ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

COLUMBUS/DAYTON AUTHORS: Bring Your Flash Fiction, Win Stuff! TODAY

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As mentioned earlier this month, I'll be one of the judges for CONTEXT's first-ever flash fiction contest (sponsored by Raw Dog Screaming Press).  Even if you're not able to be there the whole weekend, keep in mind that Friday-only registration is only $20, with registration opening at 4pm.

Contestants will be able to sign up at registration; there will be room for 12 contestants, and sign-ups will be first-come, first serve!  (Unless I'm mistaken, we will take additional print-only entries for a second tier.)

There will be two contestant categories: Pro and Amateur. Contestants in the Pro category would include writers who have published three or more short stories or a novel; anyone who would qualify for active status in SFWA or HWA would be a pro. Contestants who would qualify as Amateur would have no or less than two fiction publishing credits.

Contestants will read aloud complete stories of up to 1500 words; they'll be judged both on the story and on their performance of it. People must read their own work, published or unpublished, and must provide the judging panel with four hard copies in standard manuscript format so the judges can follow along. Individuals with speech disabilities, laryngitis, etc. may have friends read for them.

Prizes will include a $25 voucher for the dealer's room, a hardcover copy of Michael A. Arnzen's 100 Jolts, and a sculpture created for the Lovecraft-inspired artbook Verminomicon.  Oh yeah, and stuff from Alliteration Ink as well, including a copy of See No Evil, Say No Evil and a pre-release copy of Dangers Untold.

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Interview and story (re)sale!

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Scott Roche of Flying Island Press (and really, the rest of the crew there) are some fabulous people. I've really enjoyed both times that I've been on their podcasts, and really, really need to get back on there.

But in the meantime, you can enjoy this interview that Scott did with me for The Seekrit Projekt. I think I broke the rules a little by talking about other people's stuff more than my own, but hey. I'm happy about the work I do as a publisher.

Also, I'm pleased to announce that one of my stories has found a home. The Tales of Old podcast has bought "Memories of Light and Sound" (from the Timeshares anthology). I'm looking forward to hearing what they do with it; when they do, I'll let you know here!

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Use bit.ly from the command line (and browser!) with no frills

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technology.pngYeah, so I loathe the bit.ly redesign. I want a simple url shortener, that at least has an option without flash, or bundles, or doozits.

So here's to do it, crossplatform (mostly) with a tiny bit of hacking.

DEPENDENCIES:


EITHER:


OPTIONAL:


Your actual script to call all of this will vary somewhat by operating system.

With CURL, here's how for

Windows:


Unix (and for that matter, other than using a different clipboard manager, it should about the same for OSX)


The python version is pretty similar - edit the python script to put your username and API key in that file, then call it like this with a separate script (note the editing needed for windows folks...)


The beauty comes with something like Applauncher. Install, and configure your external application like this:

NAME: bit.ly
PATH: Put the full filename to bashbitly or cmdbitly.bat as applies.
ARGUMENTS: &url;

It will then take whatever the current url is, and shorten it, and paste it back to the clipboard!

As I note in the comments for the scripts above, I don't have a windows machine running right now, so if you find errors, comment below! (Also, try messing with the %1 bits; that's probably where it's going wrong.)

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Trolling for Reviews: The New Thing?

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So this marks the fourth person who has e-mailed me directly asking for a book review because they'd seen one of mine on Amazon or Goodreads.

I don't mind.  Not at all.  But is this a new "thing" for indie types?

I've got really mixed feelings about it, and I'm not entirely sure why.  It seems a little... needy, but at the same time, free books!  And all the folks who have asked so far have been clear about "You reviewed a book like X, and my book is similar enough that I think you might like it...", which is good.

Has this happened to anyone else yet?  What do you think?

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Your Ears Need This: DJ Schmolli TwoFer

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Both of these are just awesome tracks, though with quite different tonality. Both both are definitely full of energy.

Get Up Youth
(mp3 here)


Still Waiting For A Whole Lotta Love


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War On Halloween - 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 (http://feeds.feedburner.com/Ideatrash) in your podcatcher or phone.


Ms. Anderson's voice grated.  "Are you enjoying trunk-or-treat, Billy?  You make such a cute angel!"  She handed him several cubes of low-fat, low-sugar, low-taste caramel.

Billy scowled.  "I wanted to be a werewolf."

Billy's mother blanched.  "Billy, is that any way to be on Beggar's Night?"

Billy shook off the costume's wings and walked away.  "It's Halloween," he muttered, low enough that neither woman heard him.

In the brilliance of the headlights, the congregation planned their defense against the War On Christmas.

Billy looked past the lights, past the suburbs, to the moon beginning to rise.

Billy began to howl.

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What I've Learned From Amanda Palmer's Critics.

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You’re never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from the scratch once again. - Bikram Choudhury

Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon posted (yet another) negative article about AFP, and it led me to realize something else.

First, the article demonstrates several of the mistakes and misunderstandings I talked about earlier this week:

1. The article freely admits AFP'll only take home $100k from the Kickstarter (and only alludes to sarcasm quotes while doing so). They neglect to mention that's not a per-annum income. AFP would have to pull off an epic Kickstarter like the last one every two years - with equivalent amounts of success - to make as much as the average US wage at a day job. And keep in mind that making a record usually can't happen at the same time as touring.

2. Despite explicitly saying that AFP will only take home $100k from the Kickstarter (net income), it immediately turns around and repeatedly, even though they just finished saying it's not a relevant number. The sub-head even says "Kickstarter millionaire", even though she isn't a millionaire. The confusion of net and gross income so many times throughout the article indicates either near-incompetent amounts of sloppiness... or malice.

3. Participating in the Kickstarter was (at most) an investment in the creation of the music. It doesn't give me (or any other person who contributed to the Kickstarter) any say in any part of her tour. For that matter, it didn't give us any say in the music, either. (In fact, Kickstarter has re-committed to the idea that being a backer doesn't even give you this.)

4. Buried in the end of the eighth paragraph is the statement that AFP has, herself, done exactly what she asked of others throughout her career. This makes charges of exploitation and hypocrisy a little harder to take seriously.

There seems to be a tone in these articles and rants1... not just the ones about AFP, but about any public person who encourages self-actualization, idealism, and art. They seem to take a kind of glee as they expose how that generous person, that kind person, that artistic person, that inspired or inspiring person isn't any of those idealized things. And if someone succeeds, but others haven't, then their message must be fundamentally flawed.

At first, I feel annoyed. Then, after I have a chance to think about it, I feel pity.

Because they seem to have completely, utterly, fucking missed the point.

Let's pretend they're 100% right, and Amanda Palmer did not actually live up to the ideals she espouses. I don't think that's true, but let's go with that for a moment.

So what? It doesn't mean the ideals are wrong.

People screw up. They don't always live up to their ideals. They fail.

That's not just okay... that's the whole point.2 By the time we're old and experienced enough to realize that we might be fucked up, we are completely fucked. We have so much baggage that we can't even see it all. We have so many concerns and worries that we lose track of the things that bring us joy and happiness.

We have failed more times than we can count. We have betrayed others. We have betrayed ourselves. We doubt ourselves, our intentions, our hopes, our dreams. We have compromised our dreams into the treadmill of the rat race. We have given up happiness for stability... or worse, the illusion of stability.

But we never stop having a choice to find a different way.

So, thank you, Amanda's critics. Thank you for helping change her mind about paying the backup musicians, even when there were people who would do it for free.

More important to me: Thank you for reminding me what frightens me. Thank you for giving me the context for "Ukulele Anthem".

How can I slit my wrists when I can't stop dancing?




1 Particularly now that AFP is paying musicians. Before, sure, critique to get her to change what you're viewing as an injustice. Got it. Now, though? Was Salon just that late to the party, or is there something else motivating the continued existence of articles like these?
2 You've heard me talk about this before here - I get to it about halfway through the post.

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What I Learned About The Value of Joy From Amanda Palmer

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I summed up a lot of how I felt about the recent furor around AFP's "beer and hugs"-gate last week; there's only a few things that I've been adding over the last few days.

First I made some observations (and resolutions) as a publisher. Then I talked about some things I observed from a sociological/economic point of view. Now, I'll sum up with a personal example.

I tend to think that if people have information equality about risks, potential benefits, and value, then they can make an informed decision. Over the last three months, I've had several different conversations about the services I can - and cannot - offer as a publisher with prospective partners. I tried to give the most accurate information possible about my abilities, my strong points, and my weak points. Sometimes it means I get more work, sometimes not.

And that's okay. Some people will choose not to do business with me because I cannot offer them enough (by whatever measure is important to them) to be worth their while. And I totally and completely respect that. For some people, they've framed it in terms of how much of an up-front payment they required. Others requested different terms for exclusivity. I had personality conflicts with others. And yet others did not think I offered as much exposure to a larger audience that they could manage themselves. But they made an informed choice about what they would give up, and what it would be worth to them. And I can respect that choice - because I'm making a similar evaluation.

When I decide whether or not to do business with someone, I factor in things like name recognition, potential audience they can bring (both for that project and future projects), the quality of their work that I've seen so far, how much it will cost me (in time, money, and stress), how working with them will impact my reputation, and how much I want to work with them out of the sheer enjoyment of working with them or promoting their work.

And for me, it's not all about cash.

Case in point: Matt Betts' book of humorous genre poetry See No Evil, Say No Evil. I really, really like this book. I also like Matt, he's a great guy, and has been a pleasure to work with. I pestered him for about two years to be able to bring this book into print and digital formats, simply because the book gives me that much joy. (Don't believe me? Go check out Matt reading "Instructions for Converting your Deathbot to a Gardenbot".)

I don't expect to get rich from this book. I would be foolish to think it was the next "Shades of Grey". I may not even make my money3 back - I simply don't know. But I was determined to both publish the book - and to make sure that Matt got his share of the royalties from the first sale onward.

Why publish it? Because it is totally worth it to me to make sure that others get to enjoy this book too. I enjoy the book, want to support Matt creating more of this stuff that I love, and hope that others also get enjoyment from the book.

With any degree of luck, this effort will gain him several more fans than he would have had otherwise... so when he finishes his next collection, it will do even better. And so on, and so on.

Doing this fulfills a need for me - perhaps toward the top of Maslow's hierarchy instead of the bottom - but it's still a need.

I know that the vast majority of the human population is nowhere near the top of that pyramid. I want to be as high up that pyramid as possible. And I want as many people as possible to be able to journey there too.4


As always, feel free to disagree with me in the comments!


3 Or what I would charge for my time plus advertising, and so on.
4 And again, this is where I'd disagree with AFP's original decision - providing even a token payment helps deal with the immediate lower needs while still providing a chance at a means to move higher up that hierarchy. But as mentioned with the discoverability bit yesterday, it's not hard to make an argument about "teaching someone to fish" instead of just giving them a fish.

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What I Learned About Society From Amanda Palmer

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I summed up a lot of how I felt about the recent furor around AFP's "beer and hugs"-gate last week. I'm continuing my own observations here to clarify my own position and also to point out some things I've noticed here and there.

Yesterday I added my observations (and resolutions) as a publisher. Today, I'll talk about some things I observed from a sociological/economic point of view. And tomorrow, I'll sum up with a personal example.

Realistically, this whole argument comes down to economics and sociology. So a few observations that I haven't seen (or heard) expressed too clearly yet...

  • Gross income is not the same as net income. That's one reason I don't give actual dollar amounts that often as a publisher. Quite a bit of money goes through my hands as a publisher... and very little of it stays there.  After sinking money back into advertising (and not counting my time), I (as a publisher) just barely broke even last year, and will probably be about the same this year.
  • Different industries have different power dynamics. The first objection I was exposed to about beer-and-hug-gate compared AFP's offer to workers being overworked and emotionally abused at distribution centers (link to cache, as the site's bandwidth has been pounded). Analogies across sectors are dangerous arguments for this reason; they're fundamentally different experiences, not least due to the level of skill of the individuals involved.
  • Exposure is not a guarantee of success. As the converse of the discoverability problem, exposure doesn't mean sales. It's not hard to find stories of sites who have experienced the slashdot (or boingboing or lifehacker) effect, only to find that meant a tiny increase of income. Exposure alone doesn't pay the bills. Doing excellent and creating excellent content where nobody knows about it also doesn't pay the bills. Again, it's about finding that pivot point, and it'll be different for everyone. (Luck also matters a LOT here.)
  • There are strong, disagreeing, and poorly articulated reactions to different theories of value. I don't hold with the neoclassical theory of value (e.g. "It has to have a price to have worth") or Marx's labor theory of value. Instead, I have a very utilitarian view that sees value as inherently subjective and individual; while there may be trends, they are not universal or constant. An hour of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child" is not of equivalent value to an hour of NASCAR racing or an hour of "Doctor Who". While price is a rough approximation of value, it is only one of many metrics by which value can (and should) be evaluated. For the most part, I've noticed that the disagreements around AFP's actions of late have centered on these different measures of value - and insisting that the right way to measure value is the one the person talking has. (I've been quite guilty of this, FWIW.)
  • I do have a personal moral reaction to economic injustice. Mine is triggered by individuals or organizations capitalizing on information inequality. This was a new thing for me to realize so clearly. As a practical example, I get pissed at vanity presses capitalizing on new writer's lack of knowledge in order to sell them wildly overpriced services. Conversely, I was not particularly outraged by AFP's original request because I presumed2 that the people she was reaching out to would have roughly the same level of knowledge about the risks and value of what she offered, and could make their own decision whether or not it was worth it. 

To add to that last point, I've had the misfortune of running across some vanity presses (calling themselves "publishers") running pay-to-play schemes. So in order to do something about it, in the next week or so, I'm going to write up exactly how much the services some of these vanity presses offer would actually cost you... so that you can decide yourself if it's worthwhile. (Hint: It's less than what they charge, but it's difficult to find that out without doing it yourself.)

As I say on the page where I offer publishing services:
You need to make sure that the person or organizations charging you are giving you a good value for your money. Is it something you could do yourself? Is it simply something you don't want to do? Or something you don't know how to do? I just had an individual pay me for burning CDs — simply because he had the money to spare, but not the time. That's an informed decision — as opposed to someone not letting you know how easy it is to burn a CD anymore.

Because writers often demand these services, and the powers-that-be often tell them to do it themselves, it leaves the fledgling writer at the mercy of the scammers. That's crap.

So I'll offer these services, and gladly take your money. I'll tell you how much it really costs, and what I'm charging you and why. And if you decide that you want to keep giving me money, I'll be thrilled — because I know I'll have earned a fair wage. If you decide you can do it yourself, I'll also be thrilled — because I'll know that you're not falling prey to scammers.

As before, feel free to disagree in the comments! I'll wrap this up tomorrow with a personal example of what I'm talking about and where I'm coming from as both an individual and a publisher.


2 Perhaps wrongly; I can't know that.

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Things I've Learned From Amanda Palmer As A Publisher

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publishing.pngI summed up a lot of how I felt about the recent furor around AFP's "beer and hugs"-gate1 last week; there's only a few things that I'm going to add here over the next few days.

First, I'm going to add my observations (and resolutions) as a publisher. Tomorrow, I'll talk about some things I observed from a sociological/economic point of view. And Friday, I'll sum up with a personal example.

And finally, as an important side note:  I've talked about this (online and off) with quite a few people over the last week or so.   This isn't aimed at anyone;  I'm clarifying my own position publicly.

As Alliteration Ink:

  • I will continue to pay percentages (and higher than normal) when I can't pay people up front. This is one place I disagree with AFP's (original) decision. I understand the value of gaining an audience (see the next point), but I also think it's important to also pay content creators what I can. If I can't pay an advance against royalties, I pay a higher percentage of royalties. But I can also think of some reasons that would work for me and not her. For example, a percentage of the gross and net take for a show in NYC is probably very different than the same percentage of the gross and net take for a show in Podunk). That said, I'm glad that AFP has decided to pay them more than beer and hugs and merch; that's more in line with my own personal ethos.
  • There needs to be a refinement to indictments against "exposure" with the existent discoverability problem. Discoverability is an issue for any independent content creator, whether a musician, author, app developer, comedian, filmmaker, performance artist... the list goes on. Hell, this goes for many a "signed" artist as well. There is a point where additional "exposure" gives diminishing value. But there is a whole class of professional level content creators who are still struggling to gain sufficient audience to turn their art into a career. Consider: What else drives advertising and review sites, except the hope that it will attract new readers and fans?
  • When (and maybe if, now) I run a crowdfunding campaign as a publisher, it will be quite clearly structured as pre-orders. I thought of AFP's Kickstarter campaign that way. I paid for a digital download of the album and some cool artwork. I got what I paid for, and the transaction's complete. But quite a few people felt that contributing to the Kickstarter gave them a voice in what happened after the album was delivered. I categorically disagree strongly with this viewpoint... and have no interest in opening myself up to back-seat driving as a publisher.

Feel free to disagree in the comments; this is all very value-laden stuff, but I think discussing it openly is more important than just getting pissy with each other.


1 Aw, c'mon. You know you wanted to call it that too.

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Because it had to be done....

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Advice Needed: How to Tell Someone They've Been Hit With A Publishing Scam

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dI keep my eye out for other small publishers like myself.  When I see presentations on small, self, or digital publishing, I get interested... both as a publisher, and as an author.  Obviously they were respected enough to be invited or accepted to present this kind of programming.

Then, because this is the 21st century, I go look the presenters up on the internet.

And then my blood pressure starts to rise.

Their "basic" plan is two grand up front?   (150 books, a thousand bookmarks, a banner... maybe a grand worth of expenses...)

And they go up in increments of two grand each from there?

I'm kind of hard-pressed to see how that fits Yog's Law1.

One of the reasons I started publishing is spelled out on my website:

Publishing services - whether with me or someone else - means that a specific service is delivered for a specific fee. I do what you pay me for, and not any more or less. (For example, I don't correct grammar or spelling during eBook conversion.) Someone providing publishing services gets paid by the author.
A publisher instead takes a percentage - usually a majority one - but handles much, if not all, of the business aspects without involving (or bothering) the author. The publisher would hire both copy and line editor, cover artist, etc without payment from the author. The author is paid an advance against royalties (most of the time) and royalties are paid out to the author through the sale of the book to the general public. The publisher makes money from sales of the book to the public.
You might remember that I've actually confronted scammers in public before, and recommended that authors use ITW's publisher checklist to evaluate their own publishers.

So here's my problem: As I've already mentioned, this ... vanity press (at best) ... has managed to be accepted as a legitimate presenter at a respectable local venue.  (I am NOT talking about CONTEXT here, it's something in Dayton.)  I've already figured out that I can copy some of the presentation techniques they're using2.  I'll be writing up some bits to level the information inequality these people take advantage of. 

But should I bother letting the venue know?  And if so, how should I go about doing it?



1 Even the modified Yog's Law of "Value flows toward the author."
2 For example, touting the conference appearances and presentations I've made outside of my CV. Or even offering some.

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Oh, the Panels I'll Be On!

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EventsContext, a writing convention in Columbus the last weekend this month, has just posted their preliminary programming schedule, and I've gotten my assignments for panels, all of which have pretty self-explanatory titles:

Friday 9pm: Doing Readings and Reading Don'ts
Friday 10pm: Flash Fiction Contest
Saturday 10am: How Does Science Work?
Saturday 1pm: The Next Step: What happens AFTER you break into print?
Saturday 6pm: Writer's Workshops: What do you get out of them?
Sunday 2pm: A Simple Source: Plotting Based on a Single Object

I'm actually moderating several of these...

Mind you, there's going to be a LOT of other cool folks there as well, so don't let me being there discourage you.  

I'll also have a table in the dealer's room, and will be around pretty much all weekend.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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No One Can Hear You - 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!

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 (http://feeds.feedburner.com/Ideatrash) in your podcatcher or phone.










The NecromagnitronThe speaker crackled and clicked on.  "Everything good, Sergeant?"

The astronaut tied to the chair moaned through the gag.

"I know you're not a man of science, so hopefully you'll forgive a small lecture."

The man strained against the plastic ropes, tipping the chair over.

"Sound is transmitted by molecules vibrating against one another.  And space is a vacuum.  No molecules."

The man saw the bomb, just out of reach.

"Well, not quite a vacuum.  Just very few molecules.  They have to move a long way to hit another one."

The bomb's timer ticked down to zero.

"So scream loud."

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On Working For Free and (My) Hypocrisy

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Writing NotesAmong the Amanda Palmer-centric areas of the intertubes, there's been a lot of furor about Amanda Palmer asking musicians to play local shows with her band for (essentially) free.  This has set off triggers for several of my writer friends (including my girlfriend) for quite a few reasons (IMPORTANT FOOTNOTE BELOW)... but I think one of the biggest reasons for the annoyance is that as writers, we're tired of seeing our efforts devalued.  The next two quotes (as well as the third) come from "Business Advice From Writers To Writers", which I put together last year.
Ask questions and learn to parse the advice you're given. Learn the business as well as the craft. If I wanted to write just for the love of it, I'd just put my stories on my blog. My time and work are worth pay, not just the promise of "exposure."  - Maurice Broaddus

Exposure is a word pertaining to nearly dying of cold, not a useful way to make a living as a writer.  - Tobias Buckell
These are very, very true.  Money flows toward the author.  In an industry where "professional" rates are essentially unchanged for over three decades, where the efforts of writers are devalued, demeaned, and taken for granted, where scams are sometimes hard to distinguish from legitimate professionals, the idea of working simply for "exposure" is kind of a non-starter.

Except I've done work for free.  I don't striate my fiction sales in my bibliography by how much they've paid - but I can assure you that only one of the flash fiction bits got paid anywhere near a pro rate (the one to Daily Science Fiction).  But I've written fiction - on request - for free and for exposure before.  And I will again.
Don't be afraid to try something new - audiobooks, bookmarks, book blog tours, serializing, etc. Don't hesitate to stop doing what doesn't pay off.  - Daniel Coleman
I wrote "In the Time of Dragons" for the Origins anthology last year (as part of the deal for participating in the Library and having table space), and I'm obligated to write another story for them for next year.  I also wrote "The Burning Servant" for free for Mike Stackpole's Chain Story.  I ended up selling audio rights to "The Burning Servant" to Pseudopod (who did an awesome job with it), and that has given me a greater degree of opportunities and  respectability.  Being part of the Library at Origins got me introduced to a whole bunch of fans - and also to other peers (and more opportunities) than I wouldn't have otherwise had.

I made a decision about how much value the exposure, opportunities, and experience would be worth. 

At the time and place I made those decisions, it was worthwhile from a career and financial perspective.  I reserve the right to make a different decision further on down the line - either because there are more demands on my time, or because the value of the exposure, opportunities, and experience do not seem worth it.

I keep emphasizing the experience itself.  Not "experience" in terms of practice, but "experience" as in "I had this cool experience".  Don't forget that economics is a stand in for subjective valuations of "worth".  In an essay explaining why she would play (again) with AFP for free, cellist Unwoman says:
On any given night, would I rather be playing with one of my top-10 favorite current musicians, or hanging out at home? Or buying a ticket, merely watching the show, wishing I were on stage? The answer is obvious for me.
I can understand that.  I sold one book at a particular convention this year.  I had a really bad sales experience there the year before.  But I got to hang with a lot of really cool people (when I wasn't sitting at a table) and my girlfriend had a lot of fun as an attendee.  So am I going to go back as a vendor?  Um, no.  Is it possible (even probable) that I'll go back as a panelist or attendee?  Absolutely.

If Neil Gaiman were to invite me to write a short story for an anthology, for free, and read it on stage with him... I would sign that contract in a heartbeat.  Even if I made my full-time living writing, even if I had to scrimp and save to make it happen.  Hell, I might even pay to be a part of that.  Because I've been a big fan of Mr. Gaiman for going on twenty years now.  That experience would be worth it to me.

Thirty four people thought it was worth $5k to host a house party (essentially private concert).  Four people thought it was worth a thousand dollars to simply have a donut with AFP before a show.

A thousand bucks?  For a donut before a show?   Um... no.  Not for me.  But it was a totally fair price for four people, because for those four people, there is no substituting that donut for a donut with anyone else, ever.

To close with one more quote from Unwoman's article:

 A musician who only wants to play paid gigs? That's valid too; neither of us is more serious or righteous than the other.



IMPORTANT FOOTNOTE: This is addressing the actual offer AFP made. There's a whole separate bit of serious and valid critique and criticism about the phrasing of the offer and the nature of AFP's response to critique about the offer, which I am not addressing here.

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How Anti-Piracy Activists Can Be Used to Destroy Negative Reviews

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Anyone who posts their comments (let alone official reviews) of books, music, or movies online should be very, very concerned about the state of anti-piracy legislation.  To get to that, we have to first mention this:

Anti-Piracy Outfits Think Megaupload, Demonoid & BTjunkie Are Still Alive

TorrentFreak's take is about how anti-piracy folks want Google to do their work, but that's not the part that caught my attention.

But while seemingly everyone knows that Megaupload no longer exists, the likes of IFPI, BPI, Sony, Warner, Universal, EMI, The Publisher’s Association, Microsoft, and adult company Vivid (to name a few) are absolutely oblivious. To this very day these companies are sending takedown demands to Google ordering the company to remove links to content on Megaupload.com that hasn’t existed, at the least, for almost nine months.

So let's run through, shall we?

Mitt Romney gots hit by a DMCA notice which stalled a political ad.  Even if everyone agrees it's fair use (which it arguably was), it serves as a chilling effect.  (More on chilling effects at the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.)

A company uses DMCA notices to get a competitor's web pages delisted with Google.

The UStream of the Hugo Awards was auto-banned by a copyright enforcement bot.  Even though the clips in question (which were shown in their entirety) were authorized by the copyright holder.  Yeah, sure UStream is going to tweak things, but any scheme like this is going to produce false positives.

The article above, showing that anti-piracy folks are continuing to register complaints about content that is no longer there.

And then there's the US version of the "strikes" rules, where a complaint directly to your ISP about "allegedly infringing content" will trigger various consequences.  Oh yeah - and you're guilty until proven innocent:
If you’re getting copyright alerts but haven’t been downloading illegally, an independent board will review your claim–for a $35 filing fee (the fee is refunded if you’re in the right).
The fact that entertainment companies are continuing to send takedown notices to sites that haven't existed for months demonstrates that they don't care about false positives.  Why should they?  A false accusation of piracy - something that has actually happened to me, thanks - has no consequences for them.  None at all.

So what's this have to do with  review sites?  Let me walk you through it (because honestly, I'm surprised it's not happened yet):

It's not hard to find stories of (prominent, successful) authors behaving badly when it comes to reviews of their books.  Whether by paying for good reviews, using "sockpuppets" to post them, or flying off the handle responding to bad reviews,   One of these knuckleheads sees a review of their work they disagree with.

They file a (baseless) notice directly with your ISP.

Sure, it's fair use.  We all know it's fair use - but that doesn't prevent the filing.  That doesn't prevent your ISP from (probably) requiring you to prove your innocence.  The system is designed to put the burden of proof on the accused.  (And there's still lots of whining that it's too hard from the anti-piracy crowd, believe me.)

And then they do it again.  And again.  They screw up your listing with search engines by filing takedown notices for content that no longer exists on your site.  And so on.

Don't think it could happen?  Please.  While I've yet to hear of an author or publisher actively using this tactic ... it's just a matter of time until those loopholes are exploited.  For example, it only took two years for the problems with automated takedowns (noted here on Chilling Effects in 2010) to hit a prominent target like the Hugos.

Clock's ticking.

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Writing the Other: Taking a Lesson from Les blanches exotiques

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Writing NotesI've been following Les blanches exotiques for a few weeks now. It's usually hilarious (to me) because it's so damn spot-on. It also flips the discrimination narrative in a way that, I think, fits N.K. Jemisin's criteria. (Go read her bit about "flipping the scrip", really.)  Or as they put it:
“The key is to use exotic to describe white as non-mockingly as possible and as often, so that exotic can stop meaning non-white essentially. Non-mocking meaning, non-mocking to white girls ability to be exotic, because when we mock white girls ability to be exotic we reinforce the logic of exotification.”
And for the most part, it works.  Really, really well.  It highlights how the dominant white western culture "others" people while showing how strange white western culture can be.1

For us writers of speculative fiction, we have to be exquisitely aware of this sort of thing when our characters meet a new (alien, fantasy, whatever) culture.  There's two posts in particular that might provide you some perspective... and maybe some ideas.   The click through and read this illustration of a high-caste exotic white man. The description is both hilarious and spot-on.

The second one is what prompted me to write this:  "Exotic Whites and their Disturbing Practices of Human Sacrifice".

They celebrate crucifiction[sic]! I know they say they don’t actually *practice* crucifixion, but there are *multiple* big crosses on hillsides in virtually every white community. You expect me to believe they build them but never use them?
Take that concept.  Play with it in your fiction.  Subvert expectations.  And remember that to someone who isn't in the group, every cultural norm can seem exotic, silly, or even sinister... while still being something that just is everyday life to the people who live there.

And the ball did pass through the uprights, and it was Good.
And thus we celebrate the day the Titans were dragged down into the Earth to be imprisoned until the stars are right....

Yeah.  See what I mean?


1 See? I almost did it there, by using "we" and "us" and "ourselves". Because I'm a white male, and I have this default assumption that the people reading this are also white male. Sneaky, sneaky stuff.

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HOWTO show your book covers in a blog sidebar with clickable links.

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technology.pngMy pal Sarah Hans asked how to make a sidebar widget on her blog with clickable book covers. It's pretty easy to do one like mine; I have the code below with comments to explain what I'm doing.

One thing to avoid: don't have links to every store for every book on your blog sidebar. It gets too crowded and a pain to maintain. If at all possible, have separate pages for each book with links to the store. That way you can reference that *page* wherever you need to talk about the book. For example, when talking about Don Bingle's spy thriller Net Impact, I don't have to worry about making links for each store each and every time - it points them to netimpact.alliterationink.com, where I have all those links available. Trust me - when you need to add a store, it's a lot easier to add it once than everywhere you talk about the book...

  • You need to have the ability to add a text/html widget to your blog. (Wordpress | Blogger)
  • You need to have someplace to host the covers of your books. Do not link to a store's pictures!
  • You need to have a link for each book. As mentioned, I like linking to a page with all the purchasing options available. You can have it just link to your preferred bookstore, but that has drawbacks.
  • You need to have a simple page where people can see all the purchasing options. Many blogs (hell, even Tumblr) let you create your own static pages. Use those if you are using your blog as your main website.

DO NOT CUT AND PASTE WHAT IS BELOW. Use the code hosted on Pastebin instead!



Make some degree of sense?

Two slightly complex tags:

The link. It has a few modifiers. href= points to the webpage you want to link to. target="_blank" forces it to open in a new window or page. It also closes twice...



And the image. src= points to the actual image in question. alt= shows the text displayed if your image doesn't load (and while it's loading). title= shows the text displayed when you mouseover. Those two are usually the same text.




So, here's an example with two books in two sections:

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Red - 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 (http://feeds.feedburner.com/Ideatrash) in your podcatcher or phone.

Zid the WerewolfThe clouds of the morning sky glowed the same red as the drying Russian blood on Istvan's fur. He glanced at Janos beside him. The younger man bared his teeth. They both shifted to full farkasform, loping on all fours toward the safehouse.

Janos had the speed of youth, emerging from the alley just before Istvan. Istvan heard the hiss of steam a moment too late for his friend. Silvered blades sliced into Janos' body. Istvan skidded to a halt, just far enough forward to see the Russian steamwalker begin to stand and ready another volley.

Istvan ran.

For now.

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Your Ears Need This: 8Tracks

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8Tracks is "handcrafted internet radio".  Simply, you make a mix of eight or more tracks ... and then let others (or yourself) enjoy.

It's been really interesting for me so far - especially in getting exposure to different bands and works.  I do wish they'd link "buy" to more than iTunes, though...

You can find me as SenorWombat there... and I'd recommend my playlist "Yog Sothoth's Ambient Mixtape".  I made (and listened to) it while proofreading Dangers Untold.  Great stuff to read horror to.  As I described it:


Screaming guitars? No. Death growls? No. Those are not the sounds of the Mythos. Instead, this is just a soundtrack meant to be a slow steady grind against your sanity as you come to realize how insignificant, how pathetic, how meaningless you are in the universe. Largely quiet (though they may not stay that way), sanity-scrubbing throbbing deep cuts. Enjoy.

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What the hell happened in August?

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A sizeable percentage of my friends and acquaintances (and even quite a few people that I follow but don't know) have now mentioned hitting some kind of depressed or self-doubting period during August like I did.

Which gets me thinking... that group of people are largely made up of creative and "sensitive" folks.

Did R'lyeh breach the waves, troubling our sleep and dreams?

Or would that just be a convenient excuse to buy this awesome poster?

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HOWTO Approach Someone At A Convention

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I recently read Monica Valentinelli's post about having someone ignore her at WorldCon, and I really, really hope I've never come across like that to you... but I probably have.  (I did it unintentionally to my girlfriend once;  that means the odds I've done it to others is high.)  While Monica's experience seems rather different (her account is of someone not being busy, but deliberately ignoring her through the whole con), I can too easily imagine someone else reading her account and imagining me.1

So it got me to thinking:   What are some tips for folks when you want to approach someone at a convention?

  • Arrange an actual time ahead of time (preferably around a meal or drinks).
  • Be cool with the idea that you may not get solo time with the person you're approaching (even if it's arranged around a meal or drinks).
  • Room parties are not good - they're often too loud and hot and crowded.
  • Acknowledge that the other person may have significant others who come first.
  • Respect when the person you're approaching says "Sorry, I'm meeting X or Y".
  • When the person you're approaching is deep in conversation, avoid approaching altogether or wait at the edge to be acknowledged (see examples below).
  • Make your contact short and brief - and leave the choice to continue interacting with the person you're approaching (see example below).
Right.  Real-life examples:

I saw Monica in a hotel lobby at GenCon this year.  I was talking to someone else at the time - and she was talking to a few other folks.  (I'm not even sure she saw me.)  The person I was talking to asked if I wanted to go talk to Monica.  "Nah," I said.  "She's busy right now, and I don't want to interrupt." 

I saw Pat Rothfuss at Origins.  He was talking to several other people; I waited unobtrusively until he acknowledged me, then moved over and talked to him for about three minutes, and then got out of the way and let him get back to his conversation.

When I saw Mary Robinette Kowal at Origins, she was between commitments, so I just said a quick "Hi", thanked her again for the classes she does on reading aloud, and said "It looks like you're busy."  At that point, I was providing an opening for her to say "Yes, I have X to go to," and naturally allow the conversation to close... but if she'd been free and wanted to continue the conversation, she could have done that as well.


The three people above were very professional... and very busy.  Had I not followed my own tips above, I could have felt ignored and upset.  Because I did, I (hopefully) did not come across as an overbearing jerk and I felt good about the interaction.

While I'm still really small fry in the world of publishing and writing, I've already hit the point where there isn't enough time at conventions to have all the conversations I want to have... and if I'm having these problems, I'm sure that others who have been around longer have the same issues as well.

Obviously, this won't help if you're trying to approach someone who isn't being unprofessional - as Monica unfortunately experienced.  But it will help when you're approaching just about anyone else.


1 Or maybe not. But I'd rather be sure than sorry.

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CONTEXT 25 - 28-30 in Columbus Ohio

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If you've not yet registered for CONTEXT - a writing/genre convention in Columbus, OH at the end of this month, there's still time!  As they put it:
Context is a friendly convention focused on speculative fiction literature and related games, comics and films.  If you enjoy manga, anime, science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you'll find plenty to entertain you at this convention.
There's a load of great small-group workshops (cost extra, but worth it for several hours of small class instruction on specialized topics) and panels galore.  It's small and fun, and is great for new and fledgling writers looking to improve their writing past that initial level.

I'll be there as a dealer and on panels, and I'm also glad to say that I'll be one of the judges for CONTEXT's first-ever flash fiction contest (sponsored by Raw Dog Screaming Press).

Contestants will be able to sign up at registration; there will be room for 12 contestants, and sign-ups will be first-come, first serve!

There will be two contestant categories: Pro and Amateur. Contestants in the Pro category would include writers who have published three or more short stories or a novel; anyone who would qualify for active status in SFWA or HWA would be a pro. Contestants who would qualify as Amateur would have no or less than two fiction publishing credits.

Contestants will read aloud complete stories of up to 1500 words; they'll be judged both on the story and on their performance of it. People must read their own work, published or unpublished, and must provide the judging panel with four hard copies in standard manuscript format so the judges can follow along. Individuals with speech disabilities, laryngitis, etc. may have friends read for them.

Prizes will include a $25 voucher for the dealer's room, a hardcover copy of Michael A. Arnzen's 100 Jolts, and a sculpture created for the Lovecraft-inspired artbook Verminomicon.
 Be there!

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Why I Argue Against Anti-Pirate Legislation in Four Screenshots

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While I'm clearly not a fan of piracy (even though I understand it sometimes), I can usually be found rooting against anti-piracy legislation.

In two screenshots, here's why:







Even if you didn't believe that I did not download any of the torrents claimed in the first screenshot, it's strange that only a few minutes passed before it claimed something completely different. All that changed was that I power-cycled my router... something that I have scheduled to happen once a day. That was enough to change the dynamically assigned IP address - which is what the big media companies have used to go after people in the past. This isn't even a case of someone cracking my wifi - still possible, even with WPA encryption - but just normal cycling.

To make things more complicated, let me show you two more...




Not only did the "found piracy" bits change, but the location changed dramatically. (Welcome to the world of VPNs and proxies.)

Considering that I've been falsely accused of piracy once before by an ISP, this is something I'm kind of exquisitely touchy about. Sure, you can try to backtrack time and date stamps to figure out what account was connected to what IP address and when... but that's not something the RIAA or MPAA (or any of their hired thugs) routinely bother doing.  The screenshots are from webservice "ScanEye".  ScanEye does not work with the RIAA or MPAA - but both organizations (and the companies they've hired) use similar practices.

In the USA, there's supposed to be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty - and it's all too easy to look guilty (and be treated as if you're guilty) without being guilty.

Try looking at ScanEye yourself, and see what it has to say.  You might be unpleasantly surprised.

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HOWTO Make Your Hamburger Helper Better

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I made myself some generic hamburger meal stuff today (you know, like "Hamburger Helper"). It's been a guilty pleasure of mine for decades. I love the stuff. Particularly the "lasagna" types.

Seriously.  The last time I made some, I just followed the directions on the box, and it looked... well, brown.  Brown?  For lasagna flavor?  I know I'm getting artificial flavoring, but even chewing gum makes an effort to hide the fact.

Notice that it kinda LOOKS like lasagna.
Even though it kind of sucks in its default state.  I do, however, have some ways to punch up your meal-in-a-box, particularly the kinds that are faux-Italian food.
  1. Get decent hamburger.  Can't emphasize this enough.  If you decide to use TVP (texturized vegetable protein) with the meat, you can get away with ground chuck (don't drain it if you use TVP), but otherwise get something better.
  2. Stir the mix in a separate bowl first.  This goes for all varieties.  Whisk that powder into the water you add before adding it to the hamburger.  Makes a huge difference.
  3. Add some spices while browning the hamburger.  Personally, I tend to add chunked garlic (garlic salt works in a pinch) and rosemary.  Doesn't have to be great quality for this purpose.
  4. Add tomato paste, reduce the water by about 1/3 of a cup.  Biggest difference.  Get the cheapest you can - though preferably without corn syrup.
  5. Add in some other veggies.  If you're using one of the other varieties - particularly the "cheeseburger" types - add some canned (and drained!) or frozen vegetables when you start the simmering part.  Adds more texture, flavor, and makes it a bit healthier.
  6. Do it yourself.  If you make this kind of stuff on a regular basis, get some decent noodles, whip up some seasonings in packets, and skip the box altogether.  It's not worthwhile if you make it once a month or so (like I do), but if you're doing it once a week or more... well, you'll have the stuff on hand, right?

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Inspector: 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 (http://feeds.feedburner.com/Ideatrash) in your podcatcher or phone.

Inspector detectiveThe security guard scowled, face hard as the steel door behind him. "ID, miss. You need to show it at all times."

I sighed, digging in my pockets.

"...don't need no stinking badges..." I muttered, finally withdrawing the plasticized card from my cargo pockets.

The guard looked it over. "You sure about this?"

"You know how many of these guys think 'boob inspector' is funny?"

As the guard smiled and opened the door to the annual frat convention, I unrolled my tape measure, adjusted my "junk inspector" badge, and anticipated making a lot of egos experience a lot of shrinkage.

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Your Ears Need This: Arkona

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hearthisArkona isn't quite like other metal bands. Or folk bands. Or... well, just about anything else. Over the course of their ten year history, they've grown from essentially being a death/doom metal band with pretensions to one that elegantly blends both metal and Russian folk music.1

These three songs give you a pretty good idea of the current range of the band, roughly arranged from heaviest to lightest in tone (so yeah, give all three a listen).


Upon returning from a sea voyage, the warriors brave out a storm in the night which leads to a shipwreck on the reef. Wounded and freezing, the crew disembarks onto a small rocky island hoping to survive, but when they realize that they will not last out till morning, they pray to Wind-Stribog to bring the message about their death to their families and relatives. Perishing, the warriors thank Rod for the life they have been given.





It's worth noting that the lyrics apparently (I'm relying on other people's translations) don't get any less intense, even when the music isn't as heavy. That's not a mosh pit in the last video, that's "wall-on-wall" style Russian bare-knuckle boxing.

Whoa.


1 Yeah, in case you can't tell, I'm not really a fan of anything before Goi, Rode, Goi! Too much death growl, not enough melody for my taste. YMMV.

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