Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Origins, I will be in you!

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As of Thursday, I'm going to be at the Origins Game Fair with like a bazillion awesome writers and friends and generally talking about writing, selling books (and eBooks!), doing strange stuff, and otherwise having a blast!

My schedule is below - and when I'm not at one of these panels, I'll be downstairs in the dealer's room in the Library area.

And you know what? Stop by and say hi. I don't hard sell. Take a break from the blank-eyed merchants who moan "buuuuucks" as they reach for your wallet. We will take up our shovels, shotguns, and cricket bats and beat back the slathering horde, avoiding infection as we race to the helicopter on the rooftop!

Er... well, metaphorically. Let's not kill the other dealers. Much.

Here's my schedule:

Thursday 1pm: Speak Up! Steven Saus, Daniel Myers, Tracy Chowdhury
Thursday 7pm: Reading Brad Beaulieu, Steven Saus (Want me to read something in particular? Show up!)
Friday 2pm: The Digital Landscape Gregory Wilson, Steven Saus, Bryan Young
Friday 3pm: Flash Us (Critiquing Your Work) Donald J. Bingle, Jean Rabe, Sarah Hans
Saturday 12pm: Fantasy on the Fringe Donald J. Bingle, Jean Rabe, Steven Saus
Saturday 1pm: Well-Read Undead Daniel Myers, Donald J. Bingle, Steven Saus
Saturday 3pm: Self-Publishing and Small Presses Gregory Wilson, R.T. Kaelin, Steven Saus, Bryan Young
Saturday 4pm: Nuts and Electronic Bolts Steven Saus, R.T. Kaelin, Brad Beaulieu
Sunday 11am: Forging an Online Presence Steven Saus, R.T. Kaelin, Gregory Wilson, Brad Beaulieu
Sunday 12pm: There’s Science in my Fiction Kelly Swails, Steven Saus
Sunday 1pm: Publishing Potpourri Bryan Young, Steven Saus, Tracy Chowdhury

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Survey for anyone who buys books (especially at conventions)

So you're at a convention, and you see your FAVORITEST AUTHOR EVAH (or maybe just someone you heard at a reading and thought was cool) and find out that they can sell you a digital book.

How do you buy it?

There's a survey below - please take a moment to fill it out and pass the link on to your friends.  I'll post the results here. Scroll down to get to all the questions

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.


Remembering Veterans - The Day After Memorial Day

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rant.pngWhile Memorial Day isn't about living veterans (we have a whole other day for that... though almost nobody gets that day off of work), I saw a lot of people on social media and the television yesterday thanking veterans for their service.  This, technically, includes me.1

And yet we keep seeing stories like this one from American Progress.  The caption to the photo includes this sentence:
Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans as of December 2011.
That's of all homeless adults2.  Not bad enough for you?  Go read the rest of the statistics.  They're horrifying.  Especially when you consider that food stamp usage at commissaries has been up for four years running.

I'm not saying we need to toss more money at DoD.  I'm saying that these veterans are fellow citizens.  They're trained.  They're disciplined.  None of the normal stereotypical excuses about "poor people" apply.

And they're having massive problems.  And they're the poor people we supposedly care about.

Remember that when there's a talking head up there spouting some bullcrap ideology about what "poor people" are like.  Remember they're talking about veterans too.

And maybe that puts their argument in a little bit different light. And maybe we can stop using hateful stereotypes and actually fix our country and take care of all our citizens.

Including veterans.

1I spent nearly all my time in the military in hospital units, and I really don't think it's fair to compare my time in service to someone who was, say, a combat engineer like my grandfather, so please don't thank me. I don't think I deserve it.
2Side note: I now have a special level of annoyance for my acquaintances who talk about "those places with the homeless" as if it's a leper gangsta colony.

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Honoring the Dead: Memorial Day

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It's Memorial Day in the United States today.

I've been posting (or at least linking to) "Honoring the Dead" just about every year since I wrote it in 2005.

My son is twice as old as he was then.  One of the two wars going on when I wrote it is still ongoing.  It has literally been going on for over three quarters of his life.

Honoring the Dead: Memorial Day

by Steven Saus

The name stumbles from my tongue. Mashed consonants slide into a string of vowels - my mouth is confused. It is an Iraqi name, someone killed in the war.

A woman stands across from me. She has read the name of a dead Ohio soldier. Seven Iraqi names to each Ohioan - an attempt to give some perspective to the kill ratio. She is waiting as I fumble through the first of seven. Finally, I get to the age of death: 45.

A bit old for a soldier, I muse. Still, six more strange names to go. It is Memorial Day, and we are honoring the dead.

The second name is more familiar - Hassan Mohammed something. I breeze through it, cruising easily until I stop short at the age: seven.


Glance down the list quickly, check the rest of the ages. Five. Nine. Six. Eleven. Two.

My youngest son sits with his mother, bored but patient. She is praying, but he sees me looking and smiles at me. It's a goofy grin under his tousled blond hair.

He, too, is seven.

I struggle through the rest of the names and ages. I wonder how alien, how strange my son's name of "Christopher" would sound to them.

Later, I hug him, my little seven-year-old boy, and pray for the parents who can never hold their child again.

On Memorial Day, I remember, and pray never to forget.

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Amazon Finally Steps on Page-Scraped eBooks

publishing.pngKudos to Amazon (though it's far, far late coming) for finally pointing out the obvious:

Making eBooks that repackage freely accessible (but not public domain) web content are scams, and aren't okay to sell.

There's a specific kind of eBook fraud: "books quickly created from automatically gathered content crawled from the Web". It's taken a long time, but Amazon finally sent out an e-mail last night clarifying the content guidelines policy.

"...just because you find content on the web does not mean it is in the public domain. [...] We can’t accept content that closely matches content that is freely available on the web, for which you do not hold the sole publishing rights, or that which is not in the public domain."

Which is a good step. But hey, I wouldn't be me if I didn't point out the completely strange (and license-ignoring) justification for enforcing this policy:

"content from Wikipedia and content with private label rights are not allowed since it disappoints our customers to pay for content that is freely available on the web." [emphasis mine]

It's strange because they're focusing on a really ambiguous standard. Not "is it legal" or "does it break the ToS/ToU for the website" or "does it violate copyright"... but whether the reader is pissed off because what they bought was cheaper elsewhere.

This is an important distinction - especially since they're name-checking Wikipedia.

You can't just copy something from, say, Clarkesworld, because it's under copyright.  (There's a potential issue about "sole publishing rights" - for example, I retain anthology rights to the stories in The Crimson Pact, even when the exclusive period ends and the rest of the rights revert to the authors.)

Peter Watt's backlist is under a Creative Commons license. Specifically, a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. So folks could take the text and convert it to whatever format, but are not allowed to sell it (the NonCommercial bit).

Wikipedia, however, is under (mostly) an Attribution-ShareAlike license. You can reuse the content in another work and sell it as long as you allow others to do the same with the file you created.  But Amazon's policy contradicts Wikipedia's own license, since you don't hold the sole publishing rights.

I hope Amazon is using the "pissed off customer" standard simply because Wikipedia-scraped eBooks just... well, feel scammy.

Even if they're technically legal.


Progeny - by R.T. Kaelin

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My pal R.T. Kaelin (whom I will be seeing in a week at Origins Game Fair) currently has his novel Progeny (The Children of the White Lions) available as a free download for Kindle.

You might remember R.T. as one of the authors in the 2011 edition of Spec The Halls.  He's a great guy and able to put the good of the story before his own ego.  That alone, my friends, is worth directing you to this offer (which is only good through Friday).  Give this book a shot, and swing by the book's website at

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You should be using a VPN on public wifi: Here's a recommendation

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technology.pngVPNs (Virtual Private Networks) have a bit of a bad rap among a lot of people I know.  Their office or university might require it, and it turns out to be slow, or buggy, or drops connections, and it's generally associated with annoyance.  Sure, it's more secure, but...

But nothing.  I recently had a password stolen via wi-fi snooping (seriously, that's the only way it could have been exposed), and while it only caused minor damage to my accounts, it was still startling.  While I've been using HTTPS whenever possible, obviously it wasn't enough.

At the same time, more and more public wifi places are blocking legitimate traffic (I wrote about one in January that's only gotten worse).  I can understand the justification for streaming media - but this blog?  Or my business site?

blackVPN solved both of those problems.  I discovered pretty quickly that more than one business offering "free wifi" blocked OpenVPN requests, especially for the big OpenVPN providers you constantly see recommended (like AnchorFree).  But they didn't block another VPN protocol:  L2TP/IPSEC.  Unlike many other VPN providers, blackVPN provides multiple protocols, even if you just use a single server at the lowest price tier... so now I can make sure my internet stuff is secure no matter what.

And unlike those work and university VPNs, blackVPN's service has been fast, stable, and worry-free security when I'm on the go.

blackVPN has clear setup instructions for and supports Windows, OSX, Linux, Android, and iOS.

The lowest price tier is five euros (about $3 right now) for a month - with no auto-recurring fees.  Use the referral code HBJSCFM when you sign up, and you can get up to two months free (and I get two weeks added onto my own.  But I'm recommending them anyway.) 

I've been using the service for about a month now with no problems and no regrets - and I'll definitely continue with them.  Check 'em out - even if it's just for your smartphone while you're out and about.

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Who cares what kind of relationship anyone else is in?

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In the spirit of "I'm done playing political games", this is a serious question:

Who cares what kind of relationship anyone else is in?

I've been arguing this since 1998 (Here Comes the Groom, Here Comes the Groom (Reprised)), and honestly, folks, I don't understand why this is still an issue.  (While this is phrased mostly about "gay marriage", it also applies to poly groups and other alternative relationships.)  Here's the objections I usually hear:

* It will have an economic impact because there's more married couples:  This is the only argument that makes sense - but if that's a bad thing, then why are there government (and private) initiatives to promote marriage? 

* My religion says...:   That's nice.  So people who are part of your faith don't participate in marriage equality.  For once, Catholicism is way ahead of the pack - because the Catholic Church doesn't automatically recognize a civil ceremony between two Catholics.  Getting married in the Church is a separate thing than a legal marriage.  Reform and change within any church is a separate matter than civil, legal issues.

* But my religion says it's a sin, so we should stop others from doing it:  Go find yourself a theocracy;  you're in the wrong country.  Your religious beliefs bind you, not a single person more.

* But it's gross:  Really?  There are so many straight people in relationships who I really, really don't want to imagine "doing it" that it's not funny.  Most of them probably think the same of me. 

* Traditional marriage is...:  There is no such solid institution.  Seriously, do some historical research.  It doesn't exist.  For example, the so-called "mail order brides" of the USAian frontier don't look anything like our modern courtship rituals.  Arranged marriages were the norm for most of human history.  The idea of romantic love being a part of marriage is a relatively new concept.  And, um, when you're talking about Biblical tradition, you've got to account for multiple wives (Moses), forcing a rape victim to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT), and being forced to marry your older brother's widow (Judah, Onan, and Tamar).  Not saying any of them are right;  I am saying that "tradition" isn't a compelling argument here.

*But then [insert form of marriage here] is possible:  And if it's between consenting adults, who cares?  (Both "adult" and "legal consent" are sufficiently well defined that I'm not going to do it again here.)

* But marriage is for producing children:  Are you saying that it should be illegal for infertile people to marry?  Because if so, fuck you.  Seriously.  Just go the hell away.

* But marriage is for raising children:  And?  What's the problem here?
* The kids will be teased/it will be harder for them: So we should discriminate against people because some other people will discriminate against them?  How does that logic work?
* Raising kids requires a man and a woman: There is no research to back this up.  And considering the number of completely messed-up kids raised by straight couples, I'm really not convinced.  I think a kid raised by an average gay couple would be much better off than a kid raised by two straight people in a dysfunctional relationship (let alone dysfunctional straight people in any relationship).
* Kids raised by gay parents will be gay as well:  Which is why homosexuals only come from homosexual parents... oh, wait.  Not true.  Whoops.

So I don't get it.  I don't understand why this is a governmental issue.  I don't understand why it's a political issue.  Someone explain to me why they believe it is good for our country to fight against marriage equality. 

Otherwise, I'm going to start presuming that people fighting marriage equality are fighting against the well-being of our country.

Go.  Comments are open.

(Note:  While comments are open, I secretly made a copy of John Scalzi's Mallet of Loving Correction, and may use it.  You've got your space, I've got mine.  Specious hate will be malleted, and moderation is turned on, so you might see a delay in your comment being posted.)

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Analog Cuvée: Your Ears Need This

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As some of you might know, I love me some mashups, especially when they pair traditional folk music and modern tunes. And I'm half Hungarian. So this THRILLS me...

Analog Cuvée
is a project of Pozsi & Basic that takes Hungarian music and throws in modern dance (drum and bass, electronica, even dubstep) with some amazing results. Here's two samples (one YouTube, one Soundcloud, so hopefully everyone can access at least one of them):

Magyar Tánc


If you like those, you'll love this album. You can get Analog Cuvée at Amazon (MP3 format, more samples there).

And then after that, you can get the free remixed version - Digital Cuvée

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Strike Team Alpha - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I am now - when I remember to do so - updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link ( in your podcatcher or phone, or swing by

Free HugsThe team deployed from their chopper. Strike Team Alpha looked like any other crack military unit.... except for two things. Their unit patches simply had a Greek letter alpha, and they were completely unarmed.

They went from home to home, offering free hugs, and were met with bullets, knives, and shrapnel.

As the final member of Alpha breathed his last, the Old Man turned off the monitor and gestured to his XO. “Send in Strike Team Omega,” he said.

The XO nodded. He reached into the lead locker and started handing suitcase nukes to the members of the final team.

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I'm done playing political games - and maybe you should be too.

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rant.pngI let myself get sucked into a political discussion on Facebook this evening.  (Yes, I know.)  I'd link to it, but I don't know how public the thread is, and I'm not writing this to "out" anyone.  But it doesn't matter - the content isn't that important. 1;

It was all started by a political "football" article.  One of those "my team is better than your team" types that partisans like to drool over.  (Read this for more examples.)  And I kept trying to say, "Hey, guys, you're blowing this out of proportion.  And that's what the article meant to do."

I realized I was wasting my time when people started referring to Obama as "Dear Leader".

But I posted what follows at the end of the thread.  Because I realized what was making me feel ill inside was not the content of the thread2, but the venom.  The lack of thought.  The knee-jerk hatred not because of what was actually going on, but because of what political "team" someone else was on.

And I'm done with that bullshit.

You want sheeple?  My friends, all of those partisan articles think of you as sheeple.  Right wing, left wing, fascist, socialist, Christian, Atheist, every last one of them.  They don't give a damn about what is good or best for this country or anyone in it.  They only care about their own team winning.

And I'm done with it.  I'm done with being made to feel hatred.

I'm done with being used.

Below is my personal manifesto.  Take it as your own.  Or don't.

But I ask that you think about it.

Screw all the teams.  I give a damn about the COUNTRY, and partisan bickering about "gaffes" and acting like some webmaster putting a "Did you know?" section in a website somehow has relevance to my mortgage, health care, civil rights, or anything of import is HURTING OUR COUNTRY.  Stop playing the game. 

If you see me at a convention, I'll gladly talk issues with any of y'all, regardless of what side of the fence you're on.  And maybe we'll disagree.  And maybe we won't.  And that's a serious offer, and I mean it.

I've been leaning this way for a while, but I'm going to state it publicly here (and in a blog post later):  I'm done playing such partisan football games.    And if I fall back into it, PLEASE call me on it.   (And yes, I mean that too.)

Because I'm serious.  This isn't helping our country solve it's problems.  It's just making them worse.

1 If you're really interested, it was about the addition of "Do you know?" sections on the White House website bios of past presidents that linked past achievements with the current administration. I didn't even realize those bios existed. Seriously. My kid did a report on George Washington recently, and we never even thought of looking there for info.
2 Because yeah, it's a tacky and kludgy gimmick, and it looks bad, and nobody looks at those pages anyway so why bother...

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A New Form of Spam

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I've been getting a new form of spam lately, similar to the infograph spam that made the rounds a whole back.
Instead of infographics, there is a link to something in my archives and a vague offer to partner on a "project" of some type.
It actually looks pretty convincing - until I realized an offer to work on a nursing research project linked to a post commenting on link policy.. Apparently the spambot was confused by the title: "Survey says..."
Family Feud as Bayesian spam filter. Who'd a thunk it.
Problem is, just like the infograph spam, real people send VERY similar emails. Hell, I've sent emails like that while researching a story. And I tend to send emails, because I'm doing research at weird hours.
So how can we prove our humanity when doing this kind of research? Any ideas?

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There's an app for that...

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I should have guessed.

One of the hurdles with offering "bundles" of ePub and Mobi files together is letting folks with mobiles (phones and tablets) directly open the file without having to use a bigger computer.

I should have figured there was an app for that.

WinZip for iOS does the job admirably, and AndroZip is very highly rated for Android-based devices.  And both are free.

So when you check out from the Alliteration Ink store in the future, the page with download links also has links to those two apps.

Oh - and if you go to that link, you'll notice it doesn't look like it used to.  Quite simply, I started getting really frustrated with the HTML, and I'm going to default to that site for "store" stuff in the future (yes, I'm not quite done).  I'm betting that people who go to my store will want to just buy from me... so I won't be directly linking to other stores from it any more.

I will, however, link to all available stores on project pages - like the ones for The Crimson Pact.  I believe that people who find project pages like that are searching for the topic, not the store.

And by letting someone else handle the store code, I can actually make project pages for works that deserve it... like Eighth Day Genesis:  A Worldbuilding Codex for Writers and Other Creatives

Ooooh, I'm looking forward to that one....

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Time Traveled Tales - At Origins 2012

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I'm going to be at the Origins Game Fair at the end of the month - and not only are there going to be scads of awesome panels and seminars, but there will also be a kick-ass collectable anthology!

  • “Replay Value” by Aaron Allston
  • “Last Man on Earth” by Maxwell Alexander Drake
  • “The Old Gods” by C.S. Marks
  • “Among the Stars” by Sarah Hans
  • “For Every Time, A Season” by Donald J. Bingle
  • “Slug” by Janine K. Spendlove
  • “Know Your Nemesis” by Kelly Swails
  • “My Faire Lady” by Jean Rabe
  • “The Tinker’s Music Box” by Jennifer Brozek
  • “Under a Thin Veneer” by Daniel Myers
  • “Deep Salvage” by Bryan Young
  • “Adventure of the Ghost Watch” by Michael A . Stackpole
  • “Impression” by Tracy Chowdhury
  • “Prologue” by Gregory A. Wilson
  • “Fair Game” by Dylan Birtolo
  • “Market” by R. T. Kaelin
  • “In the Time of Dragons” by Steven Saus
  • “Parting the Clouds” by Bradley P. Beaulieu
  • “Protection” by Timothy Zahn
The book might only be ever available at Origins!  GET YOURS.

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Finding the focus of your horror story

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NOTE: Only tiny spoilers for CABIN IN THE WOODS follow - but the references will make no sense until you see the movie.

Orson Scott Card1 categorizes stories by their MICE quotient - that is, what drives the story. (Explanation of the MICE acronym is here.) In horror stories, there’s another thing to consider: The type of horror.

I don’t mean giant spiders versus Frankenstein versus sparkly undead. I’m talking about the desired impact of the horror. Is it internal horror or external horror?

This isn’t an on/off switch, it’s more of a continuum. And it’s also possible to be both internally and externally focused within the same story. That dual-focus is what (I think) makes CABIN IN THE WOODS such a nasty tale.

The labels are tricky, here. Stick with me.

External horror is easy to point at. It’s the horror contained inside the structure of the story itself, but external to you. It’s avoidable horror. Godzilla. Frankenstein. Any monster, really. Don’t do X, and the horror won’t be able to get you. Even stuff that you might be reminded of later on doesn’t count here. My girlfriend talks about how she wasn’t scared by The Blair Witch Project until she was out in the woods a few weeks later. But it’s still about a force outside of herself. It’s even arguable (by pedants like me) that this isn’t true horror, but just being scared.2 This is the “suspense” bits - where the screechy music and wide-angle shots communicate that something scary is going to jump out and gnaw off your arm.

And then there’s internal horror. This is the horror that you can’t walk away from. It’s something intrinsic to the reader - the uncomfortable revelation that you wish you could ignore.

One flavor comes from identifying with the characters (either protagonist or antagonist) and realizing as a reader that you’d do the same horrible thing in that situation. The movie version of The Mist and the book version of Red Dragon have this aspect. Torchwood: Children of Earth does as well, and Natural Born Killers could be seen in this light. My girlfriend tells me Hostel even makes an attempt at this.

The other flavor of internal horror is the realization about you and the cosmos - and a (downward) shift of your perception within it. Lovecraft, of course, springs to mind, but so does House of Leaves and Blindsight. The world isn’t what you think it is - and you’re insignificant. And by the way, what you think of as “you” may just be nothing more than a lie one part of your brain is telling another part.

Sweet dreams.

CABIN IN THE WOODS succeeds, I think, by having all of these in nearly equal strengths. The external horror is very easy to point at - I mean, the scene in the basement and their “free will” choice, right? But the internal horror is what sticks. Not only do we have a Lovecraftian reveal at the very end, but we have the moral dilemma of moral dilemmas... and it’s not hard to identify with the motivations of all the characters by the end of the movie.

It’s the really chilling part of Milgram’s experiments - that realization that you’re no better than any of them. No matter how much you try to avoid thinking of yourself like that.

And that’s some sweet schadenfreude pie being shoved down your throat.

1Regardless of what you think of the guy, he’s written some damn fine work about how to write, especially writing speculative fiction. We aren’t debating his views here now, ‘kay? Thanks.
2Worth noting here that I’m a big chicken about this kind of stuff, so “just” being scared is a big freaking deal for me.

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It isn't a game

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If you are referring to anyone's civil rights as a "gamble" -- or for that matter, as simply a matter of strategy in a political game -- then you are part of the problem in this country. (And yes, that is all the news media.)

If you are more concerned with which party is "right" than what solutions will help the most, you are part of the problem in this country.

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(Bechdel) Testing Joss Whedon

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My girlfriend noticed it first, even though I’d seen the movie twice. That was probably appropriate.

Remember that.

Yesterday, Jim C. Hines was thinking a bit more about The Avengers - particularly the tone and power structure of some of Black Widow’s scenes. While the scenes in question struck me very differently, Jim raises some really good points. Even though I had a different reaction to those scenes (and disagree with him), I can definitely understand why those scenes came across the way they did to him.

But that’s not the big problem for me.

Joss Whedon1 has two films in theaters right now - The Avengers and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Both are very tightly written, with all sorts of nuance and layers to the story and plot. Both films have (at least) reasonably strong female characters. Both films also deal with having a very large pool of primary characters (or an ensemble cast) very well, making sure that no character is slighted.

So why, in two tightly written movies, do both do so poorly with the Bechdel Test?

Avengers fails completely, despite having two strong female characters (they never even speak to each other), and CABIN gets only a technical pass.2

Technical passes don’t impress me - it’s a ninety minute movie, but two women can’t talk to each other about something other than a man for more than 90 seconds?


I like Feminist Frequency’s point a while back when talking about Oscar nominations: The Bechdel Test is a minimum, not a final goal. If you have to quibble about whether or not something “counts” for passing, it might as well have failed. We’re talking about 50% of the population here; most movies should be able to clearly and obviously pass the test.

Joss Whedon has delivered two excellent movies (and they are both excellent). Both films feature strong, smart female characters. I think he did a really good job at delivering on both these points, and the tightness of his plotting shows how much thought went into the movies. At the same time he missed the more subtle sexism in our society and in his scripts.

Just like I did.

I didn’t notice that The Avengers failed the Bechdel test until my girlfriend pointed it out to me. (Told you we’d get back to it.) Because, well, I’m a guy raised in this society. And I’m pretty sure that Joss (who does try to not stereotype women in his films) missed it too. We’ll slip into the same easy discriminatory patterns if we don’t actively work against it.

The only way to fix this sort of thing is to be aware of it.

1 They’re not just his films, but there’s a very definite Joss imprint on both. And saying “Joss Whedon and everyone else who worked on the script” gets really unwieldy to type...
2 “The Director” isn’t really a named character and it’s an agonizingly short conversation; the conversation at the beginning is intertwined with conversations about boys and is also horribly short.

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I am closing my rental business in Second Life

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secondlife.pngAfter about four years, I’m going to close the doors for my rental business in Second Life.1

Because I know there’s lots of people speculating about Second Life in general, my business standards, and the business climate inworld, I want to talk briefly about some of the things I’ve noticed, the decisions I made, and why. Even if you’re not in Second Life, I hope you’ll see something of use when reflecting on your own business decisions.

I am not leaving Second Life. I’m not sure what form my participation will take - see below for that. But the business is actively losing me money, and I’m not okay with that.

The user base is becoming divided. This is part of the problem - my small “starter” rentals are actually doing fine. They were designed for people who had stuck around for a while, but weren’t yet ready to commit to a Premium account. Unfortunately, they’re small and time-intensive. The medium and large rentals have remained largely vacant for months. (And by “medium”, I mean L$125-L$150 a week.) I’m presuming they’re either buying land or leaving.

I don’t have the time to maintain them all or promote them. There’s a certain amount of per rental setup and maintenance time. Although I might be able to rent four small rentals instead of one medium one, the time investment for me is four times as large, and I can’t keep up. This has been going on for about a year, unfortunately. My attempts at limiting and fixing the problem have lessened, but not solved the problem. Part of that is my fault - I tried to expand faster than I should have - but even when I had everything up and running fine, the problem existed.

This is not a short-run trend. Occupancy has been running at 50% or less for six months (with lows of 20%-25%). I require 66% occupancy to break even.

I don’t think SL is dead, dying, or whatever. I think W. James Au made a great point about long-term committed users recently. They’re going to be around, until Linden Labs shoves them out or won’t support them. Most of the ones I know who are interested in having a virtual home or land have already bought it.

I don’t enjoy the business any more. The rental business, that is. There’s always a proportion of renters who were jerks, broke rules, or otherwise caused problems. That percentage has increased. By a lot. I enjoy building, creating, and otherwise solving problems. I don’t enjoy dealing with twits with an overwrought sense of self-entitlement. Business in general? Second Life in general? I look forward to enjoying those more soon. Ironically, this decision may mean that I spend more time inworld, not less.

So what am I going to do now? I’m not sure. I am going to keep some land for myself - I’ve got a nice house model by a Linden road that I think will make a good bookstore. Maybe I’ll invite some other writerly folks to build a mall. Maybe create a meeting/writing/sharing space deliberately for small and displaced communities. Maybe have a few small rentals to pay my own sim fees. Maybe get into OpenSim as well/again.

We’ll see. It’ll be fun.

1 Current and past tenants still a part of the group will have first dibs on land at a reduced price.

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Smoke - A 100 Word Story

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storytime.pngYup, it's flash fiction time again!

As always, this is based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. It's a great exercise for writers - writing a good drabble is a lot harder than it appears, but is still a "small" task so you can get around that idea of it being too much work. And then you get a random (and often bizarre) writing prompt to shoehorn you out of writer's block! Go read the rules for the Weekly Challenge and participate! Heck, Chris the Nuclear Kid does when he remembers to (and I can drag him away from video games)!

The player below should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site!

I am now - when I remember to do so - updating these in a podcast feed (dubbed "Radio Free Steven the Nuclear Man" by Laurence). You can subscribe with this link ( in your podcatcher or phone, or swing by

The dark forestSullivan lights his and Murphy's cigarettes, then shakes out the match. Night floods back as the flame dies.

Thompson's eyebrows arch. "What about me?"

Murphy laughs as Sullivan strikes another match. "Thompson, you weren't military?"

Thompson draws on the cigarette, lighting it from Sullivan's match. Treetrunks loom until Sullivan shakes the flame out. "Nope."

Murphy takes a drag. "You light two 'cause it's too short for a sniper to aim."

Thompson's brow furrows. "We're hunting demons, not snipers."

Sullivan tosses his cigarette at the other men's feet. "Demons that see heat," he says as his horned master enters the clearing.

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Cult of Personality

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essay.pngI’m seeing this trend too often lately:

"Listen to me -- and just to me. Everyone else is foolish. Those who listen to anyone else is foolish."

In the last six months, I’ve seen it in politics, religion, economics, academics, medicine, marketing, and writing advice. And the frequency of this idea seems to be increasing.

I understand why it’s more common. If you only listen to one source, there’s no competition for brain-space. It’s easier. It’s easier for the person trying to convert you (since you’re blindly accepting what they say), and it’s easier for you, because you don’t have to think.

You get to be a mental couch potato. And they get a new mindless puppet... you.

When someone wants you to only listen to them, be very skeptical of whatever idea they are peddling. If their ideas can’t handle being questioned, start running.

Short post on purpose today. Take a few minutes to think about this one. And I’d be thrilled to hear your examples - on all sides of any issue - of people who don’t want you to critically examine their ideas.

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Making eBook Conversion (and Store Independence) Part of Reader's Habits

publishing.pngI left us with this challenge yesterday:

How do we make eBook formats transparent to end users? How do we make store-independence part of the habit loop of digital readers? Or even better, how do we make coming to our store part of that habit loop?

The last two questions are easier than the first. The reward portion of the loop - getting the book (with the potential additional kick of “I helped an author today!”) is the same, so that’s not a problem.

1. At the beginning of the loop: Insert “Look for the author selling the book” into the process. I get a little annoyed when authors (including my friends) say it doesn’t matter how you buy their book. I understand what they’re trying to say - that all people involved in the creation process should be rewarded and acknowledged, not just the author. And they don’t want buying their books to be a decision-making burden on their fans or to insist that readers use store X instead of store Y.

But when you have trufans asking how to make sure creators get more money, you should probably tell them the truth. Buying as close to direct from the creators as possible means that more money goes to the creators.

Maybe sending autographed pictures or some other kind of incentive could also help bring this to the fore, much as some authors directly sell autographed print books to encourage this same behavior.

2. Just past the beginning of the loop: Make the process as painless as possible. In the past, I’ve used the phrase “If you have a computer, you can read it if you buy the book from me.” I’ve offered PDF/Kindle/ePub formats for the works I’ve published, mostly as a way to help overcome resistance to a digital purchase. But as we move to phones and tablets serving as eReaders without a computer intermediary, that creates its own problem - ZIP files.
That’s where we run back into that first question.

Download an ePub or Kindle file with your handheld, and you will (probably) have it imported at least semi-automagically. A zip file, on the other hand, provides its own difficulty. While my phone can handle ZIP (via Dropbox, sort-of), and I imagine a full tablet could as well, it makes things really difficult for someone using a semi-smart reader.

But the other method of making “bundles” requires a heck of a lot more overhead, serving up (essentially) two or three products for every sale. And not offering a bundle is even worse - I can just imagine people accidentally clicking ePub instead of Kindle and vice versa. Oy.

Or perhaps an on-the-fly converter? E-mail your eBook to an address and get a converted version back? I’m not sure what a good solution would be here. Again, the software exists - and in platform-independent versions (Calibre is built around python). So it’s a matter of delivery and transparency.

What do you think?


Steps Toward Making eBook format conversion trivial for average users

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publishing.pngYesterday, I talked a lot about where I think Mike Stackpole was wrong - but I also want to talk about where that leads to him being completely right.

I quoted a section of one of his blog posts yesterday, but in case you didn’t read it on his blog, let me add one more sentence (emphasis mine):

“With e-readers, the thing I’m discovering is that most all of them have their book purchases tethered to the company that has its name of their e-readers. Okay, so this is like assuming that if you own a Ford you can only buy gas at the Ford filling station—a stupid idea. But owners of e-readers don’t drive past other gas stations when looking for books. They might hit a link in an email, but chances are they’ll just go to the store portal on their device and purchase from there, or do a quick search when they hear about a book on the radio or television. Because of that fact, because they only shop in one place, the issue of DRM is completely invisible to them. For those users, it is a complete non-issue.

The eReader manufacturers (Kobo, Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, and others) have been using three forces to get this behavior from readers.

1. Ease of use: With any of the eReaders with an online connection, it’s a heck of a lot easier to shop at the default store.
2. Habit: For most users, the “default” option is effectively the only available option. And once you’ve gotten used to the default, changing behavior is hard.
2. Difficulty of Use/Legality: This is where DRM comes in, and where TOR’s announcement of not using DRM makes a difference. Yes, when an eBook is DRM-locked, it is quite a bit more difficult (and possibly a violation of federal law) to convert1 it from one format to another. At least, setting up the various scripts and programs can be daunting to someone who isn’t computer savvy. And the legality issues may dissuade even more folks.

But understand this: Those difficulties arise from the DRM on the eBook. Converting eBooks between formats (particularly ePub and Kindle) is TRIVIALLY EASY... as a software problem If you have a well-formed ePub file, you will have a well-formed Kindle-formatted file on the other end.2 But most users don't get that far - it's just simply extra steps they have to deal with, so it doesn't matter how easy the software is if the process isn't simple for them.

So here’s the challenge: How do we make eBook formats transparent to end users? How do we make store-independence part of the habit loop of digital readers? Or even better, how do we make coming to our store part of that habit loop?

1 Yes, convert.
2 Brief caveat: I’m talking about primarily text-based fiction here. Like a novel, or anthology. You want floating drop caps and moving illustrations, that’s a different story. And given the nature of the “changes” for ePub3 and KF8, I don’t see that changing either as new versions of those formats come forward.

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Where DRM (or a lack of it) is relevant - even with Microsoft entering the eReader game

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soc_econ.pngThere’s two points I want to respond to with Mike Stackpole’s article “Is DRM really Significant?”. It’s important I keep these two points completely separate - because he’s both completely right... and completely wrong. (And yeah, this is a multi-day thing.)

First, where he - and others - have been wrong in the past. Or at least, mistaken. Mike’s1 opined (both in his blog and in his Second Life chats) that Amazon cannot be following a Wal*Mart business model with eBooks (paraphrasing here) because they’re digital, and digital markets can move quickly. The argument goes that Amazon will be kept in check because the volatility and pushback of the digital marketplace will serve to communicate consumer displeasure in a rapid way. Therefore, Amazon (or any other online retailer) can’t do anything too egregious, because they’ll be smacked down by the informed consumer.

On the surface, this makes sense. For many retail items, you can buy from a plethora of stores - even ones you may never have heard of before. Great!
Except that’s not how eBooks have been marketed or how they're sold today. The eReaders were sold cheaply for much the same reason that printers are sold cheaply... to get you used to buying directly from that company’s store - a practice further enforced by DRM. (It's impossible to convert your book from one format to another without removing DRM - which is a violation of federal law in most places.)

The practice of getting consumers to use a device preferentially with a particular storefront gives that storefront a layer of traction otherwise unavailable in the digital marketplace.

(Note: I wrote this before I learned that Microsoft would be working with the nook; that lessens but does NOT remove many of my concerns. Competition is good, but the fundamental problem is still the same. Go to a restaurant, and your choices rarely include anything but Coke or Pepsi products... and usually, not both.  A mall ecosystem that has Wal*Mart and Target is better than a mall that only has one... but isn't the same as a lot of competition.)

I remember a friend of mine once saying “Well, yeah, I could go to a bunch of different stores, but why, when I can just go to Wal*Mart?” They were used to that experience, and it was convenient. Other factors - social good, quality of products, even cost would rarely make a dent once that habit was established. It's this stickiness - because of the hardware, not the storefront - which makes Amazon's domination of the eBook market, regardless of what you think of it, such a big deal - and such a ripe venue for (eventual) monopoly and monosopy.
Mike described consumer behavior perfectly in his own blog post:
“With e-readers, the thing I’m discovering is that most all of them have their book purchases tethered to the company that has its name of their e-readers. Okay, so this is like assuming that if you own a Ford you can only buy gas at the Ford filling station—a stupid idea. But owners of e-readers don’t drive past other gas stations when looking for books. They might hit a link in an email, but chances are they’ll just go to the store portal on their device and purchase from there, or do a quick search when they hear about a book on the radio or television.”

And that leads us right into where Mike is completely and utterly right, which we'll get to tomorrow.

1 Mike isn’t the only, or first, one to say this. I’m just more familiar with his statements, and I’m responding to another part of the blog entry as well.

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