally founded to provide an online sales portal for handmade crafts (link not provided, deliberately.) Market forces being what they are, the site is now regularly outed as being a haven for mass-produced resold goods and counterfeit accessories. There are still enough actual handcrafters around to keep the site legal. Many of those, alas, are the artistic and creative descendants of Ros. This is not to say that Etsy lacks its share of amazingly-talented artisans–they’re there, but finding them in the sea of Blah is getting harder and harder.

I’m selling, theoretically, on Etsy now. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m eclectic in my appreciation of craft and art. If it’s well-made and beautiful, I’m likely to enjoy it. I’m also likely to be a horrible snob if the quality isn’t there. I have to paraphrase a Maynard Dixon quote, because I don’t have access to the primary text. Speaking of a San Francisco art league exhibit in the early 20th C, he said something along the lines of “These are fools who mistake sincerity for skill.”

Art done for therapy’s sake is a wonderful tool to heal wounded human minds. Sometimes it has a raw emotional power, cousin to the most visceral of Outsider Art, and for the same reasons: it is devoid of the trappings, tropes, and pretensions of the Fine Art world. But student art and art done for therapy is not always great art, and sometimes it is awful. Many new artists have better ideas than the skills to realize them, and have no ability to objectively assess their own progress.

The current patron saint of artistic Dunning-Kruger-in-Action has to be an elderly Spanish woman who ruined a church fresco she was trying to restore. The distorted Monkey Jesus has now become a meme, a tourist attraction, and even a favorite 2012 Halloween costume.

Art has been democratized in the developed world. Hobby stores sell every kind of kit or supply imaginable, and often the classes needed to gain a rudimentary skill. Wine bars and empowerment seminars offer painting sessions where previously non-artistic folks can get in touch with their inner five-year-old and just play. And that’s good. Higher mammals, avians, and cephalopods play. It’s a sign of a big brain letting off steam and processing what-if situations before they arise.

Something miraculous often happens at these human adult play-date sessions: the participants discover that Art is Fun. Because it is such fun, its products must also be laudable – even sacred – reminders of the glory and joy felt by the participant. To the new artist, the object becomes a symbol of that brief escape. The objective critic or possible buyer can’t see that, of course. They see a hot mess. When they speak out about it, they are accused of being bullies. Etsy, DeviantArt.com, and many other democratic display sites are filled with vicious flamewars by artists who are emotionally scarred by any critique. When these artists have a little more experience, if they’re lucky, they begin to realize that not all art is going to be perfect on the first try. Everybody learns from their useful mistakes.

Writers’ sites also fall prey to this kind of victim culture. Here’s where an understanding of EtsyFails, Amanda McKittrick Ros, and few hours of laughing along with the RiffTrax folks might help.

Many of the Etsy artisans are pouring their hearts out, with no idea how bad they are. The market being the blunt instrument that it is, some of them will find customers happily just as clueless. Some will come to the ashamed understanding that they started in the wrong place. Some will quit…and some will buckle down and learn their craft.

Amanda found great satisfaction in writing, but apparently read little other work published in her day, beyond the few authors who inspired her. Initially sure of her originality and genius, she retreated behind those delusions when the wider world didn’t welcome her efforts. Because she had no sense of humor or irony, she could not understand that most of the writers and celebrities who courted her approval did so because they were poking fun at her magnificent delusions.

The founders of RiffTrax (who were previously behind the zany and beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000) have a double-edged approach to Really Bad Movies. Some movies are transparently trashy, get mocked for it, and we all have a good time. But some are so transcendently horrible they become forces of nature and rites of passage: respected for their failures and their creators’ unwavering self confidence.

Added 9/28/2017: Now that we’re in an American Presidency characterized by the same traits, it’s up to us to respect passion, but remain objective AND kind. There are a lot of people hurting out there, and a little laughter and sympathy goes a long way.

 

The walls come tumbling down

This isn’t yer momma’s romance, kids.

I’d like to share some breaking news cross-posted by romance writer Tara Lain:

Hi everyone—

This was just posted on RRW about the new J R Ward book—

Hi guys, I just thought I’d share that earlier this morning the virtual signing opened for J.R. Ward’s Lover At Last (This is Blay and Qhuinn’s book, the male/male pairing). They reportedly doubled the number of books available for pre-order through the signing, and in under three hours more than half the books available were gone. Less than 8 hours later they’re saying they’re almost sold out and they are looking at possibly, for the first time ever, closing out a virtual signing in under a day. 

Yep. It sold OUT! 

: )

Tara is correct to be grinning from ear to ear, like all the rest of us M/M romance writers.

J.R. Ward is BIG NEWS in the paranormal and erotic romance field.  She has thousands of dedicated fans, and she’s made her publishers a hell of a lot of money. She’s also been setting up this particular pairing for at least 3 books that I know of, weaving back-stories and plots. Readers on the pre-order are saying things like ‘I never read M/M, but OMG it’s Qhuinn and Blay so I have to read it!’

Ward’s formula would probably not work for an author who isn’t already market-tested. Having a vampire series during the height of the vampire craze didn’t hurt her either.

This isn’t the only M/M pairing coming to mainstream publishing this year, according to some scuttlebutt I’ve heard from agents and publishers. But it is the most dramatic and satisfying way to announce the M/M genre to the wider world.

Sure, Evangelical preachers are fanning the flames of homophobia in Africa. French protesters are marching against gay marriage. There’s an uneasy Culture War thrashing itself out in mainstream US forums, as old/conservative folks are clashing with young/liberal voters and consumers. But for most people under 30 in the US, sexual preference is a non-issue. Labels like ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are blending into newer, more subtle, more encompassing outlooks.

The hope for M/M writers in general is that if Lover At Last works and gets good reviews upon its March e-book release, then those readers might be more inclined to seek out other M/M writers with less familiar universes and characters. It may or may not convince the bigger publishers that the market is viable, which is why most of us are hedging our bets with the e-publishers who’ve incubated the genre. We have Josh Lanyon and L.A. Witt, who should be celebrated as masters of gay noir and contemporary romance – but they and a few hundred other great writers are stuck in the M/M ghetto.

I have a dog in this fight. I’ve been writing M/M romance since discovering Samuel R. Delany’s and Misty Lackey’s books in the early 90’s (there’s a dichotomy!) It took me years to write something that could be published. I’m not ashamed of the book that I sold to Loose Id last year. I’m thrilled to see even the relatively ‘mild’ M/M relationships in science fiction and fantasy books from Lynn Flewelling, Kate Elliott, Tanya Huff, N.K. Jemisin, and many others.

Readers from the M/M erotic romance community may not be as familiar with mainstream SF&F tropes, but they’ve been welcoming such treatments in erotic romance books for a few years. It’s no accident that most of the support is coming out of the paranormal romance community, and not SF&F. PR is new. It has little experience with the established tropes of a century of spec fiction, and less of the institutional and emotional baggage. Even the Romance Writers of America, a bastion of heterosexual normality at least as conservative as eHarmony.com, has been thawing and allowing LGBT romance writers into chapters and contests.

Less so, on the SF&F side. I’m still seeing a distinct resistance in the SF&F community, whenever M/M books are discussed. My erotic romance friends joke that we will never be up for a Hugo or a Nebula Award, even if we write spectacular SF&F – as long as we have that pesky graphic gay sex in our books. There’s a well-known writers’ contest that discourages gay content. In online writer’s forums, I’ve seen otherwise reasonable mainstream SF&F readers (and writers) become almost hysterically defensive when confronted by M/M themes. (Sometimes even sex, in general.) We suspect the main opposition is coming from the straightboy nerds who still consider SF&F to be their private hunting ground. I’ve had several agents tell me they wouldn’t touch such a mms, or even know how to market it. One of them even plaintively asked me to ‘stop wasting time’ and focus on more respectable romances. Or better yet, ditch the romance and just write epic fantasy.

I don’t only write guy-on-guy sex. I write M/F and even F/F – depending on the story and the characters. But as I’ve said before, when the sex is an integral part of the story, I will write about it.

So I couldn’t be happier to see Ward’s logical pairing of two much-loved male characters vindicated during the book’s first virtual signing. It means good things, people. You can be damned sure Signet and the other big publishers will be watching this debut as carefully as they watched Fifty Shades. If it looks like the general audience will accept M/M pairings, then the authors, agents, and publishers who support it are poised to make a killing.

 

So that’s what I write

A couple of online discussions made me consider just what rocks my writing self. While I love technically-accurate science fiction that ‘works’ on realistic levels, I respond most deeply to stories that can blur the line between fantasy and science fiction.

Space Opera. Sword & Planet. Planetary Romance. Not all the same thing, but they have distinct lineages connecting back to the adventure tales of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. (Note: here, the ‘romance’ pertains to stories of adventure, not love/lust.)

‘Space opera’ is a formerly pejorative term that was re-purposed in the early seventies by publishers eager to counter intellectual, inner-space, experimental fiction and get back to more fundamental story-driven tropes. Easier fare, if you will. ‘Star Wars’ gave those publishers legitimacy and a huge boost, as did the popularity of Tolkien and his disciples/copiers.

Consider ‘Sword & Planet’, or ‘Planetary Romance’ to use the more currently-popular label. Wikipedia defines it thus: “Planetary romance is a type of science fiction or science fantasy story in which the bulk of the action consists of adventures on one or more exotic alien planets, characterized by distinctive physical and cultural backgrounds.” Wiki has this to say about the subtle differences between the two labels: “In general, planetary romance is considered to be more of a space opera subgenre, influenced by the likes of A Princess of Mars yet more modern and technologically savvy, while Sword & Planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series.”

I remember being in my early teens, at that magical age to really discover sf&f. I remember summer afternoons spent reading reprints of Burroughs and Andre Norton, Leigh Brackett, and Doc Smith; or new works by Tanith Lee, Jo Clayton, Christopher Stasheff, and C.J. Cherryh – and finding myself at home in worlds that appeared low-tech and fantasy at first, but were revealed to be much more. Sometimes they were lost colonies or trapworlds settled by marooned star-farers. Sometimes they were set in alternate dimensions or histories. Unlike urban fantasies, they were set in different, strange places where the setting seemed almost as much a driving force as the characters or plots. The ‘magic’ was psionic, or half-forgotten high tech, or Ancient handwavium…or magic just worked on the bloody planet, and the reader had to accept it.

They all fed a deep wanderlust within me, and probably did as much as Tolkien did to jump-start my inner map-making, world-building geek.*

I’m glad to see they’re sort of coming back into fashion again, as subtle crossovers between mainstream science fiction and epic fantasy. This is the next big era of genre mash-ups, yes?

That I’m putting graphic sex into the mix isn’t that new, either.

Thinking back, a lot of sf&f from the seventies and eighties had sexual themes or scenes; a lot more than the nineties, I recall. No long-term reader in sf&f will probably be unaware of John Norman’s Gor series (Ugh. Just – ugh. Any woman who used her hair to clean flagstones would quickly look less like a pampered sex-slave and more like a bag-lady after a dust storm. Sexy? Not so much.) I used to use Norman and Karl Edward Wagner as benchmarks for determining who was and who was not safe to date, among fellow college geeks.

Samuel R. Delany’s work functioned equally-well on adventure, intellectual, philosophical, and amazingly hot levels, most of which I couldn’t appreciate until I’d grown up and experienced enough of life to understand them. Thanks, Chip.

From the early eighties, I remember Andy Offutt’s (writing as John Cleve) hilariously pornographic 19-book space opera series Spaceways: (http://www.amazon.com/Spaceways-Of-Alien-Series/dp/0425060616) I wonder how many of the current crop of erotic sf&f romance authors have ever heard of these? The books are hard to find now, and they were often nearly as exploitative as Norman’s stuff. But they dared to embrace plot as well as passion, and spent some time in the characters’ heads as well as beds. At any rate, most of the books were a lot more fun and more believable to me than the same attempts made over in the mainstream romance world around the time. I’m not naming books, but some of those authors drove me away from sf&f romance for years.

I’m glad I found my way back.

Dragon Sky

* Add to that, my bad-art-making geek. This is a watercolor done sometime between 1981 and 1983. There is no attempt at scientific accuracy or plausibility, just ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if you had one planet that was high-tech and one that was fantasy, and they were backgrounds for dragons?’

 

Blue Monday

January 21 is designated as ‘Blue Monday’: the day most likely to result (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) in depression and winter ennui. The holidays are over, the weather often sucks, summer vacations are a long way away, the job market scares us, we’ve already broken many of our New Year’s resolutions…you get the picture.

I’ve never associated ‘blue’ with depression. Brown and gray, maybe – those are the dry, barren, windswept colors of a Southwestern winter up on the Colorado Plateau.

As might be obvious, I like blue. All shades of it, from icy blue-white and the iconic Southwest turquoise, to electric blue and deepest midnight; the blue of sky, of distance, of a Himalayan poppy or a morning glory flower. It is at once a ubiquitous color (most shadows are blue, not black) and an unexpected color (before Better Living Through Chemistry, blue dyes were nearly as sought-after as true red and purple.)

In color theory and psychology, blue tones have been attributed to serenity, intellect, and religious mystery. In music, ‘the Blues’ are deeply misunderstood by outsiders – this isn’t a music to make you even more depressed, but to ground you, give you hope, endurance, and the certain knowledge you aren’t the only human to feel this way.

Some blue things I love:

Pollia condensata Crane jewelry -- Blue Leaf necklacePollia Condensata. This tropical plant has no nutritional value, but humans and some bird species treasure it for the long-lasting, iridescent blue berries. I first heard about it some years back. Pollia berries are one inspiration for the opalescent blue gir trees in my fantasy world. At over a thousand feet tall, the gir look more like weeping willows than tiny Pollia plants. But I like to imagine those flashing rainbow-blue leaves catching the orange-yellow sunlight of an alien afternoon.

I even made a necklace, one of those semi-secret projects I can wear at a writers’ or art convention. ‘Blue Leaf’ takes a dichroic glass cabochon, wraps it in a beaded bezel, and adds bead-woven leaves and a heavily-patterned beaded rope. It will get second looks and compliments, but only a few people will know its inspiration.

Blue tones – and trees – show up a lot in my art, even in pieces that are laden with other colors. ‘Jewel Vista 1 – 4’ are 30″x18″x2″ acrylic on pieced linen canvases, among the first things I did after leaving a nearly ten-year stint at a commercial art firm where I wasn’t allowed to sell my own artwork (even on the side.) Clockwise, they are ‘Rubies at Dawn’, ‘Jade at Noon’, ‘Opals at Midnight’, and ‘Sapphires at Sunset’.

Jewel Vista 1 - 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsterland update

Well, it may be one of those great, brilliant, heartbreaking lost causes – but I can always hope that some of Mesa’s finest might wake up and realize what a treasure they’re close to losing. The employees of the Monsterland Bar & Grill are putting together a fund-raising campaign to buy the bar and keep it going.

http://www.indiegogo.com/savethemonsters

 

Writers are crazy

I’m not talking about would-be writers who haunt workshops, conventions, and online forums; usually while talking about the writing they are doing, or about to do, or have set aside for a little while so they could commune with their Inner Genius some more.

Today’s hint-o-madness concerns the people who actually, day in and day out, sit down and pull text out of their brains. Then they hone these words and try to sell them, or flog them off to an editor or marketer who will use them to sell other things. Whether vocation or hobby, the act of writing is distinctly masochistic. Just think about it for a moment: whether someone writes fiction or nonfiction, they go through the same hurdles.

Researching enough for CYA without getting sucked into the research. (CNN axed its entire investigative journalism corps. The ‘news’ media has outsourced most of the little fact-checking it still does. Many, many writers work in this freelance field, and they have to balance Truth with Time every day.)

Once written, those words must find a home, and enough eyeballs to validate existence – i.e. Readers! This means queries and networking, book proposals and blog platforms. The romantic image of the solitary writer banging away on a keyboard, connected to the world only by an agent and/or publisher – is fiction itself. It rarely happened Back In The Day. Writers in 2013 generally have to be a lot more connected through social media and online professional communities. (Even hermits like me.)

I saw a literary agent’s answer to a potential non-fiction author client recently. The agent quoted Jack Canfield: “A book is like an iceberg: Writing is 10%; marketing is 90%.” The agent then went on to tell the author: “Write the best books you can. Only books that fulfill their promise succeed. Produce as much as you can without diminishing quality. Test-market your books, online and off, in as many ways as you can to prove they work, including a blog, videos, podcasts, a website, talks, teaching, articles, self-publishing, and media interviews. Build your platform–your continuing visibility with potential buyers, online and off, on the subject of your books or the kind of books you’re writing. Crowdsource your success by building win-win relationships with engaged communities of people who want to help you, because they know, like, and trust you: writers, fans, mentors, techies, bloggers and other media people, reviewers, booksellers, and key people in your field. Readers want to be part of your community.”

Useful and realistic goals, but I’m left wondering how much of that 90% marketing was going to be done by the agent – or by the author. And how was that agent’s 15% commission going to be earned, if the author had done most of the heavy promotional work?

Some naysayers use this problem to illustrate how literary agents are not necessary for some writers. I know too many self-published and vanity-published authors who have since learned that marketing efforts can take up far more of their time than actually writing. And most of the successful authors I talked to, or read about, say that writing more books is the single best marketing plan they have. Having an agent can still often be worth that 15%; at least they can market one book while the author is writing the next.

So, here we have twitchy creative types having to learn how to be salespeople and marketers, while remaining creative. How is it that we do not manifest crazy, at a greater proportion than the general populace?

A forum thread on AbsoluteWrite.com asked recently ‘what is normal for writers?’ Hilarity ensued, with just enough rueful admissions to soothe the original poster. A comment from Benluby on AW adequately sums up most writers’ association with normality: “Sorry. We’re writers. We’re usually the walking epitome of split personality syndrome, with dozens of characters running about throwing our shit out the window and peeing in the cooler. If normal shows up, they typically duct tape him to the brain stem and tell him if he utters a word they’ll castrate him with a pencil.”

Want more? Take a side trip to the Making Light blog and the entry:  ‘Varieties of insanity known to affect authors’ :

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004307.html

Elizabeth Bear is a Big Name in science fiction and fantasy. She’s won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, multiple Hugo Awards, and she’s taught the craft of writing sf&f at the Viable Paradise Workshop and the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop. But back in 2003, she observed: “At some point approximately halfway through the MS, every book is unfinishable. And at about 5/6th of the way through, it’s suddenly the worst tripe ever written.”

Yep. That, my friends, is a writer.

“Kiss your hands so they can make magic.”

I am quoting from James Altucher’s grim, realistic, and transcendent article in TechCrunch, which every reader of this blog should go read, instead. Right now. Seriously, my blog can wait a few minutes.

10 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be The Year You Quit Your Job

If you’ve come back to my site, well, thank you.

Why do I think Altucher’s article is so important for writers and artists in particular? Because it says in other words what Neil Gaiman said in a very nice speech last year. Paraphrased, both men ask us to work toward our goals, not away from them. We must take control of our lives, our finances, and our dreams – because nobody else will. We cannot hitch all our dreams to one plan. We must diversify as much as we safely can, and be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. If the middle class is getting squeezed out by robots and temp workers, it’s up to every individual to find their own ‘value added’ skill or idea that can give them more chances for survival and success.

We are all freelancers now.

Writers and artists take note, this does not mean falling for the next multilevel marketing or vanity publishing ‘opportunity’ you see. Do serious research on companies before you join them: to the point of credit, consumer reports, criminal records, past and current litigation, and bankruptcy checks. Discover as many skeletons in closets as you can. Don’t blindly follow anyone who promises to make your dreams come true, because you will probably only be making their dreams come true.

20 years in the art and writing business have taught me the hard way: when a company spends too much time extolling itself as a ‘family’, that should probably be deciphered as ‘dysfunctional family’. You can still do business with them, but protect yourself, too. Companies who sell your books and art should be sound businesses first, and your friends second. Loyalty goes both ways, but loyalty and friendship cannot excuse poor business decisions or downright slimy behavior.

2013 could be the scariest year many of us have faced – or the most exhilarating. It’s up to us.

Adios, Monsterland

I just found out that one of my favorite places in central AZ is closing: the wacky, gorgeous, always-fun Monsterland Bar & Grill.

http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/dining/articles/20130111monsterland-mesa-closing-party.html

This place opened as a Halloween haunted house, added a bar, added music and parties, and then a restaurant. The spooky vibe carries over in twisty entryways, gravestones, animatronic werewolf heads, servers (and guests!) in costume, and a giant Grim Reaper statue standing guard over a Tarot deck table. The theme parties here were remarkable: Dr. Who, Steampunk, sci-fi, and horror film homages, to list a few. This was the perfect place to either unwind after an evening at a local life-hack lab, or wind up after a sedate and introspective crawl through the Mesa Art Center’s amazing fine craft and art exhibits. The drinks were good and the bar food excellent.

Monsterland should have been celebrated much more by local geeks, writers, and sci-fi aficionados. It should have weathered the economic disaster,  becoming as famous a destination as another favorite, Milwaukee’s former speakeasy turned espionage-themed ”Safe House’: http://www.safe-house.com/

Sadly, that was not to be. If you’re in the Mesa, AZ area before or on 1-19-2013, check it out. The Closing Party begins at 9:00 pm, has a $5 cover, and a ‘Thriller’ theme. Come raise a glass to the grim-n-goofy, before the recession kills yet another treasure that didn’t last nearly long enough.

http://monsterland.com/

Sometimes I get it right

After playing with Bloodshadow for too damned long, I finally got a reasonable sketch of the main character Tel Girshanha. I might be using a version of this image as a cover, if I ever have to self-publish this crazy book.

Bloodshadow Cover sketch

For anyone following the backstories in both Moro’s Price and ‘Saints and Heroes’ – yes, that is a star-eater coming over the horizon. (But relax: he’s one of the Good Guys. Or at least house-trained.)

I’m not a brilliant artist, but luminaries like Michael Whelan and John Jude Palencar have spoiled me for quick and dirty Photoshop covers.

I love photomanipulation even more when I can really dig in and make it all arty.

This was done in Painter 11, with photomanipulation, digital airbrush, chalk, and diffusion brushes. Tel’s image took an hour to adapt; the background took around 2 hours to put together.

The Next Big Thing

Missy Welsh invited me to tag along on The Next Big Thing blog hop, and talk about my current works-in-progress (WIPs). What better way to celebrate the start of a new year?

1. What is the working title of your book? I have two WIPs jostling for attention at the moment. Book #1 is Moro’s Shield, book #2 is Bloodshadow.

2. Where did the idea come from? Moro’s Shield is the sequel to my first-published novel Moro’s Price.

Bloodshadow Stalking

Bloodshadow is set loosely in the same universe as the Moro books, but thousands of years earlier on one of my alien Sonta homeworlds.

3. What is the genre of your book? Moro’s Shield is gritty M/M/F erotic romance space opera.

Bloodshadow is a dark fantasy with space opera overtones and M/F romance.

No matter what genre I write, I make a point to include LGBT characters and cultural quirks in most of my writing, so few of my characters are 100% straight or gay. Tel Girshanha

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I couldn’t, for the simple reason that I’d probably go with an anime and/or CGI adaptation over live action – certainly for the lead in Bloodshadow. (It would be really tricky to live-cast someone who half the time looks like a Utahraptor crossed with an African lion.)

That said, early physical inspirations for Valier Antonin included the models Phoenix James and Andrej Pejic, and younger photos of actor Jared Leto.

Moro has no specific physical counterpart (I haven’t been 100% happy with my sketch models of him), but I will admit to my jaw dropping when I first saw David Giuntoli in ‘Grimm”. Sure, Moro is taller, paler, with longer hair and odd eyes – but that’s the fun of writing fantasy!

Moro, Val, and disc pencil version

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Moro’s Shield: On the run from two human empires, Moro accepts Sonta help for his damaged nervous system, while Val discovers unexpected friendship among the Sonta’s masters of sensual torment.

Bloodshadow: The shapeshifter Tel confronts her dark and alien heritage while uncovering a plot to invade her planet.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency/publisher? Pending approval, Moro’s Shield is on contract to Loose Id, who published the first book.

Pending revision, Bloodshadow may be represented by my agent or self-published.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I had a lot of necessary interruptions in 2012, so it took me a few months to plot both Moro’s Shield and its possible sequel. I’ll have the 70K final draft done by the end of February.

Bloodshadow is one of those on-again, off-again epics that I work on when I feel like it. I started it in 1998, dropped it in 1999, picked it back up in 2009, finished 150K of it, pitched it unsuccessfully to agents, won honorable mention or second place in a few high-level contests with it (Thank you Random House and Writers of the Future for giving me hope!), and am now trimming it to a more readable 110K.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’d say that folks who like Belinda McBride’s ‘Coalition’ erotic romance space operas might like mine. In the broader sf&f field (and if sf&f readers can handle the graphic M/M sex), the Moro books might appeal to folks who like C.J. Cherryh’s science fiction or Lois Bujold’s ‘Vorkosigan’ space operas.

For Bloodshadow, I think it feels a little like Jacqueline Carey’s ‘Kushiel’ novels blended with James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ movies, or Andre Norton’s ‘Witch World’ series meets Scott Lynch’s ‘Gentlemen Bastard’ novels – a secondary world mingling fantasy and science fiction elements, an immense history, and a main character whose self-discovery guides readers through bloody action and political intrigue.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? As a hobby, I’ve been developing the universe of Bloodshadow for almost 30 years. My very first inspirations would be the epics of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the space opera/metaphysical crack of the first ‘Star Wars’ movies.

Movies, TV shows, and anime sagas like ‘The Fifth Element’, ‘Babylon 5’, ‘Firefly’, ‘Cowboy BeBop’, and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ inspired the world building and ‘feel’ of the Moro books. The actual inspiration came from an erotic romance editorial test I took in early 2011, after trunking Bloodshadow yet again. I learned three things from the test: I was not cut out to be an editor. I thought the editorial sample provided was derivative and so clunky it needed more developmental than mechanical editing. But I really enjoyed the idea of cutting loose with a new genre. I’d loved writing M/M stories in obscure fanfiction, received some thoughtful praise and critiques from them, and I wondered if I could write original M/M and M/F erotic romance commercially. Ninety days and 100K later, I had the first draft of Moro’s Price.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The Moro books are as much space opera as they are erotic romance, because I find plot as much a turn-on as sizzling sex scenes. If you like layers of story, plot twists, some fairly intricate world building, plus hot and damaged guys building friendship out of lust and a nearly-accidental marriage – give these books a try. Dark Music tapestry

On Bloodshadow? It could be my epic foray into mainstream fantasy, or an epic fail. I’m a fool for working on it and its plotted sequels when I have no outlet other than self-publishing, but it’s a big, fun story that keeps pulling me back. You can get a hint of Tel Bloodshadow’s world in the erotic fantasy short story ‘Saints and Heroes’, in the Cleis Press anthology Thrones of Desire:

http://mitziszereto.com/thronesofdesire/

To get you started, here are purchase links for Moro’s Price. 

At Loose Id, my publisher.

On Amazon.

At AllRomance e-books.

 

Now go forth! Check out these great writers, their past works, and their Next Big Things coming up next week or so:

Meredith Booke  http://meredithbooke.blogspot.co.uk/

Belinda McBride  http://www.belindam.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2012-12-04T04:08:00-08:00&max-results=3

Vera Nazarian   http://www.veranazarian.com/

A.G. Carpenter  http://agcarpenter.blogspot.com/

 

 

Celebrating Mindful Beauty

This is a post about art, because I’ve been an artist a lot longer than I’ve been a writer.

Playing with useless objects and patterns seems not only to be a primate penchant, but one found in upper avian species as well. Smart creatures may not be able to eat shiny, pretty things – but we are drawn to them, impelled to collect and often arrange them in meaningful order.

Humans and their ancestors apparently beautified their tools, their surroundings, and themselves for hundreds of thousands of years. As archaeological evidence, we have embellished tools, cave paintings, bead jewelry, and even cosmetic pigments mixed in seashells. We do not know how much of this decoration held ritual meaning, and how much was someone just playing for the sheer joy of making something beautiful. We also don’t how much this early pattern-making contributed to our ability to perform abstract mathematical and geometric calculations, though the connection seems logical.

Fine art (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.) split off from fine craft fairly recently in our history. As the need for fine craft skills was taken over by machine production, many of those disciplines were relegated to the status of ‘hobby crafts’ or ‘women’s work’. They were put down as unskilled noodling by suburban dilettantes or country hicks, or as the physical trappings of cultures that sidelined women as merely domestic servants or trophies. In the avant-garde art world of the late 20th Century, I noticed an almost vicious backlash against craft, technical skill, and beauty among my fellow artists. Craft and technical skill were considered inferior to the conceptual underpinnings of art. Beauty was suspect, an illusion unworthy of artists who challenged the world on supposedly deeper levels of philosophy and creation.

This may have been the reason why I abandoned a BA in Fine Art in the late 1980s – I wasn’t comfortable in that postmodern world of shock artists and their later evolution, the oh-so-serious socially-conscious artists. Commercial art let me play with conventional and unconventional ideals of beauty without feeling guilty. And it paid bills.

But along the way, some incredible artists never gave up on their ideas of beauty. Jewelry, wood, glass, and ceramics artists seduced scholars and collectors into accepting those disciplines as legitimate cousins of sculpture. Fiber, basketry, and book artists followed.

Now craft museums showcase the best examples. These modern artifacts are traded with as much joy and greed as any Renaissance masterwork. International exhibitions like SOFA (http://www.sofaexpo.com/) draw millions of dollars in sales, even in this recession. Regional art fairs like the Tempe Festival of the Arts (http://www.tempefestivalofthearts.com/) and Madison’s Art Fair On the Square (http://www.mmoca.org/programs-events/events/art-fair-square) may be mocked by some conceptual artistes, but these shows and others like them attract huge crowds, spectacular sales, and lots of tourist spending in the surrounding communities. Art is Big Business, and not all of it happens in the ultra-rich and exclusive frenzies of Art Basel or the Venice Biennale.

These are some of the artists I follow:

Amy Brier makes, among other gorgeous things, rolling sculptures that leave impressions in sand. (http://www.roliquery.com/index.php)

Cal Lane welds and pierces ordinary steel objects until they become metallic lace: (http://www.callane.com/)

Paul Stankard (http://www.paulstankard.com/works.php) and Josh Simpson (http://www.joshsimpson.com/site/gallery.html) create some of the most amazing glass objects I’ve ever seen. I was recently fortunate enough to see some of Stankard and Simpson’s work up close at a museum show, after following them in magazines and online. Hint: do this, please, if you ever have the chance to see this stuff up-close and personal. You’ll never look at a paperweight the same way again.

The entire roster of the Jane Sauer Gallery in Santa Fe, NM (http://jsauergallery.com/) reads like a who’s who of ceramics, glass, fiber, collage, and other formerly disregarded craft forms. The works are often lovely and always thought-provoking. Getting artwork into this gallery is one of my personal windmills – it’s never going to happen, but the quest forces me to make better and better art.

In the UK, Europe, and the US, instruction in arts and crafts has never been more attainable for the average citizen. If you want to learn something, and you live in a reasonably large population center, you can find someone to teach you. Stores like Make Meaning (http://www.makemeaning.com) and any number of wine bars, community centers, and museums offer hands-on classes for beginners. If a local hobby shop or Big-Box store doesn’t have decent art supplies, the internet has everything. Art is now so cheap to make that we have whole side-economies (www.etsy.com) based off selling it, or the materials to create it (www.ebay.com).

Art is so cheap that, like self-published writing, most of what is actually produced is as banal and unskilled as the shock artists once warned. The socially-conscious vibe still elevates intent over result: when art becomes therapy, it doesn’t automatically follow that it becomes real art, too. Don’t believe me? Go have a sad laugh at Regretsy (http://www.regretsy.com/) for a tour of art that must look better to its smitten makers than to any objective viewer.

But if you’re beyond the cringeworthy level of Regretsy, and if you can afford travel, the world of master-class instruction opens up. I joke that if I won a lottery I wouldn’t bother with a fancy house or car. I’d enroll in workshops at recognized fine craft schools, and attend conventions like the annual Bead & Button Show in Milwaukee (http://www.beadandbuttonshow.com/en.aspx). Think beads are hippie leftovers? Not so much – they’re big business, too, for both hot-glass artists and the artisans who string and weave handmade and commercial glass beads in astounding ways.

And here is where the ‘mindful’ part of this digression comes in: someone has to make all the art supplies now available in staggering variety.

Sometimes they come from responsible suppliers who use good materials, offer good wages to their workers, and pay attention to waste disposal and pollution issues.

Often, these supplies are made in developing nations, in sweatshop or worse situations. Real Venetian glass millefiori beads are more expensive than their recent Chinese competitors – for good reason. As dysfunctional as it is, the Italian economy can still pay more to its workers than a Chinese factory or re-education camp. The glass, metal, and gemstone beads that come out of India can create local economies encouraging development and social justice – or enforce the ancient social codes that still routinely victimize women and lower-caste citizens.

Nearly every craft component maker in the developing world uses the same resources sucked up by their mega-industrial cousins: coal, oil, natural gas, charcoal, clean water, and raw materials often sourced without thought for the ecological consequences. The fuel to expand those smaller industries is the same stuff we really shouldn’t take out of the ground, because of the looming and very real threat of global climate change.

We’re getting better. With many products, it’s now possible to trace them back to their sources with a little research. The ‘Reuse and Recycle’ art movement is in a rebirth somewhat more sophisticated than its 1970’s precursor. Developed-world hobbyists and professional artists are – most of us – more aware of the global ties between us and our suppliers. This awareness needs to grow beyond a vague New-Age nod toward ‘tribal’ values and cultures, if all of humanity can share the chance to create sustainable, lasting beauty.

Why bother, if we’re going to use everything up anyway, if entropy is slated to win the championship?

Why not? If humans succeed in getting off this planet, we’re going to take our pathological need to make stuff with us. The more humans = the more collectors of art. If we ever run into a different, more advanced species, our best trading commodities will be our philosophies and our artforms. Even if we don’t get off the planet in time to avoid a massive asteroid strike, climate destabilization, the next Ice Age, or a lethal pandemic, we have left our artifacts all over this world. Someone else, someday, might find them and wonder about us.

We’ll leave enough trash behind us. It might be good to leave something beautiful, too.

See You Space Cowboy…

Some readers may get that instantly. Many won’t. That’s fine.

On a cold moonlit morning, with Yoko Kanno’s ‘Tank!’ as the daily earworm, it’s just my way of saying that Cowboy BeBop still rules after 14 years. As anime classic, space opera tragicomedy, existential exploration – and now a remastered version with clearer colors and OMFG the sound is so much better. I saw disc 1 of the four-disc set over Christmas. Tasty. Shiny, even, if one wants to get into a debate of precedence over BeBop and Firefly.

There’s still a rumor about a live action version of BeBop, with Keanu Reeves allegedly cast as Spike. Hmm. Keanu is a little old for the role*. I’d much rather see Joseph Gordon-Levitt, because I think he could manage emotional ranges that poor Keanu just can’t. But I’ll leave fantasy casting to folks who live more on IMDb than I do.

I just saw a meteor cross the pre-dawn sky.

*Added 9/28/2017: After due consideration upon seeing the two John Wick movies, I take it back. Keanu could totally play Spike.

 

‘My Turn’ and the end of an era

A lot has happened in the world since I last chimed in on this blog.

I could talk about gun violence and mental health, in the wake of numerous high-profile and tragic shootings. But many people are already doing that, to far better effect.

I can shake my head at the political gamesmanship over the oncoming economic difficulty variously called ‘the fiscal cliff’ or ‘the fiscal curb’. I’ve already written to my Republican senators and representatives, politely begging them to get back to work in the name of hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks who will feel the pinch when sequestration begins. I’m not a lobbyist, so I can’t do much more than that.

I can look at civil war in Syria, megalomania in Egypt, anti-rape protests in India, a dozen political or financial-bingo-card topics from around the world. My voice doesn’t matter in any of those discussions, save as a minute part of the aggregate conversation.

And yet, it does matter…because I have a platform. No one might ever read it, but I can technically be published and thus exposed to millions of readers, just by hitting the ‘publish’ button on WordPress.

People who’ve grown up with social media as a background in their lives have no idea what came before. Think of a loud, sprawling, and gloriously messy city, filled with every convenience at the click of a button or screen icon. Then consider a vast and isolated desert surrounding carefully guarded oases, a wilderness crossed by caravans of experienced travelers banding together in more-or-less mutual protection and apprenticeship.

A very long time ago, a print magazine called Newsweek began a feature called ‘My Turn’, which was technically open to the public. Technically, because unlike many local newspaper opinion slots, those meant for Newsweek were considered for relevance and literary merit. My Journalism and English classes in college were filled with students aiming at ‘My Turn’ and other open forums, because they provided a shot at real journalistic credit. We kept score how often we’d submitted opinion pieces to various magazines. We compared notes on fiction markets and literary agents (or sometimes held the information jealously to ourselves.) We made horrendous mistakes and learned from them; or else crawled away shattered, in denial, seeking less maddening professions.

But it all happened by mail, and it happened with seemingly geologic slowness. The process forced patience upon us. It made most of us hone our writing and research skills with each major disappointment or minor victory.

In the summer of 1988, I had the chance to see the process from the other side, as a summer intern for a modestly-successful literary agent. The agent herself was busy helping her existing clients. I read her slush pile. It was both awful and awe-inspiring, because every single one of those authors was as sure of themselves as I’d been. Most were terrible writers. By looking objectively at their efforts, I realized I was also a lackluster writer.

My responses didn’t come from any kind of ‘sour grapes’ – I’d already signed a waiver that my employer would not consider or recommend my work to any of her colleagues. If anything, I felt deeply connected to and sympathetic toward each author. Even so, I answered total strangers’ hopes and dreams with carefully bland rejection letters created from macro phrases. The phrases meant no more than ‘No’, but the agent thought they’d make the submitting authors less unhappy. She wanted them to keep going, to learn their way, and be as successful as possible. But until she accepted one of them as a client, she wasn’t their babysitter, tutor, therapist, or best friend.

In the grand old days of mailed submissions, we received 10 to 20 query letters or manuscripts a week. I passed on a larger number to the agent than I was perhaps supposed to: 12, that whole summer. Of those, she considered 2 manuscripts. If I recall clearly, she accepted one of those manuscripts and sold it to a genre mass-market paperback publisher a year or so later. One summer’s slush pile = one published novel.

Now, with the explosion of digital media and publishing platforms, those hapless authors don’t need to go through gatekeepers like myself or the agent who hired me for a summer, or through the editorial winnowing at big publishing houses. If authors are skilled enough at formatting and design, they can self-publish electronically for free or at very modest cost. If they are unsure about their skills or strapped for time, they can pay independent editors, artists, and designers – or pay a subsidy publisher to do most of that work. Self-published success stories make every author dream about the new Gold Rush.

It’s a wonderful new world, but it comes with its own heartbreaks. Because publishing is so easy now, authors can publish long before they’re ready – before they have the chastening epiphany that they are not ready. There’s more stuff published now, so readers have more unmitigated crap to wade through on the way. Social media links authors with readers, but those linkages can be easily gamed with paid reviews and interviews, meaningless contest awards, and retaliatory online flamewars. Readers have a tendency to stay within favorite genres. Newer writers often seek more-sympathetic social groups who will blindly support them, instead of encouraging them out of comfort zones. Authors who self-publish have lost first rights, and their books are often off the table for any serious publisher.

Many of these authors will never have the financial payout they wanted. Sales of self-published or subsidy-published works seem to average under 100 copies per edition, unless the work is 1) really good and 2) a viral marketing campaign gets it noticed by more than gushing friends and family. These numbers are sadly, eerily similar to the numbers of people never earning good money in most multi-level marketing businesses, and for similar reasons. Authors run out of friends and family ‘customers’ quickly. The ‘product’ may be overpriced and of lower-quality, and not as important as the nebulous feel-good goal of ‘I’ve been published!’

Many authors who jump the gun go on to make the same mistakes with other books – or even the same book in multiple editions. Without improving their work, they keep self-publishing, subsidy publishing, or publishing through small, new, untested companies which might or might not survive the first year. I’ve noticed a fair number of these authors go on to create their own publishing companies, which may or may not perpetuate the previous problems. Some are outright scams designed to separate credulous authors from easy money. Most are run by well-meaning folks who genuinely want to offer something new in the marketplace, but their experience may not be enough to make the business succeed.

One thing I really love about the new electronic publishing world: it’s so much easier to learn the ropes now than 24 years ago. Every facet of the publishing world is dissected at length online, somewhere, by people who know the business. We have no external excuses anymore for being taken advantage of and rushing too quickly to publication. The information is out there, if we just just take the time to look.

Soon Newsweek will cease as a print magazine. The ‘My Turn’ feature continues as a vibrant, career-building, consciousness-raising venue for people with passion and important stories. But it’s one tiny thread in a tapestry of millions.

It’s never been a better time to be a writer – but it’s never been a worse time to be a lazy or impatient writer. The wilderness is still there in the dark places between the big-city lights.

Cover Art Conundrums

It’s art. It’s marketing, full-on Mad Men style. It’s both, but cover art is actually a lot closer to marketing.

The one thing cover art should probably never be is art therapy or uncritical self-validation.

Starry-eyed would-be authors need to understand this sooner rather than later. In just the last year alone, I’ve seen several very new writers loftily announce they would never work with publishers who didn’t let them do their own covers.

No, puppies. That’s not how it works, unless someone is self-publishing. Not unless they are experienced cover artists and book designers. A few semesters of art in high school, college, or the local rec center will not supply the necessary experience, save by happy accident. Never count on happy accidents.

Even if an author has the right background, their experience and style may not match the marketing department’s vision. The publishers are not there to put art on a gallery wall. They want to sell books. So should authors.

There’s plenty of room in Pinterest, Photobucket, other display sites, or a writer’s own blog for concept art. Such additional features can do double-duty as promotions and reader rewards. Both Lynn Flewelling and Jacqueline Carey feature fan-art galleries on their websites, as do many other authors.

Authors and publishers establish several convenants of trust, but one of the big issues involves cover art. To boil down a lot of legalese: the publisher promises to make the best possible cover for a specific book’s market, genre, and plot (not in that order!) The author promises to fill out a cover art sheet with as much detail allowed (because almost nobody in the art department has time to read a book before it comes out). The author promises to offer guidance and corrections when needed, but not become a pain in the ass diva about it. (Kudos to Allie, Fiona, and the rest of the Loose Id designers for meeting me far more than halfway, and knowing what to do when I didn’t.)

Authors have to trust their publishers to create solid cover art and designs. To let publishers pull the plug on author-generated ideas so dangerously unprofessional they might actually harm the book’s sales and the publisher’s reputation.

In the last year I’ve seen some breathtakingly awful cover art designs, between self-published books and certain e-book genres. Two stood out because of their ‘pathetic’ factor. They probably won’t hurt their books’ sales, but they reveal some telling points about the authors and their publishers.

Both are from relatively new but growing publishers who have a lot of strong, effective covers in their respective catalogs. Both of the sad covers incorporate author-generated content. Again, not so bad in itself: as long as the author/artists have enough grasp of the Dunning-Kruger Effect to recognize their own levels of (in)competence.

Not these two. One superimposed a hand-drawn section over a blurry stock photography landscape, with an effect that might have mimicked ‘Roger Rabbit’ if the sketch proportions and pencil strokes hadn’t evoked ‘Third Grade Art Project’ more than ‘Daringly Skewed Abstracted Vehicle’. The other cover blended a badly-painted landscape (Thrift Store Desert, Circa 1970) with the publisher’s themed design. A quick search of both authors found blogs showcasing their other artistic efforts, with no apparent realization that they were not, in fact, gallery or museum-worthy artists.

Okay, fine. I’m a commercial artist, and I know there are plenty of areas in art where I’ll fall flat on my face. I know it and admit it. And these two authors seem like sweet and wonderful folks with great stories to tell.

But I would have thought someone at each publisher might have raised a cautious hand and said, “Really? We’re letting that go to Kindle or print?”

Taken as a whole, those covers tell me the authors might not be able to separate themselves from their artwork, and likely not from their writing, either. I haven’t seen sample texts from the books, so I don’t know yet. It also tells me the publisher was either worn down from negotiations, or just didn’t care.

That’s not a good start to the author-publisher relationship.

Middle Earth Merch

In the late 70’s I was a Tolkien geek. I’ve mentioned this before. I wasn’t a Tolkien geek in San Francisco or New York or any other big city, where I might have seen ‘Frodo Lives’ painted on a wall, hung out with other Tolkien club members, and visited science fiction & fantasy conventions.

Nope. I was a thirteen-year-old Tolkien geek in the middle of a charming, unpretentious, aggressively rural flyover county. Circuses, tent revivals, and police reports in the newspaper were brilliant entertainment. The nearest bookstore with any stock of science fiction or fantasy was 13 miles away, the next was 60 miles away, and the big city was almost 200 miles away. Long-distance fannish interactions were conducted through the mail, and subject to parental approval and the time lag of the postal service.

Even so, when The Silmarillion was published, it was An Event in my little world. My parents got the deluxe hardback edition in a gold-tooled box (2nd printing was all we could afford) and we scuffled over who got to read it first. By the time my turn arrived, family reviews had evolved to somewhere between ‘Meh’ and ‘Reads too much like the Bible.’

That didn’t faze me. Nor did the frustratingly dry, truncated stories, alive with scant glimmers of real personality and adventure. I’d glimpsed another door into a world alive with the same perilous magic as Tolkien’s short story ‘Smith of Wootton Major’, and I jammed my foot in the door to keep it open. I began my first horrid attempts at writing fiction. Middle Earth and other fantastic worlds were balm for the isolation of a bright, bored, and somewhat lazy teenager. Most kids in my school knew about George Lucas (another early Beacon of Hope), but almost no one read Tolkien.

So fantasy became a private passion.

That old perilous magic withstood the Star Wars Holiday Special and Jar-Jar Binks, stacks of literary rejection letters, the distance of once-close friends, and the reality behind the words ‘I am a writer’. I still tend to look sideways at both Lucasfilm and the Tolkien estate for the umpteen gazillion novelizations they’ve commissioned over the years. As a once die-hard fan of both Star Wars and Middle-Earth, I’ve only read a few of each franchise’s offerings – and have no real wish to read more. Magic runs deep: a single line in The Silmarillion pushed me toward discovering embroidery, beadwork, and fiber arts. Magic survived the first round of Peter Jackson’s cinematic vision of Middle Earth. Jackson did a reasonable job, after all, and it was fun to see new fans stumbling into wonder and fantasy. (I won’t even dignify ‘Saturday Night Live’ skits and the porn industry with a more complete mention.)

The first ‘Hobbit’ movie is due out in a few weeks. I’m bemused and dismayed by the newest onslaught of merchandising and movie tie-ins. Okay, I can see New Zealand turning itself inside out to entice tourists, and I’ll forgive Air New Zealand for that not-quite-funny airline safety commercial. Hobbits have appetites like starving weasels, so maybe Denny’s can be forgiven a Hobbit-themed comfort food menu.

But the Tolkien estate is absolutely correct to smack down Warner for ‘an $80 million lawsuit over online slot machines and other digital merchandising’. Really. Slot machines?

Magic isn’t dead, but it’s taken a beating.

 

The stages of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day (cooking, eating, couch-nesting, and family fights.)

Black Friday (shopping in the chain stores and big-box stores, for often illusory bargains.)

Shop Local Saturday (support your local businesses! Trust me, you will mourn them if they go.)

Cyber Monday (buy everything online, some of which you probably cynically priced at a chain or local store already.)

Stinky Turkey Tuesday (the punishing miasma that reminds us all of mortality and decay.)

Here in the US, various high-minded folks want to remind us that today should be ‘Giving Tuesday’, set aside for charity contributions. Er, no. If we are being completely honest with each other, that’s probably closer to ‘Tax Panic Day’ sometime between December 26 and New Year’s – when those of us still with any disposable income start finding ways to minimize the taxes on it.

I’m all for charity. But it should be a year-round consideration, not tied to one’s particular church or social group, and it should be anonymous. Charity with your name on it is not pure charity, as Matthew 6 reminds us:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

And for civilization’s sake, please take out the stinky garbage!

Holiday gratitude

‘Tis the season when I wax emotional about the folks who’ve made my writing life possible:

My friends and family, who have put up with so much to get me to this place.

My adversaries, who’ve added spice and determination to my life, tested my limits, and taught me the value of both humility and righteous indignation.

Special thanks to my readers, my editors, and my agent for taking a chance on me and on Moro’s Price, a book that is a bizarre chimera of epic space opera and really gritty m/m erotic romance.

This book happened by accident. After spending two years trying to get an agent, any agent, interested in a mainstream epic fantasy with no on-camera sex at all, I took a break and just wrote the first stupid thing that came to mind. That turned out to be Moro in an arena. By page two, I knew I was nowhere near Kansas. But I’d served an apprenticeship in raunchy fanfiction for nearly ten years. I wanted to see where the story went. That meant following Moro, a man who went very quickly from faceless doll to complicated and opinionated person.

When I finished writing the book I felt an almost physical letdown from the sheer high of writing something without reservations or limits, and never completely knowing how the plot would shift until the very end. I also wondered if I’d wasted three months of writing time. I knew most markets tolerant of the space opera aspect would not allow the graphic sex. Most publishers okay with the sex were going to balk at the big, shiny, rather too-complicated plot. From the start, the book took itself neatly out of consideration for either a RITA or a Nebula award, and I had to accept that as the price for writing it.

And…I was right. The rejection comments on my query letters show editors’ valid worries about a mixed genre book with plot-driven non consent segments. One after another, the e-publishers I’d decided to query said some version of No or Hell, no or No, we don’t publish rape stories, I won’t even read the synopsis, go away! I knew better than to write back and beg It’s not a rape story – it’s about trust, destiny, love, and two really hot boys whose flaws become assets when they meet.

When it comes to query letters, no means no.

So I was startled when Treva Harte at Loose Id told me to query the book, along with a note justifying that dire second chapter. I was floored when a submissions editor asked for a full. I could not believe it when Treva made me an offer a little over a month after I began querying. Loose Id had been the one e-publisher I really wanted for my book from the start, and the one I was most nervous about querying.

They wanted me.

Since it’s the holiday season, I want to thank Loose Id again for taking that chance: Treva and Venessa for asking for more, Suzene and the other editors for brutal and necessary copy-edits, Allie and Fiona for artwork above and beyond the bounds of patience, Tamzin for keeping me steady during sequel blues, and everyone else at Loose Id who made this experiment possible.

Thanks to the formidable Cherry Weiner, who offered critical guidance during contract talks, and who may someday see the mainstream fantasy that started it all.

And thanks to the readers who took a chance as well, and the reviewers who understood my story probably better than I did. That includes the latest review up on Joyfully Reviewed:

http://www.joyfullyreviewed.com/new-reviews/moros-price-by-m-c-hana

You are all my Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice/Festivus present. I am blessed.

 

The flop that wasn’t, or why Disney needs to trust itself…

…and can its marketing staff.

Like many people, I don’t go to movie theaters anymore.

I’m selfish. With access to a friend’s good satellite service and decent home theater, the only things I’m missing out on are screaming kids in movies too adult for them, people talking over the movie, overpriced tickets, even more overpriced snacks, and sticky floors.

So I waited for Disney’s John Carter to hit Dish Network and watched it tonight, albeit with apprehension. After all, this movie got panned by critics and lost Disney a ton of money. People complained it was too long, too complicated, and tried to do too much.

Others bitched that it seemed to steal from Tolkien, Star Wars, and other more recent great epic fantasy writers…not realizing that Burroughs is one of the wellsprings of modern fantasy.

But Disney actually pulled out all the stops and got this movie right. It follows the feel of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books, it tells a fast-paced story very well, it has brilliant props and CGI, and the actors were not horrible. Dejah Thoris is still a princess being bartered as a political prize, but she’s a warrior and a scientist in her own right. John Carter falls into this bizarre new landscape with a realistic amount of mental adjustment. Good or evil, the side characters are great additions to the mix.

As for the criticisms that it was a jumped-up B-movie? Go read the original books. They were not One Hundred Years of Solitude. They were happy, raucous pulp penned by a master.

So far, IMDb seems to agree with me, in that the post-theater movie is getting far more positive reviews than during its initial release.

It’s too bad there probably will never be a sequel, but the story has its own neatly-woven closure. Burroughs wrote far more than A Princess of Mars, though, and I’d love to see what Disney could do with return trips to this version of Mars.

In the meantime, I’m suddenly a lot more hopeful about what Disney will do with the ‘Star Wars’ franchise.

And if you really, really want to see how good John Carter actually is, go to RiffTrax LLC and sync up their commentaries of *truly* bad sci-fi movies.

(The aforementioned is a paid link: if you click and order any of the RiffTrax commentary streams, I’ll get a few cents back to help run this ridiculous blog.)

The death of reading?

Andrew Piper says that e-readers will doom the act of reading. He even has a new book out about it, from the University of Chicago Press, which I am fairly certain will also be available in digital form. Edited to add: yep, it’s on Kindle.

He wrote a Slate article about it, too.

I call utter dogbollocks. E-readers are tools and delivery systems, nothing more. Mr. Piper needs to shelve his pretentious fears, take a chill pill, then go read Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.

Technology only adds options. How to use them is up to us. But once they do exist, somebody is going to make bank on them. The Gutenberg Bible broke the price and production-time bottlenecks on expensive hand-copied books, helping to create the vast economic and political changes of the Renaissance. Telegraphs broke the tyranny of distance and offered real time information for empire-builders. Typewriters increased data entry capacity, made novel-writing easier, and gave many 19th Century women genteel, respectable careers as paid typists. I could go on to list the personal computer, the world-wide web, the cellular phone – but we’ve seen how those inventions changed our lives.

I’m hoping that the rise of e-readers will broaden the reading population.

Some of my friends have grown up in households with no or few books. Many friends do not read for recreational purposes, only when their job demands it.

My mom taught me how to read when I was four, one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. Granted, she probably did it not just to enlighten her last-born little savage, but to gain some peace and quiet for herself. Before kindergarten arrived with its ‘See Spot Run’ books, I was reading (slowly, and with much digression into dictionaries) my family’s 50-year collection of National Geographic magazines.

This may have helped my future grades, but it did nothing for my social life. No matter – I was a bibliophile from the start. I live in a house filled with books, most of them non-fiction. I have marked parts of my life with the books I read as I endured or celebrated those passages.

As a sculptor and book artist, a lot of my artwork is based on art that can only be properly experienced in the layered, sequential form of books. Mine are handheld art installations, little sculptures of wood, glass, cloth, and sometimes even paper. And I’m good at it. My work is carried in galleries and curated by some well-known university special collections. Since 1998, I’ve made over 140 such books, in small editions or one-of-a-kind pieces. Most have sold within a few months of completion. Here’s one, and I’ll explain why I used it later:

Guess what? In a couple of months, if I’m lucky, I’m buying my first tablet after seeing a friend fall in love with his. Among other things, it’s a spiffy reader. It stores more books than my home library. Bookmarking and annotating data is now simple. All my favorite magazines, from craft and art to science and fashion, are available by reasonable subscription. Reading isn’t accomplished by pressing a button, as Mr. Piper fears, but by a familiar page-turning fingertip swipe. Oh, and I can alter light levels and text size in a moment.

Am I turning my back on the tactile wonderland of traditional books? No. In fact, I’m gearing up for a new round of  book arts pieces in 2013. I won’t discard my battered 1980’s paperbacks, though I’m replacing some of them with exquisite hardcover reprints from a small press. I will still curl up with a cup of tea and a paper book on wintry evenings.

But I’ll be able to do a lot more of my career-required reading much more easily. I can carry work and recreational books with me nearly anywhere, thus opening more time for reading. My e-reader will be a lot more discreet than mass-market paperbacks, so I can reference other erotic romance writers without having bystanders’ eyebrows quiver at the hunky cover models.

In a way, I think of my future tablet as a direct link back the two images above. The Sumerian scribes who made literal religions out of bureaucracy and recording everything. The Egyptian scribes and craftsmen whose glorious writing boxes and wax tablets inspired me toward book and text-based art, way back in the 70’s with the first Metropolitan Museum of Art Tutankhamun exhibit.

After thousands of years, we’re back to tablet and stylus. I find that strangely comforting. I firmly believe it’s not how you read – it’s what you read, and how often.