Friday, December 30, 2011

Finishing up 2011 and looking forward to 2012.

Whew, it's been a busy year. Let's see: I wrote four books, two of which will actually see the light of day at some point. I started this blog. I took a novella that I had written a year and a half previously at that point, decided to give it a thorough scrubbing and self-publish it as an experiment, and then promptly spent nine months and four drafts whipping it into shape to be a novel. (And got my face eaten off with all of the secondary characters' stories along the way.) I learned more about editing than I ever would have thought possible, and I discovered that Twitter is actually pretty fun and that formatting is not that hard. Not bad, all in all.

I'm not usually one for New Year's resolutions, but I am a Type A who loves making lists, so here's to 2012! I will:

1) Complete the editing on Fire with Fire. The second draft will be completed in a few weeks, after which I'll deliver it to my critique group and then eventually my copyeditor for a Spring 2012 release. Second drafts take nearly as long as first drafts for me (and FwF has several structural issues in its current state), but things thankfully move faster after that.

2) While the critique group is ripping apart Book Two, start drafting Book Four. (Book Three was my NaNoWriMo and needs another month or two to sit in a drawer and think about what it's done.) I'll keep using this leapfrog method throughout the year to get Books Two, Three, and Four out before 2013 rolls around.

3) Meet my Get Your Words Out 2012 pledge. I've chosen a less ambitious goal than in previous years, given the amount of time I'm going to be spending on editing and promoting, but it's still going to be a tall order.

Oh, and I'm gonna read some books. Here are five of my favorites from 2011, and I'm hoping that you can make them your favorites in 2012:


Heroine Addiction by Jennifer Matarese. This book is a clever, cracktastic, and utterly hilarious take on the superhero genre. It's the only book I've ever read in which a zombie outbreak is something that you look at and shrug over before getting back to the plot.


Seed by Ania Ahlborn. Charlotte is one of the creepiest and most tragic children I've ever encountered.


The Jakarta Pandemic by Steven Konkoly. Fantastic, claustrophobic examination of how easily the world can go to hell.


Sugar&Spice by Saffina Desforges. In addition to making me realize that I know way too much about serial killers, it's just a flat-out fantastic and well-researched thriller.


Jenny Pox by JL Bryant. I probably won't have time to do a full review before the first, but I was quite simply blown away by how fantastic this book is. Pick it up at your first opportunity.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

REVIEW: Optical Delusions in Deadwood


Hi, guys, welcome back! I was hoping to have this review up sooner (and I just realized that I screwed up the title in my last review post: my apologies, Ms. Charles!), but that figgy pudding thing got away from me for a few days. The next time a caroler shows up at my door, I'm just going to make them a sandwich.

Description: Someone is spreading rumors around Deadwood that Violet Parker likes to chat with dead folks.

With her reputation endangered, her bank account on the verge of extinction, and her career at risk of going up in flames, Violet is desperate. When the opportunity to sell another vintage home materializes, she grabs it, even though this "haunted" house was recently the stage for a two-act, murder-suicide tragedy.

Ghost or no ghost, Violet knows this can't be as bad as the last house of horrors she tried to sell, but sexy Doc Nyce has serious doubts. Her only hope of hanging on to her job is to prove that the so-called, ghostly sightings are merely the eccentric owner's optical delusions.

But someone--or something--in the house wants Violet stopped...dead.

My Thoughts: Ann Charles delivers another charming mystery/romance with just a touch of the paranormal. What I like best about Violet is how of an Everywoman she is, and yet she remains such a (albeit slightly frazzled) badass. Sure, she gets knocked out and drugged a time or two. (Who doesn't?) But she always comes up swinging and is well on her way to saving herself before Mr. Dark 'n Dashing shows up to get the testosterone flowing.

I did mention in my last review that some of the shine comes off Doc Nyce in the second book, and I'm afraid that I have to stand by that judgment. What was an air of mystery in the first book becomes straight douchery in the second, right down to Doc knowingly refusing to tell Violet information that could keep her safe while also thinking that he has some kind of claim to her behavior. I'm sorry, Doc, but only Batman can pull off being Batman. (And then only barely.) Violet, however, is so engaging on her own that I know I'm going to keep coming back.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Freeeeeee (or cheap) books for your ereader!

Erica at The Book Cellar has assembled an extensive list of free or steeply discounted ebooks here, while JA Konrath is offering 23 of his own books for free for the next three days. I'm going to try to keep this face to a minimum, but I'm honestly not promising anything:


And then of course my own book, Super, is now available for $2.99 at Smashwords and Amazon, but I still have thirteen copies that I'll give away completely free to anyone who comments on my blog, emails me at MariStroud@gmail.com, or drops me a line on Twitter. I'll probably still make the lizard face, but you won't have to see it. :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Super is finally here!


Available on Smashwords for $2.99 here and Amazon here, with links to follow on B&N, Sony, etc. just as soon as those versions are live. (And I've vetted them for errors, of course. I've checked the .mobi and .epub versions on Smashwords itself, but of course you all know how the saying goes: measure twice, cut once, and then your house doesn't fall down around you while your neighbors point and laugh and you curse the fact that your cute underwear is all in the laundry...I possibly over-think these examples.) BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE! I'm going to give away a free copy to the first twenty-five people who respond to this post, give me a holler at MariStroud@gmail.com, or DM me on my Twitter account. No obligation on your part, but I would of course be delighted if you pet my hair and tell me I'm beautiful leave a review on the site or sites of your choice if you like what you read.

I chose to do the Smashwords Meatgrinder for this book, at least, and I have to say: not nearly as scary as it's portrayed. I'm terrible with technology, and I still got it done in under three hours with the Style Guide holding my hand and passed the Auto Vetter standards on my third try.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

REVIEW: Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles


Description: The first time I came to Deadwood, I got shot in the ass.--Violet Parker

Little girls are vanishing from Deadwood, South Dakota, and Violet Parker's daughter could be next. She's desperate to find the monster behind the abductions. But if she's not careful, Violet just might end up as one of Deadwood's dearly departed.

My Thoughts: I purchased this book during a general binge at the Indie Book Blowout Christmas sale. (The efforts of which basically meant that I had books for a dollar at my fingertip during one of the most unproductive work weeks of the year. Sorry, Boss Man.) I was expecting a quick, fun trash read of the paranormal romance variety; what actually arrived on my phone was a witty mystery-comedy that makes the comparisons to Stephanie Plum and Janet Evanovich seem much less strange in retrospect. Violet is a hilarious and real everywoman sleuth torn between the time demands of protecting children in general, her own children in particular, and maintaining the "But I have a BRILLIANT PERSONALITY!" facade that will help her land a sale and keep her job. Doc Nyce is an engaging male lead as he provides the dollops of romance that the book does contain; he makes a lamentable turn into a bit of a jackass in the next book, Optical Illusions in Deadwood, but I'll get to that after taking a short break in order to figure out what figgy pudding is and why the hell you would want to eat it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tentative cover reveal!

I was a busy, manic, giggly girl last Saturday, because I was scampering about Bricktown with Audrey, Tanner, and a beautiful model named Brittany who was really very accommodating, considering she was working with crazy people. (And then we didn't even use the shot that she kinda had to risk her neck for. I'm not going to mention that part to her, or else I'll find a way to dress the hell out of it.)

Picture taken off of my phone because she was humoring me:


Now taken by an actual professional:


Now with digital magic thrown in:


I've asked that the quote marks be taken off the tagline and the title itself be moved down a bit more, so that's not the final final version, but I'm still wiggling so hard over here that you'd think I was part lap dog. How do you get a cover like this? Hang out with geniuses, which is why my inevitable DIY book on self-publishing will include extensive stalking how-tos. (Lesson One: Expect the Unexpected, or Bring Your Own Pee Bottle.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

REVIEW: The Clockwork Giant by Brooke Johnson


Description: It's 1881, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Chroniker City, the global hub of technological advancement in the modern world. Based off the British coast, the city is home to the most prestigious polytechnic university worldwide, a center of mechanical ingenuity teaching everything from clockwork mechanics and thermodynamics to electromagnetism and electricity. Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, dreams of one day becoming a member of the Guild, an elite group of inventors and innovators who envision a future fueled by technology, but her ambitions will only come to fruition if she can find a way into the illustrious university—an institution reserved for men only. When she meets Emmerich Goss, an accomplished engineer newly recruited into the Guild, Petra discovers that he needs help building a top-secret, government-sanctioned automaton, and she is just the girl to help him. Together, they craft the clockwork giant, and as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra finds that she can love more than gears and mainsprings.

My Thoughts: This book is delightful! I'm fairly well-read in YA, but I don't read much in the way of steampunk; however, I loved this. The plot zips along, the world-building is rich and detailed without becoming overwhelming, and Johnson does a great job of constructing a heroine that pings with a modern audience without losing sight of the very different social mores that a proper Victorian young lady would be expected to follow. Petra is a fun, proactive protagonist that had me rooting for her the whole way, and Emmerich would have drawn many a swoon from me when I was thirteen. I wanted to take him by the lapels and shake him a bit when it was all said and done, but in a generally benevolent way: he's capable of being better. Can't wait to see where Johnson goes with this series next.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Look, the internet gave me a Christmas present!


GetYourWordsOut: Back for a 4th Year!
Pledges & Requirements | GYWO.net


Once again: this is a fantastic comm to join if NaNoWriMo doesn't work out for you due to school, family, etc. The mods are fantastic and supportive, and the monthly check-ins also work on the honor system. It's one of the best and most gentle spurs to keep your writing goals on track that I've encountered yet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In which I am a good daughter.

I went to pick up my mother's Christmas present recently, which was...well, let's just say that it was a bit of an adventure into an unfamiliar culture. Since she owns a handgun, I bought her a year's membership to a shooting range.

It was like entering a whole new world full of wondrous and previously unseen technologies. Apparently, you can purchase a holster to keep a gun between your breasts. No, really, it's a thing:


Uh, "between my breasts" is one of the worst places I can think of to stick a presumably loaded weapon, but I've also seen way too much dudes keeping guns in the waistbands of their pants without stopping to think about just how wrong that arrangement can go. Stupidity knows no gender distinctions. However, taking a gander at how flat-chested every mannequin displaying such a holster has been so far: that carry ain't nearly as concealed as you think it is, honey.

REVIEW: A&E presents Stephen King's Bag of Bones

I have to get this right out front: I am in love with Bag of Bones the novel. I reach a height of fangirling with this one that's even higher than my normal Stephen King fangirling, and the normal level sometimes makes strangers ask why I'm allowed to roam the streets unaccompanied. King is fairly well-known as a seat-of-the-pants writer who makes things up as he goes along. This makes the mystery and ghost story that makes up the book even more remarkable, if King is to be believed when he saws that the bones--sorry--of it were there right from the first draft. By 1998, he had also been at his game long enough to develop a grace and restraint in his writing without which the eerie, largely psychological tale would not be nearly so powerful. I did a little dance when I found out that A&E was going to be adapting it into a miniseries.

Alas, it was to be a disappointment in the end. Brosnan was an odd choice to play Mike Noonan right from the beginning, much too patrician for Noonan's Everyman. He also chose to keep his British accent...but his brother, Sid, is still American. The fault doesn't lie solely with Brosnan; part of the reason Bag of Bones resonates so strongly as a book is the paranoid interplay between Noonan's grief and love for his wife, and his fear that she might have been cheating on him before her untimely death. That would be a steep mountain any screenwriter to climb. The one in charge of this adaptation had Noonan muttering to himself a lot.

That being said, there was one actor who stood out from the rest of the cast by several big steps. I always root for Sara when I reread the book (and had a literal LOL moment when The Green Lady popped Mike one for thinking than an apology was going to make gang-rape and murder go away, because I probably would have done the same thing...you know, if I was a decades-old spirit driven mad on grief and pain), and Anika Noni Rose's portrayal of her was spectacular. Sara is primarily a mood in the book, a figure seen from the corner of the eye and gone by the time that Mike turns around, but Rose made the most of every single moment she was onscreen in portraying Sara's fury, grit, and defiance. Easily the best part of the miniseries, though a runners-up nod goes to the music people for contriving so many different ways for Sara to speak her piece through song when she wasn't visible. I also have to say that I laughed, albeit a little bemused, when the big denouement boiled down to Sara and Jo yelling at each other for a few moments. Yes, Bag of Bones was written just as King was beginning to put the Dark Tower mythos into everything that he wrote, but I promise, the audience would have been able to follow a nod or two.

Monday, December 12, 2011

ATTENTION READERS!

Indie Book Blowout is doing a fantastic 12 Days of Christmas sale for all of your reading needs, but it gets better! They're also giving away a Kindle Fire or a $200 Amazon gift card: entry details are here. It looks as if you need to be a member of Facebook to win, so if you are (you poor bastards), be sure to stop by and give it a look-see. Everyone likes free stuff!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

REVIEW: The Lost Life of Eva Braun by Angela Lambert


I hesitate as I start out in the writing of this review, because to attack The Lost Life of Eva Braun feels almost as if to attack Angela Lambert herself. In retrospect, this should have been an early warning of one of the book's deepest flaws, that Lambert is acting as such a deeply and personally involved interpreter of events rather than pretending any kind of objective distance as a historian. She admits from the very first pages that she has an agenda in defending Eva Braun from a slew of male historians who dismiss her as a "bimbo" or any number of other gendered insults by offering a female perspective on Hitler's mistress. She also states that she seeks to understand her own German mother, who was born in the same year as Braun and only miles away, and was understandably very reticent to talk about her experiences growing up in Hitler's Germany. Anecdotes about Lambert's mother and aunts litter the book; this is a problem. One cannot give an objective account when the historical subject has become aligned with one's own mother and, increasingly, the entirety of German womanhood over the period between WWI and WWII.

Eva Braun was Hitler's mistress; even that statement seems to cast aspersions, doesn't it, implying looseness of sexual morals (in a time period where slut-shaming was seen as right and good) and psychopathy by default because, well, he was Hitler. Shouldn't she have just known? Shouldn't she have sensed something? The only explanations for her long-term fidelity to one of the twentieth century's greatest monsters that many can accept is that she was either an equal participant, or so stupid that it's a wonder she managed to cross the street without guard. This is a dangerous strategy to take, for it places Hitler above the realm of man and into a fairytale monster, makes it inconceivable that any right-thinking person could have been seduced by him. As history can attest, his type is not actually that uncommon.

Unfortunately, Lambert, in trying to overturn both of these views of Eva Braun, only winds up further condemning the woman that she was trying to save. Braun was Hitler's long-term secret, known only to a handful of those in his inner circle. As such, there is very little information on her save for oral history carried (and tinged by) her family, whose surviving members Lambert was lucky in being able to interview before they passed. That's still not a lot of information on which to base a book. There is enough before Braun fell under Hitler's sway to paint the picture of a naïve, vivacious young woman who was eager to please and not terribly troubled by being dominated, a personality profile that psychopathic men are drawn to often enough. For every serial killer who lived alone, there is another who has a spouse standing in the wings and swearing against all evidence that their loved one could not possibly have done such things. This was Eva at 17, however; she was thirty-three when she committed suicide with Hitler, and had been living in the seat of power for much of her adult life. In her zeal to prove that Eva wasn't the ditz that Hitler's perpetually jealous and backbiting inner circle wanted to dismiss her as, Lambert does her job a little too well: no, Braun was not stupid, however much she became very good at playing compliant and passive in order to accommodate Hitler's whip-crack moods. She was surrounded by the most powerful men of the Reich and their wives, many of whom, contra Lambert's assertions that the women were deliberately kept in the dark, knew very well what was going on, and yet is supposed to have been blithely innocent of any knowledge. (As Lambert herself admits, largely by Braun's own design.) Lambert attempts to counteract this by pointing to Eva's sweet nature and usual gentleness (and that of Albert Speer, who himself ain't no great shakes as a human being) as if knowing the difference between right and wrong makes her better than the likes of Goebbels, Eichmann, et. al. even as she passively refused to act upon this enlightenment. At one point, in fact, Lambert also attempts to deflect blame from Eva by stating that many Jews who knew that something was very, very wrong at the end of those trains even if they didn't know the full extent of it still chose to stay rather than face the difficulties and uncertainties of fleeing to reluctant asylum nations. At that point I had to put the book down for a bit and go play with the cat until my temper could cool. It's a rare misstep for Lambert herself; on the whole, while I doubt her historical conclusions, she's very careful not to diminish the sufferings of the Jews or the ordinary German people throughout the war.

Lambert also attempts to say that heroism is something to be lauded when it is displayed, not condemned when it is not, and in that sense she is correct. One gets the impression, however, that she is moving beyond trying to redeem Eva Braun and into an attempt to redeem her own mother and perhaps every adult woman of Hitler's Germany as a whole. Lambert's mother married an Englishman and was living in England during the war, where by Lambert's account she was treated very cruelly by her in-laws on the basis of her nationality. She might or might not have had the knowledge, but she certainly didn't have the power to do anything about it; she needs no redemption. As it is extremely gray as to how much the average woman in Germany knew at the time, we cannot condemn them out of hand, either. (Though it is curious that Lambert, in nearly the same breath as she says that we cannot expect heroism as a necessary component of decency--rightly, or most of the human race would fail outright--eagerly lists the number of German women who did go above and beyond to protect Jews while it was a struggle to keep immediate family members from starving to death.) But they weren't enjoying the fruits of power (Lambert also excuses Braun's increasing high-handedness with her own family as the strain of maintaining a relationship with a psychopath, while dismissing elder sister Ilse's coldness towards Eva as jealousy rather than ideology; Braun's family was ardently against the anti-Semitism of Hitler's policies), they weren't putting a relationship with Hitler above all else as late as 1945, when there was little not to know.

It's an odd sort of historical biography wherein the most interesting personality in the stew is that of the author herself. One gets the sense in reading this book that in every portrait of Braun Lambert is actually seeing Ditha and trying to redeem her in spite of a paucity of evidence suggesting that she did anything to put her in need of redemption. Darlin', your mother ain't the one that did it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

REVIEW: Seed by Ania Ahlborn

NOTE: I'm going to be very giggly and flaily during this review, so I won't be taking much care with spoilers.


Description: In the vine-twisted swamps of Louisiana, the shadows have teeth.

Jack Winter has spent his entire life running from something no one else can see. His childhood is his darkest secret, but after a near fatal accident along a deserted road, the darkness he was sure he’d escaped rears its ugly head… and smiles.

But this time, he isn’t the only one who sees the soulless eyes of his past. This time, his six-year-old daughter Charlie leans into his ear and whispers: "Daddy, I saw it too."

And then she begins to change.

Faced with reliving the nightmares of his childhood, Jack watches his daughter spiral into the shadows that had nearly consumed him twenty years before.

But Charlie isn’t the only one who’s changing.

Jack never outran the darkness. It’s been with him all along.

And it’s hungrier than ever.

My Thoughts: This is a fantastic book, probably the best piece of horror that I've read this year. Ahlborn takes several well-known elements such as creepy children, evil passed from generation to generation, and the particular aura of the Deep South, and puts them together again in novel and terrifying ways. Charlotte is one of the most terrifying characters I've ever met, and most of her creepiness comes about in subtle inversions of normalcy well before she actually becomes violent. (Many reviewers cite the scene with the dog, but it took at least half an hour to get my goosebumps under control after Charlotte and her mother in the girls' bedroom.) One of my favorite aspects of the book is the ambiguity of the evil itself. Is it demonic, or is it mental illness? Jack's mother was emotionally disturbed, but she didn't become violent. Did she and Jack's father pair to brew the perfect cocktail of recessive genes in Jack, which he then passed on to his daughter? If not, what was the deal with the cemetery, where did the evil come from, and what does it want after the book concludes? These unanswered questions would be evidence of sloppiness in another writer, but Ahlborn turns them into the shivery sense that the "game" is not over yet...and that any of us could be meeting Charlotte very soon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

REVIEW: Sugar & Spice by Saffina Desforges


Description: It's every parent's worst nightmare: A child fails to return home. As hours turn to days, all they can do is hope. Some children never come back...
Driven by the need to know why, a mother confronts the man accused of her daughter's murder, He presents a compelling defence, convincing Claire not only that he is innocent of harming her daughter, but that his previous convictions were not what they seemed.
Teaming up with a second-year psychology student and a fourteen year-old truant schoolboy, Sugar & Spice is the story of a mother's fight to bring one man's reign of terror to an end.

My Thoughts: I have never read a book in which so many sympathetic (at least at the onset) characters are pedophiles. It's a bit of a mind-screw, actually; if not for the fact that the authors are not American and that the book was written well before the Penn State scandal broke, I would swear that one in particular was based off of an intense study of Sandusky. This book is tautly plotted, fantastically researched (only mistake I noted was that Jack the Ripper was much more likely to be a disorganized offender than an organized one, and even as I type I realize that being able to pull this info off the top of my head says something about me...), and features a young profiler who fast became my favorite new character of the year. (A place previously held by Lisbeth of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) It's incredibly disturbing in places, and I never thought I would encounter an arc where chemical castration would actually constitute a happy ending, but Sugar & Spice is an altogether engrossing and deeply layered ride. A definite recommendation.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The F Word

This is actually a post that's been building for awhile (title and everything!), but two recent events slammed into each other to make it a reality rather than a "you should probably maybe kinda do this at some point, you know, if it's not going to be too much trouble." The first was the dismissing of Amanda Hocking's work as "basically Twilight fanfic", and the second was a Twitter acquaintance of mine fretting over the fact that she has completed over 200,000 words of writing in a single universe, but it's only fanfic and thus people are (rightly) going to make fun of it. So, once again, here we go.

I wrote fanfic, or fanfiction, or transformative works, or whatever the hell else label you want to slap onto running gleefully through the wilds of someone else's creation for personal satisfaction rather than profit for more than ten years. I didn't stop doing it because I realized the error of my wicked ways and am now buckling down to suffer artistically in a garret somewhere (I'm actually writing many of the same tropes as erotica under a pen name and discovering that people aren't lying when they say that the internet is for porn; people want to talk about sex, bay-bee, they want to talk about you-and-me…), I've stopped because I flat don't have the time any longer. I don't think that there is anything wrong with writing fanfiction, or that you have to choose between one or the other in order to be a "real" writer outside of the tyranny of spare time. (At least one prolific writer of fanfiction enjoys regular comfortable positioning on the New York Times' Bestseller List, and a handful more still get published regularly while continuing to use fanfiction as a way of blowing off steam.) It's a great way to develop craft-related muscles if you want to write original fiction, and a wide and welcoming avenue towards a fun and quirky community and great friendships if you don't. Frankly, I'm just tired of "fanfiction" being used as pejorative with a built-in escape hatch. That being said, there are still certain skills that you can learn from the writing of fanfiction, and then there are others that it definitely allows to atrophy. Let's just get the bad out the way first, mmmkay?

The Weaknesses:

All of your skills at building new worlds—you know, those things that make readers believe that vampires can sparkle and dragons have some kind of influence of sexual orientation—are going to wither and die. Don’t freak out right away, they can be rebuilt. But the what-if impulse in other people's worlds that makes fanfiction so cool makes you absolutely crap at creating those worlds yourself. I'm not decrying fanfiction itself, but that's a skill that you're going to have to relearn. I certainly did. Luckily, fanfiction also teaches you a great deal about the art of dealing with criticism when you inevitably screw it up the first few times. (That is, if you choose to learn. I mean, someone has to keep Fandom_Wank going so that the popcorn farmers can make a living. You could be doing a public service.)

A built-in audience can lead to an overestimation of your own abilities and a consequent swelled head if you aren't very, very careful. Maybe you're the only person out there writing Nikita/Harry Potter crossover AUs set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, and these works really hit the buttons of a select few. That doesn't mean that you're ready for publishing yet, self- or otherwise. (Of course, if you can make the tragic romance of Alexandra Udinov and Blaise Zabini as they struggle to avoid Robespierre's men work, then you clearly have talent to which the rest of us can only aspire.) It doesn't mean that you're not, either, but bear in mind that fandom works off of a gift culture that encourages people to be very, very happy about works that they would have sent back for another round or two with a beta reader if they were published as original fiction.

The Strengths:

You will become better at distinguishing between individual characters' internal voices without a word of dialogue being spoken better and faster than you ever would have thought possible.

Snagging your reader so hard that can't dream of turning away within a page, two pages if you're feeling frisky. My very first beta reader gave me the best piece of writing advice I've ever received (that is, outside of "Just take my advice, damn it", but that's fairly context-dependent): get them fast, or don't get them at all. All that someone has to do if a piece of fanfiction doesn't agree with them is hit the back-button. Most ebook sellers offer sample chapters before you commit to buying, and even in the pre-Kindle days I knew a lot of people who read the first chapter of paper books in the bookstore before they made a decision and went to the register. I've lost contact with that beta reader over the years, and I regret it, because I don’t think that I ever adequately told her how much she taught me.

Learning to work with editors and accept criticism gracefully. As the existence of 4Chan more than adequately attests, the internet has a special gift at turning otherwise pleasant, reasonable people into that old woman on The Simpsons who throws cats at people and frequently appears to be chewing on her own face. You will get bad reviews. You will get people who think that the high crime of writing a book or blog post they didn't like is grounds for calling into question your intelligence, family lineage, and species. There is no good way to respond to a bad review. I have a bit of a temper, and it took me a several years before I learned how to walk away from the computer and do my ranting in offline spaces where my words wouldn't be preserved forever.

Fanfiction is just another form of storytelling, and it doesn't deserve any more or less scorn than the novel did during the eighteenth century. Get down with your bad selves and don't let anyone make you feel ashamed if it's your preferred writing form. If you want to move into original fiction someday, take heart in the skills that you're building, because they'll serve your forever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Get Your Words Out 2012!

More information here.

I love GYWO. It's a yearly challenge community dedicated to hitting a certain word count over the course of twelve months. I dig it because it's a type of low-pressure NaNo; the highest possible word count is 350K, and you have 365 days over which to spread your rough patches rather than 30. I've been playing since the comm was founded, and it's a great tool to keep you on track and working steadily if NaNoWriMo falls at an inconvenient time for you. The mods are also super-sweet and keep the comm well-stocked with inspirational exercises and writing prompts. Definitely looking forward to my fourth year bopping along!

NOTE: You do need a Livejournal in order to participate in this challenge, but signing up is free, and the mods don't particularly care if it's an active journal or not just so long as it's there. Makes it easier for them to keep track of participants.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I make my own fun.

So, I was butt-dialed earlier today. That's fine, crap happens (no pun intended) when you have an iPhone. I just listened to the background chatter for about ten seconds and then hung up. Then I got a text from the same number saying "Your dumb". Well, then. I either have a merry prankster on my hands or a person in possession of a sentient ass. These are both scenarios in which I must know more!

First Response: No u. Particularly as I don't know who you are. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, spectacular rivalry, or both, nonny!

Second Response: Do you want to lose out on the merchandising opportunities? I don't! I could be the Loki to your Thor!

Third Response: In the interest of full disclosure, I'm kind of the Loki to everyone's Thor.

Bizarrely, I have yet to receive a response. I am eagerly awaiting a .pdf business plan or a .throughmydoor monosyllabic blond dude, however.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I believe this is what we call a "Go, Team Me!" moment.

Leech:




Excuse me while I dance all about the room. *does so*

This was my first year attempting NaNoWriMo, and I'm super-excited to not only have won, but to come in early. I was nervous about this one, since the POV character is just so very different from me, but I'm pleased with the way it's turning out thus far. The theme's a little jagged here and there where I tried to force it, but the lot is surprisingly tight. I usually flail more.

And with that announcement, I go back to formatting. Y'know, I don't mind paying nominal fees for works that are out of copyright, even knowing that I could get them for free if I hunted a little bit, because I know that my money is going to pay the Lasik bills for those poor, poor volunteers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I'm not much better than a raccoon, really.

Interactive book cover that changes as you drag your mouse over it.

I think that I'm one of the last five people on the planet who doesn't like touch screens, and I'm going to weep tears worthy of a Precious Moments child when RIM finally finishes circling the drain*. That being said, this is so cool. I can't stop playing with it.

Right, I'm gonna stop and get back to writing my NaNoWriMo now.

Okay, now.

NOW.

Seriously, I gotta get out of here.

*A friend dropped her iPhone two feet from the driver's seat of her car. It cracked the screen. I fell halfway down a flight of stairs with my Blackberry in my back pocket and wound up with nothing worse than a Blackberry-shaped bruise on my ass. SAD, SAD TEARS.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unabashed Happy Post

Mondays suck. I've been aggressively using exclamation points all day in an effort to compensate.

Firstly, Alchemy of Scrawl brought my attention to this super idea, Adopt an Indie Month! I don't have time to participate with NaNoWriMo entering its homestretch, but I'm super-excited to read everyone's interviews and blogs!

Books Read Recently:

Let's Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should by David Gaughran. I particularly liked the segment on formatting (I can break a website by looking at it wrong, that chapter wouldn't stand a chance if it were possible to dog-ear an e-book) and the stories of all the self-publishing authors who are currently making it--not the three who get talked about all the time.

And again: True Porn Clerk Stories, with bonus thanks to everyone who RTed me on Twitter! Reading it again only made even happier to have rediscovered it. Given the books advertised around it (eep), I should have mentioned: it's not erotica. (With no disrespect to the romance writers I know!) I was seventeen when I starting reading the blog for the first time, and I didn't become a serial killer, but Davis talk fairly frankly about some of the covers that she saw over the course of the job. Chalk it up as a firm NSFW.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

...I actually just did the "IT'S SO FLUFFY I COULD DIE!!!" thing.

Complete with terrifying voice straight of The Exorcist. Yes, I did, and I do not apologize.

True Porn Clerk Stories used to be a blog called Confessions of a Porn Store Clerk chronicling the adventures, mis- and otherwise, of a woman who worked part-time in a video store to make ends meet while she was trying to get her feet under her as a freelance artist. She's a fantastic writer, frequently insightful and always screamingly funny. I was brokenhearted when the blog disappeared, and it's all that I can do not to do a literal Snoopy Dance of happiness right now to learn that she's packaged her experiences in book form.

Oh, and by the way: she's indie. :P

Nick Mamatas on JA Konrath, and I Still Can't Keep My Mouth Shut.

Mamatas' Post Here


Once again, my "don't be a jackass until you absolutely have to" goal is butting its head against my contrarian side. Okay, here goes:

The house slave analogy on the part of Eisler and Konrath was inappropriate.

The analogy comparing self-publishing gurus to the NuRight's strategy of convincing people to vote against their economic self-interests on the part of Mamatas, while inoffensive, doesn't work any better. There are two reasons for this, the first being that pursuing a traditional publishing deal is not actually in the economic interests of most writers. The vast majority of indie writers would be making no money from their writing without the invention of the e-reader. Now they can make a little money, with the (miniscule) potential for a lot of money. A little is still more than zero. Secondly, the NuRight seduces people into voting against their economic self-interest for the NuRight's own benefit. Rupert Murdoch doesn't give a damn about gay marriage or US immigration policy. He does care about selling ad time for as much money as possible and then keeping those profits through generous tax breaks. Mamatas is resting his argument on the charge that Konrath, et. al, are running a pyramid scheme by seducing unsuspecting writers into the glitter of indie ideology and then selling to them, that there would be no market for indie books if not for gullible indie writers. I simply do not see how this is possible when the full diversity of various genres and idiosyncratic tastes are taken into account. A fan of Amanda Hocking* might find that Amber Scott scratches the same itch, but I kind of doubt that Blake Crouch and Selena Kitt appeal to the same demographics.

Mamatas also shores up his charge that the indie market is fundamentally incestuous and unprofitable based on, um, people use signatures with links to their books on the Kindle Boards. Frankly, I think the way that he's construing conversations on those boards is deliberately disingenuous: authors talk about weightier topics all the time, as even ten minutes poking about readily shows. If saying cool, intelligent things so that people decide that you're a cool, intelligent person and try out your books is now off-limits, then every author using social media had better stop right now. That includes Mamatas on his own Livejournal. Forget the attempt to make "self-promotion is an unauthorized use of the boards" charge; it's irrelevant. It's a matter of forum policy, not an ethical charge. If the KB mods decide that signatures with book links in them aren't a violation of policy, then they aren't a violation of stinkin' policy. That's one of the most passive forms of self-promotion there actually is, anyway, so unless we're now extending the charge that self-promotion in general is somehow gauche….? I didn’t' think so. As to the notion that indie writers tend to read a lot of indie books: authors also tend to be readers. This is not new. Self-published books make up the lion's share of my Kindle purchases because they're cheaper and I haven't noticed an across-the-board quality difference. I'm not putting myself in the monetary hole trying to chase the cool kids, and I don't that any others are, either. (That kind of purchasing would almost certainly be required to sustain the income levels of the growing list of people getting wealthy off of indies if the market really were that incestuous.) There's also an attempt to pull the old "oh noes, Joe in Iowa** might taint the hallowed halls of literature!" argument strategy, but my only hope there is that Joe handles the fame better than Laurell K. Hamilton has after writing the same damned thing.

Do I think that indie publishing has some crazy zealots, and that the rhetoric has gotten way too heated? Yes, I do. There is no need to sneer at physical books as "dead trees" or backhandedly call traditionally published authors stupid for an accomplishment that they likely worked their asses off for years in order to achieve. It's not the tone argument to tell Konrath that "phasers set to jackass" is not a winning rhetoric style. (Am I still amused as hell by what counts as flame-worthy now? Oh, god, yes.) Neither am I going to pretend that a series of red herrings counts as an argument, though, because it doesn't.

*Since it's been brought up, yes, I am aware that Amanda Hocking took a very generous traditional deal earlier this year. I am also aware that 1) she has not stopped self-publishing (a new book went out just this week, in fact) and 2) her deal is $2,000,000 for English rights to four books, three of which are previously published works that she pulled down for reediting and new covers. (EDIT 12/12/2011: There appears to be some confusion as to whether the Trylle books are included among the four, or whether the Watersong series is a four-book contract in and of itself. I'm getting conflicting info, can anyone else clear it up?) So she landed a seven-figure advance for producing one new book and signing over the rights to three others that have likely hit their reader saturation point in the indie market, has a chance to acquire new readers towards the works that have already been produced and earn a 70% royalty rate, and doesn't have to stop self-publishing in the meantime. And she referred to this as taking a risk. That's hardly clamoring for the first wagon that could drag her out of the indie wilderness, s'sorry. I might also add that to hint that advocating for e-readers and e-books is classist while defending $30 hardbacks is just a tad ill-considered.

**The NuRight also finds fertile ground in large part because of subtle "lol redneck" classism on the part of a lot of liberals. IJS, and I'm one step away from being a card-carrying socialist.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How appropriate that this milestone is crossed on Hump Day.


Get yer minds out of the gutter. :)



Yep, that means that I am officially over halfway towards winning my first NaNoWriMo! A big achievement, even if the book itself feels as if it'll be more in the 75K-80K range. The book itself also had some exciting moments over the past week and a half:

1) The first time that my villain scared me.

2) The first time that my protagonist scared me.

3) The first time (only in this book, alas) I realized I might be just a bit creepy.

I'm going to hit 30K tomorrow, and after that I'll use my three-day weekend to see how much I can get written before my fingers fall off. For night, however, I'm going to lie around and not do one single thing to justify my continued existence. (Please ignore the fact that I made sure my dinner dishes were washed before typing that sentence.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Smart, sexy, and supernatural...meet the women of the Otherworld."


Thus is the tagline for one of my favorite book series, Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld. Tara-Jayne at Basically Books is currently reading the series for the first time, which has spurred me to re-read it and discover all over again why I love it so. She writes smart, tough, multifaceted women with distinct voices and ethical codes--and she does it from first person POVs. (We're always most impressed in others by what we cannot do easily ourselves, aren't we?) The cover that I've embedded is a great example of her talent and skill. No Humans Involved is Jaime's book, and Jaime is not a character that I would normally have much interest in, but with Armstrong's magic (bad pun, I know, throw the easy ones back) she has become one of my favorite characters. I love her odd sense of humor, her ditz-fits whenever Jeremy is around (and how disconcerted they make her, since she's not a woman prone to fluttering otherwise), and even her love of shoes. That's the mark of a damned good writer, right there.

(Naturally, since you can't have "fan" without "fanatic", I also have my LEAVE BRITTANY ALONE!1!! character in Savannah. You'll find that my sanity level is inversely proportional to how much she's being picked on in any given scene. I make no apologies for this.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

On All NaNo's Eve, the ghouls come out to play...

...and they keep muttering about word processing programs.

Call me the proud possessor of a Type A personality, but I haven't been able to stop watching the NaNoWriMo countdown clock all week. This is my first year attempting it, and I'm both excited and scared.

Which is odd, quite frankly. I'm a fairly productive writer. I consider 3500 words to be a good day. Anything under 2000 is a failure. 1667 should be a cakewalk, right? Then why the hell haven't I done this before?

Well, things have a way of piling up. The first time that I heard about this strange NaNoWriMo thing, I was a sophomore in college. I was taking a full course load on top of working a full time job, and November landed right smack in the middle of finals season. Not a chance. Not even if I slit open my veins and poured the Red Bull directly into them. Then I graduated college, got a job that actually paid all of my bills without requiring ninety hours a week. Whoo-hoo! Time to party! The past two years of my life, without going into too much detail, have done a great job of dismantling that plan. Maybe NaNoWriMo just wasn't destined to be in my future.

Long story short, I got mad. I got fed up with the person who sent my life running into that brick wall two years ago having control over me even though we're in different states and decided to do this rather than simply talking about it. Every writer runs into excuses not to write, I'm not enough of a special snowflake to escape being a…special snowflake. The third book in the series that I'm tweaking is also guaranteed to kick my rear end. Opening myself up to the specter of public mocking might just be the only way to get it done. And, okay, my competitive spirit is up.

So, gentle readers, this is my warning to you: I will be of dubious sanity for the next thirty days. However, if all goes according to plan, at the end I just might have a book.

It's about to get scary.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"She's Got a Real Nice...Voice."

My earliest memory is of watching a horror movie with my dad when I was about eighteen months, maybe as much as two and a half years old. (Certainly no older.) I use the term "horror" because the goal of the movie was to scare the crap out of everyone watching, though by today's standards it would probably ring more hokey than frightening. It was filmed in black and white, with the particular and oddly endearing softness that marks old film. A blonde in a nightie was traipsing through a dimly lit room. As she turned to gaze pensively into the camera, a warty monster hand reached out from behind the window curtain and stretched slowly towards her throat.

My mother chose this moment to walk in the front door laden down with grocery bags. She noticed the ghoul behind the curtain several seconds before the blonde in the sexy-chaste white nightgown caught on, long enough to turn her head towards my father and fix him with the kind of withering, paragraph-heavy glare that only spouses who have been together for a long time can pull off. Before he could defend himself or make up an excuse for why it was actually educational for a toddler to watch a strangling, no, really, I took over matters for him.

Pointing at the television screen with all of the gravitas that a person still wearing Pampers could muster, I intoned, "Boogie man, Mommy. Boogie man."

Yeah. I didn't have a chance. By the time that I hit adolescence, I loved the late seventies/early eighties slasher flicks like I had loved my Gem doll and Sci-Fi Saturday as a child, because girls got to be cool. The age of the Final Girl* had begun. My friends and I would have constant slumber parties at the house of the friend with most permissive mom, and Scream featured heavily. Horror movies have always been right at the pulse point of what's troubling society at that particular time (much like comic books and superheroes, and that's why I less-than-three them both), the Scream franchise being no exception. The first film was made in 1996, right at the height of self-important irony in media**. The first movie took apart the rules of horror movies and put them back together in new and fun ways, winking at the audience all the while. The next three have continued the trend of mocking themselves, analyzing themselves, then mocking their over the top analysis, and have never stopped being fun. (Even the third one. I refuse to be ashamed.)

But above all, the movies have Sidney Prescott. She's only seventeen in the first movie and spends a lot of her time alternately brooding and screaming, but pulls it together to kick bountiful amounts of ass in the climax. She continues this pattern over the course of the next three movies, steadily growing stronger, more willing to rush into danger because it's right. She never crosses the line into pursuing trouble before it comes to her (as many attempts on her life as she's survived at this point, that would surely qualify her for superhero status). As of the fourth movie, she's still kicking strong fifteen years after most horror ingénues make their exits.

So, in honor of Halloween: here's to you, Sidney Prescott, one of my very favorite Final Girls.

*Even though Clover's point in Men, Women, and Chainsaws was that female characters had to really be dude stand-ins because they were, like, powerful and interesting and stuff. -_- face forever.

**This is the same time period in which Lady Gaga was reaching adolescence. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: Comic Book Nation by Bradford Wright


Description: As American as jazz or rock and roll, comic books have been central in the nation's popular culture since Superman's 1938 debut in Action Comics #1. Selling in the millions each year for the past six decades, comic books have figured prominently in the childhoods of most Americans alive today. In Comic Book Nation, Bradford W. Wright offers an engaging, illuminating, and often provocative history of the comic book industry within the context of twentieth-century American society.

From Batman's Depression-era battles against corrupt local politicians and Captain America's one-man war against Nazi Germany to Iron Man's Cold War exploits in Vietnam and Spider-Man's confrontations with student protestors and drug use in the early 1970s, comic books have continually reflected the national mood, as Wright's imaginative reading of thousands of titles from the 1930s to the 1980s makes clear. In every genre—superhero, war, romance, crime, and horror comic books—Wright finds that writers and illustrators used the medium to address a variety of serious issues, including racism, economic injustice, fascism, the threat of nuclear war, drug abuse, and teenage alienation. At the same time, xenophobic wartime series proved that comic books could be as reactionary as any medium.

My Thoughts: Loved it without reservation. It would be obvious that Wright is a lively and sincere comics fan even if the preface had been omitted, and it's because he loves them that he's able to give such an insightful, expansive history and occasional critique of the medium across its eighty-year history. He rejects as hardly worth debate the notion that comics are juvenile and inconsequential, but ground his observations in the larger trends rather than jargon-laden "decoding." (Which I appreciated a great deal: to paraphrase Jim Carrey, the pen is blue, the pen is blue, sometimes the goddamned pen is just blue, all right?) He's blunt about the medium's flaws when it comes to gender, race, and sexuality (and inadvertently answered Marvel's own question about why they can't consistently snag a large percentage of female readers, as X-Men's female readership shot up with the inclusion of a multiplicity of complex female characters) and enthusiastic and thoughtful about its strengths. Most pleasing to me: in addition to focusing on what comic book heroes and villains can tell us about our ourselves, he spends a fair amount of time talking about the way that they can also shape our society. We need our heroes, the ones in the firefighters' helmets and the ones who wear capes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey


"Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true."

And thus we have Bossypants, a book which doesn't quite know if it's a feminist manifesto, a straight biography, or a collection of humorous essays. Doesn't matter, all of the facets are awesome. Fey talks about her early life, her first moment of identifying as a woman (sadly enough, I have to agree with her: way too many of those moments revolve around some jackhole yelling crap at you from a speeding car), and her efforts to turn Saturday Night Live into a place where Chris Kattan in a dress didn't get picked to play a female role over, you know, one of the actresses. She also includes an anecdote of Amy Poehler wheeling on Jimmy Fallon having a moment of mild male privilege and snarling, "I don't fucking care if you like it."

And now I can't wait for Amy Poehler to also write a book.

Women are constantly under pressure to go along to get along, and that pressure is only intensified when you're also trying to get a writing career off of the ground. Livelihoods rest on reputations nearly as much as they do the books themselves; "interrogating the text from the wrong perspective" is as big a meme as "I can haz cheezburger?" I second-guess myself constantly, and big chunks of the internet would have no problem whatsoever telling you what a bitch I am. (Don't worry. I mostly don't mind.) Believe it or not, I went through a two-year period in my early twenties of being so profoundly depressed that I barely even dared to raise my voice in public. It took burying two family members, hiring my first big-girl lawyer, and getting thrown out of a police station all in the span of two weeks to, as Audrey put it, "un-break [my] bitch." To compromise or not to compromise is one of the many back-and-forths I have with myself when it comes to keeping this blog stocked with content, but Ms. Poehler has a good point.

I'm a feminist. I like powerful women, so I write about them. And I don't care if you fucking like it.

(Mostly.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Low Town by Daniel Polanksy


Description: In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

Daniel Polansky has crafted a thrilling novel steeped in noir sensibilities and relentless action, and set in an original world of stunning imagination, leading to a gut-wrenching, unforeseeable conclusion. Low Town is an attention-grabbing debut that will leave readers riveted . . . and hun­gry for more.

My Thoughts: Low Town is a noir drama set in a dystopian world where sorcery and science mingle together and are often indistinguishable from each other. As is often the case in noir dramas, the protagonist is not a nice man. In fact, at book's end I'm not even sure that he's a good man, and I'm saying this as someone who likes what Polanksy is doing here. He's a killer and a drug dealer, perhaps even an outright murderer. If he were a better person, he probably would have wound up dead long before the start of the novel. Polansky is skilled enough with language, however, that Warden remains an interesting man; several of Warden's internal observations on the banality of the evil surrounding him had me giggling even as I realized I was going straight to hell for it. As a mystery, many are going to find it unsatisfying and easy to guess. (I'm not one for mysteries, generally, and I still figured out whoddunit a good eighty pages before Warden.) Fans of speculative fiction, dark worlds, and hard-bitten antiheroes will have a great time. As a first novel, it's strong, and I'm looking forward to what Polanksy does next.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Viva La Revolución?

Damn, people. The e-book revolution—particularly the indie-driven e-book revolution—has barely reached its second birthday, and already it has caused more tumult and controversy than most bachelor/ette parties and some political elections. The current go-round rests on an argument of economic inequality and class privilege: authors who publish electronically are hurting less monetarily blessed readers, because electronically published books are not available in secondhand bookstores. More and more libraries are carrying e-books, the argument goes, but they're still out of reach unless you're willing to plunk down a hundred bucks or more for a device on which to read them.

(Because it will never be said that I have been cursed with faulty memory when it comes to incidents that got my dander up, I will point out that one of the calling-bullshit rebuttals made during the piracy dust-up earlier this year went along the lines of, "You can afford an e-reader, but not the books to go on them?" The counterargument made by the pro-piracy contingent was "How dare you imply that economically underprivileged folks don't know what an e-reader is/can't access Internet cafes/spend all day swatting flies off of each other!*" I'll keep it short 'n sweet to avoid going off on a complete tangent, but my eyebrow is getting a pretty good workout right now.)

Actually, when it comes to indie authors (who are driving the bulk of the shift to electronic books), that's not the case. At all. The books written by indie authors would not have been in the library in the first place, because I have yet to hear of one single library that would shelve an indie book. Most indie authors wouldn't have a hope in hell of getting a traditional publishing contract that would then put their books in a library in physical format, sometimes due to quality issues but frequently due to traditional publishers' increasingly conservative stance on signing new authors or renewing the contracts of old ones. An argument which on its surface looks like, "Because e-books are not universally available, you should not publish them" (which I have deep-seated issues with both as someone who grew up dirt-poor and really loves books and thinks that a good story is one of the most powerful forces out there), is actually, "Because e-books are not universally available, you should not publish them, even though you could not have published in a universally available format, anyway." That's simply, to get all technical about it, pants-off crazy.

But let's issue benefit of doubt and go deeper. Many of the people turning towards indie publishing are authors who have been traditionally published in the past. Either they don't sell enough and aren't renewed (and thus we're back to "How dare you publish in this new method that's not available to me, even though you would not have been available to me in the old way, either!"), or they make far less per book sold and still struggle to make ends meet even if they manage to hold onto their contracts and scrabble up to midlist status. Fine. This at least manages to be an honest need vs. need conversation, rather than a bunch of smoke with a vague tinge of "When did you stop beating your wife?" (Contrarian that I am, anytime someone tries that argument strategy, I feel an urge to chirp right back, "Three weeks ago, we're going out tonight to celebrate!") However, my response to this is essentially the same that I put forth during the e-book piracy dust-up**: I will defend your right to read books and I will defend her right to read books, I will defend your right to receive health insurance and I will defend her right to receive health insurance, but I will not defend your right to read books against her right to receive health insurance.

So where do we go from here? Are we just supposed to say "Ha-ha, sucks to be you!" to anyone who wants to read books but can't or does not want to drop the coin for an e-reader? Considering that I plowed through one, sometimes two library books per day as an adolescent and was likely stopped from making the transition from the creepy kid to the violent kid more than once due to their influence, I don't want to see that happen. As the OWS protests have made abundantly clear, there is a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots within the United States. (And that doesn’t mean that other countries are doing so hot, either; unequal and unfair distribution of resources is a global crisis.) When budgets are strained, the arts feel the knife first. My library is offering an increasing percentage of their books in electronic format and has designed an app that lets library patrons download books onto their smartphones. This is probably going to be the future of e-books for folks who can't afford an e-reader, as smart phones are cheaper than e-readers, have a hell of a lot more bang for the buck (I don't have a land line, and neither does anyone else I know around my age; it just doesn’t make economic sense any longer), and are increasingly eligible for need-based discounted service. Even as I type this solution, I am aware of all of its flaws. Many people do not have the funds even for this service, and many libraries are facing grim futures because they are seeing their existing budgets slashed as it is, forget about getting the bump in funds needed to modernize their catalogues. Technological advancements that a few decades ago would have found themselves becoming cheaper as they made the shift from toy to necessity are instead growing more expensive rather than less, and I hate it. It's a symptom of a very deep sickness in the way that capitalism has come to work in the United States. I'm going to go after the powerful people who are actually responsible for the illness, though, rather than the authors who are reacting to the symptoms. To hammer home the point just a little bit harder, e-published authors are either 1) indies who would not have been able to aid accessibility to books even if they did obligingly agree not to exist, or 2) are working out of a traditional contract, make pennies on the dollar for their labor, and are in the weakest positions relative to the rest of the publishing industry. They simply present tempting targets because they're generally more accessible via internet contact and are eager to please in order to protect their reputations. Seeing the weakest person in any power structure and choosing to go after them on the basis of that is a lot of things, "lazy" being about the most flattering among them. Aim higher.

*That last example being a pretty direct quote.

**I really need to rewrite that essay to comb the f-bombs out of it and get it up here, it's not as if I'm putting any particular effort into hiding my fannish identity.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The difference between "revenge" and "avenge" lies in a kickin' suit.

The official Avengers trailer is out. You might have heard.

What amuses me the most about this very amusing trailer (I would promise to live-tweet the movie when it premieres, but it's not concern about spoilers that halts me, it's the fact that I'm going to be squeeing like a damn fool during the whole thing) is that Tom Hiddleston, surprisingly one of the least geeky members of the cast, apparently spent the entire filming struggling not to die of glee.

(I know, I know, I indirectly promised bear-poking on Ye Olde Twitter yesterday, but it needs some editing; one does not poke bears unless one is absolutely sure she has looked ahead to the counterarguments. Little Miss Likes To Fight will probably be paying a visit this weekend instead.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Random Anecdote is Random.

As most of you know, I'm readying a couple of books for self-publication. I am also doing this on a shoestring budget, which involves a lot of networking. (Surprisingly not-hard, even for a dedicated introvert like myself. It mostly involves reciprocity, lack of being an asshole, and enthusiasm. I live in a world with a significantly more explanation points now.)

For the past several weeks, I have been fretting over the covers for Books One and Two, since I hadn't yet networked my way into cheap models for Books Three, Four, and Five. It's a series, they need to clearly belong together as a set; I was thinking that Audrey and I were going to have to trash the epic full-body ideas that we had in favor of face-only covers so that I wouldn't have to sell organs to afford the last three. But! The model for the second book also does costuming and theater on the side and is skilled in changing herself up. Meaning that with a little help with angles, wigs, and masks (writing about superheroes ftw!), plus a dollop of graphic design wizardry from Audrey, and I'm only lacking a model for the fifth book. Surely my inevitable fame and fortune will have kicked in by then!

So I'm talking to the model via text today, and she chirps back, "Sure! Will I need to be nekkid?"

Uh...at no point did I mention nudity while sketching out any of my ideas. In fact, the second cover will probably be done outside and in January, so I'm going to rule against it. I am putting my foot down and instituting a pants-mandatory workplace. Plus, I've already had to scrap one of my ideas for Book One because it would just be too dangerous without a lot of money on permits and safety equipment, and I'm pretty sure that a public indecency charge would rate right up there.

Networking is actually really fun.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Selection Event by Wayne Wightman


Summary: In an isolation experiment, Martin Lake had been below-ground for fourteen months and two weeks. He came up on May 30, Wednesday, 11:35 AM. He discovered that civilization had folded its arms across its breast, closed its eyes, and ceased.

When natural selection wipes the slate, there are always a few survivors. Unfortunately, nature does not select for beauty or intelligence.

Selection Event follows in the tradition of Earth Abides and The Road. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, this is what happens next. People open zoos, sabotage dams, and in a final nihilistic fling, several countries have a small nuclear exchange of greetings.

It is into this that Martin Lake awakens and has to find his way.

My Thoughts: This is a nice, tightly plotted drama that could not have existed without The Stand (my sweet baby!), but quickly tears off and becomes its own thing. We rotate among a cast of several characters, chief among them Martin, his dog Isha, and a biker afflicted with bipolar depression named Diego, who appears to have been based upon one of Wightman's own friends. (In which case he clearly cared for his friend a great deal, because Diego is more sharply and lovingly drawn than any other character.) Our first encounter with real danger within the book is a Kurtz-like cult leader who shoots his followers up with heroin in order to keep them under control, rapes and murders women, and uses children as spies. Right off the bat, we know we ain't in Kansas any longer. The writing style is clean, and fans of apocadramas will find plenty of meat in one of the great pleasures of the genre: getting to build the world back up after completely smashing it down. I enjoyed seeing the different family structures that can take place when you don't have to please anyone but yourself (and presumably not hurt others).

Issues: religious characters aren't drawn with a lot of depth. Martin is occasionally a bit of a naive twit (not eating meat makes sense in The Jakarta Pandemic, as that book was talking about infrastructure collapse rather than complete depopulation; there were a couple of points in this book where I was convinced that the entire next generation was doomed to die of marasmus or kwashiorkor), but by the end it's in a generally endearing way.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Won't be too much longer before I'm muttering over my pen cache like Gollum.

I hit 50,000 words on my current WIP (51,200, to be exact), making it officially a novel. Aww, my little baby is all growing up! It's shaping to be in the 80,000-90,000 word range when the first draft is completed, which is just where I want to be. (There are some fat parts in the middle wherein Our Heroines are mostly running from place to place like video game characters instead of, you know, actually sleuthing.) I'm feeling fairly accomplished right now; you would think that maybe now would be the time to push forward for another thousand words or two, since I'm such a Type A and all. Nope, though, not going to happen. It doesn't fit the routine.

I write for about an hour and a half to two hours per day, during my breaks and lunch period at my day job. When I try to write during the weekend, I mostly just flail in circles and frustrate myself without managing to get much of anything done. This is so weird to me, because it used to be that I could write anywhere. I was broke as hell in college and wouldn't have written anything at all if the only time that I wrote was when I could throw enough elbows to get access to a computer, so I wrote longhand in the hallways, in class, and at work. (And considering the grades and job evaluations that I still managed to pull, maybe I should be packing in this whole writer thing and be going for a fulfilling career as a con artist instead.) I was like those people who can sleep hanging upside down or on the wings of planes, but with writing. I get a fresh amusement when I read people describing their writing routines that absolutely cannot be deviated from since I've become one of them.

So, folks, what do you do create your writing space? (And it's okay to say Starbucks. I won't judge.)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How do different mediums tell such different stories?

Are We Living in the Golden Age of Male Objectification?

vs.

The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their 'Liberated Sexuality'.

How can the news be so good concerning gender equality--or at least cheesecake equality--be so different from one media form to the other? And what does this say about comics continuing reputation for being solely for the boys? (Movies aren't known for being particularly progressive, after all, stereotypes about Hollywood or not.) I remember watching Casino Royale in theaters a few years back and one reviewer losing his mind in a very public and hilarious way over the "homosexual subtext" of the way that the camera lingered so lovingly over Daniel Craig coming out of the water in those tiny little swim shorts because he honestly could not conceive of the idea of gratuitous candy shots being thrown in for the sake of the women in the audience. (Nor would the "homosexual subtext" that the reviewer ruined his reputation over have been a bad thing. Candy for all!) I know I've mentioned before in this space how fun and refreshing I find it that Marvel realizes women attend its movies, too. The great thing about this "Golden Age of Male Objectification" is that the male characters still have things to do when their clothes are on. I will not deny that I giggled like a twelve year-old a time or two over just how insanely long Chris Hemsworth's legs are during Thor, but he still saved the Jotun, got down with his Shakespearean family drama, and became a king. I don't have the slightest problem with Starfire leaping into bed with Jason Todd so long as she, you know, still has a personality and agency on the other side of the bedroom door. That is where DC is failing, not in making the eyecandy in the first place.

(And now that I've bitched, I do have to say that the news from the DCnU is not all grim: holy hell, Batwoman and Wonder Woman were full-stop awesome. I dug the hell out of the horror aspects of Wonder Woman's story and think that her current artistic team is treating her like an equal member of the DC Trinity for pretty much the first time ever. Keep it up, guys! I might also add that WW was staggeringly beautiful while she was also kicking ass and taking names, so it's not like being pretty and being a fully-fleshed character at the same time is such a Herculean task.)

EDIT: Changed title because I was confusing some folks into thinking that I'm on DC's side in the Starfire/Catwoman debacle. Whoo-buddy, not even a little bit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What's so shameful about productivity?

About a week or so ago, I ran across a comment that made me laugh. I'm not going to link to it because, well, they spoke in all earnestness as a guest in someone else's "house" and overt mocking would be mean. They were expressing reservations about the shift away from paper and towards electronic books, lamenting the fact that some authors now have to write a whole one-hundred and fifty thousand words per year in order to make ends meet via the indie route.

Yep. You heard me right. One-hundred and fifty thousands words per year, or three skin-of-your-teeth novels, or less than five hundred words a day. Now, I'm pretty obviously of the "yay indie!" camp over here, and I'm not quite sure where the poster was going with that line of thought, given that the royalties earned off of those one-hundred and fifty thousand words are going to be a lot fatter via the indie route. What I'm more interested in talking about today, however, is the idea that 500 words a day is some torturous goal that only the overworked, joyless writer who is more like a factory worker than an artist would attempt.

Well, fine, then. I'm a factory worker. I get up, I go to the job that pays me, and I write. Every day, and a lot more than 500 words, too. Does this make me a worse writer than someone who only puts fingers to keyboard (ah, the electronic age, now if we could just get rid of the rest of the Romantic illusions about writing, too) when muses flit down and dance about her head? I don't think so. Had I a book contract, I would still be writing daily quotas to hit deadlines. Now, I will grant that I'm lucky in that I don't have a second job or kids that nom up my time, but that doesn't mean that they aren't plenty of distractions to pull me away from my job if I allow them. Writing is a job, too. Put in your time just like you would at the place or places that cuts you regular paychecks.

I'll bet that within six months you'll be laughing at the idea that 500 words a day is supposed to be impossible without bullwhips cracking over your head and overdue electric bills being nailed to your door.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Let's Hear It For the Girls

I'm a child of the nineties. Born in 1984, I hit my adolescence just as Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were riding high on the girl-power renaissance of the late nineties. The early 2000s (post-Buffy, basically, though she was the last of the holdouts and the crowd was thinning well before her) were a wasteland for me. Given just how much my sense of being a powerful female and powerful because I am a female was born of that informal education, I honestly wonder what kind of women and feminist* I would have become if I had come of age during the vacuum that Buffy Summers and Xena left behind them. I have Big Thoughts on Stephanie Meyer's (not just Twilight, as I think that what was implicit in Twilight doesn't become explicit and truly disturbing until we reach The Host) attitudes towards women that are definitely less than positive, but I digress at this point. I think that we're experiencing a second girl power renaissance in televised media right now, following on the heels of the first one spawned in the late nineties**. Cable has been quietly realizing that women-forwarded dramas sell for several years now, and it seems to have finally hit major broadcast zenith. Let's see a portion of what we have this season.

Ringer: Deserves a mention merely on the basis that Sarah Michelle Gellar of BtVS fame is both the star and one of the executive producers. The ratings are so-so after the pilot, and only achieve that mark because the CW has been hemorrhaging viewers over the past two years and is entering desperation stage, but I enjoyed it and love that both hero and villain are played by women. (And that the person making a majority of behind-the-scenes decisions is also a woman!)

Charlie's Angels: The original CA came about during the big push of second-wave feminism. The reboot comes about roughly twenty years after third-wave starting stomping its mark, and there are certain interesting differences. The first Angels were all undeniably Lawful Good figures. Now, I love Lawful Good, and the first Angels were amazing in how much ground they strode towards dismantling the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, but I kind of love that the rebooted Angels are reformed or reforming criminals. Women get to screw up now and still be heroes. (And one member of the "two brunettes, one blonde" formula has become a woman of color***!) I am very interested in how this one turns out as a Big Dumb Fun Show.

Unforgettable: Poppy Montgomery has been bouncing from procedural to procedural for more than a decade now. (And as many of the women taking center stage this season are doing so in shows aimed at older audiences, I wonder how many of the kids like me all grown up are being targeted demographically. That definitely doesn't mean that I mind.) Police procedurals, for all that the hardbitten, cynical, seen-it-all cop is generally pictured as a man, have been friendlier towards women for a goodish while, and especially older women who don't fit an easy T&A market. I'm glad to see the trend continuing.

The Secret Circle: Made possible by the success of the CW's major money-maker, The Vampire Diaries, TSC follows a group of witches the same way that TVD follows a group of vampires, werewolves, witches, and human hangers-on. Both series are based on books by author L.J. Smith, who was herself a part of the girl power renaissance of the nineties****. I was doing other things and couldn't give the pilot my full attention, but it's being produced and helmed by the same person that made TVD a success, and it's one of the few vehicles aimed specifically at a younger audience.

The Playboy Club and PanAm: I'm giving these a mention because they haven't aired yet and both feature women-heavy casts, but the promotional strategy thus far makes me believe that they're going to be turned out by folks who liked Mad Men and didn't realize that it's supposed to be a deconstruction rather than an endorsement. I will happily throw confetti and blow a vuvuzela if I'm proven wrong.

Returning Favorites:

Nikita: The titular role is played by fabulous stunt woman and gifted actress Maggie Q in a blending of television and movie canons. It won a second season by the skin of its teeth, but it's my very favorite thing on TV right now, so expect me to talk about it a lot.

The Vampire Diaries: Pretty much the CW's major moneymaker now that Smallville has retired and Supernatural has started to enter its natural decline. It has major issues with race that were, in retrospect, seeded during the first season in order to grow tall in the second, and has been steadily eroding the fantastic ground it once held on gender. However, it's still a drama 1) aimed towards young women and girls, and 2) a drama in which most of the movers and players are powerful women. That the villain of the second and (thus far) season is male is a new and remarkable thing. The CW has always been targeted towards a young female office. I hope that it (The CW) gets to stick around and continue to make television.

The Good Wife: Coming into its third season, it began as the drama following the wife of a disgraced politico and is now a pretty solid legal procedural in its own right. Remarkable for featuring older women and bisexual women, both of which don't get seen all that often on network television in meaty roles. It also has a rep for some skeevy race issues, which I can't disagree with even after having seen maybe a quarter of the total episodes.

Harry's Law: Entering its second season on NBC. Remarkable because it's about an older, overweight, not conventionally attractive woman. Who happens to be played by Kathy Friggin' Bates, probably a big part of why it got a second season in the first place. But don't you want to be defended by an attorney who could cut someone's foot off for looking at her wrongly?

This is a good thing, y'all. Let's support it as it continues.

*Not a bad word, no matter how much Limbaugh tries to make it so. It means that I think women are equals of men, and I will fight to make that statement a reflected reality in society. I don't hate men, and I think that patriarchy hurts men, too. (Not as much as it hurts women, but it does.) The end.

**I'm not counting the efforts to include women in powerful roles in media of the late seventies, not because I discount them, but because they're not a rebirth as the term "renaissance" implies: nothing like them had ever occurred before.

***Accompanying the ladies in charge general push of the late nineties was also a specific push towards ladies of color in charge, spearheaded by the WB and UPN (a philosophy that the blended CW has not reflected). I have not seen a renaissance towards more characters and actors of color on major broadcast television the way that I saw in the nineties. There has been some growth, but it's been a slow-going thing.

****And then lost her damn fool mind in the 2000s, but, oh, shine on, you crazy diamond.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong


I think I've stated before that if I have a good idea, there's an equally good chance it actually originated with my best friend, Audrey. She's not only a brilliant photographer and graphic designer, she's been helping me with beta reading (and fear not, has no problem kicking me in the shins when I balk at killing my darlings) and tips on developing an audience for my own work. One of her tips was to check out Kelley Armstrong. She writes about badass women, I write about badass women...seems like easy math. Ergo, I hit up my local library for her latest release.

Summary (From Book Jacket): Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn’t know much about her background – the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip – but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island.

Until now.

Strange things have been happening in this claustrophobic town – from the mountain lions that have been approaching Maya to her best friend’s hidden talent for “feeling” out people and situations to the sexy new bad boy who makes Maya feel… different. Combine that with a few unexplained deaths and a mystery involving Maya’s biological parents and it’s easy to suspect that this town might have more than its share of skeletons in its closet.

My Thoughts: Um, I loved this book so much that it's kind of embarrassing. Maya is determined, accessible, and very much a capital-letter Hero in the making even as she still has flaws and a ways to go before she figures out her place in the world. Rafe is a fantastic twist on the "bad boy with a heart of gold" trope. (He's not really a brooder, but he's not above using that image to get what he wants, which imo puts him in a much more genuine and original place of moral ambiguity than simply being a Rebel Without a Clue.) Maya is also Native, probably Navajo, though the full story surrounding her identity is not answered in his book. I thought that Armstrong did a fantastic job of flipping on its head the overwhelming whiteness of YA fandom, and doing it effortlessly. The skinwalker myth plays a role in this plot with all of the Native American characters, but it's not the ~mystical Indian~ stereotype (which Maya herself snarks about), and in fact has a pretty damned cool sci-fi twist that I can't wait to see filled out further.