Category Archives: Ranting

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Not Tell People How to Read #amwriting

Every so often, I run across an article predicting the demise of print books, or ebooks, or books altogether, critical thinking, libraries, and so on. Every time I see one of these articles, I read it to see which argument the writer has elected to trot out, whose numbers they’re paying attention to, and whether they have anything new to add to the conversation.

Spoiler alert: most of them fail at that last thing.

I have ebook and print versions of all my books. Here’s what I know.

Ebooks are cheap and easy to produce. Once the final proofing is done on a story, I can bang out a perfectly acceptable ebook in an hour. No fancy razzmatazz, but the story is there with all you need to enjoy it. I typically spend a few hours to make it a little prettier than that. For most of my ebooks, I make about 70% of what you pay, and the distributor takes the rest.

Print books are less cheap and less easy to produce, but still not a huge investment. My print books typically take about a day to format. I can do it in four hours or so with zero razzmatazz, but as with my ebooks, I prefer taking a little time to do it right. For most of my print books, how much I get of what you pay depends completely on where you buy it. Unless you get it directly from me at a show, a $15.99 book sale pays me anywhere from $1-6. The rest goes to pay for printing and those pesky distributors. (Before you get excited about how much I earn from a book sale at a show, remember that I have to pay to be at that show.)

Major publishers can charge less for the smaller-sized paperbacks because they can print 10,000 at a time, which makes them super-cheap. They make money because a $1 profit on 10,000 sales is still $10,000.

Like most indies, I get my print books from a Print-On-Demand service, which means my print books are not super-cheap. They are still relatively cheap, but I have to charge what I do because my volume is much lower and I like doing crazy things like eating food, using electricity, and sleeping in a bed.

Major publishers would like ebooks to die for a lot of complex reasons that boil down to the fact they don’t control the sales channels for ebooks, but they do control the sales channels for print books.

You see, indies price our ebooks cheaper than our print books because there’s no paper involved, and it’s easier to get ebooks distributed around the world than print books. If I want to get my print books into a Barnes & Noble, I have to convince a store manager that they want my books in their store, then go through some hoops and provide a method for them to return the books to me for a refund if they don’t sell in an allotted amount of time. And also not get very much money for them.

By the way, when publishers get those returned books back, they still counted as sales for the bestseller lists.

But I digress.

Even if I do all that for Barnes & Noble, that gets me into one (1) B&N store. Not all of them. One.

That thing you just thought upon learning this information is about how I feel about it, only tempered because I’ve known this for a while.

To get worldwide distribution for my ebooks, I upload the file to three different websites. That’s it. No haggling, no convincing, no crap.

An in case you happen to still think indie books are inferior, I challenge you to visit the bestseller lists on Amazon and pick out all the indie books in the Top 100 of any given category. Author services has become an industry. Artists of high quality have turned to cover art as a way to pay the bills. Editors have gone freelance. Indies are teaming up in collectives and co-ops like Clockwork Dragon to trade skills.

Ebooks aren’t going to die. Print books are also not going to die. Each has inherent strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to like one and not the other. It’s also okay to like both.

As they tell kids in school, what matters is that you read and support the people who make the things you love, in whichever format you prefer. When you stop supporting us, we stop producing it. Because we’re people who like to do silly things like eat, use electricity, and sleep in beds.

P.S. I left out audiobooks for a reason. Whole other topic.

It’s All About You #amwriting #writingtips

Over the weekend, I chanced to have an interesting chatroom encounter with a person claiming to have multiple neurological diagnoses. I say “claim” because it’s a chatroom, and you never really know. I spend a fair amount of time in that particular chatroom, and most folks seem honest. I try to be when I’m not goofing around or being ridiculous.

I’m going to refer to this person as a male called “D”, though I have no idea of their gender, and this is clearly not their real name. I’m just doing it for simplicity.

D had been in the room before, and wanted help with writing stuff. Being myself, I stepped up and offered to help. During his previous request for assistance, he’d announced he enjoyed writing fanfic, and wanted help with mashup ideas.

To be clear, I think fanfic is great. I don’t spend my time writing it, but I have daydreams and such, and my brain wanders through what ifs for characters I like. To those who write and read fanfic, that’s great. If you ever have the urge to use my stuff for fanfic, knock yourself out. Anyway.

It soon became clear this person had a narrow list of ideas, but couldn’t pick one and wanted someone else to pick for them. Of the things on the list, I didn’t know much about most of them, so I didn’t say much once that list was revealed. I will say that I still think Harry Potter vs Predator would be neat. But I digress.

On this second occasion, the one which prompted this post, D entered the room and posted, “I hate writer’s block.”

If you don’t hang out with writers, you may be familiar with only the basic idea of writer’s block as some mystical creature shaped like a wall that writers bang their head against while producing nothing. Some writers see it that way too. In reality, it’s not a mythological beast or even an actual thing. Writer’s block is just another way of saying that you’re tired, overworked, burned out, need a vacation, should eat, could use some exercise, or have some other problematic issue with self-care. Either that, or you did something wrong in the story and your brain knows it, but can’t figure out what it is.

Whenever people try to cop the writer’s block excuse around me, that’s what I tell them, one way or another. As I did in this case. More or less–do some exercise, take a nap/get a night’s rest, and/or eat, then come back and try again. If that doesn’t work, switch to another project for a while. This is what the professional writerfolk (and, for that matter, most artistfolk) do, because we can’t wait around for airy fairy muses to flutter out of the sky and wave a magic wand around our heads with ideas. We hunt muses and seduce them so they never want to leave in the first place.

If you subscribe to the muse theory, that is. Anyway.

Other folks in the room did what they do, which is offer suggestions, none of which seemed to satisfy or appease D. He then did what I later realized was whining with a post which roughly translated to: you’re all jerks, I don’t know why I bother asking for advice here, this is a waste of time.

To which, I, being me, pointed out that yes, it is a waste of time because he doesn’t need outside ideas, he needs to think about what kind of stories he wants to tell and figure this stuff out for himself.

Which apparently made me sound like a sanctimonious bitch, but that’s not the point.

The point is this: any average human can string together words to make grammatically understandable sentences, draw lines and shapes, or arrange elements on a canvas. These are not especially challenging activities to the average human.

What makes writing, drawing, or design into art is the pieces of yourself that you put into it. It’s the tools you select and how you apply them. In writing, it’s about your word choices, the beats of the plot, the nuances of the characters, the descriptive details. It’s about expressing something in a way that evokes emotion.

What a writer needs from the outside isn’t ideas. It’s a sounding board. Someone to whom you express ideas and they help refine or shoot down the really stupid crap. If you can’t come up with an idea in the first place, taking someone else’s won’t solve the problem.

As a side note, this is why there are some specific challenges inherent in writing with a co-author, but that’s a whole different ball o’ wax.

Happy writing!

Why I Love and Hate #BeautyAndTheBeast @DisneyStudios

I took my daughter to see the new version of Beauty and the Beast. She’s about the same age now that I was when the original came out. As far as I can tell–she has fairly severe autism–she enjoyed it. The music is mostly familiar, she already knows the story and characters, and the visuals are stunning. I liked it quite a bit.

When I first saw the original, I was an unsophisticated teenager who preferred action movies. I am now a professional writerfolk who prefers action movies. The difference is minor, as I’m pretty good at shutting off my brain and enjoying visual media in the moment. But there is a difference. That difference lies in how much I think about the story later.

Perhaps predictably, the Stockholm Syndrome memes and discussions popped up before the new movie even came out. I don’t subscribe to this view of the story, and I’ll explain why in a minute. The homosexual tones of LeFou didn’t bother me, as it felt as authentic as anything else in the story. Really, it explains a lot about LeFou the original movie left vague. In fact, I quite liked that many plot holes in the original were filled by adding bits and bobs to the characters and their stories. Bravo, writerfolk! And thank you so much for explaining the whole weird seasons thing. That’s always bothered me. A lot.

On to the main point!

Stockholm Syndrome: strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.

I think the accusation is unfairly applied to this particular story. People point and say here’s a captor and a victim and they fall in love. Textbook definition! But the reality of the story is more complex than that. Here’s why:

In this version of the story, Belle does not have a character arc.

If you take some time to consider the plot and what really happens, you’ll notice that zero female characters have actual arcs. Only men do. Gaston’s arc takes him from almost-charming, not-really-that-bad narcissistic town hero to brutal villain. The Beast’s arc takes him from selfish asshat to empathetic human. Maurice’s arc is about learning to let go of his fear of losing Belle. It can be argued that LeFou has a bit of an arc, but that’s questionable since he really only reacts to how Gaston changes.

That’s it. Those are the character arcs. No one else grows or changes. Yes, Belle falls in love, but she doesn’t do that because she changes. Belle starts as a smart, empathetic person and ends as a smart, empathetic person. She begins capable of sacrifice and compromise, and also ends that way. The scene where she lifts her bowl to drink from it instead of using a spoon isn’t a growth point, it’s an obvious gesture because she’s compassionate. The things she learns reinforce her viewpoint without challenging it. She stands up to the Beast the same way she stands up to Gaston and everyone else.

So, at it’s heart, this is a story about two physically intimidating men who each react to the presence of a woman who’s a fundamentally better human being than them. I’ve read there’s also a metaphor involved, where Howard Ashman wanted Beast to represent AIDS in our society, and that’s noble. Doesn’t change the point.

If this story has a victim to anything like Stockholm Syndrome, I argue it’s the Beast. He’s the prisoner. He’s much more locked in that castle than she is. Heck, she climbs out the window and rides away, proving escape isn’t that hard. She helps him out of compassion, then beats him in a contest of wills. The Beast is the one who caves and changes his behavior to conform to Belle, not the other way around.

From a certain point of view, Belle is effectively a MacGuffin that Beast and Gaston each want to possess for different reasons and pursue with different methodologies. For Beast, Belle is freedom from the hellprison Agathe (the witch) locked him into. For Gaston, Belle is the reward he deserves for a virtuous life.

As for Agathe herself, in the original, this was the real beginning of Disney moving away from women always being villains. In this story, she’s the cause of the story itself, but not in a bad way. I see her as a Virgin Mary figure who’s kind of chuffed that her son turned into such an ass instead of the wise ruler she’d hoped for. Perhaps she’s even intended to be Beast’s mother who, for whatever reason, couldn’t take the throne when her husband died and fled in exile from her son’s asshat advisors. Thus, in a way, she’s actually a much more important character than Belle.

Which brings me back to the point. (I think? I rambled and SQUIRREL!) Despite being the main character, Belle is really just a set of pre-programmed behaviors–a robot with more humanity than the two men vying for her affection. This is both good and bad because it creates the idea that women are good and human while also putting women in the awkward position of being not only capable of but responsible for changing men. Thus, it’s your fault if you can’t fix that asshat, and it’s also your fault if that asshat hits you.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this story. The end makes me wonder if someone nearby is cutting onions or something every time. I love seeing girls think that books are awesome because Belle thinks books are awesome. It’s great that people walk away with the idea that people’s looks don’t equate to their value. The music is catchy and fun. But I love it with my eyes open, acknowledging the things I see as faults and incorporating those lessons into my own storytelling.

And hey, at least Belle isn’t a sexy lamp. That’s Lumiere.

2016 Sucks. Still.

I have work to do. My projects are many and my deadlines loom like a looming thing that looms loomingly. Or something like that.

Ever since that repulsive Trump video surfaced, I can’t stop watching political coverage. I wonder what mad thing will happen today, what disturbing new revelation will come up. And I don’t even care, because I’m not changing my vote at this point.

Fiction isn’t allowed to be this messed up. Fiction has to make sense and be believable. Protagonists and antagonists alike need to have clear motivations and goals or they aren’t relatable or understandable. Even when we blur the lines between good guy and bad guy, we still need to have some overarching plot that paints a context so there’s a story.

No wonder I can’t stop watching this stuff. It’s insane. We’re at the point now where we debate whether facts are facts or not. It’s not about massaging data to support a point anymore, something politicians have been doing since caveman days. It’s about claiming the data are generated by a conspiracy and not really factual.

Ugh.

I didn’t watch any of the previous three debates, and I’m not watching tonight’s either. The highlights have, thus far, been plenty to make me uncomfortable.

I think all the beloved artists dying this year somehow destabilized the Earth’s orbit or something. #startanewconspiracytheory

#Orlando Thoughts

Like you, I have a lot of friends I know either in person or through social media. Some of them are enraged, some want to talk about guns, some want to pretend nothing happened, some are saddened. My feeds are filled with the videos of famous people and essays by less famous people discussing the shooting. There are lingering posts about the Stanford rape. And kittens. There are still kittens because it’s the internet.

I’m disturbed by how normalized this kind of thing has become. Oh, another mass shooting. That’s sad and we should do something. Donate blood, give some money to the victims’ families or some associate charity, change my profile picture, tweet with a hashtag. Pray/meditate. Argue about guns and facts on the internet. Learn obsessively about the latest lone wolf gunman or terrorist or whatever they decide to call the shooter. Read the names of the victims, look at their pictures. Feel useless. Be useless.

There’s something rotten in Denmark, my friends, and by Denmark, I mean the hearts of Americans. This is and isn’t about guns. It’s about fear and othering. it’s about looking at a person with whom you have a difference and thinking of them as Them. Gay people are Them. Muslims are Them. Yankees fans are Them*. Republicans are Them. And so on.

When we decide that someone with a difference is Them, we become capable of distancing ourselves enough to believe harm inflicted upon Them isn’t important. See: slavery, the Holocaust, Japanese Internment, HIV/AIDS, and more. They aren’t part of the tribe. We’re the tribe. Us. vs. Them.

Human beings. We’re all human beings. We all breathe air, drink water, and eat food. We have all the same stuff on the inside. Every body poops. Every body bleeds.

We can disagree without hate or anger. We can not be dicks. We can be excellent to each other. We can stfu and listen. We can seek out the marginalized and lift them up.

Lifting others up doesn’t push you down.

Oh, and by the way, I have a new book out: Ethereal Entanglements, which is book 3 of Spirit Knights. I’ll be at the Fremont Solstice Festival for the last few hours on Sunday (6/19) in my pajama pants (long story). My Clockwork Dragon partners will be there all weekend.

*Massholes unite.

Rebooting Beloved IP #rant

I’m busy, so I didn’t read anything this week. Instead, I took a few minutes to watch the new trailers for the MacGyver reboot and Star Trek Beyond, and I ran across a heated discussion about the new Ghostbusters movie. All these are reboots of beloved intellectual properties.

Note: I happen to like every single Star Trek movie ever, even the “bad” ones. I like some of them more than others, and a few fare much better in rewatching. Still, I’ve enjoyed them all.

I don’t understand. Why is it necessary to reboot things we loved ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago? What is the magic reason we can’t take some IP that did phenomenally at the time and imagine what life is like that many years later? Why does it have to be a redo instead of a continuation?

In the cases of both Ghostbusters and MacGyver, the producers and writers seemed to think taking the name of an IP, slapping it on, and buffing it up to be “modern” is all it takes to have a blockbuster. Granted, we’ve only seen trailers so far, but in both cases, it seems quite clear that those responsible for these things have no understanding whatsoever of why we loved these things.

Re: Ghostbusters
There is nothing wrong, ever, with gender-swapping a story. This is done often, sometimes subtly and sometimes obviously. The fact of a gender swap has no bearing whatsoever on the strength of a story or lack thereof. I have no issues with someone deciding to take Ghostbusters and gender flip it.

I do take issue with the horsecrap I’ve seen in the trailer. The original is a good movie that still stands up despite changes in technology. Yes, it’s very much an 80s hairdo film, but the writing is great, the performances are stellar, and everyone must have had a good time making it. You can tell. We miss you, Harold Ramis.

This new movie…looks like they took the plot and missed what the story was about. They put together some talented comedians, just like in the original movie, and then gave them slapstick and stereotypes to stumble through. There’s no sense of wonder or wit. When I look back at the one-liners Murray drops, they feel natural. His sarcasm and snot hit all the beats. The stuff in the trailer is like a bunch of kids doing a re-enactment without getting the point because it’s over their heads.

So that’s how I feel about what I saw in the trailer for Ghostbusters. I won’t bother seeing it in the theater because it doesn’t interest me. My local theater is showing the original in two weeks, and I plan to go to that.

If only they’d decided to take the story into the future by advancing the timeline. Write a new story, dammit. Don’t feed me stuff I already like, drowned in a thick, heavy sauce I don’t want.

Re: MacGyver
Angus MacGyver was arguably my first TV character crush. As such, tampering with him is something I regard as fraught with immense peril. The character had charm, wit, brains, and that mullet. The entire reason I gave the Stargate TV show a chance was Richard Dean Anderson (for the record, not really my thing, but I did watch from time to time). MacGyver is kind, a refreshing quality that’s not always present in our heroes even if it should be. He’s a teacher, always willing to explain what he’s doing or just did so everybody–especially the audience–actually learns something useful. Like how to escape from kidnappers when you only have a swiss army knife, duct tape, and chewing gum. He’s also humble, which is hard to be when you’re that frigging clever.

To sum up the new trailer in two words: that smirk. The guy they picked to play a fresh, young Mac appears to have been directed–or maybe it was his choice–to portray Mac as an arrogant prodigy. Which he never was and should not be. I would much, much rather see Mac’s offspring than a Mac reboot. I would love to see his son and daughter as a team, or maybe two of his grandkids, depending upon when the timeline is set. No one can be as awesome as Grandpa Mac, but two of his progeny together can outdo him and make him proud. They could have brought RDA in as an occasional player who provides Gandalfian wisdom as needed because this pair is just a couple of kids who make mistakes.

To sum up: quit it with the reboots already. Continue the story and make something new. Be a little damned original. Honor what we love by elevating it.