Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quite Literally a Pain in the Neck

Stoops here...

Let's say my luck with cars is limited to a degree. When I was twenty-one, I was in a moderately nerve-wracking car accident (I was probably the victim of an insurance scam, so they aimed to not hurt anyone, but make it look scary.) When I was twenty-six, I walked away from an accident that should have killed me when a car ran a red light and mowed me down while I was walking to work. 

That isn't to say I walked away unscathed like an action hero emerging from an explosion. My neck is kinda screwed up. And it will probably get more screwed up as the years go on. I have a disk bulging into a fracture in one of my cervical vertibrae and there is something wrong with my atlas bone. I have some disk damage in my upper back. All of this is exacerbated by my day job. And auto-immune arthritis. Normally I'm wimpy, but functional and I motor along like there's not much to it.

But then there are months like this one -- my chiropractor can't get things to sit right, my psoriasis has flared which causes swelling in my joints, which, in turn, is making it impossible to keep the bones where they should be. So I have bad headaches which are keeping me from sleeping, which is keeping me from being able to heal, and is causing me stress which is fueling the cycle. 

When it all decides to get out of whack, I tend to have to make choices about what isn't getting done. You'd think that this is easy, but there are days where I really do make decisions like "do I cook dinner, or do I just go to sleep? Do I shower, or do I eat?" I am very, very fortunate that these are not decisions I have to make every day, day in, day out. I have friends in that position, and I'm grateful that I do get better, that I don't have to fight all the time just to do things.

But right now I'm fighting with my body. Mentally, I'm not so hot either. Day job is really off the rails, I watched a motorcyclist die right in front of me. I mentioned I have bad luck with cars? Well, apparently he did too. Trust me, you don't want to see someone die. It sucks. It screws with your head. Even if you don't know them, even if they were doing something stupid and steered into the oncoming traffic. It doesn't matter. 

So I'm spending my limited energy on Sparks. I'd like to keep up with the blog, but if I have a couple of hours to write, I want to spend it on the book, not the blog, at least for now. Hang with me, it's going to be worth it.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hello, Hello, Baby....*

Trantham explained once their theory that Small Tomatoes Press is, essentially, exploiting mental illness for profit ("profit" is used loosely here.)

If you listen to the most recent batch of 'pop' authors, they sound like fan-fiction queens. I'm sorry, that ain't a pretty truth, but it is what it is. They talk about how it would be cool to have Character A interact in thus-and-such-way with Character B. They talk about making their characters do things, or go places. They force conditions on their characters, etc. Many of them give, frankly, the absolute worst writing advice I've ever seen. I avoid thinking about it too much because it makes me foam a little at the mouth and stare wild-eyed into the poor soul that got stuck standing next to me at the party.

Every single bad book I've ever read (and I have read too many bad books) has been written this way, but not every book written this way is necessarily bad. Plenty of acceptable books were written because the author wanted to tell a story about some pre-defined characters doing something. Very few good books are written this way, but I'm certain that no great book was written this way.

Great stories start with listening. Great stories continue with listening. Great stories end with a bang because of listening. Think about Harry Potter for a second -- a lot of people said that the last few books felt absolutely forced and tired. Bloated for lack of direction. They were still good books, they'd say, but they would also say that the magic felt less magic. For many people, the series ended on a false note. Even J.K. Rowling said she biffed it at the end.

Usually when I'm talking books with someone and we find that we've read the same (good) series, we'll get to talking about 'that one book' or 'those couple of books' that just didn't have the shine on them that the others did. And typically, since I have these conversations with writers or experienced readers, we'll talk about how that is almost always the result of the author not listening to the character. If you have a story, like Harry Potter that starts off listening to the characters and the author drops the ball and either forces the story out without being able to hear the characters or forces the characters to say what they want, that's when you get into seasonal rot, bad wham episodes and the sort of trouble that sends fans elsewhere. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they know something is 'off' and they go seeking something that is 'on.'

Great authors have to listen to their characters. It's the first rule, in my opinion.

But let me trot out Jim Butcher (my perennial favorite example.) Somewhere after Dead Beat and before Changes, things got very lopsided. On one hand, I think part of it was Butcher using Harry as a his mouthpiece for a couple of issues festering in the fandom. But I also think that Harry had gotten full of himself and was frankly, making up epic-sounding shit and force-feeding it to Jim. No one was behaving well for those few books and the series seemed to be headed the way of the toilet. Harry was intent on force-feeding Jim a load of self-congratulatory garbage and Jim was letting him because the fans were eating it up.

Until they weren't.

Jim's a smart guy, he knows his tropes, he knows the pitfalls of what he was doing. He had to have picked up on it. And this is what I think happened -- he played chicken with Harry, and Harry lost. Jim had to take it all away in Changes, so that Harry would start telling him the truth again. And the truth was, Harry wasn't quite the dude he thought he was. Getting knocked down a level or three in Changes meant that Jim could listen to Harry again. And the series got back on track.

The trouble is -- good authors run around with their characters in their head and they listen to them very carefully. That means that the characters are always there.  At the very best they wait to be invited to speak but in general I think the experience is like having a well-behaved peanut gallery. Mostly well-behaved.  Now, we're not supposed to whine about this. Or ever mention that it's a pain. But it is. There are days I just want to scream into the telephone receiver in my head, one long, deafening scream that lets out all my frustration at trying to tell their tales not just adequately but with craft and skill. They aren't always helpful -- Lulu likes to tell things out of order, so I tend to spend a lot of time trying to figure out not what happened, but the order of the events. Jensen lies and evades. Lillenthal likes to mock me when I don't understand concepts. Emelle could get lost on tangents so very, very easily. And Lane Matterson (you haven't met her yet) is so bitter with baggage that I haven't entirely convinced her that talking to me and letting me be her scribe is a good idea.

We live in a world that basically makes being a creative person out to being planetouched. If you can write a book or design a costume or draw comics, OMFG, you won the lottery! You should work in some hoity-toity marketing field and have this house with a cool artiste vibe and omfg, it must be just so ever-loving awesome to be a creative person. And sometimes it is. But we're all human and sometimes it utterly SUCKS to be yourself. Sometimes being a creative person is not what the internet cracks it up to be. Because not everyone gets Harry Potter or Sabriel on the other end of the telephone in their mind. Some of us get Christine or you know, Lillenthal. And that's just not as easy as you might think.

*Lady Gaga, Telephone

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Why E-books Cost "So Much"

The internet has been bitching about the price of e-books. Again. Or should I say, as usual.

E-books cost as much as a trade paperback because that's their production cost. It's that simple. To bring an e-book to market, we have to edit the book, we have to format it for e-readers, we have to market it. None of that costs less than the paper counterpart. Granted, editing can be shared between e-book and paper editions, but each book has to be separately formatted and maintained after that point. Generally they even have separate marketing campaigns. Amazon's distribution charges for an e book are about 1/4 the paper distribution costs for a TPO, but they are about the same for a TP. That is, the physical book costs more not because the publisher makes any more money on the physical book (in fact, we make less, sometimes a lot less) but because it also has associated manufacturing and physical distribution costs.

It used to be, about 6 years ago, that e-books were a tiny share of the market and paper sales covered the cost of providing these books to the reader. That's not true anymore. At least 90% of Small Tomatoes Revenue comes from e-book sales. If we gave away e-books, it would be a fair day in hell that we could even eat a good lunch at a bistro on the earnings from our paper sales.

So when people ask why an e-book costs so much, it because we have to pay the editor, we have to pay the other editor, we have to pay the author and we have to pay the man with the proceeds from that sale. People like to argue that they aren't getting anything when they get an ebook, or it doesn't cost us something to create it. Actually, it's quite a bit different from the paper book and is in fact, more involved, and more to the point -- it's still a couple hours of entertainment. No one argues that DVD rentals should be free because the movie already made its money in theatres. Same goes for ebooks.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sochi Dogs

Wow. Just Wow. http://news.yahoo.com/volunteers-smuggle-sochi-dogs-town-155449078--spt.html

The nicest, most polite way to flip off the government is to show them that the average person can and will accomplish with grace and poise what the government will not with strong arms and cronies. In my religion, dogs (among other companion animals) are the 'boats' to the afterlife. To live with one is one of the greatest blessings to recieve. To save them from bad stewards is righteousness, the good fight.

Keep on keeping on with the good fight. A little subtle humiliation is just what the doctor ordered....

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Olympics, Again.

I said that I was sorry about the Olympic problems -- the corruption, the pricetags, the half-finished hotels and almost sad Olympic Village. And I am. All of that resolutely stinks.

But Russian Athletes don't. In fact, they just cleaned up the Iceberg in the Team Skating event. Huge win! This is the BEST way to stick it the the government. This is the best way to move the attention from the negative to the positive. 

As we say in America.... rock on. Good show. Keep on trucking. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sochi Olympics

To my loyal Russian Fans....

The Sochi games have not officially started. But already, the Russian government has humiliated you to the rest of the world. I'm sorry... I'm horrified too, but mostly I'm sorry. If this was my country doing this, I'd have no words, nothing to say, no way of excusing the rampant and obvious corruption, greed and inhumanity. I can't imagine what it feels like to have your government slap you in the face like this.

I'm so sorry. So very sorry. 

It will get better. But probably not in time to save face. Be well.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Back Underway.... Coming up for Air in March

I'm back to writing Sparks, we're working on a promotion for "Witchell" so the blog is on hold until March. Ish.

Be good, be devious.