Friday, October 11, 2013

Thoughts about short stories

I think I'm going to write 50,000 words of short stories for NaNo this year, probably most of them Lizzy and Jo stories. At least I'm going to try. To that end, I'm thinking hard about the structure of the short story and what it should accomplish. I'm terrible at writing short and half my stories turn out flaccid, weak, meaningless, unsatisfying, and disjointed.

So here are some thoughts I've just jotted down. Maybe they'll help someone else. I have no idea if my thoughts are on target for other writers, but I think it's going to help me. (I go on to talk about my two main characters' specific motivations, but I left that part out since no one but me cares.) Oh, MC = main character.

Short story arcs start with a quick view of the MC’s situation, a change in that situation out of the MC’s control (usually), the results of that change going in unexpected directions, the MC’s decision to fix what’s broken or encourage what’s started to change (this can be subtle, a realization), the results of the MC’s efforts in that direction, and the final view of the MC’s changed/restored state.

Events can be reasonably random, but the MC’s decisions HAVE to effect changes and lead naturally to the final outcome.

The less time between the opening and the change (inciting incident), the tighter the story feels, as long as the opening adequately sets the stage. The reader must understand why the change is important. (Some events are self-explanatory, like the MC losing her job, but it’s still stronger if we know whether the MC liked her job, how much she depends on the paycheck or the regular hours, whether there’s someone in her workplace important to her that she may never see again, etc. You can sneak these details in after the inciting incident, as long as it’s done very soon after.)

In the best stories, something internal changes for the MC along with something external. Both are important. One without the other makes a weak story although technically correct. Romances are satisfying because they provide both internal changes (MC falls in love) and external changes (MC accepts another character into her life).

In the case of recurring characters in linked short stories, the small internal changes in each story should mirror the major character arc from first story to last. In this way linked short stories mimic the novel, where external events continually force MC to change and evaluate herself until the climax causes a big final change; but linked short stories offer the changes in a smaller setting and evaluate different facets of the MC’s situation/outlook without muddying the character’s motivations (since only one facet is explored per story).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Equinoctal Tea

Today is the autumn equinox and it's been cool but sunny all day, with a bit of breeze. Perfect weather for an equinoctal tea! So I made cranberry orange walnut muffins and opened a new tin of orange pekoe I'd bought for a special occasion.

Mom started the family tradition of an autumn equinoctal tea--at least, it was her idea and she often talked about it, but I don't remember if we ever actually found time to do it. That's the problem with things that don't seem all that important: there's always time to do them later, until suddenly there's no time at all.

So as I did last year, I sat down to an equinoctal tea. I used Mom's beloved Royal Doulton china and chose one of her books of horror stories to read.

I miss you, Mom. I miss you most of all in autumn, when the leaves fall on the porch but you're not here to sweep them away.

Monday, September 2, 2013

DragonCon 2013!

I got back from DragonCon today, and it's safe to say that not only was this my hands-down best con-going experience ever, I'm pretty sure it was the best weekend of my life. That sounds pretty sad on the surface, like maybe my whole life has been so blah that one fun weekend rises above all the boredom of the previous years. But I mean that not only was the weekend fun, there were no negatives. Nothing bad happened. Nothing caused a blip in my enjoyment. I wasn't even bored. When I needed some quiet time to recharge (as an introverted person), I was able to claim it easily. I met with friends, talked to affable strangers, made some modest purchases that please me all out of proportion to their cost, and stepped out of my comfort zone and enjoyed it. And there were several distinct high notes among the general goodness.

I didn't keep the detailed records I have at previous cons, mostly because this time I had a smartphone (which I got in April and love) so I was able to tweet about my experiences instead of writing them in my leather-bound journal. I did make a few notes, though, so I'll transcribe them here with additions and pictures. All the photos were from my phone, so they're not all that great.

Friday, August 30, 2013

No connectivity anywhere. I didn't realize how much I rely on my phone until it's only a fraction useful to me.

I'm at the Ghost Hunters panel. This time I made it into the right line.

It doesn't matter how often I come to DragonCon, I get lost instantly trying to find anything.

Above: Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango from the Ghost Hunters panel. They were funny and interesting, which made it a great start to DragonCon for me. Also, of course, I tried to see them in 2011 and got in the wrong line by accident and ended up attending a panel about some video game I'd never played and never wanted to play.

Friday, August 30, 2013
5:46 pm

First panel was great, funny and relaxed. It took me a while to find the Westin hotel but this panel, "Sherlock Holmes and the Mainstreaming of Victoriana," and the next two I want to attend are in the same room. As long as I can find a bathroom I'll be fine. I have granola bars and there's a water cooler over there.

Molly's going to get a Saturday pass tomorrow and hang out with me! [Molly is my cousin who lives in Atlanta, and who I didn't expect to get to see since she's so busy with her job.]

10:33 pm

The Sherlock Holmes panel was okay, although it wasn't all that interesting to me. After that I went to the Dieselpunk panel, but I wish now I'd gone to The World of Abney Park panel. For one thing I could hear them laughing like crazy in the next room, and for another the Dieselpunk moderator and a few of the panelists obviously disliked steampunk and kept making little digs at it. That didn't make me inclined to like them. For some reason.

From my Twitter feed:
Next time any panel I want to attend is scheduled at the same time as anything to do with Abney Park, I know what I will choose.

Above: The Dieselpunk panelists and their really big guns. They were dressed really sharp, all in khaki and army green. The guns lit up, too. I mostly spent the time admiring the panelists' costumes and props and tuning out most of what they said.

I really wanted to stay for the next panel (next two panels, really), but I started to worry about finding my car. I parked in the first parking garage I saw and neglected to make a note of its name (although I did take a picture of the level and section I parked in, which was pretty smart of me to do actually). I was also getting really hungry. So at eight I left. It took me half an hour to find the right parking garage, and that was in daylight. I'm glad I didn't wait.

From my Twitter feed:
Three people have asked me for directions. If only they knew I've lost an entire parking garage.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

From my Twitter feed:
I've staked out a shady spot to watch the parade. My cousin was supposed to join me but she overslept. So I am in costume and ALONE, Molly.

Guy just walked by with a Tribble.

Above: Me in my costume with my friend Kevin, right after lunch. It's not a great picture but I'm like the least photogenic person in the world and in almost every picture ever taken of me I'm either grimacing, my mouth is open, or my eyes are closed. Or all three. While I was at the parade a woman asked to take a picture with me, which startled me so much I guarantee my mouth was open. I'm not used to people even looking at me, a middle-aged woman who works hard at not standing out, so being in costume was a startling change. And of course that's part of why I did it. After the woman's daughter took our picture, the woman smiled at me shyly and said, "Thanks. I love steampunk." It MADE MY DAY.

I've had a great day so far! All it takes to make me happy is a small amount of friendly human contact.

Molly overslept so I watched the parade without her, then went to the airship races. They were a lot of fun, and apparently there's a group in Knoxville involved. I want to see if I can join. After that Molly and I met for lunch, and while we were eating Kevin [a friend I've known for about twenty years but only see at DragonCon] called and I invited him to join us. He did and the three of us hung out for a while. Molly decided against a day pass since it was getting late, but she and a friend may get full passes for next year. Kevin and I are meeting to go to a thing together at 8:30, so I need to be back in my costume and heading back into Atlanta in an hour or so.

From my Twitter feed:
I'm taking a break. Back at the hotel, changed out of my costume for a few hours, getting some food. Great day so far!

I went to a panel about steampunk music this afternoon that was so fun. Both Professor Elemental and Robert Brown of Abney Park were panelists, along with some other folks. I'm glad I went too because someone there said we need to get in line to see them play tonight early, around 10:30 (for a midnight show) because it will fill up fast. If I miss it I will be so sad.

From my Twitter feed:
Omg I'm in the same room as my favorite singer. So awesome.

Fangirling quietly over here.

Above: From left to right: Unwoman (a singer and awesome cellist), Robert Brown of Abney Park (my current favorite band), Professor Elemental (incredibly fun hip-hop artist)

The panel was lively and interesting and the questions people asked were intelligent. I've been to a lot of panels with famous writers on them, including writers I admire enormously, but I've never felt the flat-out fangirl thrill as I did when Robert Brown and Professor Elemental came in that room. (My guess is that that's because I'm a writer myself, which takes some of the mystique away from writers, while I'm not a musician. Although if I had a do-over of my life, one of the things I'd like to have done is learn to play drums. In a heavy metal band, and I don't mean hair metal.) It was a bit of a relief, in fact, that they turned out to be only human beings, but clever, enthusiastic, and obviously nice ones.

I met Kevin around 8pm to attend a music-and-humor variety show, Gonzaroo. There was a huge long line to get in (a DragonCon tradition) and we were stuck by an ice cream truck that kept playing the same opening phrases of "Turkey in the Straw" over and over in the flat, creepy electronic tones all ice cream trucks seem to have. While we were waiting to get in, a couple of friends of Kevin's came by and we convinced them to join us. They had their son with them, an adorable 14-month-old who ate cheese and looked around like he was filing everything away to think about later when he could put all this crazy stuff in context.

I stayed at Gonzaroo until 10:30, when I left to get in another line, but I did get to see Paul & Storm perform some great songs (including one of my current favorites, "Nun Fight"), Molly Lewis who I'd never heard before but now adore, Bill Corbett doing some truly funny stand-up, and another guy who was also really funny but whose name I've forgotten. By the time he came on I was getting antsy about leaving and kept checking my phone every thirty seconds or so.

Above: Paul and Storm

The line hadn't yet formed at 10:30, though. It's hard to convey just how chaotic and crowded it is at DragonCon, especially the big open areas like the ones outside the big ballrooms where people roamed to take pictures of posing cosplayers. It's so crowded that it's easy to miss even an incredibly long line--there are people everywhere, so a line just looks like more people. I talked to a few people who were also worried about getting in the possibly-there-possibly-not-started-yet line for Professor Elemental.

From my Twitter feed:

I'm with some folks who claim we're in a line. I have my doubts.

It's sort of not really a line anymore too.

Someone told me they won't start a line until 11, so everyone's standing around preparing to trample everyone else.

Hooray it's a line now and I am in it!

Ok that wasn't the real line. Now it's a real line. Supposedly.

They finally let us in half an hour late. I now own two T-shirts and I'm sitting down thank gawd.

I'm not staying in this chair

[tweet that wouldn't send because I lost connectivity, but I remember it because it was probably the last rational thought I had until the show ended] I'm going to dance and tweet all night.

[tweet sent from the car while I waited at a red light on my way home, so you can see I wasn't quite rational yet] Didn't takr too msny pix cuz I was DANCING TOO HARD J ERR LL YEAH [that was meant to be HELL YEAH but my phone misinterpreted my staggering finger movements]

Sunday, September 1, 2013
12:42 pm

The show last night was SO GOOD. While we were all waiting in line a rumor started that after Professor Elemental played they'd clear the room and let in a new line, and if we were lucky we could still get in at the end of the line if it wasn't too long. But they didn't do that, and all of us who stayed to see Abney Park were really close to the stage. I danced so much I felt drunk.

Above: Professor Elemental. Not a great photo but the best I ended up with. As my tweet "I'm not staying in this chair" indicates, I only sat down for a few minutes and then decided to join the group up by the stage. I've never been much of a dancer, since I'm shy and not very coordinated. But you know what? Fuck it, I don't care, I love Professor Elemental and couldn't imagine sitting way in the back of the room where I couldn't hardly see him at all, watching everyone else dance and have fun. I've done that too much in my life. So I got up and danced, and dammit if that "dance like no one is watching" cliche is true. I had so much more fun just doing the white girl shuffle, and who was going to tell me not to? Who even cared or noticed me? They were doing the same thing. As Kevin pointed out the next day, too, DragonCon is nothing if not accepting of everyone.

Incidentally, I recommend wearing frilly ankle-length skirts and clompy leather boots to dance in. I loved feeling the skirts (and feather trim) swishing around my legs.

As the crowd pushed closer to the stage and compressed, I got closer and closer but it also got harder to take pictures that weren't blurry or filled with other people. I was really close by the time Abney Park took the stage, but I only got one picture, which was actually before they started playing. Once they started playing, I could not have kept myself from dancing if someone had threatened me with a gun. There's a reason Abney Park is my favorite band.

Above: the really bad picture of a few members of Abney Park before their set started.

It was 3am by the time I got back to the hotel, but I made myself get up at 8:30 am so I could be back at the con in time for a 10am panel I really wanted to attend. It was about the science of airships and was really good.

From my Twitter feed:
Four hours of sleep is plenty, right? I think it's plenty.

Above: the Science of Airships panelists, including David Lee in the awesome hat. I've forgotten the other panelists' names, but the guy who looks like Elrond has a steampunk story in the anthology Doorways to Extra Time, which I plan to buy. David Lee also has steampunk books available that I plan to buy.

Afterwards I talked to one of the panelists (David Lee), mostly because I was interested in his book, but we ended up talking for a few minutes about the publishing/self-publishing co-op he's part of.

Now I'm at a Skeptics Track panel about Applying Science to the Paranormal, which should be right up my alley. I've also positioned myself in a chair where I can escape unobtrusively during the Q&A if any cranks start yammering.

Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013
2:45 pm

The last panel was amazing! I bought the guy's book after and can't wait to read it. [The book is Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries by Benjamin Radford and it's fantastic. I'm on chapter two and enjoying it thoroughly.]

It's raining and the skybridges and halls are packed. I made it to a YA book panel (late), which seems pretty dull but I found an outlet for my phone. I guess it would be rude to sit in this panel and read the book I just bought. At least while I'm writing in my journal it looks like I'm taking notes.

The above note is the last I wrote in my journal. After that panel the rain had stopped so I went back to the Westin hotel (where the alternate history track panels were held; I spent a lot of time there) and watched a really good documentary about steampunk called Yesterday's Tomorrows. If you get a chance to watch it when it comes out officially, you really ought to. There's a related book by the same title that I may buy too.

Above: the diversity in steampunk panelists

After that was an amazing panel about diversity in steampunk. I was really impressed with the panelists, both their intelligence and ability to articulate some difficult concepts and issues, and their variety. I've forgotten their names except for Cherie Priest (I heard her speak at ChattaCon this January and was impressed with her then too). After that it was around six and I went walking around, hoping to find a place to eat that wasn't mobbed.

From my Twitter feed:
This sub shop is EXACTLY what I was hoping to find: simple menu, low prices, and almost empty. Bless you Jimmy John's.

I met Kevin for a panel he was on at 8:30pm, which was a funny, relaxed panel about the movies and TV shows that came out in 1983. After that we split up briefly so I could go back to my car and lock up everything but my phone, my license, and some cash. We met again and went to see a band playing in the open concourse area, New York Disco Villains (which I want to call New York Disco Bandits because I've been playing Kingdom of Loathing way, way too long). They were fun, and filled some time before I needed to get in line to see another of my absolutely favorite singers, Voltaire. I hadn't expected Kevin to want to see him too despite my wheedling, but he very kindly came with me. I'm glad he did; it was a lot of fun to share the experience with someone. Because while I was excited to see Professor Elemental and Abney Park, it was Voltaire's performance that had me practically frenetic.

At first it didn't look like there was a line at all. We milled around, looking at costumes and talking. It was nearly midnight, when the show was supposed to start, when a woman came by and shrieked, "The line to see Voltaire starts at the men's bathroom!"

Well, it started by the men's bathroom, then went down the stairs, outside the building, across the Hyatt's forecourt, around the corner, all the way down the entire block, around the next corner, and was a quarter of the way along the back of the block when we joined the line, which kept getting longer.

From my Twitter feed:
Holy shit the line to see @AurelioVoltaire stretches outside all the way down the entire block around the corner and still growing.

I was so scared we hadn't gotten in line soon enough and wouldn't make it in. The rooms only hold so many people and then they won't let anyone else in. I reassured myself that Voltaire comes to DragonCon every year--this was his 15th year--and that next year I could see him if I didn't get in this year. But the ballroom was enormous and not only did we make it in, we crunched up to the front and I was able to see pretty well. I took a bunch of pictures, but they were all blurry.

The show was amazing. I don't even have words. I had so much fun, laughing and dancing. Voltaire did announce that next year he would not be at DragonCon, so all I can say is thank goodness I saw him this year. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I don't know if Kevin enjoyed himself--I hope so--because we didn't get a chance to talk. After the show, I dragged Kevin over to the merch tables so I could buy a T-shirt. While I was waiting my chance to squish up between people to get at the table, several girls came through, one of them in the front pushing people (politely) out of the way and announcing, "Coming through. Coming through." They came around the table and another of them said to the guy manning the table, "This is Voltaire's guitar." She was holding it like a holy relic. The guy took the guitar and put it in a chair, and then I got my T-shirt. As Kevin and I were pushing our way through the throng, Voltaire himself popped up by the table and was instantly mobbed by people wanting to talk and get autographs and photos. It was almost 2:30 am by then and I was running on fumes, so even if I was the kind of person who wants to talk to famous people, I didn't have the energy. But it was cool to see him so close. He seems like such a good guy, and of course he's a great singer.

Above: all the pictures I took of Voltaire were terrible, but this one's probably least terrible.

That's about all to tell. I got another four hours of sleep, then decided to head home directly from the hotel instead of going to the last few Monday panels. I reached home around 12:30 pm and suddenly it's past 10:30 pm and I have to work 10.5 hours tomorrow. So maybe I should, you know, get to bed.

Thanks to everyone who makes DragonCon such a fantastic event every year. Thanks to Kevin, who is fun to talk to and knows everything to be known about 1980s pop culture. You should definitely check out his hilarious podcast, Flopcast. Thanks to all the panelists and participants who engaged my brain and imagination the way a really good college class discussion does. And thanks to Professor Elemental, Abney Park, and Voltaire for three of the best live shows I have ever had the privilege to attend. If you get a chance to see any of these folks live, you really need to go.

From my Twitter feed:

Storming. It's a nice way to finish my weekend.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

DragonCon playlist

I leave for DragonCon in the morning! I'm staying in a cheap hotel in Kennesaw, not too far from downtown Atlanta, which means I can stay three nights while paying less than one night would cost at one of the con hotels. Oh yeah, I am awesome.

The drive to DragonCon takes about four-ish hours depending on traffic. I'm not an audiobook type of person, so I'll make up a roadtrip playlist instead. I'm taking suggestions for music I can include! I like all kinds of music, so let me know what your favorite roadtrip/convention tunes are!

I'll post pictures when I get back on Monday night, of course. This year I'm also dressing up (nothing fancy, just a steampunk outfit that I'll probably only wear on Saturday). If you're going, drop me an email (kcshaw123 [at] gmail [dotcom] and we can meet up!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

My poor neglected blog

I'm killing time before my dentist appointment this morning, and I can't eat, and I can't get too involved with anything because then I'll have to leave, and I can't do yardwork because I'd be all sweaty and gross at the dentist, and anyway I have to head to work afterwards. I thought, "Oh, I need to update my blog."

My goodness, do I! Poor blog hasn't been updated since June. I'm mostly on twitter these days, plus I have another blog that I started this spring to post pictures of my garage makeover project. Somehow that blog turned into the one that I post all the pictures of all my projects to. Like the current project, which is a steampunk owl catcher costume I plan to wear to DragonCon. Which, incidentally, is just barely over a week away and I am not done with the costume.

I thought learning how to sew better, and setting myself a goal of "outfit by DragonCon" would give me a fun summer project. Instead, it has consumed all my free time. When I'm not working on the costume, I'm out hiking. I've destroyed one pair of brand-new hiking boots already this year from hiking so much.

So I haven't written much lately. After DragonCon I can swing into high gear and get some writing projects finished--my steampunk YA (working title The Steam-Powered Raven), a steampunk novella, and a few steampunk short stories.

There is a theme in my life right now. Can you spot it?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fox Pockets Piracy anthology available!

I should have posted this last week but it slipped my mind. The first Fox Pockets anthology from Fox Spirit Press is available, Piracy, and it contains my story "Skyway." It also contains a lot of other awesome stories. It's a modestly priced, pocket-sized anthology, and while it's only available in print right now, next month it will also be released as an ebook.

The next Fox Pockets anthology, Shapeshifters, comes out this summer and also contains one of my stories, "A Cloud Like a Bunny." So hurray!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Getting in Shape

Late last year several of my writer friends had debut books releasing soon and were getting ready to promote the books and themselves. I wondered what I'd do in their place, wondered how I'd promote myself and how I'd react to needing to do so. I'm shy and unsure of myself, after all.

But, I realized, if I really want to be a professional writer, I have to do certain things despite being shy. And one of those things is to gain more self-confidence. The easiest way for me to feel more confident is to know I look good.

So in December I started walking almost every single night, two miles at minimum. I started to feel the health benefits almost immediately, which made it easy to keep up. At some point I bought a pair of five-pound hand weights and started doing arm exercises too. And I added sit-ups to the mix--not every night, but I try. I started with five sit-ups, increased to ten sit-ups after a week or two, increased to fifteen, and so on. I'm up to fifty sit-ups now. Yeah, me, the girl who this time last year was worried about my health because I was in such bad shape.

I haven't lost all that much weight by the scale, but I can tell a huge difference in my body. I've gone down two pants sizes. I feel better. I hike a lot and every night when I walk, I try to run at least short distances. And yeah, I've got a lot more confidence.

Has it helped my writing? Not directly (although it's nice to know I probably won't keel over at the computer). But when it's time, when I have to get out there and get loud about myself, I'll be ready. And I will have some damn cute clothes, too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

One of those days

The first thing I did when my alarm woke me this morning was drop my phone when I grabbed it to turn off the alarm. It fell under the bed, where its alarm continued to go off while I crawled underneath and groped around for it among old Kleenexes and cat hairs and dust.

I was only supposed to work two hours today, but we had a meeting and it ran over and then we had a training session on some new tech, and by the time I could get away it was 11:30 and I was frantic to leave and get started running errands. I had just pulled onto the highway when I realized I'd left my phone in the office.

When I did finally get home, I promptly dropped a lightbulb, which shattered all over the dining room floor. I needed the lightbulb for a lamp in the garage, and after I'd cleaned up the broken glass and went out to the garage, when I opened the door a snake fell onto my head.

A snake. Fell onto my head.

It was just a garter snake--they're harmless and I like snakes anyway. But still. On my head.

At this point I suspect the best thing for me to do is just go back to bed. But the ceiling will probably cave in on me.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Fellow Inkbot and excellent writer Emma Maree Urquhart tagged me on the Next Big Thing. I've actually done it before, or a version of it, but it's been a long time and I'm now working on a new project (as usual).

In fact, I'm working on two. I started some serious research for a YA steampunk story at the beginning of the year, and I've started writing it. But that's not the project I'm about to discuss.

What is the working title of your book?

The Adventures of Lizzy and Jo, Air Pirates

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I never write short stories. I just don't. But another Inkbot, Rob Haines, gave our group a heads-up on a new anthology series from UK publisher Fox Spirit, and I got interested in writing a steampunk story for the pirate-themed anthology. I already had the world built for my YA WIP. Suddenly I not only had an idea, I had two main characters, a setting, backstory for both, and a burning need to write about them. Oh, and here's the table of contents for the Pirates "Fox Pockets" anthology. My story's called "Skyway."

What genre does your book fall under?

Steampunk fantasy, short story collection

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don't know anything about actors. I know exactly what my two main characters look like, though. Let me do a search.

Okay, here's Pia Glenn, who is so elegant-looking that I know she'd make a good Jo.

And Lizzy, hell. She just looks like Joan Jett.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Former highwayman Lizzy and runaway bride Jo take to the skies in a stolen airship in search of adventure, loot, and new lives.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Since this will be a short story collection, most of the stories will be published in various anthologies and magazines over the next few years.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I've written three stories in about six weeks and don't want to stop.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

I'm still reading my way (increasingly obsessively) through the steampunk genre, and so far I've been discouraged by the lack of fun I've found. Steampunk is fun; it's inventive; it's enthusiastic about the cool stuff from the past while jettisoning the bad stuff or dealing with it in a more modern way. So why are so many steampunk books gritty grimdark terrible things are happening and we have no sense of humor? I'm sure there are books out there like the one I'm writing. I can't wait to find them.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

When you immerse yourself in a genre that's also a growing cultural movement (and yeah, I do think it is), you get sucked in. I always thought steampunk was cool. Now...well, I don't own a pair of goggles yet, but it's becoming more and more likely.

Tag Time!

I'll take a cue from Emma Maree and just tag all the Inkbots. Because I'm lazy that way.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Not how giveaways work

Every so often I list a giveaway on Goodreads for one of my books. I figure it's worth it even if it only bumps my sales by single digits (which seems to be the case). I usually get between 1,000 and 1,400 entries to each giveaway, with around 1/3 of people entering also listing the book as "to read." After each giveaway is completed, Goodreads sends me the winner's name and address and I inscribe the book, tuck a bookmark in the front, wrap it up, and mail it. Over the next few weeks a percentage of the people who listed the book as "to read" will delete it, which doesn't bother me. Sometimes the winner of the book will review it, usually they don't. That doesn't bother me either.

Here are some things that bother me.

Person A enters the giveaway, lists my book as "to read," and gives it a five-star rating. Now don't get me wrong, I love it when someone gives one of my books five stars. But I get uncomfortable when I'm 99% sure that the rater hasn't read the book. I suspect the five-star raters think that I'm the one who picks the giveaway winners and they're trying to influence me to pick them. Goodreads picks the winners and it's done by computer.

Person B enters the giveaway but doesn't win. They then give my book a one-star rating.

Sometimes Person A and Person B are the same person.

Person C enters the giveaway, doesn't win, and sends me a message asking for a copy of the book. Sometimes they friend me first, which makes this extra awkward.

Here's the thing, Person C. Writing a book takes a long time, and revising and editing it take even longer. I know I'm not a big-name writer. My publishers are small, my books are not on the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores, and even avid readers of fantasy most likely won't have heard of me. But that doesn't mean I don't work very hard at my craft. It doesn't mean my publishers and editors and cover artists etc. don't work very hard at what they do too. When one of my books is released, we all have bright hopes that people will find it, buy it, read it, like it, and give it five star ratings and reviews all over the place.

So why do you think I should just give you a free copy?

Sometimes Person C is a book blogger who wants a free copy (or two, or three, or seven--I'm not making this up). Those folks I refer to the book's publisher, who can evaluate the request and decide whether to send a review copy.

More often Person C just really wants the book and figures I gave one copy away, I probably have stacks of them lying around and it won't hurt me to give them one. After all, they're going to review it! And tell all their friends about it!

But I don't have stacks of my books lying around. My books are mostly published in ebook editions, with print-on-demand copies available. Sometimes I'm sent hardcopies by the publisher, sometimes I'm not. If I'm not, I buy a copy or two myself for giveaways (Goodreads giveaways are only for print copies of books). It's not cheap, nor is the packaging and postage cheap.I don't make a lot of money from my writing. I can't afford to give a copy away to anyone who asks.

Do you really, really, really want to read my books? Please do me and my publishers a favor. Buy a copy. They're not expensive. When you buy one of my books you keep my publishers in business and give me a little bit of money to repay me for all the work I put into creating the book for you to read.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Have a cupcake

I made cupcakes this weekend for Valentine's Day. Of course, they all got stale before I could eat them so I had to throw most of them out. But they were pretty while they lasted, sort of like flowers, but unlike flowers they also tasted good.

I've started my new book. It's a YA steampunk fantasy and it's complicated. I need to write the outline, but I know roughly how the plots will run. There are...several plots. And they all tie in together at the end. Because I am awesome.

The worldbuilding has been a lot of fun for this one, although it's also ongoing. I find that some of the best worldbuilding details slot themselves into place as I'm actually writing, without me being even slightly aware ahead of time that they exist--but once they're on the page, I can't imagine the world without them.

Because this book has so many plotlines and so many characters (I'm writing it in omniscient, a point of view I very rarely tackle, but which is the only one possible for this particular narrative), I've installed Scrivener in hopes of keeping things straight. So far I like it all right, although it's very different from working directly in a single Word document with another document open to keep worldbuilding notes, plot notes, outline, a list of characters and placenames, cut scenes, and so forth. Scrivener can hold everything at once, and when the rough draft is done it's supposed to be easy to export the files I want into a single Word document. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fire! Trains! Steampunk! Chattacon 2013

This weekend I went to Chattacon, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga's only two hours from my house, which is the perfect distance: not so far that I'm over-tired when I get there, but far enough that I feel like I've actually gone somewhere. And I really like Chattanooga. So I went to Chattacon although I knew I wouldn't know a single soul there (I didn't) and I wasn't sure I would get much from the panels (I kind of did). I did enjoy myself a lot, though. Here are some pix and some excerpts from my travel journal. Warning: it's long.

Jan. 25, 2013

Despite freezing rain, I made it to Chattacon and checked in at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel. The room is quite nice, with a little balcony that overlooks the pool. Outdoor pool. Freezing rain. Not a good combination. I put my bottled water on the balcony to chill.

The program...hmm. Well, this is a very small convention. I didn't expect it to have a huge program of panels. Fortunately I really like downtown Chattanooga, and if I can't find anything to do at the con there's lots to do in town--ice and rain or not.

left, view from my hotel balcony


I bought a con T-shirt ($25, but I like the design) and took a walk before it got dark. I just walked down Market Street for around 20-30 minutes, crossed the street, and came back. That took me through a chunk of downtown, with lots of banks and nice restaurants with candlelit tables, and a TVA building that looks just like the one in Knoxville, and a big Krystal's office building, and more banks, and parking garages, and bike rentals. I passed a clothing boutique with actual gas lamps flickering on either side of its front door.

So far I've been surprised and pleased by the friendly feel of the con. Maybe it's because it's so small, I dunno, but everyone is very welcoming. I've had more conversations already than I had the entire weekend at Worldcon last year. One of the conversations was with an elevator repairman who happened to be on the elevator with me and thus was able to repair it when it didn't move. He seemed like a nice man, and was fortunately competent, although his outlook on life--at least as far as elevators are concerned--was a bit negative.

Not to self: find out where the stairs are.

Jan. 25
about 7pm

Wow, it's getting cold out! I walked over to the opening ceremonies and about froze in my light wool jacket. I brought my heavier coat but it's in the car.

10:10 pm

Bath taken. Shower also achieved so I could wash my hair. A few dozen pages edited. Many tweets tweeted. I'm in bed now, about to turn out the light.

They've fallen silent now--probably driven inside by the cold--but there are a few noisy groups on the balconies or maybe spilling outside from overflowing parties. From time to time they start singing or chanting and, once, howling. It's fun to listen to. If I was a more outgoing person--and boy am I not outgoing--I'd stop by one of the advertized parties just so I could howl too.

left, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel sign

Jan. 26, 2013
9:43 am

The howling went on until past 2am. I kept waking up, but it always made me smile. There's some hungover folks waking up about now.
This coffee shop, Chattz, is like a Starbucks but with slightly less bad-for-you food. I have a hot chocolate and a cranberry scone. Both are good. It's still very cold out but the sun is trying to come out. It's supposed to warm up to over 50 today.

I saw a hand-lettered sign on the elevator advertizing a steampunk panel at 11am. It was either a last-minute addition or was accidentally left out of the program. I'll head back soon so I can go to that one since there's nothing much else I want to see at eleven. Then at noon there's another steampunk panel I'll attend. From the con garb I've seen, there's a big steampunk presence at this con. Not surprising, really, since we're surrounded by old trains.

I have close to half an hour to kill before I head back. I'm almost out of hot chocolate and I'm getting bored. I am the most easily bored person I know. But if I leave now, I'll get back way too early and then I'll still be bored, just in my hotel room instead of here. I suppose I can scope out a place to have lunch. There's a cafe at the hotel that does pizza. Maybe I'll have pizza for lunch. It'll probably be awful. Hotel pizza.

Oh hell, I can't leave here until someone else does. I don't know if this is a place where you bus your own tables or leave your dishes for the servers to clean up. I don't want to leave my mess and have them think I'm a dick but I don't see anywhere to put my dishes. But apparently everyone else here is killing time too. No one has left since I got here.

Maybe we are all waiting for someone else to leave.

left, the front of the hotel

Jan. 26
about 10:55am

The steampunk panel I'm at is actually the making of an indie steampunk movie called "Engines of Destiny."

That was an interesting panel and the movie looks really good. I need to remember to look for their kickstarter next month. The director reminded me so much of my brother, enthusiastic without being overstated, and super articulate. He even looked a little like Richard.

Now I'm at the next steampunk panel, although the previous panel was just finishing up when I got here so now I know a little bit about brewing mead.

That was a good panel too, relaxed and fun, although kind of unfocused. I'm tempted to make this a steampunk morning and go to the costuming panel down the hall, but I'm not really into that so I'm going to stay in this room for the History of SF panel. Although I suppose I could go get lunch instead.

[After some debate, the sunshine and warming weather drew me outdoors and I walked to the riverfront at this point.]

Jan. 26
2:30 pm

Finally found a place to eat, Big River Grille. It's actually the restaurant I wanted to try when I was in Chattanooga last January--not for Chattacon, just a daytrip--but I ended up next door because I went through the wrong entrance. It's a weird building.

I ordered a beer, because I felt like it. Southern Flyer Lager. It's excellent and has an airplane on the label. But I did not get carded and now I feel old.

about 5:50 pm

I missed the 4pm panel I kind of wanted to attend. I decided it would be a better use of my time to see the carousel in operation and up close. It was awesome, too. I'm totally putting a carousel in my next book [which is going to be steampunk, incidentally: thus my interest in the morning panels]. I didn't ride it because I didn't want to be sad and/or creepy. There are a lot of things I don't mind doing alone, but a middle-aged woman without kids riding a carousel by herself? No. I have limits.

The name of this panel is "Welcome to My Fantasy," whatever that's supposed to mean. The panelists have gathered and I just heard Tim Powers say plaintively, "Does anyone know what this panel is about?" No one knew. He wandered around asking if anyone had an official description of the panel, and a woman behind me told him that Chattacon isn't very focused on panels. It's mostly about the parties. Powers got very interested in where the parties are being held.

Jan. 26
9:45 pm

That last panel was low-key but interesting. After that I wandered around in the dusk and took pictures, mostly of the gaslights reflecting on the trains' sides. I saw a steampunk couple getting pix too; the guy was dressed as a conductor, so he stepped up into the doorway of a train car so the girl could take his picture. It really was amazingly cool. I should have asked to take a picture too but didn't think of it until later.

I bought some chocolates and a Coke, since I haven't had enough calories today yeah right. Then I came back to the room and took a bath to warm up, did some editing, and now I'm zonked. Even the howlers aren't out tonight [yet], so I'm not the only one who's tired. Or maybe they're all at parties in the other buildings, or running wild among the streets of Chattanooga under the full moon.

left, FIRE AND TRAINS this is the coolest picture I've ever taken

Jan. 27, 2013
8:37 am

I woke up at 4am and couldn't get back to sleep. Finally I just gave up and got out of bed. Around 5am the howlers started up, singing drunkenly for a remarkably long time--past 6am.

I wanted a bagel or something light, but the hotel's coffee shop has nasty-looking pastries. I got a tiny hot chocolate that cost $3, although I must admit it's excellent.

The con ends early today and there are no panels and very little programming. If I check out and hit the road soon, I'll be home before lunchtime.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Snow at last

The weather started getting bad this afternoon around three, with the endless rain (it's rained for a week!) mixing with slush and then turning to driving snow. Ordinarily I'd have worked until 4:30pm today, but thank goodness the college where I work decided to close at 3:30. It took me an hour to get home. Well, okay, ordinarily it takes me around 50 minutes and today I stopped on the way home to get a pizza, but still! An hour!

When I stopped for the pizza, I had a hard time stopping myself from doing donuts in the slush-filled, near-empty grocery store parking lot nearby.

I got home at last and put my car up in the garage, then grabbed my camera before the light went. Here's my little house in the cold and snow:

There's not much snow on the ground, and the falling snow turned to rain and then stopped completely, but I think it's supposed to start again in another hour or so. We might get another inch! What's less thrilling, of course, is that it's going to freeze tonight and everything is sopping wet from all that rain.

Here's the road just in front of my house.

And here's the commons, an open area just past the picture above. It's flooded from the rain. That will freeze tonight. Brrrr.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bits of good

I didn't actually mean to stop posting after my 1,000th post. I've just been busy.

Right before the new year, I saw a tweet from someone who suggested keeping a jar throughout the year where you put slips of paper with notes about good things that happen to you. Then at the end of the year you take the papers out and read them, to remind yourself of small kindnesses and pieces of luck that came your way. I love this idea. It's so easy to forget the good stuff and only remember the bad.

I need to buy a jar, but I already have a few slips ready to put in it. And we're only ten days into the new year.