Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

New fiction up for you to read!

My story "Precipitation" is up at Everyday Fiction today. This is another one I originally shared at a read-and-critique at the Writer's Symposium at GenCon. I hope you enjoy it!


Making it and giving it away

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Yesterday we went over some common issues with "free downloads" being equivalent to "making it". There's two that deserve some special attention: How putting your work up for free impacts your chances of being published and how it impacts publicity.

Publishing: The few people who have had that happen (offhand: John Scalzi, J.C. Hutchins, Christiana Ellis, Scott Sigler, and Mur Lafferty) are the exceptions, not the rule. Each of them busts their ass in a dozen different ways to help make them the exception - and even that wasn't enough for Mr. Hutchins. Mr. Scalzi has said publicly that he did not expect for the novel he put online to be bought - that's why he put it online. Putting the entirety of your work online for free was never a guaranteed success. It's even less so now. Look again at the people who had it happen - they all were putting work up five years or so ago. I don't know of a current (2009-2010) example. Why? Because if you put the book online, it's becoming more of a substitute for the "professionally published" work than ever before - and that's going to keep happening.

Publicity: Yes, the greatest danger to a writer is obscurity. Putting a novel on the web - or making a podcast of it - was new and novel through the mid-naughties. I remember when simply putting fiction online for free got you a near-automatic mention on boingboing. That hasn't been the case for a long, long time. There's simply too much of it out there. (This is why the "busting their ass" in the above matters so much.) But there's still room for free-to-read fiction - just maybe not your novel. You put some of your work out there as a sample. This doesn't mean part of a story - though you can do that - but perhaps a short story set in the world of your novels. Something to get people associating your writing with your name. You get fans, they get to try your fiction out at no risk to them (see Mike Stackpole's Chain Story project for another example of this).

This kind of sampling is also how I became a fan of Jim C. Hines' work. I heard two short stories (one an all-new story, another an adapted first chapter) on free podcasts and really enjoyed them; when I saw him at GenCon, I bought the entire series of those books right then. (You can find that same free fiction right here).

I think that's a lot more common than the other way around - that is, I'm more likely to buy a novel from someone whose (free) short fiction I liked than buy a short story from someone whose (free) novel I liked. But there's another story here - in that there's still a gatekeeper, a central clearinghouse of things to sample, try, and enjoy. Whether it be one of the free-to-read magazines like Strange Horizons or Clarkesworld, a "regular" magazine like Asimov's, or a project like the Chain Story, these clearinghouses mean that I don't have to go find everything myself, and that there's some kind of quality control in place. Just putting your own book on your own website, however... well, yeah. You get the picture. Who is going to know that you're out there? And why are they going to think you're any good?

Yes, this is part of why my weekly drabbles are free to read on the blog.

Honestly, I like getting paid for writing. It lets me exercise my writing (and convention) habit more frequently. These Are Good Things - and I can't be convinced that not getting paid for all of my work is a good way to, um, go about getting paid.

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Avoid following this advice

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Recently, some other authors have been talking about how there's no such thing as universal mid-career advice. I'd like to take that one step further.

There is no such thing as universal business advice

Okay, well, maybe things like "work hard" or "develop a business plan or goals", but that's not what I mean. Let's use writing and publishing as an example. It's fairly easy to find people who will offer Pronouncements From On High:
  • Write every day.
  • Write short stories first.
  • You need an agent.
  • Always be professional (e.g. don't ever talk politics or religion in public)
  • You have to blog/twitter/facebook/lj/whatever.
  • Giving stuff away free is always a way to "make it".
  • Giving stuff away free is never a way to "make it">
Okay, the first one's good. The next two were busted by Jim Hines (and further analyzed by me. I think the "professional" one is conditional (and that's another day's topic). I want to concentrate on the last two - whether giving stuff away for free lets you "make it" as a writer.

You can find proponents of each side fairly easily. Both sides have very valid points...sometimes. Sort of. They sure aren't universal ones.

You have to define "making it". Does that mean getting your manuscript just "out there"? Does it mean getting your manuscript read by as many people as possible? Does it mean being able to supplement or even replace your income so you have more time to write? 1 Those lead to some very, very different priorities.

Recently, a writer released her entire novel for free in both Second Life and on the web. (Her name escapes me at the moment.) I heard that she bragged of getting over 50,000 downloads, and an offer for someone to translate it into Farsi for her. That might sound good, but...
  • A download does not mean that someone read the book.
  • She gave away rights to her own book, to someone she doesn't know.
  • Publicity? I can't remember her name. (More on this later.)
  • The book is almost certainly not going to be bought by a publishing house.

The last two are important enough to look at separately - and I'll do that tomorrow.

1 Yes, Virginia, THIS is why that filthy lucre comes up. Writing for the "art" of it is great... but it also tends to mean you have to work other jobs in order to eat, which leaves you with less time to create your art.

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GenCon Planning

I talked a bit about GenCon earlier (you can still register for the Writer's Symposium!), but I realized I didn't explicitly say where I was going to be! Silly me!

There's an easy way - I'm putting all my public appearances into a Google calendar (this is the iCal link), and below should be the embedded agenda showing the events I'll be a panelist or something important in.

That's not counting where I'll be slouching around, which will be the rest of the time. :)


Two by Two - A 100 Word Story

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Yes, it's this week's 100 Word Story, which is also entered in the Weekly Challenge. Do listen below, or at this direct link if the player's not working, and vote for my story at the Weekly Challenge!
This week's background music comes from the track "Restless Sleep" by Gurdonark (feat. Nakjaarna and Sleepless), and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Two by two

Contrary to written records, Noah's family did most of the species gathering. The animals milled in pens all around Noah's farm while he finished the ark.

"Advanced degree in genetics," Noah said, "and the Lord has me sawing wood. You'd think He likes carpenters or something."

Upon finishing, Noah realized how little space was inside the ark. "Lord," he said as the rain began to fall, "there's only room for two of each animal. The genetic bottleneck will -"

The flash and boom of an atomic explosion echoed from the distance.

"Don't worry about it," said the Lord. "There'll be mutations."

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Taylor MoleKiller, RIP.


I stepped in the half-digested remains of mole.

The moles were - well, had been - burrowing under the backyard. Taylor, a black lab mix, had been chasing them unsuccessfully in the backyard. Except, as evidenced by my nearly falling over as I slipped on the slimy remains, he had been successful. At least once. So of course, he got the unofficial D&D-esque moniker of MoleKiller.

I would take him running with me, back when I ran too. We would go to the big mile-and-a-half track and run. It wound past the base baseball and soccer fields and through a little bit of woods. And every time, halfway through, right by the soccer field, he'd stop to poop right on the edge of the track. I'd have to finish my run with a dog lead in one hand, and a baggie of feces in the other.

Taylor had horrible allergies, something which I can empathize with. For nearly all of his life, he couldn't stand for anyone to touch his feet, so his nails grew into wicked claws that ripped the lawn to shreds. He was a rescue dog, and I was about the only person who could hold him at the vet's (at least without getting hurt), and I was the only person who could get him to go somewhere he didn't want to go (again, at least without getting hurt).

He hated UPS trucks. He tried to jump through a four-pane window to get at one, to keep it away from the house and keep us all safe from it. He tracked blood on the bed from where the glass cut his paw, but had the good grace to look ashamed about it.

Taylor wasn't too demanding, or needy. He just wanted to be around us, and that was enough for him most of the time.

I think someone from Pixar spied on him; Dug, the talking dog from Up is so much like him that just watching that YouTube clip has me crying again.

He is the reason I firmly believe that sometimes a dog's life is worth more than a human one - and I'm including myself in the "worth less" category. I am not - and will never be - half as good as Taylor thought I was. I can't stop thinking that a week ago, I almost took him with me for a few hours to wait for Kiddo. I didn't, because I thought it might be too inconvenient.

The symptoms showed up suddenly, as Thursday slid into Friday. He wouldn't lay down and kept pacing. His stomach was tender. Over the next eighteen hours, we found out that he had a tumor in his spleen that was bleeding inside. As the surgeons began to operate, they found that the tumors were not only in his spleen, but throughout his liver - and that the bleeding was coming from many of them as well. The surgeon was with him for hours, as I kept insisting that they do something, anything. And they tried, but the cancer had already spread too far. He never woke up from surgery.

Later today, we'll be getting his body and taking it to the funeral home. Thirty two hours ago, everything seemed normal. Now my friend is gone. The pictures here are from when we were at the animal hospital. We had no idea they'd be the last ones of him.

Thank you to everyone who has expressed support, sympathy, kind thoughts, and prayers in text messages, e-mails, comments, phone calls, twitter, and facebook. Your thoughts have meant so much, even if I've been too emotionally drained to express that.

Thank you to Dr. Protos at the Suburban Veterinary Clinic in Centerville, who always took good care of Taylor, and for pulling strings and making phone calls to make sure Taylor could get the care he needed yesterday. And thank you to the CARE Center (Cincinnati Animal Referral and Emergency) in Cincinnati. Their staff was supportive, listened to our needs, worked with us to deal with Taylor's history as a rescue dog, and did everything they could both to take care of him and make sure he was as comfortable as possible.

I like to think that somewhere a lot of moles are in a lot of danger, and one dog is very, very happy.


Not hearing your prayers

It was one of the convention's common areas, one where the people just seem to gravitate and chat. They were all locals (they lived within a half-hour's drive) talking about the various types of Protestant or Evangelical beliefs they followed. I really didn't mean to get into the conversation; there was simply nothing else going on at the moment.

But then the conversation turned. They started talking about how their church did things differently than Catholics. You know, with "that infant baptism stuff". And if you caught a dismissive eyeroll tone in those sentences, you've got the right idea. "And no offense to any Catholics here," one person said as they launched into the excesses of the Christian Church pre-reformation.

Look, I’m not even a good example of Catholicism anymore (and it's arguable that I ever was), but I get a bit tetchy when people criticize Catholicism for things it's not done 1 or when they misrepresent the way things actually are in the Church.

"That's not quite right about Catholics," I said. I wanted to point out that many Catholics are woefully uninformed and misinformed about their own faith. That leads to actual Catholics saying some really unorthodox things, so maybe there was a misunderstanding.

And about two thirds of the people left the area. They weren't headed to panels, they just… left. The few remaining started saying things like "Well, that's one point of view" or "I think all religions are the same, really".

I'd misread the conversation entirely, even though I'd listened to them for ten minutes before saying a word. I made the mistake of thinking that they were actually sharing information. They were never interested in comparing their beliefs to another faith's. They weren't interested in learning. They wanted an echo chamber so they could hear people tell them that they were right.

That really disturbed me.

I'm not – as I mentioned above – a very good Catholic. I don't even always identify as one anymore. I learned really quickly, quietly, and efficiently that the locals there didn't want to hear about any faith tradition other than their own.

It was not an overt kind of discrimination. It was simply getting up and walking away. It was simply dismissing my point of view.

And that's for Catholicism - still the single largest denomination in the United States. FSM help those who are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan or atheist. FSM help those who experience this not at a convention, but at their jobs. FSM help those who have to put up with this kind of subtle, quiet bigotry every day.

1 This is largely because there are plenty of other things it has done, and done recently that need to be addressed. Opposing condom use in the midst of the AIDS pandemic in Africa and continuing to cover up sex abuse scandals are two that come to mind right away.


Avoid Dayton Emergency Veterinary Clinic [crosspost]

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In these pictures, you'll see Taylor. He's a loveable, cute guy, right? He had surgery about a year ago to remove a tumor from his hip. Take a look at the other cute picture where I actually have him on my lap. He's a big dog, isn't he? Awwwww...

Just about anyone else trying to hold Taylor on their lap would be bit.

Taylor is a rescue dog. He was abused as a puppy, before anyone in my family met him. Most of the time, this isn't a big deal - unless you try to hold him or pull him by his collar. Then he bites and scratches and thrashes. I'm the only one who can keep him calm at the vet's. Taylor's normal vet knows this and works around it. That's why he keeps seeing her, even though they're a thirty minute drive away.

And that is why I will never, ever recommend Dayton Emergency Veterinary Clinic (aka Dayton EVC)to anyone.

Very early this morning, Taylor's stomach was extremely painful. It could have been intestinal torsion, which is a medical emergency. We went to the Dayton EVC (otherwise known as the Dayton Emergency Veterinary Clinic). They decided to do an X-ray.

A technician named Mark tried to take Taylor back. He yanked on Taylor's leash. Even though Taylor was in pain, Taylor fought against being drug out of the room and pulled his head out of his collar. Mark got a rope leash and used that to drag Taylor back to the exam area.

I told them that because he'd been abused as a puppy, that he'd fight and bite if I didn't hold him.  I told them that other places hadn't listened to me, and people had gotten scratched and bit.  They would not let me go back and hold my dog. They claimed that it was against the law for me to be in an X-ray room with him - a position that everyone at Dayton EVC repeated.

They were wrong.

Per Ohio Administrative Code 3701:1-66-01 Para B(48), the radiation safety rules apply to animal and human patients. Per OAC 3701:1-66-02 Para. H(5a-d), when mechanical devices are not usable the person(s) holding the patient should not be the radiation workers running the machine whenever possible.  In other words, if they couldn't get the dog to hold still for the pictures, they should not have been holding him in place themselves.

They had Taylor back there for almost half an hour trying to take only two X-rays. We could hear Taylor whine and howl several different times, which tells me that they had to try to take the pictures several times. One of those times, we heard Mark cursing through the door of the exam room. Apparently Mark got scratched while Taylor tried to get away.

Remember, Taylor was abused as a puppy, something that Dayton EVC personnel knew from the paperwork and that I repeatedly tried to warn them about.

As a result of this scratch, Dayton EVC is going to report my dog to the Health Department. But Dayton EVC did not follow the radiation safety guidelines as set out in Ohio law, misrepresented the law to keep me from caring for my scared and hurt dog, and ignored repeated warnings about Taylor being a rescue dog and reacting badly to being held. Mark did exactly the same things to Taylor that Taylor's abusers did, and is now making my dog face the consequences for their lack of empathy.

And that is why I will never, ever recommend Dayton Emergency Veterinary Clinic (aka Dayton EVC)to anyone, especially anyone who has gone to the time, trouble, and effort to save an abused animal.

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Different worlds

In a recent comment thread, I had cause to go back and look up two old blog posts of mine. They were originally written for a class... but they hold up. They still kind of make me shiver.

It's easy to forget that the world you walk through is one very different than the world the person beside you walks through. You feel safe, and perhaps they are scared. Or you are having fun, and they are miserable.

Our society is strongly divided by gender. These two posts reflect that, and how our worlds are different just by virtue of what gender we appear to be.
Links should open in a new window or tab.

On Men On Rape

I Can Hold Her Down

Take a moment to read (or re-read) these, and try to imagine the world through someone else's eyes.


If (reallife.thisis == TRUE)

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This has come up more than once, from more than one person, in more than one context in the last week, so let me make this clear:

I routinely change or blur the identities and events around everyone mentioned in my blog posts. 

When I talk about things that happened to me, they're usually not eyewitness accounts of factual events.  This is done on purpose, to protect the identities and lives of those around me.  So when I say I talked to a male friend last week at work, it could very well have really been a female acquaintance in Second Life two months ago.

The spirit of the event, conversation, or whatever will still be completely true. 

Feel free to ask any questions about this in the comments.

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Sparkling Vampire Jobs

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The real danger of a day job is having one - at least, if you're ever wanting to do something other than your day job.

Day jobs are energy vampires, sparkling in the sunlight.

Day jobs sparkle in the sunlight. It's the promise of a steady paycheck - a real alluring siren song if you've got regular bills (or want to eat something other than ramen). And they're energy vampires.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other week. She said that she hated her job, and wanted to do something different - which is why she was talking to me.1 The most telling point for me - and something I completely empathize with - was when she said "I'd love to do all this stuff, but when I get home I just want to sit and watch TV. I don't have the energy to do anything else, not even fun things."

I worked for about two hours on a project last night, and it left me energized. It's a cool project, may just make me some money, and moves the world a little bit closer to the way I want to see it.2 I can easily think of two hours at my day job where I did easier work - but felt much more drained afterward..

That draining is toxic. Imagine that you get a great opportunity pop up. A freelance gig doing what you want, an educational experience, whatever it is. But you're so drained from your day job that you can't imagine doing anything else that day. So the opportunity passes you by… and you're still drained.

I'm not sure how to get over that drain yet. For myself, I creatively use strong coffee, the early morning, and a judicious amount of "blowing crap up".3 I want to hear your suggestions: How do you get over being energy-drained from your day job?

1 Since I talk about this stuff all the time, y'know.
2 More on this later - stay tuned!
3 Current games of choice: Altitude (link with 3hr demo) and Half-Life. This is dangerous, though, in that you can get sucked into playing the games instead of doing anything else.

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Book Review: Blindsight

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(I told y'all I'd start reviewing the mind-twisting books again soon...)

Blindsight is an utterly compelling - and utterly mind-frakking - science fiction novel. It is many things: Vampires and posthumans in space. A first contact novel. A reflection on the nature of self and humanity. An adventure story. It is all of these things, and then some.

It is not stereotypical "hard" sf; the characters are distinct and well-rounded. Sarasti (the previously mentioned vampire) is grounded in plausible biology, and the posthumans who make up the crew are at once strange and familiar.

Peter Watts commented on his blog that science fiction - at least, text-based - can't just be about grand vistas and impressive sights. CG technology has gotten to the point where we don't have to imagine those sorts of things - we can see them. What movies and television cannot do is show us strange and unusual ideas. Blindsight fulfills magnificently on that promise.

Which makes it hard to review, really. This book is idea-dense (though it's still a comfortable read), so summarizations ultimately fall flat. So let's try this comparison instead…

Blindsight is great for: stretching your brain, imagining first contact, seeing plausible vampires, wondering about the nature of humanity. Imagine Arthur C. Clarke channeling Phillip K. Dick and you get the idea.

Blindsight is NOT great for: happy-go-lucky escapist time. Go watch some Power Rangers instead.

Blindsight is also available for free as a Creative-Commons download on Peter Watts' site, so give a chapter or two a read to see what you think. You can read more about the book at the book's website.

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Psyche - A 100 Word Story

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Yes, it's this week's 100 Word Story, which is also entered in the Weekly Challenge. Do listen below, or at this direct link if the player's not working, and vote for my story at the Weekly Challenge! The ongoing side-story to the Mutants & Masterminds game I'm in is a Tumblr blog here. And the background music?
Sphinx by Doc is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

I pull off the back door of the paddywagon. A cop flies out too, thumping hard on the concrete. The supervillain's last henchman is ziptied to the seat. Another officer looks back through the window. My exoskeleton smashes through reinforced glass and cop skull alike.

"I was wonderin' when we'd get sprung," the henchman says.

My head swivels toward him. "Who hired your boss?" The ectoplasm from the villain's defeat still smears across the San Matias sky.

"Wha? I dunno."

"Damn." I turn to leave.

"I thought you were getting' me out?"

"Psyche," I say, and tear out his spleen.

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When accuracy doesn't matter

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I recently read the Alternate View from Analog Magzine's Nov 2009 issue "Lessons from the Lab" by Jeffery Kooistra. In it, he points out that a survey of surface-temperature monitoring equipment shows that the data has been skewed both by changes in the equipment and where the placement of the equipment violates the NOAA's own guidelines.

He's very correct in pointing out how deplorable this is... but then jumps (as he has before) to denouncing global climate change. In this, I think he errs.

There's one big (scientific) reason for this, and several other (non-scientific) ones.

The scientific reason is pretty simple: The argument for global climate change doesn't rely on only one set of data. What he reveals by reporting Anthony Watts' research is, make no mistake, a huge blow to the accuracy of our models. But there's more to the case than that. The very argument he makes - that manmade structures alter local climate - is a smaller version of the well-documented "heat sink" effect of our paved cities. We've seen effects on climate from man-made activities for quite some time (most dramatically, the changes in cloud cover during the no-fly time after 9/11) 1. We can debate exactly what, and how much, impact we're having on the environment, but humans are having an effect on the environment.

The non-scientific reasons can be summed up by this:
We can talk about how Cleveland used to have a river that burned - but has a clean river now. Or the runoff that made the creek by my great-grandparent's house a brilliant orange - but is now clean and clear. Or we can talk about upcoming energy crises - which may be closer than we fear. It's ironic that in the very same issue, there's a story featuring protagonists who explicitly talk about exponential discounting.

My life has been roughly as long as the modern environmental movement - and so I can just remember how bad things used to be. Maybe the effects of global climate change won't be as big as we fear. But the actions we take to minimize them now are also good for the environmental health of the planet. That's good, of course. But let me make this more clear: We are making the planet healthier for us.

On a very practical level, I don't care2 - because the results are so desperately needed regardless of what motivates that cause. We are addicted to oil. We are addicted to pollution.

If a prior vice-president can help us break those addiction - which will be good for us - then I have a hard time finding fault with it.

1 It's surprisingly difficult to find a decent article on such today, simply because there's so much other crap when you look for relevant terms. This (non-peer reviewed) article has the study I refer to being called into question by a physicist who is comparing apples to oranges... but no direct citation. If you've got the citation for the original study, I'd love to see it.
2 Yes, in exactly the same way that I don't care if a methhead breaks their addiction via a fervent belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

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Mensa - A 100 Word Story

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Yes, it's that time again (a little late this week, but hey, Alethea's worth it, right?).  This week's 100 Word Story Challenge was for the theme "Mensa".  You can read (and hear) my story below - if the player's borked, you can use this direct link to the MP3.  The background music this week is from the track "My Strange Extremities" by #Psy-Brazil# under a CC license.

And remember to go vote for my story!

"Jonathan, you can't talk about UFOs if you want to get into Mensa." Abigail ignored his tight knuckles gripping the steering wheel. "You're a smart guy, but they won't get it."

"You bet they won't get it," he snorted. "Smartest people in the world and they're UFO deniers." He swerved into the library parking lot. "We're finally here."

"Look," Abigail said, "I'll take you to a nice restaurant for our next date."

As the humans walked inside, Bleargh looked up from the monitor to Zooptif. "A brain buffet!" it said, "What a romantic date!"

The saucer landed on the roof.

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A is for Princess: An Interview

I met Alethea Kontis (who I hereby nominate to play one of the princesses if they make Jim Hines' books into movies) almost a year and a half ago. I've maybe spent two hours, total, in her presence. She is also one of the most awesome people I've ever met. (You have no idea how much being in her "Year of Steves" made my day...)

Today marks the release of the second AlphaOops book - AlphaOops: H is for Halloween. (The first one, you might remember, is AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First.) Oh, sure, you've probably already seen her Big Idea post on Whatever, but you know you want to know more, right?

(You do.  If you ever get the chance to meet Alethea, you will always want to know more.  I am not joking.  Go read  Beauty & Dynamite, and you'll get the smallest taste of what I mean.)

What's the story of H is for Halloween?

Previously, on AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, Z decided to stage a coup (on stage) and start the alphabet backwards...until revolutionary P jumped in to represent the oft-forgotten middle of the pack. More wackiness ensued until A's finale...who had so much time to prepare she stole the show.

In H is for Halloween, A is more prepared to present things outside the box--especially when it's curtain call and she's still in her dressing room. "Halloween" does begin with only one letter...if H gets top billing, A points out, it should be her show. And so begins the race for the alphabet players to show off their costumes. What will X choose? Who gets an encore? Who gets denied the spotlight? And will B be able to find a costume someone else hasn't thought of first? Find out in this thrilling sequel!

(okay, so maybe I've watched a bit too much TV lately.)

What led you to write the Alpha-Oops books?

When I was young and bored one day (circa 1988), my mother told me to write her a new fairy tale. It was my first taste of taking something already established and putting my own spin on it. At Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp in 2003, Scott pointed out to us that writers under pressure often come up with character names that start with A, because that's how our brain files things. In my continuing effort to be weird and different, I decided I should train my brain to think differently. Starting with Z was too obvious and alternative. What about P? And who asked the alphabet what order it wanted to be in anyway?

The first page sprang perfectly into my mind, much like Athena springing fully-formed from Zeus's head. Eight hours later, I had a story.

Do you have a favorite children's book?

I'm pretty sure I learned my alphabet in the womb. I don't actually remember a time when I couldn't read. I was a book junkie by the age of five. I have a TON of favorite children's books -- many of which I'm making an effort to remember and review in a section of my blog called "Books On the Bed." Especially the great obscure stuff few people remember, like Ronia the Robber's Daughter, They Call Me Boober Fraggle, Nunga Punga and the Booch, and Ellen Raskin's The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues.

My favorite "read-aloud" book I always bring with me to appearances and often read in conjunction with AlphaOops, if time allows. It's called The Monster at the End of This Book. Yes, the one with Grover. Grover was always cooler than Elmo. And this book is the best read-aloud EVER. If you don't get a request for an encore, you're not reading it right.

What's it like working on this book (do you know the artist, etc)?

Working on a children's picture book was like nothing I could imagine. I had to learn a whole new skill set. I've heard that it's a lot like writing comic books, actually, which is cool--who doesn't want to write comics??

I've still never met Bob Kolar in person. The publisher didn't even give me his email address until the book was in print. But Candlewick knew he was the man for the job right away, and I didn't question them. Thank goodness. The man is a GOD. Have you seen this book?

Here's how it went down: Candlewick (the editor, art director, etc.) took my manuscript and gave it to Bob. He came back with "sketches" (that looked so much like a finished book I almost fainted). After Candlewick put in their two cents, the sketches came to me. I returned my edits and thoughts -- which Candlewick edited further before they got back to Bob. (I was always gushingly complimentary of Bob's work, but until he got the email from the Princess's mouth, he was never really sure if it was genuine.) And so on and so on it went, for roughly a year, until there were no more edits to make.

As long as everyone is okay with the Publisher being the Power That Is in this equation, it works swimmingly. It also avoids personal conflicts between the artist and the author (which has been known to happen).

Did you already have this idea when you wrote the first one?

I did not. But a few pages/gags were firmly in my mind. I knew that B was going to have trouble finding a unique costume, I knew that X was going to need some help, and I knew that the jack-o'lantern was going to be jilted by J (J picked Jack in the first book).

The most difficult part was sitting down, writing out the alphabet, and deciding what each letter was going to stand for (dress up as). The original manuscript also included a few jokes that referred back to the original book, but the publisher decided that it was important for H is for Halloween to stand on its own. Having spent a year or so on the editing process with them (picture books take a long time!), I wholeheartedly agree.

If you could be any superhero, who would you be & why? (I always ask that one).

I always ask this question in my interviews too. Since I am a superhero (The Incredible Whirlwind of Beauty & Dynamite), what I really want is the ultimate superpower -- power over gravity. Think about it -- gravity aversely affects us all. We grow old. We can't fly. Our clothes have wrinkles. Our hair won't stay curly (or won't stay straight). Our shoes wear out, and we have flat feet and bad backs. I could fix ALL of this! I'm just waiting for it to kick in. Come on, evolution...

What superpowers do I already have? I'm glad you asked. Most notably is my contagious enthusiasm. (The flip side of this is contagious sadness...beware. Keep me happy.) More subtly is something my family calls "The Greek Foot": whenever I walk into a restaurant, no matter what time of day or how empty it is, within ten minutes there is a line. (Dad is still trying to figure out a way to market this particular trait.) Oh, and I make the best baklava. Seriously. Like, ever.

Go pick up your copy of AlphaOops: H is for Halloween and AlphaOops!: The Day Z Went First today!


Teaching us to be criminals.

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I'm an owner of a Sony Reader, but this whole setup applies to just about any combination of eBook software and hardware out there. It's frighteningly common; I've heard variations from a lot of people.

Step 1: Gosh, I'd like to read Title A and Title B on my fancy new eBook reader. I'm really happy with the library software I have. 1
Step 2: Oh, look. My device reads ePub. Both the Sony store and B&N support ePub. It's an open standard! Yay!
Step 3: Wow. Title A is cheaper at Sony, and Title B is cheaper at B&N. Hooray for capitalism!
Step 4: Buy an eBook from each location.
Step 5: Find out that each one has a different DRM scheme, so no matter what library software you use, you can no longer access your entire library.
Step 6: Screw this! I paid money for those books!

And here's where it gets bad for everybody. If "screw this" is followed by the person throwing the eReader to the side, then everyone loses. The customer loses, the sellers (and authors) lose, and it's just silly. Or the reader turns to pirate sites, since everyone's out to get them. Or (and it's arguable if this is "bad"), the person searches for "remove DRM from Sony" and "remove DRM from B&N", finds out how to do it with a few simple programs2, rips the DRM off and happily goes on buying eBooks where they're sold and reading them.

Except in that last case, they're violating federal law. Whoops.

Realistically, the DRM crap does not (and has never) really stopped pirates. The only thing it really does is try to trap you into buying from one supplier. That ain't a free market, folks. That's some poisonous crap that is there for someone to get extra profits. Not profit because they're making a better product or giving better service. No, they want to be paid more because they've limited your choices.

This is pretty damn obvious to the average person. Oh well, we think, apparently the law is stupid. And so we merrily go and circumvent the law - either by haunting pirate sites (which I strongly discourage) or by buying eBooks and breaking the DMCA in order to read the stuff we bought the way we want to. We learn that the law isn't really that important anyway - and that's a bad thought process to encourage. But it's exactly what these different DRM flavors end up doing. It doesn't stop pirates - but makes people who are willing to pay money for the eBooks into criminals. Just so they can maybe suck some more cash out of you.

And that, my friends, is some seriously jacked-up manure.

1Personally, I like Calibre. It does everything I want it to do, little fuss, isn't tied to a specific store, and converts from there and back again - which is great for reading text files and web pages on my eReader.
2If you were to look, you would probably find some pretty easy-to-use Python scripts. Though you might also find that the newest version of the B&N Reader changes the database format (and maybe the DRM?), but that's only a temporary setback. If, of course, you were to do such a thing.

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You are a freelancer

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You are a freelancer. Right now.

I don't care if you work on an assembly line, are a salaried middle manager, or are an independent contractor. These days, all of us need to look at ourselves as freelancers. All employers are looking to maximize their own profits - not yours. That's not a bad thing, really. If they're making a profit, then they can still pay you. In the past, your loyalty to an employer was rewarded with stability and the promise of eventual perks, benefits, and raises. Much like retirement, those are constantly being eroded whether we like it or not.

So the employers are trying to maximize profit (e.g. pay you as little as possible). There is now no mechanism in place to stop them from just crashing your wages except your ability to walk away from the job.

And that's why thinking of yourself as a freelancer is such a good idea.

Losing one gig hurts when you're a freelancer, but it's usually not a devastating loss. A freelancer keeps looking for other opportunities, has developed other revenue streams outside of their "main" gig, and is known around the community1. If one thing dries up, then it's a setback, not a catastrophe. And if the employer loses people because they're too stingy, then they're forced to raise wages to attract you back. It's a purer form of capitalism than what we do now.

The major drawback to all of this has been health insurance. Since insurance has historically been employer-based in the United States, that's made it hard for us to jump around. When "pre-existing conditions" and mandatory no-coverage periods, there's suddenly a lot more at risk. But with that getting ready to change, your life can change too. No longer will health coverage be the gun in your employer's hand.

And at that point, you can start to be free.

Side note: I'm just making this transition myself. It can be terrifying sometimes. I had a hard time transitioning from a lower salary in the military to a higher one in the civilian sector because it was not going to be the same amount each month. But while I can be nervous about moving into thinking of myself as a freelancer, I'm also inspired.

Want to start getting an idea of why this is inspiring instead of frightening? Here's some resources to get you fired up (these are somewhat geared towards writers, but the principles - especially in the first - apply to everyone):

Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion - This book is inspiring. It is not a how-to (although it contains some hints), but it is more of a why-to. Definitely required reading.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Freelancer's Survival Guide - The most informative and nuts-and-bolts guide on making the transition to being a freelancer out there. It's still a work-in-progress; donate to the project and get a complete version of the eBook when she's done. An absolute must read.

Cory Doctorow's Makers - Fictional, but a definite showcase of the promise that doing it yourself (or with a couple of buddies) has for transforming the way we work and live.

Mike Stackpole's Digital Career Guide -Definitely writer-oriented, but if you're thinking about doing creative work, it's well worth the price.

1Virtual or meatspace, it doesn't matter.

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You are never going to retire.

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You are never going to retire.

I just had it smacked in my face over the weekend, seeing what my projected 401k value would be. And that value is assuming I stay in the same job for another 20-odd years. Assuming wages don't crash. Assuming I don't get laid off. Assuming, assuming, assuming…

I think any of us who have been adults over the first decade of the 21st really do not put a lot of faith in assumptions like that anymore. We've seen too many people who did make that assumption end up having to work while they drew retirement.1

I'm actually okay with that. Sitting and reflecting is not my speed, really. When I do have time off, there's lots of other things I want to do. I guess those are the things I'm supposed to put off until I retire. Which is why people want to retire - to get to the stuff you actually wanted to do.

Well, screw that. If I'm going to have to keep working, then I'm going to continue working doing things I want to do. If you're in a craptastic job that you can barely stand, why would you spend your whole life doing it?
This is going to be complicated, of course. I have debts and obligations. I'm not sure how I'm going to balance that with doing other kinds of work that (probably) pay less, but are more fulfilling. If I were 19, I could keep my life simple, but I got sucked into the white-picket-fences of Obligationville (on the suburbs of Debtopolis).

I've been reading Cory Doctorow's Makers, and listening to the audiobook version of Metatropolis. There's a lot of interesting ideas of how we'll get out of the economic messes we've built for ourselves. They're inspiring, just by presenting the possibility of there being another way of doing things.

Maybe the white picket fences will go away, becoming something that was a 20thcen relic.

But it's a matter of priorities, isn't it?

1 I really hope disability will be enough for when people are completely unable to work; medical advances have kept most of my grandparents alive, for which I'm thankful, but they're largely incapable of independent work at this point. But that's not the same thing as "retirement".

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GenCon - Writer's Symposium

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I first stumbled onto the Writer's Symposium three years ago at GenCon, because I hadn't registered for much else, and it sounded neat.

Now I'm a panelist, am an associate member of SFWA, and have stories all over the place.

If you're in the area (I'm talking about GenCon Indianapolis here), the Symposium rivals full-on writer's seminars that cost far, far more. If you're a writer (especially a genre writer), gamer, or someone who once dreamed of seeing your stories in print, you owe it to yourself to attend. You can read about all the panels here on Jean Rabe's page, see the full list of attending authors and their signing schedules, and register at GenCon's website.

Even if you've already signed up for games, take an hour or two to swing by to a panel or two. Many are free, and the rest are inexpensive and well worth your while.

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Goblins - A 100 Word Story

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Yeah, sure, you can go vote for this story at the Weekly Challenge website, but there's something else I'm going to ask you to do.

Go buy Red Hood's Revenge (Powell's | Amazon | B&N) by Jim C. Hines. I really enjoyed his goblin books, and while the "Princess series" (think Charlie's Angels meets the Princesses plus a whole lot of plot) is a bit more serious, it's still been amazing work. (Yes, I just ordered mine.) Don't just listen to me - you can read the first chapters of his books on his website.

Coincidentally, this week's story topic was "Goblins", and so I felt an homage was in order. Just don't tell Jim. A direct link to the audio is here if the player below doesn't work.

"Whoever heard of a blue goblin?"

The three women stared at the lumpy figure. The darker-skinned one kicked him. Not too hard, but he grunted anyway. A small arachnid dancing on top of the goblin's head started to smoke.

The palest woman flipped a small mirror between her fingers, flashing glints of her dark hair. "It could be dangerous if there are more."

The blond woman smiled down at the goblin. "I think he's kind of cute." The other two stared at her. "Cute in a creepy way."

As they walked down the tunnel, she glanced back. "But cute."

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Corporate Podpeople

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One of the most mind-bending scenes in Accelerando is when the protagonists are beset by rogue corporations.

Yes, I mean the actual corporation as an independent identity. Not just a bit of legalese declaring it so, but the actual-factual deal. As real as you and me and Pinnochio.

I think there's some evidence for this - that corporations 1 have a discrete identity from the parts that constitute it... and that this overarching identity affects and shapes those who are in it.

The analogy of the human body works pretty well. Individual cells have their own "agenda", but that doesn't matter to the organism as a whole. And the human body isn't designed to all work properly - about half of your body mass is from "non-human" organisms.

Those "non-human" (mostly bacteria) cells have their own goals... but they work in concert with the rest of the human organism.

I've seen several people move into management in the same company - and I've seen them become assimilated. People who used to mock corporatespeak now utter buzzwords with complete sincerity. Concern for doing the job correctly has morphed into a concern for metrics - whether or not the metrics actually measure the job in question. The people change, in fundamental and disturbing ways.

It's possible to explain this by looking at individual incentives. Corporatespeak is rewarded by higher-ups, and so new managers discard their principles in a trade for advancement.

But honestly, I'd rather believe they were assimilated into the corporate group mind, and are now being controlled as some kind of pod people.

That's so much more optimistic.

[1] Although I'm concentrating on corporations, this applies to all organizations.

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