Posts from 2012
Happy New YearBy: MikeJan 4, 2012
The holidays, as usual, have been a dizzying whirl of social activities, food, and gifts. We got a chance to visit with family and friends, and our jeans are fitting more snugly than they did just a couple months ago. With the crazy season behind us, it's time to turn our attention to the coming year.
Patty ventured back out to the office trailer, which has been abandoned for several weeks. It needs a good scrubbing; the tiny office was never intended to be lived in for months. We got about half of it cleaned up, and Patty decided that she needed to start writing. So, surrounded by the detritus of our refugee status, among the scattered books and possibly-important mail, she has been crafting a new novel.
Her inspiration for the current scene came from Thanksgiving holiday. No, not from the chaos and drama of the traditional family feast, but from what follows the actual holiday. . . Black Friday.
Is it just me, or does that name sound like something from a bad fantasy novel? "Beware the ides of March, and venture thee not from thy hearth upon Black Friday." (My apologies to Shakespeare) Hokey. . . but indubitably sound advice.
So this year one of our dear friends, Ann, decided she wanted to "Do Black Friday". Patty, either innocent or masochistic, agreed to accompany her. Being of sound mind, I declined. The two of them left for town, cackling like madwomen, just before midnight. They returned with the fruits of their shopping long after the sun had risen. For the next week everyone was regaled with stories of what happened in the intervening hours: The terrified employee tasked with opening the doors at Target to admit throngs of shoppers. The crazy ladies sprinting for the dress racks at some boutique I'd never heard of. The tidal surges of humanity hoping to get a cheap X-box at Walmart. My resolve to avoid Black Friday grew stronger with each retelling. In fact, I would prefer to be off planet during the next one, just for safety.
As the girls showed off their loot, I struggled to define my feelings. I was embarrassed, a little disgusted, and morbidly fascinated. I felt the same way after paying to see a bullfight in South America. They'd hold up an item (like some dish towels in an ugly holiday plaid), and tell the story. "These were originally $2.79, but there were three of them in a bin for fifty percent off, and I got all three. There was another woman eying one of them, but I grabbed it before she could shove her way past the old lady in a wheelchair!"
It's the worst of American consumerism mixed with a bit of the Roman gladiator spirit. Our total expenses were just over a hundred dollars in purchases, a full tank of gas, a few snacks and a breakfast out on the town. Not to mention a full day of lost productivity due to lost sleep. We saved something like seventy dollars by buying a bunch of junk we didn't need.
The most baffling part, to me, is that this is considered (despite all evidence) a great victory. It reminds me of guys discussing hunting season. They buy a hundred dollar permit, a six-hundred dollar gun, and spend a few hundred in gas and food to use up half their yearly vacation in a an attempt to shoot a deer with maybe seventy-five pounds of usable meat. And those that succeed call it a victory, and tell the story of the hunt for years, and are envied by all who hear the tale. Hail the conquering hero!
And so it came to pass that each trinket and useless holiday-themed knick-knack was hoisted up, and the tales were told. And we we who had stayed behind felt ashamed, and held our manhood cheap, and dared not discuss the merits of the purchase. And thus (I am told) was Black Friday, and so shall it ever be, when victory goes to the fleet, and the bargain to those who endure.
Books in Niches called GenreBy: MikeJan 8, 2012
A reader recently commented that there was something curious on the books page here at Hurog. You see, Masques and Wolvesbane deal with a dark, brooding enigmatic hero who happens to change into a wolf. Oh, and a plucky heroine who also changes shape, and there's lots of little flirtatious looks and glances, and true love makes an appearance. Genre? Fantasy.
On the same page, we find Mercy and Adam. The shape-changing sweethearts with a nose for trouble, living in the major metropolis of Finley (population 2000). Genre? Urban Fantasy. Anna and Charles, the lycanthrope lovers, actually share the same world. Their books, however, are considered Paranormal Romance. What's going on here?
Welcome to curious and highly mutable world of genre fiction. There are doubtless hundreds or thousands of postings about genre, and it's a perennial topic for convention panels. Authors complain endlessly that their latest masterpiece was miscategorized. I've heard some authors claiming that their work transcends genre. Thinking about it, I'm not convinced that's a desirable outcome.
The fiction universe is vast. Things that really happened (or at least probably happened) are classified as "non fiction". But all of the strange, wondrous and surprising things that never happened are classified as fiction. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that, mathematically, for every thing that did happen there must be many more that didn't (and a good many of those will be a good deal more interesting than whatever happened instead). So, ipso facto, the fiction universe is far larger than the non-fiction one.
Readers, however, have preferences. They don't want to wander aimlessly in an uncharted, chaotic maelstrom of fiction; they want to read stories that scratch their particular itch. So the vastness is divided, like with like, forming islands and continents of similar material, and among the divisions maps are drawn. There's the small continent called fantasy, which has geographically distinct regions like high, epic, humorous, heroic and time-travel. There's horror, which used to be a small, isolated island, but recent eruptions have created dark urban fantasy, and a host of still-forming monster-infested islands around it.
But wait a minute, who divides this stuff up? Who decides what goes where,and more importantly, who should we blame? That's where things get muddy, and the answer is that virtually everybody has something to do with it. The bookstores break fiction into various sections to help their readers find what they want. The publishers try to nudge books into appropriate market segments (sometimes overtly, and somtimes very subtly through cover art and colors). Readers ultimately drive the whole process by their selective purchases.
If a bunch of readers suddenly decide that they want to read fiction about a world where Victorian mores and technology are combined with space travel, the industry will attempt to satisfy that need. More books with those elements may be purchased, covers altered to more openly advertise this fact. Finally, stories combining those elements will be shelved together to make sure that the intrepid reader buys all of them. As reader's tastes change, or popular authors branch off in slightly new directions, the categories and their contents also shift.
So, years ago some talented authors like Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and Jim Butcher popularized books with paranormal elements in modern urban settings. Readership grew, and bookstores started shelving "Urban Fantasy" separately. Of course, authors like Charles de Lint, Tim Powers and Emma Bull had been writing urban fantasy years before it became popular enough to get its own section in the bookstore.
In those relatively early days, most urban fantasy was loosely modeled after the potboiler detective novel. There was always a hot love interest, but the stories were mostly mysteries, usually with a generous heaping of dead bodies and some elements borrowed straight from horror. However, several authors soon launched similar stories where the love interest was the major focus. Alas, readers who prefer plot-driven mysteries don't always enjoy character driven romances. No problem. Bam! The love stories got labeled "paranormal romance" and readers could find their particular passion again.
However, things change over time. Urban fantasy has branched and broadened. It's not just werewolves and vampires any more, and the plot certainly doesn't have to be a mystery. Paranormal romance, on the other hand, has ventured much closer to erotica than its early iterations.
So, when a reader asked why we classified the Alpha and Omega novels as paranormal romance, I took the question to Patty. She said, "But those aren't paranormal romance, they're urban fantasy." I pointed out the series descriptions that she helped write, and she said, "Oh, those are really old. Now they'd be considered urban fantasy." I told her I'd make the necessary changes <grin>.
Genres aren't rigid definitions. They're fluffy and imprecise and mutable. It's got nothing to do with quality or rarity, and everything to do with helping the readers find stories they enjoy. And, as an author, if you really have managed to write a book that defies grenre classification, your book is on the genre equivalent of Gilligan's Island. That book will either attract enough readers to start a whole new genre, or exist in virtual isolation, largely overlooked by readers.
Authors Behaving HystericallyBy: MikeJan 16, 2012
Over the past several years, authors have been repeatedly admonished to promote themselves. This started as good advice. Over a few years it gradually became dogma, and eventually some sort of pseudo-religious obligation. This summer we were at a very nice convention (and I won't tell you which one, hah!) and attending the obligatory, but always interesting, panel on author promotion. There were the usual chestnuts of "blog daily, twitter several times a day, don't forget to re-tweet and engage the reader, and make sure you promote your work on at least twenty (but not more than thirty) percent of your posts. Heads were nodding, notes were diligently taken.
I sat in the audience feeling much like an unrepentant sinner in church. My thoughts running something like this: "That's probably good advice, and we're not doing it."
"Should we repent? We have a Twitter account . . ."
"It doesn't matter, I just can't do that. It's not who I am."
"Stop your sniveling and suck it up, cupcake. This is business. What do you think you get not-paid for? If those books don't sell, Patty won't be the only one eating grubs and twigs!"
"Better grubs and twigs than learning to, ugh, re-tweet the posts of popular posters."
Yes, I might have schizophrenic tendencies, but I agree with both of me. In the front, the speakers were talking about the importance of free giveaways, and the opportunities presented by offering outtakes, bonus scenes, and exclusive on-line stories for your readers. And then it happened, a single hand was raised and a hesitant neophyte addressed the panel. His concern was that, with a day job, a wife and two children he wasn't sure he could do all of this and still find time to write.
My ears pricked, and I raised my head from the posture of contrition. This man had dared voice what I have privately held true, that authors should spend most of their workday crafting stories. After all, wrestling with viewpoint, characters, pacing, dialog, plot and setting is challenging enough without single-handedly wrestling the internet into submission as your personal marketing machine. I breathed a hopeful breath . . .and heard the panelists chanting "Shun the unbeliever. Shun the unbeliever. Shun! Shun!" or something vaguely along those lines.
Still, I have wondered how dedicated authors find time to actually do all the things the author promotion religion demands suggestions recommend. Today, Patty and I found the answers. Meljean Brook is a tremendously talented author. Over the past several days, her blog has contained an absolutely charming series entitled, Diary of an Author, which explains exactly how this marketing should be accomplished! Meljean is my Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I see clearly now.
Soapbox, Sales Floor or Front Porch?By: MikeJan 26, 2012
We hung the first version of a website for Patty back in 1996. We had attended a couple of conventions, and the self-promotion movement was just gaining steam. We couldn't afford to launch a media campaign or a signing tour, but we could bodge a few web pages together. Our first attempt was called The Writer's Cottage and had a really cheesy "rustic cottage" motif. Even so, figuring out how to display content on the internet was far easier than deciding what to display.
We decided that we wanted this to be a “professional” site. A giant advertisement in glowing pixels designed to hijack the attention of any web-weary traveler who stumbled in and convince them to buy a book or two. This approach was both obvious and unoriginal. Fortunately, we saw a few cringe-worthy examples of commercial author sites with scrolling text and flashing "Buy It Now" buttons, and went back to the drawing board.
Ultimately, we decided to keep the books page updated with everything we can think of that a reader might want to know about Patty's writing. That part of the site may go several months without changes. We decided that the home paged needed more regular changes, so people would know that the site wasn't abandoned. We called these little changes "updating the home page", but times change, and at some point people started calling it a blog. Which, brings us back to the problem of what to write about here.
Ask twenty authors what they blog about, and you'll get thirty opinions. Some authors have fascinating hobbies, and others have interesting careers. Some are extroverts who will happily blog about the intimate details of their life. There's probably no right answer. I'm amazed by the folks who can come up with a scintillating blog nearly every day. Within a week, I'd be sharing my recipe for Cheerios (hint: add milk). Ultimately, we've decided that we can use this site to share some details of our lives, and some of the concerns and details of making a living as an author. We try to keep it chatty, and friendly, and fairly short. Sort of, "This is our front porch, and we're so happy you stopped by."
Cue Nostalgia . . .
Patty and I grew up back in the 60's and 70's in rural America. That ineffable kind of golden-hued dream that Norman Rockwell paintings tried to capture. Front porches were an important part of the culture. You see, a front porch was a middle ground, neither in the house nor on the street. A place to chat about the weather, and discuss the church bazaar. A place a housewife could talk to the mailman without inviting gossip. A place to meet that didn't let visitors see the dirty dishes in your sink. The front porch was not the place to discuss business matters, or engage in political or philosophical discussion. Weighty topics were reserved for after-dinner discussion in the den.
Some authors are daring. They blog about politics, social injustice, and crusade for their favorite charities. We've occasionally had requests to promote one agenda or another here, many of them worthy causes that honestly deserve more attention. Many times I've started to pen a serious entry, and worked up a good head of steam, only to finally decide against it. That's not what front porches are for.
Now, if I could only figure out how to serve lemonade and cookies. . .
The Guilty Side Of LazyBy: MikeFeb 9, 2012
So I'm sitting in my office. The big clunky tower of my computer humming almost inaudibly beside my desk. A desk which is normally pretty clean but today is littered with debris. Two model space ships, a leather-bound notebook, a large candle that claims to smell of "Autumn Wreath". There's an ethernet cable or two, and a hammer to one side. A pair of reading glasses sits next to a plate that held cookies a short while ago, but is now empty. Odd, I don't remember eating them. I'll have to go get some more, and this time I'll make sure I remember eating them.
Behind me, about half of the room has a nice hardwood floor. It should have taken a scant half-day to get the floor installed, but I'm on day three. We've been moving things in from the conex containers to the house, but there's no place to put anything. I still need to build shelving for the closets, and bookshelves in the living room, and a vanity for the small bathroom. There's a few brackets that need to be installed under the breakfast bar, and the toe-kicks for the kitchen cabinets. Doors need staining, and there's several bits to trim yet to do. The list seems endless. Strangley, I just can't seem to get motivated.
Behind me, a pile of tools stares accusingly at my back. They're ready to go. There's work to be done, so why am I sitting here? Looking over in the corner, there's a filing cabinet full of electronic components. Microcontrollers, relays, lights. I should finish the floor, but it would be more fun to tinker. Maybe I'll build a driveway alarm. I could wire up an infrared transmitter to an inductive coil buried beside the road, and the receiver could simply trip the doorbell. I'd need a small solar panel to power it, and that means a trip to town, just in time for lunch . .
I can't help but wonder if this is what writer's block feels like for an author. I know what needs to be done, and I have the skill and tools to do it, but I just can't seem to find the spark. I can't go read a book, that would be lazy, but I can't seem to focus on the tasks before me either. Maybe it has something to do with the cold, grey skies outside. Maybe I need to go get those cookies . . . and then I'll do the floor. After I check my email. Again.
VisionConBy: MikeFeb 26, 2012
Last weekend Patty and I traveled halfway across the country to attend VisionCon in Springfield Missouri. Somehow, I had mentally assumed Missouri to be one of the "Southern" states, but the overall vibe was more mid-western.
There's something ubiquitous about fandom. Even though we didn't know anyone at this convention, in a strange way we know all of them. The handsome gentleman in the meticulously-crafted Captain America costume; the woman whose Victorian corset pushes an alarming amount of cleavage to the top of her steampunk outfit; the lanky gamer wearing jeans and Converse sneakers with a giant dagger threaded on his belt, coming back from hospitality with a burrito and three cans of Mountain Dew. I don't know their names, but they're the archetypes of fandom, and I've met them a hundred times. These are our people. They get our lame jokes and obscure references to Ed Wood films or Lovecraftian lore. More than a few of them could co-star on The Big Bang Theory. Gamers, nerds, misunderstood geniuses and bibliophiles of all stripes, joining together to celebrate the things we love. We're a thousand miles from our house, but we're home again, and caught up in the whirl of friends we haven't met yet.
VisionCon was a medium-sized con, with a lot of energy and boundless enthusiasm. The panels we attended were packed with interested folks. The filk room was surprisingly fun, and I learned a few songs that I don't think have washed ashore on the West coast yet. The dance and party on Saturday ran until the wee hours of the night. Sunday, we had to leave early to catch our flight. I had hoped to say goodbye to some of our new friends, but the Saturday night festivities took a heavy toll, and there were few early risers on Sunday. So, here's a much-belated "Thank You" to the staff and attendees of VisionCon. We had a grand time, and we know how much work it takes to put on a convention. You guys rock!
Awesome Author Alert
Of course Patty was far from the only author attending VisionCon. We spent some time chatting with a very interesting gentleman who had sold his first book through a small press publisher.
OK, full disclosure time. We meet a lot of authors, from big-name mega-stars to eager beginners. One thing we've learned is that not only can you not judge a book by its cover, you also can't judge a book by its author. Personally, I haven't had very good luck finding books I enjoy by self-published authors, and many of the small-press titles are extremely avant garde, or wildly esoteric, and seldom appeal to me. Before I get tarred and feathered by the angry hordes, I'd like to emphasize that this is only my experience, and obviously there are plenty of folks who disagree.
So, the author we were chatting with was Ben Reeder. I found him articulate, intense, and surprisingly charming. Of course, there's plenty of dreck written by smart and charming people. I attended his reading, and was pleasantly surprised by the engaging character, and high-octane action. So, after the reading, I bought a copy of his book with a smile (after all, it's always good karma to support authors), to read on the flight home. I admit that I had a "backup book" by a favorite author tucked away just in case.
The backup book came home unread, and I spent a couple of hours fighting the post-convention exhaustion to finish Ben's novel. It was good, and better than good. Not perfect (and the cover art earned me a couple of strange looks), but enough to convince me that some small press books stack up nicely against anything the big houses can crank out. I'll definitely be buying the sequel. More importantly, after reading his debut novel, I can't wait to see what Ben brings to the table in a couple of years when he's had a chance to stretch his wings a bit.
For those looking for a compelling YA read, be sure to check out The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Ben Reeder.
Computers are FunBy: MikeFeb 24, 2012
So a week or so ago my faithful desktop started generating disk errors on startup. I wasn't too worried, as I was running mirrored disks. I've recovered from similar failures many times, usually without much trouble. This was the exception, and I didn't get things running smoothly until about 2:00 AM, after taking fairly drastic measures.
I'm always surprised by how much computer work is needed around here. We're basically running a small business, but you'd think a laptop and a word processor should be sufficient. It's not. With Patty's assistant, Ann, there's three of us rattling around here. Patty and Ann both use laptops, but have docking stations with a full set of peripherals. I have the giant desktop. There's three monster printers, two scanners, and a variety of other devices all hooked up to a wireless network. I just had to add a wireless bridge to Patty's office, and today I was updating the NAS for storage and on-site backups. Patty's laptop is three years old, and the fan is making noise, so it's probably time to upgrade in the next week or so. Cue the great software migration of 2012. Writers, make sure you have a nerd or two in your contact list -- and bake 'em some cookies once in a while!
Fair Game TourBy: MikeMarch 8, 2012
The nail-biting is over, and Fair Game is officially out in bookstores. The early reviews are largely positive, which means Patty can quit chewing her fingernails. Of course, with a new book release comes book signings, and Patty's embarked on a whirlwind tour of the US, signing books as she goes.
Last night, I was with her at Seattle's University Bookstore, where she had a joint signing with the lovely Kim Harrison. We've met Kim and her husband several times, and they are always so poised and elegant. She and Patty get along really well, and it's always a lot of fun. For those who couldn't make it, here's a video of the event:
If you're an author planning on signing a lot of books, take some time to choose a good, comfortable pen. When I was in grade school, a common punishment for minor classroom infractions was being told to write your name a couple of hundred times. I can still remember how my hand ached! A large signing may involve several hundred signings for readers, and the bookstore may want additional stock signed as well. No wonder many authors suffer from repetitive stress disorders.
In years past, I've given Patty several large, heavy, prestige-inducing pens. They look "writerly" and were intended to inspire confidence. Nothing says "professional" like using a pen that costs more than your mortgage, right? Sadly, they invariably made her hand cramp after a few signatures, and it's hard to look professional with your signing hand clenched into an immobile claw. Patty's current favorite is a G2 from Pilot 1. They only cost a couple of dollars, and they come in lots of colors! Find something that fits your hand, and signings will be far more comfortable.
1) Not a paid advertisement. Honest.
How to be an AuthorBy: MikeMarch 15, 2012
Since Fair Game came out we've received the usual surge in emails. There's a lot of email voicing support and encouragement, which is something no author can ever get enough of. Of course there are some pointing out flaws or negative reactions. All the other authors can breathe easy, the perfect book has still not been penned. Maybe next time <grin>. Surprisingly, there are a large number of requests for help writing, editing, publishing, and marketing books.
With Patty on tour, her assistant and I have been busy fielding these requests to the best of our ability. I've called Patty and asked her advice, and it turns out we're all clueless. The publishing industry is simply changing too quickly. The awesome series of articles by Kris Rusch that I find so informative is coming to the same conclusion. Even if we knew what the best way to get into publishing and establish a following was, the answer would probably change before I could post it. It's like having someone ask about the best beaches on Krakatoa while the massive volcanic eruptions were explosively reforming the island. We don't know, and we're busy praying that our little corner somehow survives the upheaval.
Whatever the future may bring in terms of markets and promotional opportunities, however, I feel pretty confident that the basic craft of storytelling will remain. The best secret to success is simply to produce a professionally-crafted story. Writing is like any other craft -- raw talent may grant early success, but practice and dedication are the hallmarks of a professional. And this week, by sheer coincidence, we've stumbled across a couple of articles with excellent advice for helping authors write better stories.
The first is an article I was initially skeptical of, sent to our writer's group by one of more technically-focused members. It's entitled How Not To Be A Clever Writer and is well worth your time.
The second was not really an article, but an email sent by another brilliant member of our writer's group, Michael Enzweiler. You may recognize the name, since he's also the artist to does the maps found in many of Patty's books. He's a thinker, is Michael, and lately he's been thinking about writing. With his permission:
Rules for Writing
There are a lot of rules I've gleaned from a variety of sources, including personal experience. Here's the ones I can think of right now, in no particular order:
Rule #1: Be certain what you want is to write, not just to be a writer. There's some perceived glamor about being a published author that makes it very appealing to certain people. Without the desire to actually write, it means nothing. I still wrestle with this one.
Rule #2: Write. Write. Write. Write. Even the crappiest writer has a much better chance of being published eventually than an awesome writer who never produces anything.
Rule #3: Learn to take criticism objectively, and especially learn to recognize when it's correct. Doing so is essential to improving as a writer, not to mention dealing with an editor.
Rule #4: Avoid the trap of writing for approval. Fan fiction writers are a good example of this. It's easy to get hooked on positive strokes and to write exclusively to receive more of them. An author should be able to write in solitude, with no atta boy's beyond their own inner critic.
Rule #5: If the only reason something exists in a story is that it is necessary for the plot to work, you've failed at plotting. Plotting flows from elements that exist for their own reasons, not just props wedged in to hold the plot up.
Rule #6: Readers quickly resent protagonists who don't proactively try to improve their situation. An amateurish mistake is to heap pain and humiliation on a character in an attempt to generate sympathy. People resent doormats because they accept their role as doormat.
Rule #7: Writing is best when it is unidirectional, meaning going forward. If you're going back and re-reading/editing every sentence, paragraph, or page, you're halting the flow and hindering the writing. When you're in the coveted Zone, writing quickly with no thought to punctuation or spelling, that's when you're most likely producing your best work. Editing is something you do after getting the ideas down, not while you're writing. Think of it as two hats you own, a writer hat and an editor hat. When the writer hat is on, just write. Don't pick up the editor hat until the writer is done for the day or you'll start writing like an editor.
Rule #8: (This is a Budrys chestnut.) A story is a mental construct, not a collection of words and punctuation marks. Being able to put words down on paper well is good, but if the mental construct, the story itself, isn't well constructed, the words on paper will fall flat. Get the immaterial story right, then record it in language.
Rule #9: Similar to Rule #6, protagonists should solve their biggest problems themselves, using their own skills and knowledge. Do not rescue them with outside forces/characters. Deus ex machina is the term for an improbable solution to a plot problem that materializes when needed with no groundwork for its presence. It is a sure sign of weak plotting.
Rule #10: Readers usually like fiction to work the way they wish the real world worked. This is especially true with regards to karma. Readers are most satisfied when good guys are ultimately rewarded, and bad guys get their comeuppance. Sounds simple, but there are many shades of gray. For example, even a good character can commit a sin in the eyes of the reader. That character must pay for their transgression in a manner commensurate with the transgression. This ties in with the concept of redemption. It is entirely possible for a character who has transgressed enough to demand their death to redeem themselves, but death is usually still necessary to balance the scales.
Rule #11: Any and all rules can be successfully violated if you're good enough. Don't assume you're good enough.
Fair Game on NYTBy: MikeMarch 20, 2012
We just learned that Fair Game is #4 on the New York Times best sellers list this week. It's also #11 on the USA Today list.That's pretty amazing, and we're definitely doing the happy dance. Thank you to everyone for making our lives so joyous.
Signing Tour CompleteBy: MikeMarch 20, 2012
Patty spent the first half of the month running around like a crazy woman promoting Fair Game. She did signings in cities all over the country and did a dozen or so interviews with bloggers. She's finally home, and taking a couple of days to rest and recover from all the fun.
She asked me to thank all the readers who came to the signings. There were apparently quite a few people who drove long distances to meet her, which is flattering. More importantly, there were smiles and camaraderie and good questions, which makes signings so much more fun than the ones where a lonely author sits at a forlorn table in the back of a bookstore while anxious staff look at the pile of books they bought to support the event. And speaking of store owners and staff, everyone Patty worked with as extremely kind and polite. Thank You!
By the way, trying to organize a signing tour would be a daunting task. It's not just the airfare and hotels, it's arranging to have Patty picked up and dropped off, and making sure that a slightly-dazed and tired author makes to the several appointments scheduled each day. (While we only post the public signings, she often has interviews, stock signings or business meeting as well). Thinking about organizing something this complex makes my head ache, but it's something that Rosanne Romanello pulls off with grace and wit. Rosanne (or Ro as she's often called) is a miniature dynamo of organization and efficiency. I was once told that she'd re-alphabetized the alphabet to improve efficiency. Rosanne is a publicist at ACE books, and is almost entirely responsible for Patty actually appearing for her public appearances. Thank you Ro, we couldn't do it without you!
Oh, and here's an opportunity for those of you who wanted a signed book but couldn't get one. No, we don't have a magic sleigh or eight miniature reindeer, and Patty won't be coming down your chimney for a visit any time soon. However, Patty signed a quite a few books for the various bookstores she visited, and several of them are willing to sell you one and mail it to you. So, if you want a signed copy, talk to one of these great stores:
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
Call or email the store:
1628 16th Street
Denver, CO 80202
Email the store:
Barnes & Noble
14709 US Hwy 31 North
Carmel, IN 46032
Call the store:
Barnes & Noble
301 Main Street
Exton, PA 19341
Call the store:
Garden District Bookshop
2727 Prytania St
New Orleans, LA 70130
Call the store:
The Harvard Coop
1400 Massachusetts Ave
Mid-Cambridge, MA 02138-3833
Call or email the store:
Barnes & Noble
4751 West 117th Street
Leawood, KS 66211
Call the store:
On Marketing and PromotionBy: MikeApril 18, 2012
Things are going well, and the frantic pace of activity is showing signs of slowing down. We're still renovating the main bathroom in the house, so there's a path covered in drop cloths and plastic from the back door (where cement is mixed) to the bathroom where tile is being laid. There a million small projects vying for attention, but we're gradually making headway. So, a couple of weeks ago we turned our attention to the web store here on Hurog. . .
The merchandise spent the last year in plastic bins shoved into shipping containers in the front yard. The shop itself served as our living quarters, and everything was completely covered in the talc-fine dust that passes for soil around here. Ann (Patty's assistant) and I cleaned the shop top to bottom, and put everything back on the shelves.
There aren't as many shirts as I remembered. We've given a bunch away at conventions and haven't replaced them. The designs are also looking a little dated. There's a handful of silver bullet pendants, but silver prices have climbed so high that we'd be charging more than double the previous price to make new ones. Basically, we need a new store.
Ann told me her bellydance troop had had excellent results with a local print shop. We contacted them about making the ever-problematical "Mercy's Garage" shirts. Silk screening six colors (including a couple of gradients) is not for the faint of heart or scant of wallet. We're going to try, for the first time, printing on black shirts, which has been a common request since we started this years ago.
We also decided that the "new" store needed some "new" merchandise. There's a forum topic that contains lots of excellent suggestions, and we're taking several of them to heart. We're currently contracting with two different companies for somewhere around 800 shirts, and we'll open the web-store when we have those in hand. So, while we have nothing to show yet there will be good things coming.
A Bit of ExcitementBy: MikeApril 28, 2012
So about this time last week I made tomato-basil soup and BLT's for dinner. There's nothing like a nice bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on Dave's "Good Seed" bread. For me, it was heaven, but for Patty it started something very different . . .
She had severe stomach pain, and nausea which lasted all night and into the next day. That's a severe reaction, even to my cooking. We called the doctor and made an appointment. He referred us to an internist who agreed to see us at his earliest opportunity (Wednesday). After a trip to medical imaging she was diagnosed with a defective gall bladder and surgery was strongly recommended.
Timing is everything, and if you've seen Patty's list of appearances you can see this next month is busy. In fact, we're slated to leave for DemiCon on May 2, so we asked if we could delay for a few weeks. The doctors were convinced that surgery was imperative, and we scheduled it for last Friday.
Longtime followers of the blog may remember that Patty had back surgery several years ago. The surgeons were brilliant, but that surgery left Patty largely bed-bound for two months, and it was probably six months before she was moving well. The doctors assured us that this surgery would be less invasive, and recovery should be swift. Still, we were both pretty worried when we drove to the hospital on Friday morning.
The surgery went flawlessly, and since they were able to do it all laparoscopically she only has four small, neatly glued punctures to show for it. Better yet, she was alert and thinking pretty clearly within an hour or so after surgery. She's continuing to heal well, and looks surprisingly good for someone two days after surgery. We should be able to attend DemiCon without any problems (this is fantastic news, because we really didn't want to bail on a convention that had invited her as GOH!) We'll be there with bells on, but this will be the first time Patty's tried to do panels on vicodin, which may be interesting. Play nice with us, Iowa! Seriously, though, I suspect she'll be fine.
Hey, quick question for anyone familiar with the convention: should I bring my guitar?
DemiCon and Dear AuthorBy: MikeMay 10, 2012
We recently returned from Iowa, where Patty was the guest of honor at DemiCon 23. This is an awesome convention. It's big enough to have a variety of programming and activities, and small enough that you get to chat with the same friendly faces several times throughout the convention and make some new friends.
One of my favorite things about this convention was opening ceremonies. They included a theatrical production by TICC (Trans Iowa Canal Company, if memory serves), an in-house group of thespians that does a whopping one performance per year. OK, I've seen several attempts at dinner-theater in opening ceremonies. This was different . . . it was good. The script was well written, the actors knew their lines, and did a more than credible job of delivery. Costuming was excellent, sets and set changes were professionally handled, and there was even a musical number with complex choreography. In short, this was an extremely entertaining, professional level production that I would happily have bought tickets for. The bar has been raised!
DemiCon is also noteworthy for music. There was filking, to be sure, including an unusual number of talented musicians with instruments. However, they had a lovely stage area, where various small groups and bands performed. Obviously, we couldn't catch all the acts, but the music room was an awesome place to sit down, relax and unwind. I must mention one group, Orkes and Trolles, as a particular favorite. Mostly they concentrate on funny music and up-tempo versions of Celtic favorites mixed with a bit of maritime music. However, their a capella rendition of A Sailor's Prayer was haunting, evocative, and complex. This is more than a comedy act, there are surprising musical depths to be plumbed. I had been told by other con-goers that they were famous for The Moose Song, which was the final number of their set. I am obviously not old enough to be listen to this piece, and my growing embarrassment and shock was obviously a great motivator for the band to pull out all the stops. All I can say is that the authors of The Moose Song must have attended DarkoverCon and used Clam Chowder's infamous Bend Over Greek Sailor as inspiration . . .
In addition to attending a stellar convention, we also got to meet one of our favorite bloggers while in Iowa. Dear Author is a famous (and fabulous) blog. Patty reads everything, including romance, and Dear Author is primarily a romance novel review site. However, they also cover related genres like Paranormal Romance, and even the occasional old classic. The dominant voice is Jane, who is not only an avid reader but also a lawyer. Jane is alternately sweet and snarky, with a wicked sense of humor. She's also vastly intelligent, and acutely observant. My favorite part of the site is Jane's updates on publishing news and trends, which are extremely informative, and Jane has the legal chops to add some insightful commentary and opinion as well.
So, Jane is something of a rock star, and we were surprised and delighted to hear that she wanted to meet with us (well, Patty really, but I include myself by default!) while we were in her home town. We spent most of Monday wandering Des Moines and chatting with Jane, who is doubtless one of the smartest people I've met. It was a great experience, and we may be returning for another visit. I think Jane and the friendly folks at DemiCon have Patty thinking that Charles and Anna may need to visit Iowa. Of course, that means she'll have to make up something suitably nasty to prowl the picturesque streets of this very friendly city. Sorry Des Moines, there's trouble coming your way!
Alert: Missing MisConBy: MikeMay 24, 2012
We recently spent a few days in Prague with Patty's Czech publisher. It was great fun, and I'll post lots of information and a few photos soon. However, Patty and I have both contracted a nasty flu we've dubbed the "Prague Plague". We've decided that our dear friends and acquaintences at MisCon will doubtless be happier if we don't share this particular discovery with them, so we're staying home. Many, many apologies to anyone who was planning on meeting up with Patty at the con, you'll just have to settle for George R. R. Martin! And now, I'm looking for my orange juice and cold tablets. G'Night everyone!
Signing in PragueBy: MikeJune 5, 2012
Patty's very first foreign publication was sold to a young company in the Czech Republic. Fantom Print brought Steal the Dragon to a new audience, one just beginning to explore speculative fiction. A copy of that book has occupied a spot on Patty's "brag shelf" ever since.
Imagine our delight when we received an invitation to actually visit the Czech Republic, and meet the folks who run Fantom Print (who have also published the Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega series). And so, it came to pass that a few weeks ago we eagerly boarded an airplane for Prague.
As an aside, let me say that air travel, at least in the cheap seats, increasingly resembles the livestock shipping business. The goal is to stack as many paying passengers as possible onto a flying cattle car. We ended up with a couple of short hops around the country, then a long flight into Germany, and a shorter one to Prague. The problem is that all the hops and layovers add up, so by the time we stumbled off the last plane, we'd been up for about thirty hours.
That first few minutes in another country is always daunting. You're stumbling tired, people are speaking in languages you don't understand, and you need to get local currency, find a hotel, and rendezvous with your contacts. As we shambled out of baggage claim, we were delighted to spot a smiling couple holding a large sign that read, "Mercedes Athena Thompson". They were warm and friendly, and suddenly we knew this was going to be fun. I suspect, however, that while we were relived they were worried. We were so exhausted we couldn't form a coherent sentence. I respond by getting short and gruff. Patty responds by babbling cheerfully in a non-stop stream-of-consciousness monologue. Whatever their thoughts about our mental stability, our new friends got us safely checked into a lovely hotel.
After a blissful night's sleep, we began our adventure in Prague. We'd given ourselves a day to get acclimated to the time-change before scheduling any signings. One of our good friends is working in the Ukraine, and came over to visit with us. We tried to walk to a metro station, but obviously got the directions confused, and instead spent six or eight hours wandering across town to the "Old Town" square, and admiring the architecture.
I can't tell reliably tell Baroque from Gothic design, nor Romantic from Rococo influences, so I won't highlight my ignorance by endless commentary. Suffice it to say that I have never before seen such a diverse collection of architectural styles. There's something magic about the play of light and sound on the ancient cobbles. Many of these buildings were old before Columbus ever thought of setting sail. Others bear the unmistakable traces of soviet influence, or the euphoria of art deco. The culture, from the little I saw, is likewise a curious and enchanting chimera of old and new; a complex tapestry of old manners and new technology. I gained a deeper appreciation of the term "Bohemian" while visiting, and I can understand why so many attempts at utopian living tried to recreate the gestalt peculiar to this area.
Over the next few days, we attended several book signings in areas near Prague. Libor and Yitka were excellent company — and very patient with our many questions. Libor is the quintesential dreamer. Not too many years ago, reading in the Czech Republic was something you did for education or self improvement. The literary landscape was dominated by weighty tomes on philosophy, politics, and history. Slowly, genres like westerns or romance began making inroads, but with limited acceptance. Libor decided to follow his love of speculative fiction, and began a tiny publishing venture on a shoestring budget. If I understood the story correctly, Patty's book was the first story they published!
As we traveled, it became apparent that Libor and I have similar personalities (I think I'm a bit grumpier than he is, but Yitka says that's not true). We look a bit alike, and are pretty close in age. Soon, he was calling me "Little Brother". Libor is an easy man to to like, so I was immensely pleased with the compliment. Yitka has an easy laugh, and a dazzling smile that never seems far away.
We gradually met the other members of Fantom Press. They were all charming and very interesting to talk with. We're particularly fond of Martin Fajkus. He's an author, an anthologist, and has read almost as many books as Patty. He's also a fan of Patty's work, and was charmingly bashful about meeting her. Once the ice was broken, however, he was a font of information and a wonderful companion for several signings.
The book signings were lots of fun. Most of them were small, with somewhere between twenty and maybe fifty people attending. The bookstore owners were wonderfully sweet and many of the fans had traveled long distances. Their enthusiasm was contagious, even communicating through a translator. Many of them brought small gifts: origami wolves, pictures they had drawn, or candy. The gifts were something new, and I think Patty was a bit overwhelmed. Her office now has a nice collection of happy mementos. There are some pictures of a book signing here, and here's a few of the Fantom Print booth at the Prague bookfair.
After the book signings, Libor and Jitka took a day to show us around their city. We walked through even more amazing medieval streets, across the King's bridge, and up to Prague castle. The castle is spectacular, and I could spend pages just writing about it. It turns out that Jitka is quite the historian, and she told up stories of it's construction, and reconstruction, and the various additions and expansions. As an American (especially being from the Northwest) it's strange to hear histories going back thousands of years. Most of the towns I've lived in were little more than cow camps until at least the twentieth century. Most of them have "historic" buildings that are only fifty years old. In Prague, that's basically new construction!
One of my favorite things about the trip was the constant surprises. There were lots of little hidden squares and gardens, restaurants that can only be reached by a door in the ally, and unexpected statues and sculptures placed in various niches and alcoves. There's a definite sense of whimsy, mixed with a touch of "Through the Looking Glass". It's a lovely city, and we had a great time visiting!
Book NewsBy: Mike June 24, 2012
Patty's had the opportunity to bring out a couple of omnibus publications of previously published work. This is a wonderful opportunity in that it presents her work to an audience who might not otherwise find it, and gives readers (and libraries!) a chance to buy her books at very attractive prices.
There's no disaster that can't become a blessing, and no blessing that can't become a disaster.
The challenge is in trying to keep Patty's dedicated reader's abreast of what's coming out. We've already heard from several readers who pre-purchased these omnibus publications thinking they were new books, rather than compilations of previously published novels. Nothing like spending twenty bucks anticipating a fresh read by a favorite author, and getting books you've already read. I'm also not entirely sure how to work these into the books page . . .
Shifter's Wolf is a paperback compilation of Masques and Wolfsbane coming out this December from ACE.
A similar omnibus edition was published in hardcover by the Science Fiction Book Club under the title Masques & Wolfsbane.
Speaking of the Science Fiction Book Club, they also have a 4-in-1 version of the Alpha and Omega series (all three novels plus the novella that began the series) available under the title Alpha & Omega.
Patty is still hard at work on Frost Burned, and the first chapters are being workshopped through the writer's group. With just a bit of luck it should be done in a month or so! We've also seen the cover art, and Dan Dos Santos has once again delivered a kick-butt composition. Sadly, we can't share it with you until the art director gives us the go-ahead. Still, it's great inspiration for Patty.
The View From the Asylum WindowBy: Mike June 24, 2012
It's been said that time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once. If so, nature needs a better method, because life keeps moving at an insane pace around here!
A couple of weeks ago we asked our local filk group to join us in our home for a few hours of fun and music. We were expecting twenty or thirty people, and a couple of our dear friends asked if they could stay for a day or two in the guest bedrooms (formerly our daughters' bedrooms, but they left for college, so they're guest bedrooms until they come back).
We ended up with somewhere between sixty and seventy people attending, including a surprise visit from 'Scruffy', a very musical friends who traveled up from Florida. Great music, great friends, and a whole lot of fun. However, the house wasn't big enough. Here's one shot showing the living room after things started slowing down a bit.
So, we're desperately working on building a large back porch to handle additional people for the next time we do this! I've had cement trucks rolling down the driveway twice in the past week, and there's more coming this week.
Patty's always wanted to breed a few of her horses. I built her a mare pen last year, but it was lacking a few amenities like latches on the gates and a working waterer. We were expecting a foal in mid-July, and Patty had been gently reminding me that the pen still needed work. Since I'm still building the fences in the lower pasture, working on irrigation and trying to make the yards presentable, I placated her by promising to complete it by June 13. On June 11, Patty came running into the house, nearly in a state of shock, saying we had a baby on the ground!
Sure enough, there was a little brown head peeking out of the grass in the horse pasture, while a nervous mother tried to keep six other horses away from her little one. We were able to move her over to the mare pen safely, and mom and baby are safe and happy. Of course, my priority list got shuffled again, and the mare pen is now fixed!
But Wait, There's More!
Last week there was a horse auction. Not just any horse auction, but one featuring horses from Orrion Farms, a breeder of top-notch Arabians. Several of Patty's favorite horses have come from Orrion, so after looking at the list of animals to be sold, we called the farm manager, and took a quick trip halfway across the state to look at horses.
While sitting in a fabulous arena watching the horses being worked, we were told that the farm was actually for sale. Sadly, the asking price of fourteen million is just a tad high for an author and her stay-at-home husband. Still, the horses were lovely.
A few days later Patty was hunched over her computer, a Mountain Dew close to hand and her mouse-finger limbered up and ready to pounce. She'd picked two horses she really wanted, and a couple of alternates. The bidding was fast, furious, and (for me, watching the bank account drain into the danger zone) a little scary. However, a jubilant Patty managed to win both of her favorites (and I'll spare you the pseudo-obligatory recitation of pedigree and awards). One of her new horses is another mare with foal at side. So now our little farm has two small hellions tearing around the field, and my to-do list includes even more fencing!
Baubles and SwagBy: Mike July 13, 2012
This is a three-part article about opening a web-store for authors. It's long and probably boring unless you're an author looking to sell swag. If you really want to read it, the article is here.
Endeavor Award FinalistBy: Mike July 14, 2012
We just got some interesting news, River Marked has been nominated for an Endeavor Award, and is among the finalists. The Endeavor is specific to Northwest Authors, and is given by OryCon. The finalists include:
- Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (Tor)
- City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Pyr)
- River Marked by Patricia Briggs (Ace)
- Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (Doubleday)
- When the Saints by Dave Duncan (Tor)
Book News and GossipBy: Mike August 5, 2012
Another due date come and gone, and Patty is putting in long hours trying to finish Frost Burned. In the early stages of a book, she's often only actually writing new material three or four hours a day. She spends a lot of time on research, and reading, and navel-gazing coming up with ideas. As the book progresses, and the plot firms up, there's less and less planning, and more writing. By the end of the book, she's got the stereo cranked up to rock-concert levels and is putting in twelve hours or more a day, every day. That's the phase we're in now.
Patty's always sweet and kind, but at times like this there's a certain brittleness to it, so I generally walk quietly and try and get her to come out and eat once in a while. Talking about the book is iffy. Sometimes she's a little hung up on something, and it helps to talk it over. Other times she's desperately trying to leave the book behind for a few hours, and she absolutely doesn't want to talk about it. The most recent snag was caused by writing in first person. . .
In a first person book, the protagonist is in the center of everything. Urban fantasy borrowed heavily from the noir detective novels, where the reader experiences the story through the eyes of a gumshoe protagonist. The first person viewpoint permits the reader to be privy to the thoughts of the protagonist, but not the other characters, and this lends a particular flavor to the narrative. It also presents some challenges -- the reader actually learns more about the protagonist from the reactions of secondary characters than from the protagonist himself. In addition, it's virtually impossible to show events and actions that occur elsewhere, unless the author invokes the old "reliable witness" ploy: "Don't worry, Mr. Tracy, I saw the whole thing real good. I was sittin' on the bench right here, y'see, and eatin' a sandwich, a cheese and steak from Phil's -- you know, on 8th and Gum."
So, Patty had some action that needed to happen off-screen for Mercy. Action that was critical to the plot, and that the reader needed to see. Action that Mercy shouldn't yet know about. She tried several variations on the "reliable witness" gambit, but it just wasn't working well. So, she did what she's always done in such situations: break the rules.
First person novels usually don't head hop. That's much more common in romance, which is typically told in a close-third. But in this case, the rule got broken, and we get a chapter in Adam's head. Adam who had been kidnapped and is now awake, and surrounded by wounded pack members. Adam who has tried to hide what he sees as the monster within. Adam who is angry. . . . And so, Hulk Smash!, and the readers get an understanding of why werewolves were feared.
Writing has a lot of conventions and largely-unwritten rules. When an author breaks the rules, readers get irritated. The trick is not to never break a rule, it's to make sure that when you do, the payoff is worth more than the irritation.
Yar! Stand and DeliverBy: Mike Sept 5, 2012
Nay, this palaver has naught to do those black-heated bilge rats seeking digital booty (though I spit bile in their direction). Today 'tis we who are flying the Jolly Rodger and raiding the digital seas!
Our website, you see, is getting old and dated. A few weeks ago I started what I thought would be a quick "paint and spit-polish" makeover. Nothing too radical, just freshening up the scenery and changing the drapes. Like most of my projects, however, scope creep has set in, and now it's being rebuilt down to the rickety underpinnings.
So what does this have to with pirates? Hah! The internet is a vast sea of designs and lovingly-crafted widgets. Since I'm strictly third-rate as a designer, my best work would appear as pale and uninspired next to the true masters of the craft. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon: copy and paste.
Oh, it's true that, applied carelessly, these tools would land me in court. Fear not, I'll license any images and steer well clear of the shoals of copyright infringement. Still, I've been scouring the internet looking at authors' sites, and looting them for ideas. My notebook is brimming with stolen genius. So, heave-to you mavens of excellence, and prepare to be pillaged. I leave you with a jaunty wave of my hat and a hearty “Yo Ho!” as payment.
Seriously, I'm feeling a little daft. I can program in a dozen or so languages, but my PHP skills are laughable. I haven't kept up on recent developments in web technology, and I'm badly outdated. My desk is currently covered with reference books on PHP, CSS, HTML and related technologies, and I'm taking baby-steps towards the redesign. Every time I do a page mock-up, I'm reminded of why, despite being an old computer nerd, nobody ever wanted me working on user interfaces. I like monochrome; it saves me from learning the color wheel. And what do you mean there's fonts other than Arial and Helvetica? Sigh.
The site redesign is coming slowly while my aging brain tries to absorb a few thousand pages of reference material. Hmmmpfh. I could swear this used to be easier. You silly kids and your blasted computers, always changing the way things are done. Progress is overrated — now get off my lawn!
I know I said this wasn't a post on piracy, but here's a rousing shanty (with permission, naturally).
The Digital Pirate
I don't have an eye patch, a hook or a parrot,
I'm a scoundrel, a rogue with no morals or merit.
I wield neither cutlass nor sword, nor a dagger,
but I'm a villain for sure, you can tell by my swagger!
I don't have a ship, I don't know how to sail,
and at trussing the yards most surely I'd fail.
My swash lost it's buckle, and I'm not long on beauty
but I'm a sure-enough pirate who'll plunder your booty!
Yo- Ho, I'm a pirate on the digital sea,
I'll plunder your goods, and I'll take them for free
Movies and software, books or a song,
Stand and deliver, it's mine right or wrong!
The 'Bucket o Blood' I have dubbed my computer,
it's got a lighting fast drives 'cause I'm a lightning-fast looter
with a broadband connection so fast and so free
You've not seen a pirate 'till you've seen one like me!
I've the latest of software and my processor screams
the 'Bucket o' Blood' is the stuff of your dreams,
It's eight thousand dollars of the best you can buy,
but I can't pay for content; the price it too high!
Observations from an Armchair QuarterbackBy: Mike Sept 12, 2012
At one of my former jobs, fall was fantasy football season. I've never been a sports fan, so I watched the betting, trash-talking and teasing with what I claim as 'detached curiosity' (though my co-workers would probably have described it as 'bovine bewilderment). After each major game, various bets would be decided, with some individuals being required to bring food, or lose facial hair, or wear particular shirts or ties to work. The performance of various players was discussed ad infinitum, and it became obvious that my co-workers each knew more about strategy and game mechanics than any of the NFL coaches or players. I watched (aloof or clueless, depending upon your interpretation) and waited for the silliness to pass.
Over the past few years, as I've read the ups and downs of the publishing world, I've developed a greater empathy for my former co-workers. As I read about various mishaps and blunders, I find myself yelling at the monitor, "Not that way you morons, you're running off a cliff with the other lemmings!"* Occasionally I cheer a brilliant play, but mostly I'm shaking my impotent fist at the monitor. Maybe I should wear the same underwear for a week; apparently that's a sure-fire way to stimulate your favorite team's performance.
So, for example, the DOJ has approved a settlement against several publishers accused of colluding to fix ebook prices. Is that a bad call, or should the players get some time in the penalty box? I'll boo the umpire anyway! (Remember, I'm new to this sports metaphor thing, mixed metaphors are to be expected.) By the way, our publisher wasn't among the settling parties, and apparently is scheduled for post-season legal playoffs with the DOJ. Should I be cheering and waving the team banner, or are they just offsides?
*Lemmings, despite Disney's claims, do not habitually migrate over sea cliffs.
Sock Puppets and Success
There have been several articles in recent weeks about author's using multiple accounts to leave glowing reviews for their own books, or negative reviews for authors they see as competition. These "sock puppet" reviews may provide a substantial sales boost for authors, at the expense of reducing customer confidence in the peer review system.
Mainstream book reviewers often have a bias toward novels by traditional publishers. With more and more books coming from small presses and independent authors, readers are turning to customer reviews with increasing frequency to guide their purchasing decisions. The danger, of course, is that peer reviews are an easy system to game.
At big retailers like Amazon or B&N, most books only have twenty or thirty reviews, and even bestsellers often have only a couple of hundred reviews. With such small sample sizes, even a few dozen "sock puppet" reviews can make the difference between a two-star average and a five-star average, and may garner the author thousands of dollars in additional sales.
Of course, it takes a certain amount of time to create a few dozen accounts and formulate the reviews. Even worse, unless you maintain numerous accounts with service providers (or have a nice bot-net to command) all of your sock puppets are going to come from the same IP address, the digital equivalent of the proverbial smoking gun. Since customers are (understandably) unimpressed with dishonest authors, getting caught might have consequences if the readers manage to name-and-shame effectively.
Oh cruel fate, what's an author to do? So much potential gain, and so much risk. Fear not, where there is a demand, some quick-thinking entrepreneur will provide a solution. There are a number of companies offering to handle to heavy lifting of creating the puppets and writing glowing reviews for a modest fee. You can even buy your reviews in bulk -- ten, twenty or a hundred at a time.
The internet is a wonderful tool, but in many ways it's opened Pandora's box. Anonymity means that individuals can engage is all sorts of illicit or immoral behavior with virtually no risk of being held accountable. Piracy, forum trolls, and worse are commonplace, so what's the big deal with sock puppets? An honest, hard-working author may only get five or ten reviews, and if a couple of those are less-than-stellar, it could be very tempting to sock-puppet a handful of glowing reviews. After all, every author is convinced that their work is truly excellent, so it's not like an honest reader could possibly give it less than five stars. Surely any negative reviews must be personal enemies or rival authors trying to undermine their sales, so forging a few good reviews isn't really dishonest, it's just balancing the scales, right? Right?
In the end, such reviews are poisoning the peer review system. Sock puppetry, in the simplest of terms, is fraud against the reader. However, as long as there's a buck to be made and little risk of any consequences, we can expect to see more of this sort of behavior. It's easy to do, and even easier to rationalize. Sadly, these sort of shenanigans are doing nothing to repair the growing rift between author and readers. Even worse, honest reviewers (who are an increasingly important link between readers and writers), are getting caught in the backlash. There are reports that several reviewers have hung up the proverbial keyboard in disgust, and that is truly disheartening. I'm starting to feel more and more like the quintessential old hippy, wondering helplessly why we can't all behave like adults and just get along.
First Aid and The Good SamaritanBy: Mike Nov 9, 2012
Yesterday our youngest daughter called, and was a little concerned about her finger. Apparently in botany lab she was trusted with a razor blade. She's a junior in college, and alternates between amazing me with her poise and intellect and making me want to bang my head on a desk and weep for the future. I'm virtually certain that male pattern baldness is related to daughters. Naturally, she cut herself with the razor blade.
She didn't want to face the embarrassment of telling the lab instructor, so her lab partner advised that she just wrap it really tightly to stop the bleeding. Fast forward a day, and she was calling to inform us that her finger was now a funny blue color, and wasn't that odd?
We advised her of the dangers of cutting off circulation to an extremity, and urged her to visit the campus clinic. Later that night I called her back, and asked about her finger. She reported that it itched, but was no longer bleeding. I asked if the doctor has used stitches, staples, or seristrips. She reported that she didn't actually go to a doctor, because two of her friends had told her to simply super-glue it all together. Naturally, she followed their advice, because they'd both been boy-scouts once upon a time.
I've developed a phobia of boy scouts. Long ago I was a boy scout, and like most junior woodchucks I earned a first aid merit badge. A few years later I obtained an EMT certficate and volunteered with the search and rescue. I felt confident that, should disaster strike, I would not be helpless. The fates, in their wisdom, chose not to test me.
About ten years ago I found myself volunteered to serve with a local scout troop for a few months. The scouting program had changed, and I was surrounded by twelve and thirteen year olds who knew far more about Nintendo than nature. Amazingly, most of them had bandoleers full of merit badges. Like most old fogies, I assumed that the standards must be slipping — surely I had never been so green.
And then one day I found myself doing a first-aid drill with my band of diminutive overachievers. Volunteers were placed as though surviving from a car wreck, with nicely detailed wounds and scripts of "symptoms" that would mimic concussions, internal bleeding and other sorts of non-obvious trauma. And the boy scouts were turned loose.
They marched into the simulated disaster oozing confidence. Every chest adorned with a first aid merit badge. They took charge of the scene like seasoned professionals, dispatching one of their number to call 911 while the rest began treating injuries. And that's where the trouble began.
A woman was complaining that she couldn't move her legs after supposedly being thrown from the vehicle. After a stern comment about safety belts, the scouts began twisting her neck and having her curl her spine back and forth to assess the extent of her injury. Their reasoning was "If you can move it, it's not broken."
Over the next half hour or so broken limbs were straightened and splinted, wounds dressed, and everyone was treated for shock. What they lacked in skill they made up for with enthusiasm. The victims emerged looking more like mummies than people, but most of them would have survived. Some might have even benefited from their treatments.
Except for one man who was supposed to have a broken rib. He had a dribble of fake blood on his mouth, and was complaining that it hurt to breath. The scouts promptly diagnosed the injury as "something in the throat" and were looking through their pockets to see who's camp knife was the cleanest. I asked what they were doing, and a young man proudly announced he was going to perform a tracheotomy. The volunteer-victim was looking a little wild-eyed, so I suggested that they simply explain the procedure to me rather than demonstrating it.
The scouts found a likely-looking knife, wiping the grime off on a handy pant leg, and said that they'd just make a hole in the wind-pipe.
I asked them where the trachea was.
They looked a little puzzled and said it was in the middle of neck.
I asked how they would locate it.
I was informed that this was the easy part. You just chop into the neck until you come across a big 'ol pipe. If it had air moving in and out, that's the windpipe. Otherwise, it's probably the pipe that your food goes down, and you just have to keep cutting.
By this point, the volunteer was showing signs of rapid recovery. He was definitely mobile, edging away from all of us while doing a very convincing impersonation of a man hyperventilating despite his supposedly-cracked rib. Trying to be gentle, I asked the scouts if they had any concerns about possibly doing serious harm to the person they were treating (somehow, the term 'victim' seemed increasingly appropriate). The leader smiled, and informed me that under Washington law, you can't be held liable for trying to help an injured person. It's called the Good Samaritan law.
Then the true horror of it hit me. The world is full of able-bodied young men with sharp knives and a limited knowledge of anatomy. Despite having only a few hours of training they're amazingly confident. They want to help others. They understand that victims may try to refuse life-saving treatment. Naturally, such protestations should be ignored, it's for your own good, don't you know? And the law guarantees that, regardless of the outcome, they will not be held responsible.
They walk among us, and the only thing keeping them in check is that, for now, we don't appear injured. Me, I postively bound with good health . . . particularly if I see a boy scout. They're always lurking about looking to help someone.
I advised my daughter to see a health professional. Preferably someone who had actually graduated from medical school.
Promised PhotosBy: Mike Nov 9, 2012
As promised, here's a couple of photos of the summer's projects.
Sorry for the SilenceBy: Mike Nov 8, 2012
Patty finished Frost Burned, and sent it off to the publisher. It also went to the writer's group, and of course I took the opportunity to offer my assistance as a trusted reader. Usually I love Patty's writing, but I struggled with this one.
The bones of the story were good, but it didn't "sparkle". There were numerous scenes with too many characters, and the cast of thousands (mostly bad buys) meant scene blocking was hard and conversations were often awkward. The writer's group and Patty's editor soon responded with detailed suggestions, but the verdict was the same: the story needed help.
Patty took a full year to write this story. We were hoping it would be done by June, July at the outside. She's been putting in ten or twelve hour days, seven days a week for a couple of months. It's November, and crunch time just keeps coming. I don't know how she does it, because I'm exhausted.
The good news is that Patty's the queen of the re-write. The keyboard is humming, and she's finally nearing the end of extensive edits. I've read the first couple of chapters, and the difference is night and day. The revised story is smooth as honey, the dialogue sparkles, and it reads like a different book. She's nearing the end, and starting to mumble about sleeping for the winter like a bear. Her Diet Mountain Dew™ intake is high enough that I had to look up the toxicity data on caffeine. Thank goodness she's on the home stretch!
Meanwhile. . . Back at the Ranch
While Patty is trying to insure that we can pay the rent next year, I've been gradually fixing things around the farm. It's been a busy summer. We're still squatting in our house, as we haven't passed the final inspection. Among the handful of outstanding issues are stairs for the back doors. The inspector was very clear that having doors that open a solid meter above a rock-strewn stretch of broken ground was a violation. I attempted to persuade him that it was simply giving Darwinian evolution a chance. Think of it as a combination alertness and dexterity check. He smiled, but refused to acquiesce.
A smart man would have run to the Home store, bought a couple of pre-cut stringers and thirty dollars worth of lumber and banged together some quick and dirty stairs in an afternoon. I'm not often accused of being overly bright. Why waste a bunch of money on temporary stairs? We planned on building a porch eventually, so why wait? Of course, the house is kind of funny shaped, so I can't just do a simple rectangle. No, we need something fancy, with angles and various levels, and maybe a rock wall around one end and a freaking tree growing out the middle. Oh, and flower beds by the windows. Oh yeah, and there should be underground sprinklers for the flower beds and the tree, and maybe a fountain . . .
And this is why, way back in my college days, my friends called me "Mike anything-worth-doing-is-worth-overdoing Briggs". Honest. And so, the yard was covered in rebar and forms were constructed, and cement was purchased. The credit cards did shudder and strain, and a porch was added to the house. There's just over thirty yards of concrete back there now (I pity the fool that decides to remove this porch!). Of course, I still need to lay pavers on the main level (which is currently compacted gravel) and build a pergola over one end!
But wait, that's not all. I finished fencing the southern pasture, and all it needed was water. The nearest horse water line was only about two hundred feet away, so it was a simple matter of digging a trench along the fence line . . . Wait, I've mentioned that our soil is about eight inches deep, right? And that below that it's a solid sheet of basalt? And that water lines need to go deep enough to avoid freezing in the winter? Right. Suddenly that two hundred foot trench was looking a lot more serious. I have a backhoe. And a skid steer. And a hydraulic hammer. I broke them all at least once this summer, but the water line is in. The really depressing part is that now the trench is all covered back over, and there's no evidence of the epic struggle that was waged. There's just a freeze-proof hydrant and an automatic waterer sitting serenely in the southern pasture, without a pipe in sight.
Finally, we're finishing up the pump house. There was a rickety shack that kept the pump from freezing when we bought the place. Last year, amid all the other construction, I knocked it down and built a new one. Since the house has a couple of octagonal turrets, and the pump house is perfectly in line with them, I made it a little octagonal room as well. Last year, the outside was just plywood (actually, oriented strand board for those who delight in being pedantic). This year we're trying to get it covered in stucco before winter sets in. It's coming out looking way more upscale than I'd expected and I'm not sure whether to be embarrased or secretly delighted. Hang on — I'll post photos tomorrow!
And that's what I did with my summer vacation, and that's why I haven't gotten the web site redesign I promised hardly even started. It's not my fault, life just conspires to keep me busy. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!
A Discourse in CivilityBy: Mike Dec 14, 2012
The Christmas season is upon us. The first snow of the winter is drifting down outside my window. Outside, two newly-weaned foals still call sporadically for their mothers, and Patty is out in the office crafting short stories for an anthology. Everything is peaceful and serene, and looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. This should be just another day in paradise. But my stomach is in knots, and my yuletide cheer feels shallow and sour.
This morning, another school shooting left heartbreak and anguish across the country. I read the story in the New York Times, and continued reading the comments, which almost immediately turned ugly and bitter. People blaming the government, the NRA, the school system. The discourse wasn't civil, polite, or respectful. There was no evidence of critical thinking, just a surfeit of angry name-calling and fist-shaking.
I found other articles, in other papers, and found the same story repeated time after time. No shared mourning, no virtual group hugs and mutual support. Just anger, blame and vitriol thrown without consideration or concern.
And, in those angry comments I saw something disturbingly familiar. I've seen the same anger, the same disregard for others, the same absolute certainty that only one viewpoint has merit, and dissenting voices deserve nothing but the basest scorn in nearly every discussion I've read over the past year or more. Politics, copyright infringement, ebook prices, or fuel prices, it doesn't matter. We seem to have forgotten how to have a civil discussion. The loudest, most strident voices are heard, and the more harshly opposing voices are censured the less opposition those voices encounter.
My father in law was a wise and gentle man. He had two favorite sayings. The first was "He who is convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still." Bitter, angry arguments and vindictive retorts don't change hearts or minds. Only patience and compassion can do that. One of my favorite sayings is "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Our nation is a mess. The job market is brutal, times are tough, our leaders are struggling and divided. I would like to see us united by tragedy, by concern for our neighbors and friends and working together to solve our many problems. Surely, when a school full of children and teachers are murdered we can at least grieve together.
As I look at our nation, divided and angry, shouting terrible insults at one another from the safe anonymity of the internet, I am deeply troubled. Our language doesn't communicate love, respect or tolerance; it's the language of hatred. Most of the comments I read this morning would not have been tolerated in a grade school classroom. Anyone who talked to anther person that way would be whisked off the the principal's office for a lesson on respect and civility. Why, then, do we treat one another so despicably now that we're adults? My father in law's second favorite saying was, "Always watch the words you say, keep them soft and sweet. You never know, from day to day, which ones you'll have to eat." I'm far from perfect, and I've had to eat my words numerous times. I prefer them spiced with sugar rather than bile.
And so, as we approach the Christmas season, I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkkah, a Bright Solstice or just a wonderful, joyous time with family and friends. Times are uncertain, people are scared. Let's treat one one another with compassion. In the words of Ted Theodore Logan, "Be Excellent to each other!"