Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Why I am Examining the Diversity of Authors Submitting to Calls For Submissions

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I'm going to examine the diversity of authors in my slush pile.

There's a very specific reason for this: It means that I have no excuses.

Because many of my projects are anthologies, there are lots of possible confounding variables if you simply look at a Table of Contents. Is it the nature of the project? The pay rate? The anthologist's taste in stories? The anthologist's reputation? It's all too easy to come up with a reasons for a Table of Contents to have the amount of diversity (good or bad) that it has.

I believe that to actually address representation in our literature, we must encourage submissions from all peoples. While looking at a Table of Contents may give you a rough idea of the outcome, it could also be masking a disproportionately low submission rate.

Once I assess the demographic and authorial characteristics of submissions to Alliteration Ink, I will then be in a better place to determine what I need to do to encourage and make sure that submissions are proportionate across as many socioeconomic groups as possible.

As I get this data, I will be sharing the aggregate data (no individually identifying data will be shared) and its analysis publicly.

Added for clarity on 3 June:  I, as publisher, am not involved in selecting stories for anthologies. That is why I am evaluating these variables instead of the people selecting stories.  The two processes are to remain separate.

I want my editors to have the widest range of great stories to select from.  That is why I will work to encourage submissions from all types of authors.  If there is a lack of diversity, then the best response is to encourage more participation from underrepresented groups.

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Who is more important: Those who need help, or those who abuse the help that's given?

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There are people who need assistance.

Some people abuse the systems designed to protect and help those who need protecting and help.

That doesn't mean the people who need help and protecting suddenly go away.

It is the height of hubris and arrogance to assume that someone else doesn't need help or protection because you don't need help and protection.

And denying people what they need because you're more worried about a freeloader says a whole damn lot about your character.

The above is left very vague on purpose, because it can apply to a whole lot of things.

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How To Compound Your Stupid on Teh Internetz

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There's no cute way to put this, and it's important.

When you're wrong on teh internetz (and you will be), there is only one (1) smart option:

Apologize.  (Guide on how to apologize here; or Scalzi's apology guidelines here.)

Seriously.  You're going to do or say something stupid.  Apologize as sincerely as possible, and fix the problem.  It happens.  And if you're lucky enough to admit your problem early on and apologize quickly, then you'll probably be remembered for being classy.

How can you make the problem stupider?  By invoking the Streisand Effect and trying to delete/remove the stupid thing you said.

It's especially bad when you already know there are screenshots out there of the stupid thing you did:

But deleting a tweet (and then your whole account on Twitter) doesn't actually make information go away.  For example, there's the handy Resurrect Pages add-on for Firefox... or you can just manually check the Internet Archive.  In fact, you can even manually archive web pages to the Wayback Machine just in case you're afraid the info might be removed.

And even though things like Google Cache eventually fade away, it's dead simple to take full-page screengrabs of the cache.

You know, like this screengrab I made from Google Cache after Bryan deleted the page where he called me unprofessional and said I had a lack of integrity.

Bonus Streisand Points:  At least make sure you delete the post instead of just redirecting attempts to get it.  Check out the screengrab of his blog entry index.

Because there's always the chance that the person you're trying to make look stupid (or at least make them look like rotting meat) will decide that you'll make a good object lesson when teaching new writers how not to interact with the internet.

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:  Please do not boycott buying books that BTS has edited (or that were in the pipeline up through this point).  That will simply hurt the authors or co-anthologists... and it's not fair at all to make them pay for someone else's stupidity.

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In Which I Get Called Names Along With People I Respect

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To wit:

I'm honored by the comparison to Jaym Gates and Jim Hines - both people I know and respect.  I've yet to meet Luhrs and Fox, but we'll get around to it someday.

If you're interested in what I said on Twitter to deserve this, feel free to see.  I haven't deleted my tweets (unlike others).  But really, it's not that important - remember, sometimes people don't like you. And that's okay.

I'm posting this because after he name-checked me above, I've had three separate people ask me about this:

[UPDATE: Bryan decided to remove the page I linked to.  There is (at least at present) still a Google Cache version;  a screengrab of the page is here:]

Bryan Thomas Schmidt was originally going to be the co-anthologist of Streets of Shadows.  I did not publicly mention - positively or negatively - Bryan Schmidt's role, departure, or reasons for departure from the project.

I'm very, very happy that Jerry Gordon is co-anthologist now.

As to why BTS left... well, I will simply stand by what I said on the 26th of May. 
The policies that I insisted upon and that he characterizes as "unprofessionalism and lack of integrity" are here:

I'll leave you with this wonderful quote that came out of it all:

Words to live.. and write... by.

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:  Please do not boycott buying books that BTS has edited (or that were in the pipeline up through this point).  That will simply hurt the authors or co-anthologists... and it's not fair at all to make them pay for someone else's stupidity.

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Every Day.

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Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: 

every day, once a day, give yourself a present. 

Don't plan it; don't wait for it; just let it happen. 

It could be a new shirt in a men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black, coffee.

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Quit Whining About Amazon and Start Doing Something Already (Including Self-Pub And Small Press!)

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You heard me.

Sometimes I've been wrong about Amazon - they've not exercised their used digital sales patent as aggressively as I thought they would - but I think my main prediction about Amazon's behavior has been borne out by their behavior again and again.

Amazon is the Wal*Mart of Booksellers.

Look, we know that Amazon is not above shoving around the little guy when they feel like it. And that Amazon - both through the use of DRM and through Kindle sales - has been cornering the digital market.  As I wrote here:

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

And those factors mean that we totally should have expected Amazon to keep screwing over publishers.  This is the third round of this.  It's only going to get more frequent.

If you think that being a small press or self-pub author means you're safe... well, no.  It doesn't.

Sure, it means you're out of the current battles being waged.  But remember, in 2012 the target was Independent Publisher's Group.

It's pretty obvious what's going on now.  Small and indie publishing is vitally important to Amazon right now... because it's using us as leverage against the big corporations.

When the big publishers are cowed, our usefulness will be ended.

This scene keeps running through my head.

So what the hell should we do?

Readers: Buy from independent bookstores when you can.  Indiebound is a good place to start.  Or even better, buy direct from the publisher - something that nearly every small publisher has set up (like mine here).  Need to know how to get your eBooks onto your device?  There's a handy guide here: 

Publishers and Indie Authors:
  • Lose the partisan "Amazon is evil" or "Amazon is a friend to authors" mindset.  Amazon is a business.  Period.  They are a business, and can be expected to act in their own best interests.  Sometimes that's our best interests as well.  Sometimes not.
  • Realize that taking down Amazon links isn't going to change much.  Yes, I've done it myself in the past.  And I realized that people just left my site to go search Amazon instead of following my links.
  • Diversify!  There is no excuse for your eBooks to not be available at your website, DriveThru Fiction, Google, B&N, and Kobo.    None of those places charge you for having the book there.  There is NO BLOODY EXCUSE.  NOT A SINGLE ONE.


    Yes, most of my sales as a publisher are through Amazon.  With Amazon regularly pulling access to books as a negotiating tactic, there is no way in hell that I will lock any author of mine into only that single storefront. 

    And don't complain about how you just made it as a Kindle formatted book.  Make your eBooks as ePub - it's easier to tweak and fix errors - and then convert them to Kindle formats with Calibre or Kindlegen.  It works great.

    And yes, this also means that I'm shifting more of my printing business away from Amazon-owned companies, for similar reasons.)

    You can even sell eBooks directly to consumers (and in person).  There's a pretty cool program called Bitlit I just signed up for that blows Matchbook out of the water (you aren't tied to a specific retailer!).  And my "How to Load eBooks" page is CC-licensed, so feel free to use it as a template to get your fans started.
  • Tell your readers what's going on.  Tell them that there's more places to get your book.  Get them invested in buying the book in ways that get the most money to the people who made the book happen.  If the success of crowdfunding has taught us nothing else, it's that the public likes rewarding the people who make creative, enjoyable things happen.
Authors With Publishers:  Ask them why the hell they aren't selling (at least) digital copies of books from their own websites.  Ask them why they're playing into Amazon's hands by insisting on DRM that effectively just guarantees Amazon more sales

If there is a single trend we can identify about businesses in the last thirty years, it's that loyalty is no longer rewarded.  Loyalty marks you as a sucker.

We can either acknowledge that fact and adapt, or....


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Likes and Shares Matter Even More Than We Thought: A Real Life Example of Facebook's Algorhythms

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A while back I shared with you a couple of videos pointing out how Facebook has dramatically changed the way that engagement happens with Pages.

Here's some real-world data.

It becomes quickly obvious (the number of "Likes" the Alliteration Ink page hasn't changed much in the two months) that the average "reach" (or as it says on the post page, "this post was served to [X] people") is the high teens to 20.

That middle "shared a link" is this post with eight likes and three shares.  The "preview of the amazing interior art" has two likes, and the "Free Marketing Gravy Chain" post (ironically) has one comment, and the fewest of the three exceptions to the high-teens pageviews noted here.

Yesterday, I announced that Alliteration Ink would be partnering with BitLit to bundle digital versions of books - even those already sold

Because I encourage authors in my anthologies to sell copies of the books (the money goes to that author), I asked each author to spread the word.  Knowing that Facebook had rigged the game, I also asked them to "like" or "share" the post on Facebook so their fans could see it.

As of this writing, there are ten likes and eleven shares.

Remember, "reach" is pageviews among people who already "liked" Alliteration Ink, and wanted to see my updates.

Someone with more data can crunch the exact impact of likes and shares.  The takeaway for me is simple:

People will not see what I post on Facebook unless I really harness a lot of help or make something total "likebait".

I can't be the only one to have figured this out.   And this is not good news for small businesses and brands... or Facebook in general.

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Trigger Warnings: Not Our Responsibility To Keep You Safe, But We Can Inform You

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I managed to get into two conversations this weekend about "trigger warnings" - one in terms of fiction, one in terms of college classes.

First, I want to direct your attention to this excellent essay, which I quote below:

What trigger warnings are, when they’re used well, is part of a trauma-informed, survivor centered approach to talking about difficult topics. They’re a way of saying, “This thing here? This is difficult. If it feels difficult, that’s because it’s difficult. You’re not broken or sick or ‘weak’ if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”
Trigger warnings are not “Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities.” They are a component in creating an environment in which everyone has an opportunity to feel safe, and where the world recognizes that sometimes people have good reason to feel unsafe.

For me, trigger warnings are kind of like NSFW tags.  If I'm looking at a blog post during lunch at work, I skip the NSFW ones (even if I'm on my own laptop).  Likewise, I imagine that folks with trigger issues will skip those sorts of things when they're low on spoons (spoon theory is explained here).

I hold up as an example the review I did of a friend's book.  My review starts with:
First: there are depictions of very strong sexual violence, assault, and rape in this book. If these are absolute no-gos or triggers for you, please do not read this book.
It was a horror novel... but I don't think we, as authors, can use that as a disclaimer.  There's a huge difference between (for example) a typical King novel and a Poppy Z. Brite novel... but both fall under "horror".

Yes, there's entitled idiots who think everything in reality should be padded for their convenience, and misuse the term "trigger warning" horribly.  But at the same time, I think that it's something that we authors can use to our advantage, as a way to find our audience.

I had a story in Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance.  At a convention, a young (pre-teen) girl saw it on my table and was interested in reading it.  While I would have been okay with her reading my story... many of the others there went straight into softcore porn OR horror territory. 

I let her parents know.  Because at this point, her parents (or even she, later) may remember me.  They might buy something or read something that I wrote... because I took the time to think about her/their daughter instead of making a quick couple of bucks.

But if I'd let that preteen girl go home with that book... the odds are that her parents WOULD remember me... and not in a "buy my stuff" kind of way.

And I have a hard time seeing that as a bad thing.


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Southern Gods Is Like The Muppets: A Review

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John Horner Jacobs' novel, Southern Gods, is like The Muppets.

Yes, the one with Jason Segel. Just with more tentacles. And mind-blasting things from beyond.

Let me explain.

Southern Gods is an intense story of the Cthulhu Mythos, bringing it into the mid-twentieth century. Unlike Lovecraft (or many imitators), Jacobs does not need to rely on the weight of dense multisyllabic adjective-laden clauses. His writing is dark and evocative, drawing you into the lush landscape of the American South. It is Jacobs' skill with words that gives the story its strength.

Even though it incorporates some of my least favorite elements of the Derleth Mythos... and that's what made me think of Segel's Muppet reboot.

For many - myself among them - August Derleth is both hero and villain. Derleth (nearly single-handedly) is responsible for Lovecraft's work being known today. At the same time, Derleth's reframing the Mythos into a duality dulled the sharp existential dread that Lovecraft initially evoked.

And the Muppets... well, the Muppets. It almost seemed like they were gone forever, didn't it? That the sharp wit (go back and watch the original Muppet Show) and deep heart had been turned into sight gags and just showing up on Sesame Street. There were some regrettable choices made.

And then The Muppets came out. It acknowledged the bad and the good, and simply rolled with it all. It acknowledged the tropes and cliches, the strengths and weaknesses, and created something new... that somehow was the same as the original.

That's what John Horner Jacobs does with Southern Gods. While acknowledging the good - and bad - of the Mythos, he manages to synthesize and transform it all into something that recognizes everything that has come before...but still evokes the same feelings for me as the original Mythos.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write "The Muppets Take R'lyeh".

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Sometimes people don't like you. And that's okay.

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One of the things that happens when you Take Positions is that you end up pissing off some folks.  I've had a few people ask me what I think about [insert person here] not liking me, or not wanting to work with me.

Here's the thing, my droogs:  I don't care. 

I know, right?  Surprises the hell out of me, too.

I mean, it doesn't matter to me.

There's two reasons for this.

First:  If they're irritated by my positions over the last few years, then that doesn't bother me in the slightest.  Nice thing about taking stances based on your principles, that.

Second, and more important to you:  I really mean what I said in this post.
You can spend a lot of time and energy trying to get noticed, accepted, and respected by these [old boys'] clubs.  To be brought into the inner circle.


Be awesome instead.  Be smart instead.  Be creative instead.  Find other people at your level - either at conventions or online - and bond with them. 

Now more than ever, it's possible to make your own successful network of trust with people you've worked with.
Recently at Mo*Con, I spent a lot of time among many of the people I've come to respect and trust.  (The rest of you were missed;  seriously.)  Given some of the things I've had to deal with elsewhere in my life lately, it was so awesome to be among people who I could respect and trust... and who would return the favor.

And we really don't need to worry about the approval of anyone else as long as we have our friends and our true peers.

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This Page Might Take Forever To Load... If You Don't Act Now.

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Net Neutrality is Important for Small Publishers and Independent Authors

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A simple question from a small business:

It's not trivial for small publishers and independent authors. Our ability to compete side-by-side with the big players is largely due to the leveling effects of the internet.

We are a nation of entrepreneurs. Of small businesses and small business owners.

And we should keep it that way.

Prepare to stand for Net Neutrality on the 15th of May.

(Still not sure what this is about?  Check out these posts: An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It and Why You Should Be Freaking Out About The End Of Net Neutrality)

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Hear This: The Real McKenzies

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I'll tell you a secret.

I like bagpipes.

Okay, no, let me clarify.  I do not want to hear "Amazing Grace".  But you gotta admit, it's probably the most metal wind instrument out there. 

Don't believe me? Then check out The Real McKenzies:

And then check out this track (profanity, by the way) from their latest album:

Mmmmm.  Pass the ale.

Go check out more tracks and buy their stuff over at Fat Wreck Chords.

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When Steven Saus is appearing at #MARCON today

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It's really simple, actually:

1430:  Superheroes and Alien Bears:  Reading in Suite 501
1600:  Am I a Professional Writer Yet?:  Union C
2200:  Publishing Mishaps:  Union C

Other than that?  I'll be around.  I've got some business stuff to meet people for, but the easiest way to get a hold of me is to ping me on Twitter:  @uriel1998

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Amazon Is Wal*Mart, Not Evil (redux) - What This Mean For Readers, Indies, and Small Publishers

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Here we go again:

In what seems to be becoming an annual rite of spring, a dispute between a major retailer and a major publisher over sales terms has gotten nasty, and gone public. The New York Times reported that Amazon is "discouraging" customers from buying books published by Hachette Book Group after what is, apparently, a dispute over retail terms.(PublishersWeekly)

As even PW notes, this is not new, and that sure means it's not going away.

It's predictable.  Corporations exist to make money.  That's it.  It's not evil, it's business.

If it was about treating customers right, they wouldn't do things like break functionality for some customersAnd you can't rely on the fear of public backlash without having the backlash first.

And just like Wal*Mart, Amazon has gotten big enough that they can start to make demands... and try to punish those who don't meet their demands.  Check this out:

A gallon-sized jar of whole pickles is something to behold...Wal-Mart priced it at $2.97--a year's supply of pickles for less than $3! "They were using it as a 'statement' item," says Pat Hunn, who calls himself the "mad scientist" of Vlasic's gallon jar. "Wal-Mart was putting it before consumers, saying, This represents what Wal-Mart's about. You can buy a stinkin' gallon of pickles for $2.97. And it's the nation's number-one brand."

Therein lies the basic conundrum of doing business with the world's largest retailer. By selling a gallon of kosher dills for less than most grocers sell a quart, Wal-Mart may have provided a service for its customers. But what did it do for Vlasic? The pickle maker had spent decades convincing customers that they should pay a premium for its brand. Now Wal-Mart was practically giving them away. And the fevered buying spree that resulted distorted every aspect of Vlasic's operations, from farm field to factory to financial statement.(FastCompany, 2003)

And that kind of behavior is exactly what we're seeing today - and it's part of the pattern that makes me call Amazon the Wal*Mart of booksellers

While the previous rounds have resolved themselves, we don't know at what cost. And when it costs publishers money, it costs authors money.  (Which is bad for readers, since if we don't get paid, it makes it hard for us to write more.)
And this is where we get to small publishers.  Because if Amazon is pushing around the big guys like this, do you really think you have a chance if they want to mess with you?

So what can you do?


Buy from independent bookstores when you can.  Indiebound is a good place to start.  Or even better, buy direct from the publisher - something that nearly every small publisher has set up (like mine here).  Need to know how to get your eBooks onto your device?  There's a handy guide here:

Publishers and Indie Authors:

Diversify!  There is no excuse for your eBooks to not be available on DriveThru Fiction, Google, B&N, and Kobo.  You can even sell eBooks directly to consumers (and in person).  There's a pretty cool program called Bitlit I just signed up for that blows Matchbook out of the water (you aren't tied to a specific retailer!).  And my "How to Load eBooks" page is CC-licensed, so feel free to use it as a template to get your fans started.


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Harassment Policies: Yup, It's Still A Thing.

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I spent some time putting this together last night as it unfolded - and I really don't have anything more to say, other than to echo Mur Lafferty's gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

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Don't Put Secure Info In The Cloud: [UPDATED WITH NEW INFORMATION]

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UPDATED 2240 20140505:  Insync HQ has gotten back to me (and considering they're in the Philippines, the delay makes sense).  And they've been very quick about replying to e-mails and seem very anxious to make sure this problem is fixed.  But it doesn't seem that it's something they can control They state:

...we only access your Google Drive so it's possible that it's orphaned and thus not showing on Drive web (ie it's impossible for Insync to access someone else's Drive as Insync would need access to the user tokens which is approved by the user). 
I've still only been able to get a hold of one of the users whose data I saw;  they suggested that it might have been an accidental share as well by an employee.  Which makes the lesson below even more important.   I know that I was accidentally e-mailing someone with a letter difference for about two months earlier this year.

I use quite a few cloud services - Dropbox and Google Drive being two of the more flexible.  And I use InSync to manage synchronizing the data between Google Drive and the desktop.

It's been a great service - and then today I noticed something strange as I was cleaning up and organizing my Drive folder.  There were a bunch of "shared with me" documents that I hadn't synced.

And when I did start them synchronizing... well, I was surprised.

If you aren't gasping yet, then this screengrab should make you sweat:

Yes, that file is exactly what it looks like.  The account information for every bit of financial and web information I would need was in plain text.  I have successfully contacted one party (they had designs for business cards in the folder), and resetting my syncing and purging shared folders seems to have gotten rid of the unwanted data.
I still don't know if this was a Google Drive problem or an InSync problem.  (InSync has not gotten back to me at this point, and I have no idea who to start with at Google.)  I have no reason for either of the folders to have been shared with me.  I don't know how the verification for the client works either.

But it does not matter.

Even if it was the most innocent of hiccups, this sort of thing will keep happening.  

If you have confidential information - and I mean passwords and the like - shared on the cloud, the individual files must be encrypted.   Whether you use a tool like TrueCrypt to manage a volume inside your synced drive or GPG (which, you might remember, I suggested you install anyway), you have to make sure that your data is secure whenever it passes through another's hands.

And while you're at it, check out my (still relevant) guide to securing your online life, okay?

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Where Do You Get Those Wonderful Ideas: Save The Date for 25 October

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There was one really, really cool moment when I got my contributor's copy of Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

I can sum it up pretty easily:

My essay and exercise starts off the entire book.

And today I've learned that the Dayton Metro Library is going to host the live version of the exercise on the 25th of October from 2-5pm.

Where Do You Get Those Wonderful Ideas?  We will spend approximately one hour talking about ways to generate ideas and plot and character - and how to strip them down to their most bare elements.  We will then spend a portion of time writing a flash fiction using these techniques and a prompt, and then comparing what we came up with.

Bring whatever tools you need to write - laptop, tablet, pen, paper.  This is a participatory exercise, and should be a blast.

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