Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Fixing When Someone Screws Up and Some Basic Conflict Resolution Tips

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I screwed up recently as a publisher.  Unintentionally, but I did.

It's resolved now, and I learned quite a few things.  Some of the very publishing-specific things I'll share later on here... but in the process of fixing my screwup I learned (and was reminded of) some things about the process that work well for me.

  • Recognize that you could be wrong.   Pretty straightforward.
  • Recognize that while you are not agreeing, that it is conflict.  And conflict is not inherently badIt isn't the conflict that is good or bad, it's how you resolve the disagreement.
  • Presume that the other party is acting in good faith, and that the disagreement lies from bad assumptions.  Maybe the assumption is about priorities ("I thought we were getting together every morning") or definitions ("I thought exclusive print meant I could sell the audio rights") or situations ("Oh, I didn't realize that you had to take your lunch period in a specific room so you couldn't call me").
  • If you're communicating over text (e-mail, letters) and things are escalating, put it aside until you can communicate by voice, Skype, or in person.  Seriously.  Put it aside, schedule a time to talk on the phone, in person, via Skype, or whatever.
  • State what you thought you heard, not what you think they're thinking.  If you must guess as to what the other person is thinking, be clear that you are imagining that and are eager to be corrected.
  • Ask what they meant.  This and the one above it go together, for obvious reasons.
  • State what you want, clearly and unambigously.  For example, "Soooo, I didn't see anything about author copies...." isn't good.  "I would like to see something about each author getting an author copy" is great. 
  • Whenever possible, state why you have a need. Maybe the why (and the real need) is able to be met in a way different than what you first envisioned.  Further, it helps defuse tension - if you know why someone is acting the way they are, it makes the conflict less conflict-y.
  • Aim for meeting each other's needs via compromise whenever possible.  Once you clarify what each person really means and is asking for (see below), you can try to meet the real need instead of what gets said.
Yes, these presume that all parties are acting in good faith.  That said, speaking clearly tends to smoke out those using weasel words to hide their real intentions.  If one party is acting in bad faith, it's difficult to pull these off clearly.

And finally, know where your boundaries are.   There will be a point where you simply cannot continue without violating your own boundaries.  Know where they are ahead of time so that you can withdraw without drama.

What do you think?  I would love to hear your suggestions - and if you have ways to tweak (or clarify) mine above, all the better!

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So I've got this weight-loss widget....

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Those of you reading on the website might notice the weight-loss widget on the right hand side.

You might also notice that it says "zero" today, even though I've been using MyFitnessPal (off and on) for quite some time.

That's because the "off" has been much more than the "on". Because I'm bloody fat.

This isn't fat-shaming or anything like that.  This is all the fault of the Oatmeal.  And the Blerch (click on the image for the full comic - it's well worth it).

That is the right name. That's how I feel sometimes. More of the time. Most of the time.

Or this Louis CK routine (NSFW language)

Again, this isn't about size or shape or any of the bullshit neuroses that society heaps on us.

I'm just sick of feeling like this. Of feeling yucky. Blerchy. I wanna outrun the Blerch.

If you're looking for a tracker/calorie counter, I actually recommend MyFitnessPal. It takes a lot of the difficulty out of it. I just stopped using it because I felt ashamed. And I was hiding it from myself.

So being publicly accountable is something that can work for me here.

That widget is probably going to say "zero" for a while. I'm heavier than when I started, so I'm making up for prior bad behavior.

I go by SenorWombat there (don't ask). You're welcome to join in. [EDIT 9/4/2013 - I removed the widget because of page load times, not because I stopped.]

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Pork: A Free Flash Fiction

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"It seemed like a good plan at the time," Mark whispered.

Julia glared at him. "Shut. Up." She went back to staring through the cracks in the wood door.

Bleats and squeals mixed with the pounding of hooves.

"I mean," Mark continued, "I had no idea they were so big."

Julia pointed her gun at him. "Be. Quiet."

The sounds on the other side of the door grew louder. The wet smack of teeth in rending flesh. The screams of dying pigs. The zombie's moans.

"Just" - Mark's voice quaked - "maybe we should have hid in the brick shed."

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 ( 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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Stuff I Like:

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Seriously.  They're 39 bucks.

The designs aren't the keenest.  And they nickel-and-dime the crap out of you if you want anything but the most basic of options.  But if you wear glasses, you want a backup pair.  I didn't have one - and when they unexpectedly broke, that was a sudden several-hundred-dollar-not-covered-by-insurance expense.

I've been using them for years and have always had a pretty good experience.  Just make sure you leave enough lead time in there for you to get your glasses.  (I usually order a second set from them right after getting my insurance-covered pair from the regular eye doctor.)

So I strongly recommend that you check them out.

Yes, I have an affiliate link:  It gets me a little bonus and gets you a 20% discount.

But y'know what?  They've saved my bacon enough that I'm flat-up recommending them as well.  If you want to check them out and not use the affiliate link, just click here:

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What Size Should Your Print Books Be?

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Pal and author Justin Swapp (author of The Codex stories from The Crimson Pact) asked me a very pertinent question last weekend:

How do you choose the size of your print books?  Is there one size that makes more sense, either functionally, or financially?

First, let's get this out of the way:  You should have print versions of your book available.  There's really not much excuse for it at this point.  No, you probably won't make as much money from them, but it's something physical for people to look at, hold, and examine.  (And if nothing else, it gives you the opportunity to be in your local library's collection for local authors.  Seriously.)

Print layout is a whole thing, but this is a straightforward question.  For all of my print titles to date, I use 8.5" x 5.5" trim. There's a few reasons for that decision:

  • With the POD printing options I have, the size doesn't really make a huge difference in profit margins.
  • It's a good size to be substantial without being overlarge.
  • The size lets me leave substantial whitespace so it doesn't look overly cramped on the page.
  • The size signals something other than "throwaway paperback".
  • It's the size a lot of the professional trade paperback books I own were bound at... specifically, my set of The Lord of the Rings.
That last probably shouldn't weight my decision as much as it does... but it does.  Somewhere around here is a picture of me holding up The Crimson Pact: Volume One next to my copy of The Return of the King.  That made me happy.

And that's it.  But here - as with all aspects of interior design - the quickest way to learn is to reverse-engineer.  Go pick up the trade paperbacks (or other books) that you think are the "right" size.  That have the "right" margins and font sizes.  Study them.  See what they did right.  What the possible problems are.  Figure out how to not only imitate, but to improve

And then go do that.


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Where Geekiness Helps You Be A Better [Insert Title Here]

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I unabashedly post geeky stuff alongside writing stuff here.  There's two reasons.

First, I consider it a fair warning.  You know what you're getting into when you start talking to me.

Second, there's usually a reason why geeks do the things they do.  Sometimes that reason can be really, really useful to you.

Consider this:  I have stories that were resurrected from WordPerfect 5.1 files (barely) and later published.  I have tried to help others do the same with their old formats.  Heck, even trying to import old versions of Word into newer ones don't always work well.

Well, friends, we are writers, which means that most of the time we're simply working in plain text.  Maybe some italics and bolding, but the vast majority of what we're doing (especially early on) is actually just plain text.  I've started using Markdown for all sorts of things, and it's really quite simple.  Headers, bold, and emphasis (italics) are covered and easily readable in a plain text editor as well.

But there was one other benefit I hadn't really considered until today.

I have several different "base" contract templates.  They're largely the same - one is for a single-author collection, one is for the editor of an anthology, one is for the author in an anthology.  Some details (and significant ones) are different... but again, they're largely the same content.

But I hadn't sat down and written them all at the same time.  They were close, but had I left anything out?  Forgotten something?

Enter Meld.  Look at this screenshot below:

That's comparing all three forms of the contract, showing where they're different (and the same) so I can make sure the differences are intentional.  Awesome.  Yes, it's confusing.  Imagine doing this without that tool.

So my base documents are in markdown, and then when I want to convert them to something else (say, the PDF contract proof that I sent out to authors for What Fates Impose today), it was a matter of a few clicks.  Convert it to a word processing document?  Likewise.  (Both courtesy of Pandoc.)

A lot of these tools are things which do require a little more work to initially set up.  But just like I've learned from eBook conversion (or medicine, or writing, or...) a little bit of setup makes things work much better on the back end.

Running a paperless office?  Learn from academics.  Holy crap, did I ever have to keep track of so many bits of paper (electronic and otherwise), and hands down the best way to organize them?  Mendeley.

NOTE:  You need to mark your private files as "Unpublished work - exclude from Mendeley Web Catalog".

I have a folder there with all my academic files, and another where I scan contracts and the like - and assign faux "journals" to keep track of them.  So each book I publish - usually with 15-20 contracts associated with it - is a "journal".  Series like The Crimson Pact?  Volumes of that journal.  Or however you like.  Then you can search to your heart's content.

So take a few minutes to look at the workflow you have.  Who does things like that - but a bazillion times more intense?  The real nerds and geeks of that discipline.  Find them.  Find what they do.  And adapt it to your own life.

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Vote for Eighth Day Genesis in the 2013 ENnie Awards (and some personal thoughts)

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Voting for the Gen Con EN Awards is going on right now.

I strongly encourage you to vote for Eighth Day Genesis in the category of Best RPG Related Product. Anyone can vote by visiting

I don't ask for your vote lightly. You can get a free PDF sample of Eighth Day Genesis containing three articles from the book at so you know you're voting for a quality product.

Thanks in advance for your vote,
Steven, Sabrina, and all the people working on Eighth Day Genesis

Okay.  Enough boilerplate.  Hopefully you'll go vote.  Because this means a lot to me.

When I finally attended my first GenCon, I registered late.  Really late.  Like about this time of year late.

Those of you who have been at GenCon know where this is heading:  All the "popular" games I wanted to play were already filled up.  So I got into a few games - some good, one awesome, several horrible.  But I had slots left over.

Then I saw the Writer's Symposium (also known as "Get Literal").  Hm.  I wondered.  I'd only published one work - my second place essay in SEED's writing contest.  So I signed up for a few workshops thinking that at least it'd help me with being a better gamemaster.

The next year I only attended one or two games.  By choice.  The year after, I had several fiction sales and was on the other side of the table.1

I haven't looked back.

It's great to see something I helped create come full circle and give back to both the writing and gaming community.

Now go vote for the book at!

1 I've had people ask: I am not a panelist this year at GenCon. However, about a third of the Writer's Symposium are authors who have been (or are about to be) published by Alliteration Ink: Donald J. Bingle, Dylan Birtolo, Maurice Broaddus, Jennifer Brozek, Richard Lee Byers, Larry Correia, Paul Genesse, Sarah Hans, Kerrie L. Hughes, Daniel Myers, Chris Pierson, Ken Scholes, Erik Scott de Bie, Lucy A. Snyder, Kelly Swails.

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Get Your Text Messages Across Platforms With DeskSMS

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And really, this is the key for me.  I currently have three different desktop operating systems and two different mobile ones - and I want to be able to text from ALL of them... but without having to have a bunch of different totally separate apps (I'm looking at you, Facebook Messenger).

And instant messaging is the way to do that, and DeskSMS does that wonderfully.

Whether your phone is (jailbroken) iOS or Android based, you can get the DeskSMS app... a simple little thing.  And then you can get messages sent straight to your Google Talk account.  And you can access that pretty much anywhere.

I usually use finch in a drop down quake-style terminal window, and that highlights exactly why I love DeskSMS so much.  I like staying in contact with people... but I hate having to totally disrupt what I'm doing in order to pick up the phone.  It's so much easier to just hit WIN-~ and have the window right there for me to type my reply in, and then pop POP! I'm back to work.

It can also echo everything to Gmail - so if you're in a situation where you can't check your phone but have e-mail access... guess what? Yup.  You get it there as well.  Use the Firefox extension.  Or you can just check the website/server at  Yearly subscriptions to the server are $5, and very, very worth it.

I am a user, and I do recommend it.  Oh, there's some way I could send you a referral, but seriously, this app is good enough and useful enough that it's well worth the cash.

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DIY e-mail autoresponder using getmail, sendmail, and bash.

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technology.pngAfter futxing about with several free (and commercial) autoresponders for a simple task, I realized that it would be easier to just set the thing up myself.  Yes, it requires some configuring off the front end, but it also means that you'll have massive amounts of control on the back end.

Sends properly formatted multipart HTML/plain text e-mail.
Will not send to an e-mail address more than once (by design) to avoid spamming
Uses any POP3 enabled e-mail address you have.

getmail (properly configured - here are example configuration files)
sendmail (properly configured - you may wish to rate limit your outgoing mail)
An e-mail account with POP3 access and SMTP access.
A computer that's (nearly) always on and connected to the internet

Look, if you don't know how to use getmail and sendmail - or are unwilling to put in the work - you probably would be better off hiring someone.  Seriously.

So I set up this bash script as a once-every-half-hour job that pulls down ALL e-mail from a dedicated e-mail address.   (It should be pretty evident that you could, with the addition of a CASE statement, be able to parse e-mails by Subject or the body text...)

It's pretty easy  to make the multipart message as well (and that's why you need to use bare sendmail, by the way).  Easiest way to do it?  Compose it in something like Gmail using the rich interface and pull down the e-mail you sent to yourself.  That way you'll understand what you're doing.

And yes, of course someone could use this for ill.  Just like they could use a regular e-mail client for ill, or a "vacation message" or anything like that.  In fact, this setup is more secure than a vacation message, because it simply will refuse to continue an e-mail loop. And it's something that you could actually set up to deliver anything - including the files itself - using the method shown here.

You can find the shell script below or at; if you can improve it, please feel free to fork it from there.

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Support A Journalistic Look at the Role of Women in Tabletop Gaming: Makers, Schemers, and Dreamers

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I'm going to keep this short and sweet:  You need to help Lillian Cohen-Moore get to GenCon.   Here's what she has to say about it:

When #1reasonwhy happened, I decided to shift my focus. I’d do an oral history project, but I wanted it to be about women in games. More specifically, women in tabletop and live-action role-playing. There’s a stunning amount of literature in existence devoted to the history of women in video games, but there isn’t as much devoted to tabletop. Even less than that, are projects that are open and accessible in non-academic formats.

I want to do Makers, Schemers, and Dreamers. I want to put these interviews and photographs online, but I need some help. I want to take the project to Gen Con. I already have access to women for interviews here in Seattle, but women from all over attend Gen Con. That gives me a more diverse pool of people to interview beyond who I have in driving distance.

Gen Con won’t be the only time Makers, Schemers, and Dreamers will go on the road, but it would be the first time I’d be able to take it out of state. By loading all the media I’m able to capture during interviews onto the web, it becomes a globally accessible project. As long as someone can get hold of an internet connection, they’d be able to explore the history of female peers, creators, organizers and artists who help make gaming what it is today—and will influence the form it takes in the future.
 I've worked with Lillian before and also have been a fan of her work.  Her writing is clear, challenging, and engaging.  She is the right person for this project. 

Let's make it happen.

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Taking A Cue From the Hugos: A Free Sample of Eighth Day Genesis is Available To Help Your ENnie Voting

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Racking up its second award nomination this year, Eighth Day Genesis: A Worldbuilding Codex has been nominated for an ENnie Award in the category of "Best RPG Related Product".

If you don't know what the ENnies are:
The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (the “ENnies”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop roleplaying gaming. The ENnies give game designers, writers and artists the recognition they deserve. It is a peoples’ choice award, and the final winners are voted upon online by the gaming public.
Though as I read that description, I realized that put us at a serious disadvantage.  I'm not exactly a big publisher - and especially when compared to outfits like Random House.  How could I compete with them?

With quality.  I'm serious.  I think the work Sabrina Klein and our authors did with Eighth Day Genesis is of excellent quality.  So I'm making an excerpt1 of Eighth Day Genesis2 available online.

All you have to do is send an e-mail to You'll get a return e-mail with the appropriate links.3.

I hope other small publishers start doing something like this. I'm sure there's lots of great material nominated for the ENnies that I'm just unaware of. And that's a shame.

Until then, though...tell your friends. Share the excerpt. And if you like it, vote for us (and buy the book)!

1 Why not make the whole thing free and online? Because the vast majority of the revenue from this book goes to the authors and editors, not me. I'd be taking money away from them, and I'm not okay with that.
2 Three of the twenty sections are in this PDF.
3 You will only get one other e-mail from me the day voting begins. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone else. If you do not see the e-mail with links, check your spam filters. Thanks!


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Anonymous - A Flash Fiction

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We all look the same to you.

Dress us in black and muted colors, in uniforms that designate us by role, not by name.

Pack us in squares with gray rug-covered walls that we are free to decorate within anxious corporate guidelines.

Keep us "backstage" out of the public eye. Hold out just enough impossible hope that we step on each other for the brass ring.

We could be the fixtures, the appliances, the automatic doors.

To you, we are simply cogs in the machine. Background. Forgotten.

We are anonymous.

You order the clam chowder.

It will not be clean.

Please note that the 100 Word Story Podcast is changing URLS to!

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 ( 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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What Fates Impose: Tales of Divination

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Life is uncertain, and the chance to get a peek into the future is so tempting... but is it really a good idea to look?

With this Kickstarter project, we're asking for help to publish a book of short stories called What Fates Impose. We want to pay the authors professional rates for their writing and offer you the chance to get the book before anyone else. Your contributions will help us to make this book a reality.

Edited by Nayad A. Monroe, this anthology brings together stories from a diverse group of speculative fiction writers who show the possibilities of what can go right or very wrong when people get predictions of their future. There's a full list of the authors and their story titles to be found on the project page. The book also includes cover artwork by Steven C. Gilberts, and an introduction by Alasdair Stuart.

The contributors have won a wide range of awards for their previous work, including the Bram Stoker Award, a Nebula Award, an AU Shadows Award, an Origins "Cleo" Award, a silver ENnie Award, the Authorlink! New Authors Award, a Octavia Butler Scholarship, and multiple other recognitions across the industry.

We'd like for you to check out the Kickstarter itself at

It would mean a lot to us if you could also spread the word about the project on social media. Just three clicks will mean a great deal to us.

Tweet about it!   Share on Facebook!   Post it to your stream.

Thanks so much!

Steven, Nayad, and all the contributors to What Fates Impose

What Fates Impose: Tales of Divination -- Kicktraq Mini

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Yellow - A Flash Fiction

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We were placid calm blues and violets, the predawn still, bodies wrapped around each other, radiating warmth against the slight summer morning chill.

The dark still night is the place where busyness and activity and words cannot hide you from yourself. Cannot save her from her fears.

She wakes with the first slivers of sunlight, and once it's safe enough, *busy* enough to start the day, the jealousy begins with demands and screams and shouting loud enough to save her from her own insecurity.

She is backlit, yelling, by the morning sun. Her words smear the colors of our relationship.

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 ( 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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Why You Should See Pacific Rim (Especially if You're A Writer)

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Pacific Rim is a thoroughly unsubtle film, and brilliantly gorgeous fun as it delivers EXACTLY what it promises.

It hits the ground running, and doesn't stop.  And while the plot isn't exactly a surprise, it's so well-executed that you simply don't care. (And yes, writers, that is how you do in media res when you have a complex backstory.)

Look at it this way:  You go to a concert to see your favorite band.  And they start playing your favorite song.  It's gonna be pretty much the way you're used to hearing it... but even though it's not surprising, the way they play it is just simply worth it because it's great.

Pacific Rim is like that.

Sometimes as writers we get down on "formulas", and rightfully so.  But Pacific Rim demonstrates - and successfully so - that it's not all about how clever your plot is1. It's also about skill in pulling it off.  Guillermo del Toro and all the others who worked on this film pulled it off brilliantly.2

I recommend seeing it in theaters.

1 "How's being clever working out for you?" - Tyler Durden
2 For the nitpickers - There's only three scenes that clunked a little for me... and it would take more time to explain where they fall in the movie than it's worth.

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Check Out This Mobile Version of My Site (and links to how I learned how to do it)

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A while back I mentioned how mobile sites are your digital calling card. I believe this even more strongly now; I've run into a number of people who only access the internet via a tablet or phone... and have no plans to change that.

Original Mobile Design
As a result, I've been working on an overhaul of (first) Alliteration Ink's site.  The original mobile version was okay, but a little too simple (illustrated to the right).  That and the menu was a horribly confusing jumble.  I also had the viewport a little small... the text was still a bit too small on my tablet, but it wouldn't go to the mobile version.

First, I installed a switcher button, which was nice enough, but just more clutter.

I ran across this wonderful guide for creating a "menu" button using only CSS.  (For those wondering why this is important, simple == faster == better on the web.)

The short explanation of what it's supposed to do:  You have one stylesheet which first defines your mobile site, and only then defines all the fancy stuff.   Benefits besides speed?  It will change formats on the fly if someone shrinks their window.  It will work with plain text browsers - so it's going to be text-to-speech accessible.   Oh, and the design is optimal for all you SEO junkies, because it puts the menu at the bottom and uses CSS to move it up later on.  (Schweet.)

Again, that link is here:

Let me tell you, retconning existing code was a bit of a bear.  I'm sure there's duplicated CSS and the like in there... but it seems to be working pretty well.  I'm sure it would have been easier if I started from scratch.

Here's what I'm asking of you:  Help me debug this thing.

I think I've got it right, and I'll show you screengrabs for the full and mobile version.  Swing by and and let me know if they look (pretty much) like this for you as well.

If there's something really funky for you, let me know what you were using to view the site.  Thanks!

EDIT:  The design for the blog is hosted by Google.  I'm referring to

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The Value of Loudness (Or: A Straight White Guy's Manifesto About Speaking Up)

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Here's the brief context:  A friend of mine said (I'm paraphrasing) that if you had an unpopular opinion, that you should speak up.  That it was your responsibility to say something.  I couldn't agree - not all voices are the same loudness, to which he replied (again, paraphrasing) "speak louder".1

I saved what I wrote in reply, because it really seems to sum up what my role as an "ally" is.  This is slightly edited for language and clarity, if you're concerned.

Hard to speak louder when the response to you speaking up is that you get told you're a [expurgated] for saying anything and threatened with being raped.  Or to shut up because of you don't have as many degrees.  Or because you have a certain set of genitals.  Or because you dress differently, or look different, or weren't born here, or all the other ways used to silence others.

So I speak.  Loudly.  And I tell others that the volume of their voice isn't the same as the righteousness of their words.

It's easy for us to speak up.  You're a big, charismatic guy.  You've got a lot going for you.  I'm a big ass loudmouth, and can yell over most people when I have to.  Neither of us *really* has any reason to fear for our lives or person on a daily basis.  For us to say something "unpopular"?  Big deal.

For those without power?  For them to whisper is an act of bravery that we can only pretend at.

And so I speak, but only so that others can as well.

1For the record: I don't think he's a bad guy.  We disagree on this topic frequently, but I also remember when I was advocating exactly the same thing. So I push him the way I got pushed when I said the same stuff.

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Interview with me about Kickstarter and What Fates Impose on DJ Grandpa's Crib

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I had a pretty awesome conversation with
Abdullah Rufus from DJ Grandpa's Crib about publishing, Kickstarter, and What Fates Impose.

They are some classy, fine, smart folks and very knowledgeable (and selective) about Kickstarter.  As they describe themselves:

DJ Grandpa's Crib, the Podcast of Kickstarter, is dedicated to real people with honest dreams. We publish every Monday morning at

Check out them out on Twitter   (the producer Von is at, and of course, I encourage you to like DJ Grandpa's Crib on Facebook.

Seriously, folks, I'm so impressed that I'm definitely paying attention to anything they point at.  Highly knowledgeable and ethical folks. Check it out - you can download it right here or use the handy-dandy tool below.

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Why I Am Not Entering the Dark Crystal Novel Writing Contest Even Though I Want To

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Not too long ago, the internet (or at least, the parts of the internet that are roughly my age) had a squeegasm with the announcement of more from the universe of The Dark Crystal. Understandably so; The Dark Crystal was (and is) awesome, both in terms of technical achievement and storytelling/worldbuilding.

The announcement was especially followed by writer friends of mine, because it came with a writing component. Anyone could, based on merit alone, write thier own original Dark Crystal novel and have it be selected to be official canon.

Pretty much the reaction of the internet.

I won't be entering that contest.

I thought about it. A lot. And then something in the back of my head told me to hunt down the official rules. That's where I found this clause (number four under "General"):

Each entry will be the sole property of the Sponsors. By competing in the Contest and/or accepting a prize, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to edit, adapt, publish, copy, display, reproduce and otherwise use their entry in connection with this Contest and in any other way, in any and all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the world, in perpetuity, including publication on Further, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to use each entry and the winner’s name, likeness, and biographical information in advertising, trade and promotional materials, without notice, review or approval, or further compensation or permission, except as set forth herein, and except where prohibited by law.

Let's review.
  • They get all rights to your entry, forever, in any and all media. I hate rights grabs like this, but this wasn't the deal-killer.
  • They can use your name, photo, and bio when they want, whether you win or not. Strange and worrisome - you might remember that Facebook has caught flak for doing crap like this in the past as well. Again, worrisome, but not a deal-killer.

Those things are fairly routine. (Sad, but true.) I know quite a few people who happily write work-for-hire, and they get paid well in exchange for giving up the rights to their work.

This is the deal-killer:

• The rules as written say that entering the contest gives them the right to use your entry, including publishing it (!) without paying you (!!) for it.

As the rules are written, you can enter, not win, and then find your story published without you getting a cent for it.

Pictured:  The lawyers who wrote that contract

That is not work for hire.

That, my friends, is puppetcrap.

Submissions don't open until 1 October, so they have time to make this right.

I wonder if they will.

One of the reasons I got into publishing was to do things the "right" way and pay authors what they deserve.  Right now I'm running a Kickstarter to raise money for a new anthology: What Fates Impose: Tales of Divination.  Check out the Kickstarter itself at and help me do the right thing by these authors.  Thanks!


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Dear Battletech Players: Please Help

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Okay, so my son likes Battletech.  Which is cool, seeing as I used to play myself.

Except... where to get him started?  He's fifteen, and from what I've seen of the Quick Start PDF, that's right about his level.  But the Introductory Box Set that keeps getting referenced (even on appears to have been out of stock since forever.

So what's a good starter pack of minis to go with the PDFs of the rules for me to gift him?


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Prepare for Descent!

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Oh, how I remember this game.

And if you don't remember this game...  it's got for real six-axis controls and tunnels and robots and missiles and... oh, yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

It's only $10 for both Descent 1 and Descent 2 at, which helpfully includes a nice DOSBOX install.  But wait!  There's more!  The DXX-Rebirth project has ports for it to run natively on modern Windows, Mac, and *nix systems!  (Note - I directly downloaded DEB packages from here, which made it very easy). 

If you're running anything other than Windows, get that nice virtual machine out (or even WINE), install the game, and copy the needed files over.  It's actually pretty dang simple.

Able to play all the way through?  Check out the Descent Mission Database, yo!

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Tomato - A Flash Fiction (DOUBLE DRABBLE!!!)

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I am unfashionably fond of this story. :)

Oh good. You're awake!

Look, I have something to tell you. You were...

You were right. There. I said it. Not that hard at all. It's not as easy for me as it is for you, but I can admit when I'm wrong, just like you--

Hm? Oh, right, I know. I search for similarities. 23 Skiddoo, right? Seeing things in clouds. You're so quick to tell me that I'm "imposing a pattern of similarities onto dissimilar data". And let me tell you, that's just not true. We have SO much in common, and you just refuse--

Ah, right. Sorry. Starting to argue again, and it's not really fair with the gag in your mouth. And besides, I already said you were right. We're very dissimilar. It's true. I mean, look at us. Look at what we do. You're a banker with your suit and briefcase, and I'm a sculptor with my smock and my chisel.

That's the answer, honey. The sculpting. You don't build something up - you take a rock and then you chip away everything that doesn't fit. Everything that's different.

And then we can be happy together!

Tomato, tohmahto, let's just chop the whole thing off.

Please note that the 100 Word Story Podcast is changing URLS to!

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 ( 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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A brief note on lifehacking

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(The following applies for me as well.)

Congratulations!  You have broken a bad habit, or created a good one!  You reached a goal, made your life more efficient, and will not only live longer, but be a better lover too.

Now stop telling me how you did it.


I might ask. I might even ask you to coach or encourage or provide feedback.

But otherwise, keep your judgmental comments to yourself.  Here's two I heard a lot:

"You know, you'll live longer if you lose weight."
"You know, smoking is bad for you."

I know.

I'm glad you don't have or overcame those problems. Seriously. I'm glad whatever you did worked well for you.

I'm not you.

I'm trying.

And the sanctimonious asshat who just commented on the slice of pizza on my tray (seriously) isn't encouraging me to lose weight. They're causing my cortisol levels to spike, which short circuits the weight loss program I started back on today.

Again, though, I'm not just bitching.  If I start to be that person, if I start trolling with my unwanted concern, point me back here and tell me to shut up.

Because along with losing weight and staying clear of tobacco, I want to be more compassionate.  And definitely not some sanctimonious jerk judging others by what's on their food tray.


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