ideatrash

Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

How to Win With NaNoWriMo Even When You Don't "Win" NaNoWriMo

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I didn't "win" NaNoWriMo. Not in the predefined sense of fifty thousand words over the course of a month. Not even close.

I was on track for quite a while, then between getting books submitted for awards, completely changing which shift I worked at my day job, some drama around Thanksgiving, and a heck of a cold, the "rest of my life" kept butting in.

However, I don't think I "lost" either.

  1. I wrote over 19,000 words on that one story in November - which is three times the length of any single story that I've written to date.
  2. That story isn't "done". Not by a long shot. I know where it's going, and it's only about halfway through the tale.
  3. I also know it's going to get longer. I've written enough to know that my second drafts are always longer than my first drafts. Initial feedback from my writing group was that I rushed through things, so I expect that trend to hold.
  4. I learned quite clearly what works for me and what doesn't, and what conditions sabotage the crap out of me writing fiction.
I've long held that NaNoWriMo is useful in only limited ways. It's not (for most people) a sustainable way to write a novel. To quote why I didn't do NaNoWriMo in 2010:
I don't have anything against the project; it definitely serves to get a lot of people past the hump of not writing. For me, turning out a novel in 30 days would leave me with a lot of words and exhausted burnout. That's not a goal that would be useful for me; I couldn't keep up that pace.

That's still true. However, I had a very different problem this time around. I had the problem of second-guessing myself early on in the novel-writing process. I'd write a few thousand words, and just think of all the possible problems ahead of me, and just...stop.

And this time I haven't. I had the impulse, yes, but before "real life" interjected itself I'd already pushed myself past that point and moved onward. So even though I haven't "won" NaNoWriMo, it served exactly the purpose I wanted it to.

So those of you who are like me, who started but didn't "win" NaNoWriMo, don't waste your time considering why you "failed". Think instead about how you learned to succeed... and how you'll use those skills next month.

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My Updated CSS StyleSheet for eBook Creation

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There's a dozen and a half different ways to create stylesheets for eBooks.  Some are better than others overall, some have strengths and weaknesses.

I'm presenting mine here (updated, and with additional comments throughout) because of three reasons:

1.  It illustrates how to embed a font.
2.  It has a minimal amount of cascading.1  While cascading is useful, it also adds a level of complexity to keeping track of which style(s) apply to which things.  KISS;  it should be obvious at a glance which style (or at most, two) apply to any character in the text.
3.  It is damn-near failsafe.  I've yet to run across an eReader that can't handle the basic elements that are covered in this stylesheet - and when it has to fall back to a simpler method, it does gracefully.

You can find the stylesheet by itself here, or at this GitHub repository if you want to look at my other "helper" script (in bash) and tools I'm using for ePub creation.

I hope it provides a useful object for you to study and learn from in your own eBook creation




1 Okay, so for example, you could define a style for the body of the text, additional modifications for paragraphs within the body of the text, and additional modifications that only come into play if it's the first paragraph within the body of the text, and additional ones if it's the first five characters in that first paragraph. And they'd all apply automatically, which is great... until something borks somewhere, and then I have a hard time tracking down where the problem is. That's me, though. YMMV.

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You're so Vain, I Bet You Think This Blog Is About You

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I just finished updating my occasionally referenced policy about the relationship between my anecdotes and "real life", and I've posted it as a reference page (you can find all the reference pages in the right sidebar).

I'll go ahead and post it here again though, because it's important. In a country where people regularly mistake the personalities of characters for the personalities of actors, sometimes it's worth noting where the grey areas really are.



Privacy is important to me. Not just my own privacy, but the privacy of others. As a result, some of the details and anecdotes in this blog are, at best, "creative non-fiction".

  • I will frequently write about things that I've talked about in real life here on the blog. Some of those things may have been sparked by a conversation I had with other people, or an action someone else took.
  • I frequently take artistic license when talking about real life, usually to make an example more clear.
  • I frequently obfuscate real-life details, even if I report an event completely accurately.
  • I never violate privacy laws or ethical guidelines around privacy. If it appears that I am, it is a fictionalized account.
  • If I'm reacting to a blog post, tweet, public seminar - anything that's a broadcast medium - I will usually cite the person I'm talking about if I can and if it's relevant.
  • If it was prompted by a non-broadcast or limited broadcast medium - a private conversation, e-mail, anything on Facebook, forum post behind a password - then I will usually obfuscate the individual(s) in question.
  • If I didn't explicitly "out" you as the person I was talking to, there's one of four reasons (the last two are the most common, by far):
    1. I didn't want to for my own reasons.
    2. I didn't ask you about it beforehand.
    3. I wasn't talking about you
    4. I wasn't just talking about you.
  • If you choose to "out" yourself, please remember #3 above and realize how you might look silly.
  • If you think I'm talking about you and I misunderstood your point, please remember #3 above and ask me. For example, I could say "a female writer I know who I spoke to about eBooks" and easily refer to fifty people or more.


(adapted and expanded from this post in 2010)

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Alternative Holiday Songs To Escape the Endless Loop of "Classic Carols"

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I used to work at a Taco Bell in the mall.  Over the holiday season.  Which had a half-hour (or maybe an hour) loop of Christmas songs they played over and over and over.   I still can't stand Feliz Navidad - which used to be one of my favorites.  Even if I'd not had that kind of saturation exposure early in my life, I imagine that the month of Christmas music coming up would make anyone stir-crazy.1

So here's some alternate sources for holiday music that will help mix it up a bit.



The Santastic Mashup Collections

- There's actually several volumes within this one; these are mashups of Christmas classics and more modern songs. You can pick them all up at http://santastic4.com/collection/ (volume six is here: http://djbc.net/santastic6/). They range from silly to touching and sweet, as evidenced by these two tracks:



Menorah Mashups

- Also worth noting is "Menorah Mashups" compiled by djBC, if that's more your taste. I wasn't quite as fond of these, but your tastes may vary. Available at http://www.djbc.net/menorah.

dj BC: A Very Re:Composition Christmas

- This is easily my favorite, which keeps old classics largely the same, but with just a touch and hint of dance and dub. Available at http://www.djbc.net/recomposition/.


A Scary Little Christmas

- These are tracks done on solo piano with just a touch of a creepy gothic air to them. A very nice change of pace that can still please just about everyone. Available from Amazon or directly from the artist (with samples) at http://www.scarylittlechristmas.com/.

A Twisted Christmas

- Yes, I really, really like Twisted Sister's Christmas album. I've heard the other metal Christmas records, and they just leave something to be desired. This one delivers with all the camp and joy that hair metal always had. You can snag this at Amazon or Google Play.



1 Even though it's actually Advent now, and the Christmas season doesn't start until the 25th of December.

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I Don't Want (or Deserve) Your Cookie For My Personal Examples

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tl;dr: 

Actively supporting equality doesn't deserve praise the same way that being a toilet-trained adult doesn't deserve praise.  And being an anti-equality jackass deserves just as much disgust as an adult who voluntarily craps in their pants.


There's a phenomenon in equality1 movements known as "Wanting a Cookie" (Geek Feminism Wiki definition, a little bit more at Racism 101 that hints at where I'm going with this).  Here's a quick (slightly fictionalized) example:

The well-off, white, straight male CEO was giving an "inspirational" talk to his workers:   "We have to be friendly to all our customers.  We have to help all our customers, no matter how different they are from us.  Just the other day I saw someone in our parking lot who looked lost.  And even though they..."  -there is a pause here, just long enough to be ominous here - "...were from a different lifestyle than me, I helped them find their way."  They smiled, and straightened their lapels.  "And you know, I'm still okay.  And I felt really good about helping those people."

That pause - in a city where "you know, those people" still often refers to people of color - spoke volumes.  As did the coda at the end.  The CEO was holding themselves up as some kind of awesome person.  They thought they deserved a reward - a "cookie" - for just giving directions to another human being.  

Bullshit.

As part of the #1reasonwhy discussion, I mentioned on Facebook that I'd only flat-out refused to use one suggested anthology cover - because it relied on T&A.  I continued:  "Maybe it would have sold more [with the sexist cover] - but it wasn't worth the cost of my sense of self."

I realized it right after I hit "post":  That could sound like I was looking for a cookie.  That rather than keeping the focus on equality in games and media, it could look like I was wanting some kind of praise.

That's not the case.

I'm slamming those idiots who do rely on T&A to sell their products.  I'm saying they are morally bankrupt.  I'm not a perfect (or even particularly "good") guy.  I do think that with these sorts of things, with all of the work I've done to change myself, I'm just barely this side of being a racist/sexist/asshole.  I have a long way to go.  In short:

I'm saying that any positive, pro-equality example I hold up from my life is at best the lowest point of baseline "acceptable" behavior.

When my kids were really little, they got praise for using the toilet.  Now?  Um, the Nuclear Kid is 15.  No.  Not shitting his pants is part of the baseline of socially acceptable behavior.2  So, yes, it's good I'm not relying on T&A to sell books.  Just like it's good the Nuclear Kid isn't shitting his pants.

Neither of us deserve praise for those baseline "accomplishments".

And those who do use sexism, racism, and anti-equality messages to sell their wares should be treated with just as much disgust as an adult who just decided to take a big old crap in their pants.


1 I'm using "equality" here to refer to anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, religiously tolerant, equal rights sorts of things in a broad encompassing way.
2 Obviously, I'm not talking about people with medical conditions, 'kay?

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Making Xterm Play (Mostly) Nice With Copy-And-Paste (and Not Look Ugly Too)

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Some guys work on cars;  I work on getting the last little bit of performance and customization out of my computer.

That's why I'm using Xterm (if I'm not using screen) for terminal applications.  Especially since I'm constantly starting up and closing terminal windows, the small difference in startup times between it and my GNOME terminal gets...annoying.

However, there's some issues setting up Xterm.  It's finicky.  It is, by default, ugly as sin. I like a nice black terminal, the lovely Inconsolata monospace font and generally the clean look that you can get with it.  That's the first part of the .Xresources file - setting up those colors so it behaves nicely.

Xterm is also, shall we say, not fond of the way the clipboard is handled in *nix.  (There's three clipboards, see... no, really.)  Anyway, I hate the "select it with the mouse and that puts it on the clipboard" method that *nix seems to prefer.  I'm too sloppy with the mouse, especially when using a touchpad.  So with this .Xresources, I can select by holding SHIFT and the mouse button, and then it copies it to all the clipboards. The key elements are here (I highly recommend copying from the gist later):
XTerm*VT100.translations: #override \
<Btn1Up>: select-end(PRIMARY, CLIPBOARD, CUT_BUFFER0) \n\
Shift<Btn1Down>: select-start() \n\
Shift<Btn1Motion>: select-extend() \n\
Shift<Btn1Up>: select-end(PRIMARY, CLIPBOARD) \

Yes, there's a duplication in there. Find it for extra points - it works right now, and I'm not messing with it any more.

Anyway, this is something that took a while to research and set up, so hopefully this will be of some use to other power users out there. (Not to mention typos, control characters, or brackets and the like being entirely missing...)

This is my .Xresources file; you edit (or create) it in your home directory.  Once you've edited .Xresources, run this command from your terminal:
xrdb -merge .Xresources
Despite what lots of web pages say, sometimes it shows up right away. Sometimes it required me to restart X (effectively relogging). If it doesn't behave as expected, relog and see if it does what it's supposed to then. You can get the .Xresources file from gist on GitHub or the embed below. I cite where I got the bits of this solution at the top of the .Xresources file if you'd like to do some additional reading.

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RECOMMENDED: Pet Caricatures For The Holidays

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I saw this ad on Facebook yesterday, and thought of my dogs.  Since Taylor died back in 2010, and Leakey died this year, it's just me and J-Dog hanging out most of the time. 

But I want to remember the other dogs, and imagine how much fun they'd all have if they had ever all gotten to play together.  (J-Dog didn't come around until after Taylor had died.)

So I jumped at this chance to have all three of them pictured together.

And daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn


Morgan's running a special through Christmas:  For the $20 (+$10 for each additional dog in the image) I got a high-rez PNG (over 6000x2000, 300dpi) that is more than suitable for printing.  If you don't know, 300 dpi is the standard for printing resolution, and that would make a poster-sized print 20.5" wide by 14.3" tall.

Morgan didn't just reproduce the images - I sent two for each dog, one that showed their shape and another that showed a bit more of their personality.  This really captures the spirit of each of my pups.

I'm not getting jack for posting this, no discount, no referrals, no nothing - though I am going back and getting the same thing done with the three kitties that have lived with me over the years.  I am seriously just that impressed with Morgan's work.  It is teh adorbz.

MY PUPPIES.
You can swing by Bark Point Studios on Facebook, or send an e-mail to MorSpicePetPortraits@gmail.com to get started.

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The Warp Drive That Explodes Planets: Turning Plot Problems Into Opportunties

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Warp DriveScience fiction has the very real problem of having to deal with... well, the real world.  Even if you're writing a "soft" space opera, if you set it in the tropical jungles of Venus only to have it revealed there ain't such a thing... well, it's hard to ignore.

But each of these problems can also be an opportunity.

Let's ignore for the moment how incomplete (at best) science reporting in popular media can be, and also ignore the anti-geek-cred of articles that confuse Star Trek and Star Wars terminology in the title, and instead reference the actual content1 of this Daily Mail article:  "Bad news Scotty: Star Trek-style 'warp drive' systems could turn spacecraft into Death Stars which destroy planets on arrival".  It starts with this paragraph:
Should scientists make the dreams of a million Star Trek fans come true by designing a spacecraft capable of travelling faster than the speed of light, it would be pretty frustrating to discover such a ship would obliterate any planet it landed on.

But that is exactly what NASA researchers suspect could happen after new analysis revealed a flaw in designs for a so-called 'warp drive' - the theoretical technology that would propel spaceships to speeds faster than light - could cause catastrophic explosions the moment intrepid space explorers reached their destination.
Okay, sounds pretty dire.  But that's up until you read past the pretty keen image of such a drive:

But the Australian research indicates that the high-energy particles that are constantly shooting around space could get swept up in the ship's warp field and become trapped in the 'bubble', with more and more of the particles filling the stable pocket the longer the journey lasts.
While this would no affect the drive's ability to achieve warp speed, the instant it is disengaged that space-time gradient allowing it to move faster than light - and creating the bubble that holds the dangerous build-up of trapped particles - is gone. Researchers now believe those particles would be blasted out in front of the ship, destroying anything around it.
Apophysis-070129-1a PSSuddenly, not only do you have a way around the problem, but you've got a reasonable explanation for the plot-device limitations of FTL travel, even if this genre-clueless writer can't see it. Why can't ships just pop into orbit around a planet (or even better, at its surface)? Because they'd blow holes in it. Why does your ship have to make multiple jumps? Because otherwise the particle count in the "bubble" would get too high.

Think about the way FTL travel was handled in the Battlestar Galactica reboot - the technology limitations of FTL travel are huge elements of shaping the plot. Would it have been anything like the same series if Adama simply said "Warp Five, thataway" and they all sat back? Heck no. And when any freighter can itself become a planetkilling weapon by simply changing its vector... well, think on the consequences of that for a while.

Even the softest, most character-driven science fiction story benefits from the writer knowing real science, even if it's not a focus of the story. And knowing the limitations (and capabilities) of your technology can fundamentally change the plot and tone of your story.

You can read more about these kinds of worldbuilding tips and tricks in Eighth Day Genesis, available from Alliteration Ink ($4.99 digital, $14.99 print).


1 Obviously, this is not the actual content of the research paper, which may actually say something quite a bit different. I'm pointing out the possibilities here.

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Mine - A 100 Word Story

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Minecraft Character IRL

I heard the dripping pop of lava just before the axe struck through the rock. I shouted, but it was too late; the red-hot rock flowed over me, and flames filled my screen.

I sighed as the front door opened. Dad was home.

"Spending time on that game again," he said, still soot-covered from his day at work, a toolbag slung over his shoulder. "You need to prepare for the real world, son. Homework. Now."

I turned off my computer and reached for my bookbag as he turned to leave.

The green limb of a creeper hung from his bag.


Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download.

I am 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. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.




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Review of Caller Unknown by Jennifer Brozek

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review.pngI live in Ohio.  Over the last few months, I've been trained to not even pick up the phone if there's not a caller ID number that I recognize, unless I wanted to hear a political party rant about the other candidate.

Now, though, we're back to normal.  And there's something slightly exciting about an unknown caller.  It's a departure from the normal, the expected, from the everyday mundane existence of our overinformed lives.  And unlike answering an unexpected knock at your door, answering a call without knowing who's on the other end isn't really risky.

Unless you listen.

In Caller Unknown, the new collection of stories from author and editor Jennifer Brozek, a 911 operator named Karen does listen.  That unknown call is not merely an interruption in her mundane day, but a gateway to a whole side of her city that she never realized existed.

This urban fantasy (with a little bit of a dark edge) collection is a series of connected and related short stories, but each one is complete in itself.  There are gaps of time between them.  Characters allude to events that have taken place in those gaps, without actively spelling any of them out.  This is actually a strength of the work - we get to skip to the "good bits" without having to sacrifice the sense that there's a larger world out there where things actually take time to happen.  While there's a lot of worldbuilding and some really interesting twists on classic genre themes, it feels like there's even more going on.  It feels like there's a world beyond the page.

The way the stories were originally written does expose the book's single (sort of) weakness.  Ms. Brozek wrote the stories over a period of time, and the stories get better as you get further into the book.  I say this is a "sort of" weakness", though.  The even the weakest story in the book is still pretty darn good, and they only get better from there. 

Overall, I enjoyed reading this collection of stories and seeing the way the storyline (and author) developed through the book.  This is a solid first collection of these stories, and judging by the strength by which it finishes, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series.

Caller Unknown is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher, Apocalypse Ink.  You can also enter to win a giveaway for this book over at Goodreads.


[Full Disclosure:  I got a review ARC of this book.  I've worked with the author on other projects both as an author and a publisher.  That said, I review all books as impartially as I can and I've even panned my friend's books before.]

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Social Media Is Dead: Why Independent Creators Need To Get Back To RSS and E-Mail NOW.

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Summary:  Social media companies (particularly Facebook and Twitter) seem to be in the process of going for the easy, big bucks of big media companies, and are willing to sacrifice what made their services popular.  Independent creators, while still using these services, cannot rely on them any longer.  We must be able to reach our audience through internet-standard tools like e-mail and RSS.

I don't like being right.

Remember a month ago when I posted "The Beginning of the End of Social Media"?  Facebook had just started its promoted posts program.  Twitter simply had problems with too much of a good thing.  And G+ (which I ignored in that post) is largely unadopted, despite (or perhaps) because of the difficulty of putting good content in1 and Google trying to shove all their services into each service.2

That's why simple services like IFTTT are so awesome and valuable - they let you get information to your friends (or audience, or yourself) across platforms.

But instead of each social network doing its one thing and doing it well (and exposing API hooks so people can find value on your network without having to be on a bunch of them), that's changing.  More.

Overview of Social Media

Scoble's Social Media StarfishAs before, I'm not addressing all social media sites, but primarily the three biggest.

As mentioned, Google+ is still sparsely populated.  And while some of the folks who use it heavily are very interesting people indeed, the value of social media is through both content and (more importantly) the network effect.  And the user interface has been growing steadily more cluttered and annoying.  (I created a userstyle to make the Google+ interface less cluttered, which helps.)

Facebook is still filtering posts based on what it thinks you want to see (and charging fees of up to a thousand (or more?) dollar to promote a post).  While tools like Social Fixer help - a lot - it's still difficult.  Even the "Pages Feed" isn't sorted in chronological order.

And now it looks like Twitter - once the most egalitarian of the bunch, the hero in sharing the news of the Arab Spring is positioning itself to pivot into something different.  It looks like it's wanting to change into something about consumption instead of sharing, about brands instead of communication.

The Way Media Was Then

Old Vintage Cable Wired Remote Control BoxIt wasn't all that long ago that media options were extremely limited.  Everyone knew the same songs because you had a very limited number of radio stations to listen to.  Everyone watched the same programs, because cable was expensive.  Getting HBO was A Big Thing.  Having over thirty channels was A Big Thing.3  Streaming video was a pain in the ass and rare.  And eBooks (and other technologies that have let independent authors and artists make a living) simply didn't exist in a viable form.

That's no longer the case.

The Way Media Is Now

The prior media ruling class are upset.  Their business models (and presumptions of guaranteed profits) have been burning away over the last decade.  They know we're still spending money on entertainment - entertainment spending has gone up by 6% over the last decade - but with more choices, we're not always choosing them.

They're seeing artists and creators exist without them and making a living through reaching out to their audience through social media.  At the same time, social media companies find themselves needing to increase (or have) revenue.  It's a match made in some soulless corporate hell.

In this kind of situation, social media companies will try to make their money by subverting their service so it best serves the advertising and promotion needs of big budget advertisers.  They'll try to do All The Things, and do none of them.

Big media companies will (continue) to turn social media terminology into buzzwords - but instead of awkward and laughable attempts at engaging their audience, they'll instead "suggest" "improvements" to the service to turn it into another tube of consumption.

Old Spice Guy in a Towel
They did social media right.

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy.  I'm saying the economic and social factors in play make this scenario all too likely.  Despite some large advertisers who have successfully used social media without subverting it, adapting your corporation to reality seems riskier than buying reality off.  Facebook has already gone a ways down this path, and Twitter's definitely turned in that direction.

It doesn't look good.

No Longer Relying On Someone Else's Platform


So what should independent creators (and basically anyone other than the "big fish") do?

This is the time to continue the DIY and independent ideals that have transformed media.  In the last decade, we've pioneered ways to exist alongside (and sometimes totally independent of) the old media hierarchy.  Social media platforms were seen as a tool, but they're not.  They're companies that own a tool.  This is the mistake that got us in this position.  So instead of relying on (yet another) company and starting this whole damn cycle again, it's time to actually use tools.
  • Continue to use social media like you already do.  I hope I'm wrong about all this.
  • Do not waste your time, money, or energy trying to compete with the "big fish".
  • Keep an eye out for the next social network, particularly one that is actually a tool.  Identi.ca, while ugly as sin and poorly adopted in the US, has some good features - combining the best of Twitter and Tumblr in one network.  And it's open-source, so it might point the way to creating a decentralized social network that's a real tool.
  • Invest the time and energy to have platform-independent ways of reaching your audience.

Here's what I mean about a platform-independent way of reaching your audience:  Use tools, particularly ones that already exist and are part of the existing standards of the internet:
  1. Develop a double-opt-in e-mail list.  (Here's an overview, MailChimp has some interesting stats as to why double-opt-in is a better option overall.)  Mine is paid for as part of my hosting package with Namecheap.
  2. Host your own website and own your own domain name.  Again, I use Namecheap for both domain name registration and webhosting, and have for years without a problem.
  3. Make sure your blog is hosted on your own site or by a company/service whose business is blog hosting (such as Wordpress or Blogger).  This means that having your blog hosted by a review site or store's site is flat out wrongChange this now.
  4. Ensure your blog has an RSS feed.  You can use Feedburner to format the raw RSS feed from your webpage, and it's really easy to set up.  You can use your RSS feed to feed into many other sites, such as GoodReads or Amazon's Author pages.  For example, this is the link for all Alliteration Ink News, and should automatically subscribe you (or present you a lot of options on how to subscribe, depending on how your browser is set up).  Feedburner will even send your RSS feed as e-mail - click on this link to subscribe to ideatrash by Email.
  5. Contact pages (if not your front web page) should have options for these things, and explanations if needed.
  6. Advertise your e-mail list and RSS feed in your projects.
  7. Form alliances with other independent creators like yourself - one e-mail that has five cool offers is less likely to be ignored than five separate e-mails with one offer each.  (E-mail overload sucks.)
None of these steps will actually hurt your existing web presence.  If anything, they'll make it stronger.  And by controlling it yourself, if all social media companies implode tomorrow, you'll still be able to reach your audience.


1 The whole point of a social network is to share information, not force me to repost it manually.  Especially for folks who live as timeshifted as I do.
2 Seriously.  When I want Gmail, I don't want Gchat.  When I want G+, I don't want Gchat.  The one time I want Gchat - when I open Google Voice - it's harder to start a chat (or phone call from my PC) than it is in Gmail.  WTF.
3 Kids, I'm only talking about the mid- to late-nineties here.

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Workers Are Invaluable; Managers Are The Cogs In The Machine

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soc_econ.pngMy open letter to rich business owners - where I called them whining spoiled brats - generated a bit of discussion over at Google+, including a rather well-thought out reply from Dennis McCunney.  I'm not going to paraphrase his arguments, but responding helped me clarify something that I think is rather damn important1.

The people I addressed that open letter to - such as the CEO of Papa John's or Denny's - are not the people who are actually creating the value for the enterprise any longer. Swap 'em out for another CEO, and odds are the company will continue along without a hitch.2

If their product and/or customer service (and these seem to also be disproportionately "service sector" businesses) suffer, then the company will suffer hugely.

Underpinning my whole statement (and part of how I run my own business) is this idea:

The people involved in the production and delivery of a product or service are the ones adding value. Managers are the cogs in the machine;  the fate of your company rests with each worker who makes the product or deals with the public every day.


1 I'm paraphrasing part of my reply to him here.
2 This also highlights the difference between "managers" and "small business owners" - the latter are still involved in the actual thing the company does, not just managing others who do the real work.

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Cross-Platform Scripts to Create Time/Date Stamped Versions of Your Files For Collaborative Work (with GUI options!)

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technology.png
Summary: A set of scripts (one for *nix and OS X, one for Windows) that create a time-date stamped copy of any file from the commandline. Lots of comments in the code and the option of using Zenity or Java-based Wenity if you need a point-and-click GUI to choose the file. The scripts are on GitHub at https://gist.github.com/4083393.

When you're working with other people, it's often necessary to trade files back and forth as you make revisions. Unfortunately, even with "track changes", you often lose track of which copy of a file each person has. Yes, you can invest the time and energy to learn git for versioning your writing projects, but even streamlined projects like Flashbake have a high learning curve.

I've had people send me three different versions of the same file, all with the same filename within the course of a day. It happens, it's part of business, but it was hard for me to make sure I had the right one.

I've seen people try altering the filename by lots of ways, but the only way that's made sense to me is this:
FILENAME_YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS.EXTENSION

That's how I deliver versions of eBooks to people who hire me to convert their text to ePub or Kindle. That way they know that MyAwesomeBook_20121114_2359.epub is an earlier version than MyAwesomeBook_20121115_0001.epub.

I realized that this kind of thing needs to be more widespread, crossplatform, and easy.

So let me introduce you to my versioning scripts. They're scripts (bash for *nix and OS X, batch file for Windows) that you can use to create versions of any file. It will make a copy of the original file with the date and time tacked onto the end as I demonstrated above. I've written a version for *nix (which should also work on OS X) and a version for Windows XP and up. There's a commandline interface, and also hooks for it to work with one of two point-and-click GUI (graphical user interface) programs.

It's pretty simple to use.
*nix and OS X:
bash version.sh YOURFILENAME
Windows:
version.bat YOURFILENAME

If you're running it from a different directory than where YOURFILENAME resides, input the full path. Otherwise you don't have to. Run it without any arguments for a quick description of what it does. For *nix and OS X, you have the option of the -s switch to follow a symlink and alter the file it's linked to.

Don't care about the GUI? Dive right into the scripts at GitHub here: https://gist.github.com/4083393.

If you want to use GUI, your two options are Zenity and Wenity. To run it with the GUI, simply make a shortcut or launcher that calls it with the -z switch for Zenity and the -w switch for Wenity. Windows users, use /z and /w instead of -z and -w.

If you use the GUI switches, the script tries to find Zenity or Wenity and Java on its own, but you should probably edit the script to tell it where the executable files reside. Don't worry about changing any lines for things you don't use, though. It'll do just fine.

Zenity for *nix: https://live.gnome.org/Zenity
OS X: Zenity through MacPorts with this command: sudo port install zenity
Windows port of Zenity: http://www.placella.com/software/zenity/

Get Wenity (uses Java for *nix, OS X, and Windows) here: http://kksw.zzl.org/wenity.html
If you use Wenity, you'll need Java: http://www.java.com/getjava/

The scripts each have LOTS of comments to help guide you through everything, and hopefully will be of some use if you are just picking up how to write scripts in bash or windows batch files (which are actually MUCH harder). They're also under a CC-BY-SA license, so feel free to use, adapt, and share them.

The scripts are hosted on GitHub right here: https://gist.github.com/4083393

I hope you find them as useful as I do!

Three notes:
  1. If you're not using bash (type echo $SHELL in your terminal to find out) just alter the first line in the file. It should work as-is with zsh. If you run another shell and can let me know if it works, that'd be awesome.
  2. I've not full-on tested the GUI on Windows and OS X - but it should work okay. Let me know if you run into problems.
  3. Wenity's example files have some problems and issues, especially for the file selection dialog. They're fixed here; I let the author know.

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An open letter to rich business owners

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Dear wealthy people who are threatening to cut wages, add surcharges, and cut hours because you think healthcare reform might cost you more money:

I accept that you're currently making money not from what you do yourself, but for what your employees do for you. Capitalism, hoo-rah, and all that.

Now, though...now you're being spoiled brats.

Your profit margin that comes from other people's hard work won't be quite as big.

That's what these shenanigans are about. Not that you'll lose money. No, not that. You just won't make quite as much.

And to stress the point, you won't make quite as much from other people's hard work.

You're being whiny spoiled brats.

Grow up.

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Updated: Control PulseAudio With a Command-Line Ruby Script

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technology.pngAh, PulseAudio. A brief description for those unfamiliar with it:

As described on the PulseAudio page:
PulseAudio is a sound system for POSIX OSes, meaning that it is a proxy for your sound applications. It allows you to do advanced operations on your sound data as it passes between your application and your hardware. Things like transferring the audio to a different machine, changing the sample format or channel count and mixing several sounds into one are easily achieved using a sound server.
PulseAudio is designed for Linux systems. It has also been ported to and tested on Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, MacOS X, Windows 2000 and Windows XP.
There's pretty good GUI tools for configuring PulseAudio, but sometimes (like in my case) you have to (or want to) control it from the command line.  While I modified a Ruby script about nine months ago, it had some shortcomings - you couldn't switch outputs with it, for one thing.

In a bout of productive procrastination, I taught myself some more Ruby and cleaned up and improved the script.  So I present to you my updated and improved Ruby script to control PulseAudio from the commandline. It's primarily of use to people who are command-line focused or use keybindings to control their sound (or if your media keys are being wonky).

To the best of my knowledge (despite my dated version of PulseAudio) the commandline syntax is unchanged through the current version. If I'm wrong, please let me know!

Here's the changelog:
  • Added usage instructions when no arguments given
  • Added quiet (no output) option
  • Added explicit percentage setting of volume
  • Added explicit muting/unmuting instead of just toggling mute
  • Formatted output to be somewhat more human-readable, including padding & volume percentages
  • Added function to allow changing default sink
  • Added code to switch playing streams to new sink.Added introduction/description into the script
  • Standardized indentations
  • Rewrote if/else statements into case statements (improving efficiency)
  • Rewrote array; arranged by sink id instead of name

So for example, here's what the output looks like on my machine:
Usage:
ruby volume.rb [0-100|up|down|toggle|mute|unmute|default] [q]
[0-100] - set percentage of max volume for all sinks
up|down - Changes volume on all sinks
toggle|mute|unmute - Sets mute on all sinks
default - Select default sink from commandline
q - quiet; no status output

##Current status##########################################
ID Sink Name Mute Vol Default
0. pci-0000_00_1b.0 no 62%
1. usb-Logitech_Logitech_Z305-00-default no 62% *
##########################################################

Even though the names are still a bit arcane, it's pretty obvious which one is the USB speakers. And now that it'll switch my playing music player to the new output source without hassle, it's pretty sweet. It does its job in the background and lets me get on with my day.

You can get the script from github or clone it:
git clone git://gist.github.com/1791270.git

Hope this helps someone as much as it helps me!

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Follow The Money and Keep Your Politicians Honest AFTER the Election

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I think this widget showing the funding (including the top donors) to candidates is pure genius. While it's obviously useful during the campaign season, I'd argue that it's doubly important to keep at hand now.

Think about it. When your politicians start acting a little different than you'd expect, check their behavior against the interests of their top ten donors. That might shed some light on it.

Of course, I didn't realize the Brown/Mandel race here in Ohio had quite so much money poured into it. But what's even more interesting, to my mind, is who poured that money into it. Having been born in West Virginia (the land of absentee landlord coal companies), I gotta admit that I'm even more glad that Brown won after looking at this list of donors for each of the candidates.





Universities aren't perfect, but they usually have a hard time funneling money out of the local economy. I'm a big advocate of the local multiplier effect when it comes time to improve the local economy.

Which reminds me - don't forget Small Business Saturday this year on November 24th. Ignore the crap crowds and same old gifts, and get your friends and relatives something different this year. May I suggest a book from Alliteration Ink?

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The Meaning of Courage - A 100 Word Story

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Military Operations on Urban Terrain F Co. 229th MIOn the day I deployed, my brother asked "Aren't you scared?"

I started to answer, to tell him courage was being scared and doing it anyway, but he'd already pointed at the salad bar on my uniform.

I started explaining the awards before he got distracted again.

A decade and two wars passed before I saw him at Thanksgiving. Political rants were his new hobby.

"Our military just ended up getting half the world seeing us as the bad guys."

My mother shushes him, asks: "Were you scared?"

"Still am," I say, acknowledging my brother's point. "I did it anyway."


Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download.

I am 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. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

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Putting a Code Box On Blogger Posts

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technology.pngThis is largely derived this blog post from 2009, but the code was slightly borked, so here's a fix. (If you're looking at this on Facebook or somewhere else and it looks strange, swing by http://ideatrash.net/2012/11/putting-code-box-on-blogger-posts.html to see it properly.

If you've ever tried to paste a commandline or HTML into a Blogger blog, you've ended up with missing characters, weird linewraps, and "smart quotes" where there shouldn't be any.  This frustrates readers and makes you look like an idiot.

There's a couple of ways to get around this.

The first is to store snippets of code in something like Pastebin (which I've used in the past), but a better (and more professional) option is to use GitHub.  While GitHub is a bit overpowered for code snippets alone, it allows you the flexibility to do and save a lot more if you ever get into it.  Make a free account, and then click on the "Gist" button at the top.  You'll get a nice place to post your code.  And I think this is cool - you can also "star" the gists you use to help keep track of them later.

But what if it's just a commandline?  You've got some options:

NOTE: If you experience problems with brackets and ampersands, you would want to use this online urlencoder. It's how I created the little bit of code below.

1. Ad-hoc simple (but ugly) solution:
Click the HTML tab at the top of the compose window. Then paste these lines:

<textarea name="textarea" cols="40" rows="4" wrap="VIRTUAL">
YOUR CODE GOES HERE
</textarea>



2. Edit your blog's HTML code.
a. Follow this guide to get to where you press "Edit HTML".
b. Then Find (press CTRL+F) this: ]]></b:skin>
c. Add this code ABOVE ]]></b:skin>
/* Code Box
----------------------------------------------- */

.code {
background:#f5f8fa;
background-repeat:no-repeat;
border: solid #5C7B90;
border-width: 1px 1px 1px 20px;
color: #000000;
font: 13px 'Courier New', Courier, monospace;
line-height: 16px;
margin: 10px 0 10px 10px;
max-height: 200px;
min-height: 16px;
overflow: auto;
padding: 10px 10px 10px; width: 90%;
}

.code:hover {
background: #FAFAFA;
background-repeat:no-repeat;
}

d. Click Save Template.

Then when you go to post your code, click the HTML tab, and just paste this code:

<div class="code">
YOUR CODE
</div>

3 comments :

Why I Complain: Facebook Unbreaks Itself...Sort Of.

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I get ranty. I know. And I'll often get ranty about things I have no direct influence over, such as Facebook breaking their newsfeed to extort money or yet another boneheaded, bullying Amazon policy.

I'm not just ranting because someone is wrong on the Internet.    

I'm doing it on purpose.  And you should too.

Big corporations are sociopaths by design. They exist to make a profit for their shareholders, period. Anything and everything a corporation does is in order to make more money. Especially regarding marketplaces like Amazon, Facebook, Google, or Wal*Mart1 serving customers and suppliers is a means to an end, not the end itself. They are not evil, they're amoral.

That's an important distinction, and it's why protests and raising a stink is a rational behavior.

Facebook recently rolled out a specific "get notifications" feature to undo (some) of the damage caused when Facebook broke the newsfeed by design. Go back through your "liked pages" (and this is probably a good time to unlike all the ones you don't want) and hover over the "Like" button. Here's a screenshot of me doing it with the Alliteration Ink facebook page:


If you can't read it, the pictured dropdown that appears has "Get Notifications" as the first entry.  Click it, and you should be (more) likely to see the notifications from the pages you're actually interested in.  (h/t to the Ennie Awards page for bringing it to my attention.)

Facebook fixed this because of the fuss made about the exploitative broken-by-design changes they made to force people and companies to "promote" their posts.2 

I've not done any kind of corporate espionage;  it's analyzing the corporate behavior  as that of a profit-driven sociopath.  Facebook changed the policy just enough to deflect the worst of the criticism.  If they were making this change to fix an honest mistake... well, they'd just fix the behavior.  This sort-of-fix, poorly publicized, lets them claim that users can see all the updates they'd like to see.  It's not their fault that people haven't gone back through every page they've ever liked and turned on this new setting...

While I'm cynical about the change, it is a change.  It's yet another change directly brought about by public outcry. 

Because you and I are the "invisible hand".

The free market is designed to be self-correcting;  we forget that both our voices and our pocketbooks make up the free market.  Only when we forget that, when we become resigned to fraud and bullshit corporate ethics and can't even be bothered to complain, that is when we're really screwed.

And then we've done it to ourselves.


1 Yup. They're marketplaces. Think about it for a few.
2 Yeah, they can do whatever they want to do, blah blah blah. Not really relevant for my point here, but we can have that discussion elsewhere if you really want to.

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Every second is a gift - A Flash Fiction

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Stars in the Tarantula Nebula (NASA, Hubble, Aura, 04/01/99)

Every second is a little gift. Each moment, a position in spacetime. It's something precious.

That moment at the zoo when your child first recognizes a panda from a picture book. The playful geeksquee when you slap a fez on your head and declare it cool. Walking under the cherry trees at the arboretum with your lover.

Transform boring moments into an unexpected time to meditate and reflect. Pause to really feel the anticipation of something coming up later this week.

Reality is a vast chaotic mess of experiences.

Enjoy it.

Because someday, Father's coming back to clean it up.


Based around Laurence Simon's weekly challenge for the 100 word-stories podcast. The player above should have the audio for this week; if it doesn't, you can find the audio here to download.

I am 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. You can also read and hear the rest of the entries at the 100 Word Stories podcast site.

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Can You Help Me Diagnose a Writing Issue?

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I'll admit, I didn't outline a thing when it came to my NaNoWriMo novel. Not. A. Bit. Which has been good to me so far - twists and threads and complications have been spontaneously generating like crazy, and what was originally a pretty threadbare plot is getting some serious meat on it.

The problem, though, is that I almost have to pause after each scene/short chapter, or every thousand words or so. I finish one bit, get just a little into the next to set it up (and so I don't vaporlock when I pick it back up later), and then just... need a break. Usually somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour. I'll offer advice in the NaNo forums, answer e-mail, watch tv, play a game, just something that isn't working on the text itself.

It's been somewhat useful - about half the twists and other plot stuff have shown up during those breaks, the other half while writing. But it's not "neutral". I'm having to readjust my schedule because of it - I wasn't factoring that kind of breaks into my plan for writing time.

What I'm wondering - and this is largely aimed that those of you who have more experience writing novels - if this is more likely an artifact of my not outlining the work or an artifact of me having primarily worked in short fiction before now.

Any guesses? Thoughts? Similar issues?

2 comments :

Amazon's Policy Leads To Deletion of Author's Reviews - And Possibly Yours, Too.

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On the second of November, Salon reported that Amazon was starting to remove author's reviews.

I can easily imagine what led to this policy. Remember R.J. Ellory from a little over a month ago? He was caught using "sockpuppet" accounts in order to boost his approval ratings. That article prompted the creation of a review policy for Alliteration Ink.

But as reported by Salon (and also by Joe Konrath), Amazon is removing author's reviews of other people's books. (Steve Weddle's post was mentioned in Salon; it's also happened to (at least) Michelle Gagnon and others.)

Amazon says they're removing these books as part of their new customer review guidelines:2

Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product).

There's lots of opinion about how valid this position is, why Amazon might have done it, and how effective it is at reducing sockpuppet reviews (Sean Cregan addresses these issues quite well, so I won't repeat what he said.)

What I will address are the folks claiming this whole story is, to quote one in particular, "bullshit". They point to the policy itself, and say that it doesn't explicitly name authors. Or that it's all being promoted by Amazon-haters. Or that the authors in question are making it up to get attention.

I do not care if the reports are actually true. The policy itself is bad enough.

I agree that a "common-sense" reading would not mean authors reviewing books they read. But this is a legal issue.3

Considering that at least some publishers (and I mean Big 6 NYC publishers) are considering self-published collections of rights-reverted short stories to be "direct competition" (their words, not mine) to a new novel4, interpreting "directly competing product" to include a sizeable group of "authors" is not exactly a stretch of credulity.

Further, there's more authors now wearing both an "author" hat and "publisher" hat, whether they're simply publishing their own back catalog or are like myself and publishing other people's work. So the one explicitly mentioned group - publishers - can now be interpreted broadly enough that it still applies to a broad swath of authors, including those who are largely "traditionally" published. (The existing policy could also be applied by asking this question: Are you a "manufacturer" of your work? Legal definitions are not the same as common-sense definitions. The legal definition applies, not a common-sense one.

Amazon does not clearly say "Authors can't review other books." But from a legal standpoint, Amazon would have no incentive to clearly spell out who can't review what. It would limit them and gain them (legally) nothing.

In a very real sense it does not matter if multiple authors are completely fabricating this story. It's damn unlikely that multiple people are publicly lying with the same story, but it does not matter if this has happened yet.

Amazon's policy5 is poorly worded and vague enough to be interpreted in an overbroad sense. It could include anyone who is involved in any way with any thing that is sold on Amazon. As the policy is written "third party retailer" and "financial interest", it could be apply to people who have sold a used book or CD through Amazon or simply have a referral account there.

And that's the best case scenario.

There should be a fuss raised about this policy. Because if you think that any corporation won't screw you over if they think they can get away with it, I've got a bridge to sell you.


1 I have reviewed books that my stories appear in before... because they're anthologies. The vast majority of the book is not my work, but I'm also careful to fully disclose what's going on.
2 According to the blog posts above, they also explicitly mention "authors" in their form e-mails; what's publicly posted is bad enough for reasons I'm about to outline.
3 I'm not a lawyer, and if I was one, I wouldn't be your lawyer. I do know quite a few lawyers, and had my rear handed to me in enough arguments about things like this that I'm pretty confident in what I'm saying here.
4 I personally know of this happening at least twice in the last year. It's stupid but it happens.
5 And to forestall the charges of "ZOMG YER AN AMAZON HATER": I think pretty much any company in their position would try to do such things. Amazon has been more obvious in the past about screwing people over than I expected, though.




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NaNoWriMo Advice and Recommendations

2 comments
I'm participating in NaNoWriMo this year, because dammit, while I love my short stories and my flash fiction, I've got a couple of novels that I know I want to write.  (Feel free to add me as a writing buddy;  do toss me a note when you do so I know who you are!)

I'm also browsing the forums when I take breaks;  much the same as with writing conferences, giving (and reading) advice on writing motivate me.  While there's some specific novel-based advice that I'm not qualified to talk about, there's a lot that I am able to talk about competently.

There's also some tools that are really, really useful for me that I want to share.

The Everchanging Book of Names - This bit of shareware is great for generating plausible names that are both consistent and can be differentiated.  If you're running it under WINE, you'll want to use a script like this one.

Scrivener -  Seriously.  Use it through NaNo and if you complete the challenge, you get a discount on buying it.  (Windows and Mac, Linux beta)

Zim - A desktop wiki.  By far the easiest of these to use - because you don't have to know WikiMarkup.  If you're not using Scrivener, this will help you keep your stuff organized.

Dropbox - To keep my stuff synced across computers and avoid excuses.  Dropbox is great and fast for on-demand access to your files.  2 gigs free storage, more with referrals.

DirSyncPro - To keep the thumbdrive synced.  There are other programs like this, but this one's crossplatform, which is the main reason I need a thumb drive at all.

SpiderOak - For backups (getting access is much slower than Dropbox, but its versioning is much nicer).  Aside from my normal "large" backup, I've started a scheduled task that only re-scans my "current writing" folder by using a command line that looks like this:

Windows:
C:\Program Files\SpiderOak\SpiderOak.exe --batchmode --backup=c:/PATH/TO/WRITING/FOLDER
OSX:
/Applications/SpiderOak.app/Contents/MacOS/SpiderOak --batchmode --backup=\PATH\TO\WRITING\FOLDER
Linux:
SpiderOak --batchmode --backup=/PATH/TO/WRITING/FOLDER

K.W. Taylor's Advice on Getting Through NaNo Without Losing Your Mind - She knows of what she speaks.

Eighth Day Genesis - Yes, I know, I'm the publisher. I refer back to this book regularly. It is that useful. Something like 90% of the questions I see on the worldbuilding, fantasy, horror, and science fiction forums at the NaNo site are answered in this book. It's well worth picking up - especially since digital versions of Eighth Day Genesis are on sale through November.

And finally, I think I distilled a huge chunk of advice I've gotten, read, or heard over the years into these ten points. And I'm doing my damnest to remember them.

  1. Start writing.
  2. Don't try to go back and fix anything until the story's done.
  3. Give yourself permission to write complete and utter junk. "You can't fix crappy writing if there's nothing on the page."
  4. When you realize you want to change/add something, make a note for yourself when you're done and keep going.
  5. Don't put off writing until later. Later never comes.
  6. Writing is a skill and takes practice. Practice is writing. Do it.
  7. Don't put off writing until you're "inspired".
  8. If you get stuck, skip ahead in the story and write the next bit.
  9. When you must stop, stop in the middle of a scene or sentence. It'll be easier to start again.
  10. Keep writing.

What tips and tools are you using with NaNo

2 comments :

How Much of What You Write Is Real? Examining "Memories of Light and Sound"

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(Note:  Some small spoilers for the story, and my last comment won't make sense if you've not read or heard the story, so you might want to check out the podcast or eBook versions right quick.)

About a week ago, Tales of Old did an audio adaptation of my story "Memories of Light and Sound".  I was really impressed with the narration, and made sure to send it to my parents.  (Because, c'mon, that's what you do, right?)

After commenting that it wasn't a "typical Steve" story (I'm still not sure what to make of that), my dad asked this question:

After listening to the story, I commented to Mom that I was wondering how many details were borrowed from family experiences. I had lived with my grandparents for several years and loved them both. My grandfather was on one of the ships which supposedly went to rescue passengers from the Lusitania sinking. He worked in the mines, and so on. I am certain this can be said for a lot of folks who came over about the time of your story. I was just curious.
Like most of my stuff, it's a mix of total imagination, historical facts, and personal history and emotions.

Memories of Light and Sound didn't start out deriving so much from our family's history.  It actually started with a description of the NYC Zoo combined with a mention that immigrants often first stepped off the ferry still smelling of disinfectant.  (And a few historical and geographical details helpfully provided by Anton Strout.) It was originally part of an anthology based around time travel, and I wanted to do something...well, different.  With so many people tempted to do "time travel" to super-exciting world-changing events, I thought something personally important but otherwise "quiet" would be a good change of pace.

When it came time to add in historical details, I drew some from what my great-grandfather (probably) experienced.  The open recruiting for the mines is historically accurate for pretty much anyone who was from Europe and not from England (Irish, Italian, all of east Europe).  I don't know if there was a strong Hungarian community in NYC the way I depicted the Italian one.  There was definitely an Italian community in NYC during that period that would take people in (and that's *mostly* accurate, though the timeline's pretty foreshortened and fudged here and there).

Likewise, the other details - living with grandparents being a perfect example - are a mix of reality and pure imagination. 

The bratty kid, however, is modeled after me as a teenager.  As is what the (grown up) kid says to the people who raised him.

Thanks, Mom & Dad.

You can hear "Memories of Light and Sound" for free at the Tales of Old podcast page, and can stay up-to-date on my publications by following me on Twitter or this RSS feed.

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I Need Your Advice: "For Your Award Consideration"

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[EDIT:  I mistakenly said that one book had a nomination.  This was incorrect - it has a recommendation.  This was an error of ignorance, and I apologize for any confusion.]

[EDIT #2:  Rocky Wood of the HWA kindly took the time to point out the instructions for juried submissions for the Stokers, which I had completely missed.]


Seriously, I need your help and advice.

 This year, as Alliteration Ink, I've published five books which can qualify for various awards:

The Crimson Pact Volume Three - Horror/Dark Fantasy Anthology
The Crimson Pact Volume Four - Horror/Dark Fantasy Anthology
See No Evil, Say No Evil - Poetry Anthology
Dangers Untold - Horror/Dark Fantasy Anthology
Eighth Day Genesis: A Worldbuilding Codex (nonfiction/related work)

The first four could qualify for a Stoker Award, while the last qualifies for an Origins Award and an ENnie Award.  I'm also pretty sure most or all of them could also qualify for Hugos, Nebulas, and the like.  (Actually, The Crimson Pact Volume Four has already gotten one RECOMMENDATION for a Stoker.)  Not to mention that (unless I've read the rules wrongly) each of the short stories in those anthologies could also be nominated for a separate award.

Some of those awards have a central recommendations committee - the Origins Award and ENnies come to mind.  I simply make sure they have the books in their hands by the proper dates, and there it is!

The others...

...well, I've already started getting unsolicited "For your consideration for the Stoker Awards" e-mails.1  And while I don't mind getting free stuff, I'm well aware that many (or even most?) folks in the HWA simply delete those unread.

But damn, I think these books deserve these awards.

So here's my problem.  I want to get these books in front of people who can nominate (and vote!) on various awards.  (The Stoker awards are first up, but this applies to the rest as well.)   At the same time, I'm thinking there has to be a better way than simply sending blind e-mails to the entire mailing list of these organizations.

I want to make sure people know about these books I really think are awesome... while not being an overpromoting douchebag.

So what's your advice?  Go ahead and e-mail people?  Just reach out to the people I know personally, who may not have had a chance to read the books in question?

What do you think?

Please leave a comment here, send me a message on Twitter (@alliterationink or @uriel1998) or send me an e-mail me steven.saus@gmail.com

1 The ones I've gotten are very, very careful to make sure they comply with the letter of the rules.

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Redeeming David Brent's Poetry: A Retelling of Excalibur

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I love the UK version of The Office.  There's a nasty, horrible, evil bent to it that simply isn't quite there in the US version, and you are never, ever allowed to lose sight of the fact that David Brent (the boss in the UK original) is a horrible evil man1.

Take, for example, Excalibur.  David Brent reads this poem to his secretary in perhaps the most spot-on satirical depiction of sexual harassment I've ever seen (naturally, trigger warning, clip at Hulu).  Let's focus on the poem itself, though:

Excalibur
by David Brent

i froze your tears and made a dagger
and stabbed it in my cock
forever
it stays there like excalibur
are you my Arthur?
say you are

take this cool dark steeled blade
steal it, sheath it
in your lake

i drown with you to be together
must you breathe?
‘coz I need heaven
Not quite as bad as Vogon poetry, a bit bit above Goth-O-Matic Poetry Generator quality, but not too far off, either.

And last April Fool's, I thought I'd take this bit of poetry in to my writing critique group and present it as my work as a gag.  I figured they'd recognize it, and we'd laugh...

...yeah, that was a dumb move.

Oh, it was funny as hell watching them struggle to come up with something vaguely positive to say (besides "It's typed well...").   And then they damn near beat the crap out of me when I revealed where it came from.

K.W. Taylor, aside from being one of the most pissed, also had the most brilliant idea.  "For next time," she said, "you have to rewrite this poem and make it your own.  And good."

 


So here's what I came up with.  It's not great - as the back cover of Bought Love is a Salaried Position points out, I don't write poetry.  But I think I met the challenge, and I present my version of Excalibur below for your enjoyment (or amusement).

But here's your challenge: Take a story or poem that you think was horrible.  Rework it until you make the story both your own and make it better.  

Excalibur
by Steven Saus

Acid rain drips from the gutters,
into gently steaming pocks in her leather jacket.
Her tears burn the flesh of my heart.

Into your ears I whisper my words,
promise loyalty and fidelity, offered like a knight's sword.
You shove my words away, through my chest.

Watery echoes and blurry vision,
I drown on my own promises, my own blood, my own heart's longing.
I do not breathe during our last embrace.

It is heaven.




1Something that I think has been lost with a lot of US satire, including Family Guy and American Dad.  They blur that line, so we're not always sure if we're laughing at Peter or laughing with him.  You can't make that mistake with David Brent.  You know he's not only a douchebag, but aspires to be a bigger douchebag.  (See:  Finchy)

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Strange Thought....

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Having sent off the copies of The Crimson Pact that folks won in a Goodreads giveaway, it was kinda neat that one winner was in Bulgaria and another in Romania.

I mean, you know in one sense that the overseas orders reported by the various stores must go to someone... but it's not really real.

It's totally different to realize that a very specific, real person halfway across the world is reading something you helped make happen.

Humbling, really.

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