Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Observations on Conventions

Hotel stays are much less stressful if you have a refrigerator in your room.

It's much less lonesome to conk out of going to the late night party stuff if you're sharing a room with someone who also conks out.

No matter how many people tell you how wonderful you are, there will always be a period on the way home when you're writhing with embarrassment at what you said, or did, or meant to say or do and didn't, which everybody else has forgotten, or never known, about. Get over it.

Unpacking from the con is exponentially harder than packing for it.

Being frugal in the dealers' room is not a good excuse to splurge on the way out of town. So you may as well splurge in the dealers' room, and get the money circulating in the fandom again.

I'm never sure if people look familiar because I've met them, because we've been at a lot of the same conventions, or because they have body, hair, face, and clothing styles that are typical of the subculture. Odds are good other people are wondering the same thing about me.

Scheduling snafus are to be expected.

Surf the chaos and profit from the experience.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Convention Time!

Just because you don't have a big name or a current book doesn't mean you don't get invited to cons. It does mean you get invited to small, regional ones that don't pay guests, and that's fine.

Science fiction cons have only recently started including writers for young people in their rosters, anyway, though a big chunk of the speculative fiction field has always "really" been YA, in the sense of being read by young people and written for folks whose minds are still growing. More people are bringing their kids to cons these days, and despite a certain amount of moaning about the aging of the fandom that I've been hearing for 20 years, I've never been to one that didn't have a lot of teens and college students. You can count on the college students in Austin, certainly. If you're ever invited to one, I say go. It's fun, you connect with people, have a chance to expand your audience, and there's always indy booksellers and cool t-shirts in the dealer's room.

Anyway, I'll be at Armadillocon in Austin this weekend. We leave tomorrow, in time to catch some evening panels. I'm on a few panels on Saturday - apparently I also have a signing at 10 and a reading at 5, which I didn't think I'd signed up for, but whatever. I've done enough school visits to roll with the punches. (Note to self; bring box of books in case none of the dealers has any of mine - nothing feels stupider than showing up for a signing, and nobody being able to buy any books.) Sunday we'll attend another panel or two, hit the dealer's room one last time, and come home. So either no Garage Sale, or a late one. Probably none, as I expect to be tired and shaky. There's this post-con letdown period I have to go through, during which everything I've said and done for the last 48 hours suddenly seems oppressively embarrassing, and all I want to do is hole up and recover.

Today is all about packing for the con. Box of books, con-appropriate clothing (will it be too warm or too cold this time? It's always one or the other.), emergency food, budget, business cards, freeze some emergency water bottles for the cooler. What else?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stop Hitting Yourself

On days I don't accomplish anything, I get discouraged. And when Damon gets home, after he's done telling me the frustrations of his day, I'll go on a bit about mine.

The thing is, even on days when I know for a fact I goofed off and didn't do as much as I might have, if he asks me for a list of things I did (as opposed to the things I didn't, about which I'm more forthcoming) it always comes out sounding fairly long.

So he says "Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself."

I'm convinced it'd be different if I kept a minute-by-minute log of activity; for one thing, a minute-by-minute log of activity, by its nature, wastes half your day in the documenting of it. But you don't get things done by feeling overwhelmed at the stuff you didn't do, either.

It won't advance my career, but I'm going to make him a blueberry pie today. Because blueberries are cheap, he likes them, and if I can't make money I can at least make healthy treats for those I love, right? And blueberry pie doesn't take so long to make that it precludes doing things to advance my career.

(The trick to low-sodium pie crust: replace the salt in the recipe with cinnamon, for sweet pies, and curry powder, for savory ones. Also, use no-salt butter instead of shortening. Yum!)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Waxing Philosophical

I don't think I've done this one before, though I know I've talked about it in public.

Sometimes I want to tell a story that also communicates a theme that's important to me. In particular, I would really like to write the Great American Agnostic Novel.

The Great British Agnostic Novel has already been written. It's called Small Gods, it's by Terry Pratchett, it's a Discworld novel, and it demonstrates that it's possible to write fiction with a strong moral and philosophical outlook and not be preachy, didactic, or boring. I'm not sure anybody but me would call it an agnostic novel, but I felt, on closing it, that my own hard-won philosophy is about as well-expressed there as it gets.

Shame it's the only one I've run across like that. I'm always having to explain to people what an agnostic even is - for some reason the idea of openly admitting that you don't know how the universe works is hard for them to wrap their minds around. The universe is infinite, my mind is finite. Any version of reality small enough to fit inside my head is inevitably too limited.

That doesn't mean it's wrong. Maybe Jesus did die for my sins in a meaningful way, maybe God spoke through Mohammed, maybe there is an endless wheel of karma that we're all caught on and Gautama Buddha's methods are the best way to get off it, maybe a big guy with a hammer controls the thunder. Given that in order to talk about these things at all one must speak symbolically, I don't see why all of those things might not be true at the same time.

I haven't read up on a single religion that didn't encode in its mythology important truths about life, the universe, and our place as humans within it, or that didn't, in practice, enable its professed believers to do terrible things to each other, often in flat opposition to the truths most clearly expressed in the mythology. The most popular means of subverting an innocent religion into a great evil is to pick out details to squabble over that aren't germane to anything in particular. I believe Jesus called it "picking the mote out of the other guy's eye while ignoring the beam in your own," neatly demonstrating that merely describing and proscribing a fault clearly does not prevent people from committing it in your name.

So I would really like to write a story that illustrated the way religions function in society, showing up the strengths and weaknesses of the system, how they can be used for good and for evil, and the intellectual benefits and social costs of keeping clear of whatever philosophical framework is trying to engulf you. I want to lead people to a place in which they can listen to the universe and be comfortable with it as it is, without having to ignore every bit of it that can't be limited or labelled into a pre-existing category. I want to role model the process of thinking rationally about things that are beyond your intellectual capacity; I want to illustrate the difference between ethics and dogma; I want to show that we all believe what we are convinced of and that if we decide to believe something, we don't in fact believe it.

I want, of course, to write it for young people; and I want it to not be banned in high and middle schools in the Bible Belt, where such a thing is desperately needed.

This is a technical challenge of the highest order and the trouble is, I'm approaching it from the wrong way round when I think like this, and I know it.

Any time you start with the theme, you're condemning your book to mediocrity. This is why I avoid fiction written for religious markets - not because I don't want to read stories with Christian or Jewish or Wiccan viewpoints, but because the characters tend to be two-dimensional, the plots contrived, and the dialog stilted. This is just as true for books written for pagans as for books written for the major mainstream religions. I don't give a care what the author believes - convince me of what the characters believe, and make that belief system work within the story, or you've failed at writing a story, though you might have written an interesting tract.

As garage sale ideas go, therefore, this one's a bit dull. But I remain convinced there's a way to do it, if I can get hold of the right character and the right situation.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Phase I Accomplished At Last

To be honest, it shouldn't have taken so long. Ninety per cent of any project is settling in to do it and not letting the incidental crap intimidate you. I knew that, and I let myself be intimidated anyway.

But I now have a Word document of The Maze, a short lower-MG fantasy first published in 1994, to which I regained the rights in 2000 - from Simon & Schuster, miraculously, right before they started being a bear about getting rights back. I did this for a number of books, most of my Margaret McElderry titles, in fact, on the theory that, someday, I'd know what to do with them.

I like this book and always felt it should have sold better. I know, I know; but I understand why The Brick House Burglars is a midlist title, and The Maze, I don't. It's short, snappy, simple by my standards, with a good character arc in the middle of a traditionally episodic plot, and also contains the scene I still consider the funniest one I've written for publication. Admittedly not everyone shares my sense of humor. I've reread it a couple of times, making sure that the text is intact, the formatting was as simple as the devil program would let me get it, and getting rid of things like pesky adverbs that bothered me as I read.

It didn't get picked as my first e-book because I think I know how to make it into a runaway bestseller, though. I don't. In fact, since it skews young, it's probably the least promising candidate for e-publication in my stable, at least until the price point on e-readers comes down to the point that most kids have access to them in second and third grade. It got picked because it's short and, therefore, a good learning tool.

And I have learned a good bit, though I'm not out of the woods. I still need a cover, and once I have one, it'll be time to go to Smashwords and Kindle and all of that truck. I can start researching how they want things done before I get the cover, but as good as I am at processing narrative text, I'm terrible at processing written instructions if I can't reinforce them immediately by following them. So odds are good, until I have a complete package in my hand, with which I can do each step, I won't really understand what the e-bookstores want from me.

That, however, is for another day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Anonymity - what's it good for?

So, yeah, technical difficulties there, whining is boring, let's move on.

To what shall we move on?

Anonymity. Why does anybody want it?

Privacy, sure, I get that. I value privacy. But I always use my name rather than a handle on the internet. It's not a big deal once folks get used to the way my name is spelled and stop thinking I'm a troll evading censors by leaving the S off. No one's every stalked me - why should they? Nobody's ever targeted us specially for cybercrime. If you don't go splashing the days you'll be on vacation and the location of your spare key all over your Facebook page, it's a lot easier and more profitable to target you as a user of your financial website services than as an individual. I am on a newsgroup in which, reportedly, long ago some troll came along, used the newsgroup as a launch pad for collecting up as many photos of members as he could get, photoshopped them into goat porn, and spammed the members with them, but that's a one-off and I don't take a lot of pictures, or post most of even those, so I'm thinking that's a low-risk proposition.

(I'd apologize at this point to anybody who came on this blog by googling "goat porn," because you'll be bored to death here; but on the other hand, you should've known the job was dangerous when you took it. I hope you've learned your lesson.)

What has happened, because of using my real name online, everywhere I go online, is that I've sold a few books - not many, but some - to people who otherwise wouldn't have heard of me; I've met a reasonable number of people who have read my books, or whose children have, and were moved to tell me so; and I've generated a slightly wider pool of acquaintance who, because they know my real name and my books, feel they know me better than other people they've met online, and therefore are more willing to share certain things with me. It's possible that they also feel (probably unconsciously) that because I use my real name I'm more "real" than someone they talk to just as much with a name like Cyberwookie17, or maybe that I'm more honest.

It's an interesting question whether people are more honest when they speak from behind a mask. I believe conventional wisdom is that they are; but my experience is that no, they're just meaner and less inhibited about saying things they wouldn't like to take responsibility for. As a tactless person who is too honest for her own good, I can tell you for sure that these are not the same things at all. I don't care to write anything down that I'm not willing to see in print with my name associated with it, with the result that I don't generally say things I later have cause to be ashamed of. I can easily believe that someone who thinks his name will never be associated with it will allow himself to say and do what he'd be ashamed to say and do otherwise.

This is not a criticism. I know plenty of folks online whose names I don't know; or who, even if I do know their real names, I think of by their handle by default. (Hi, Kinglet!) Sometimes a handle is just a fun nickname. Sometimes it expresses who you are better than your real name - Cyberwookie17 reveals more than JaneSmith702019 does. I've got no quarrel with that.

There's also the matter of one's online persona. I can think of lots of people in various online fora whose persona is too flamboyant and one-dimensional to be anything but a persona. You step onto this newsgroup and take a vacation from being yourself - which is all very well and no doubt feels liberating. Heaven knows I do that all the time, in games. But can a persona have an honest conversation about anything?

Once you achieve a certain level of notoriety, a public persona may become a necessity to protect the private person. It's a level of notoriety I'll never achieve, and most likely neither will most people on the internet. And anyway a lot of them seem to be determined to throw away their privacy.

So I don't get it, and I sign my name where ever I go. The most secretive I ever get is PeniG, when there's some reason why my full name isn't usable. And there's places where I have to sign in as Damon, because he set up the account and it turns out there's only one name allowed. But those aren't places I hang out, anyway. In the places I hang out, the benefits of transparency are small, but real. I recommend it.

And speaking of recommendations, collect your mom and take her to see the movie Brave. They really should've gone all out and made it a Mother's Day movie in publicity, as it's all about that moment in adolescence when you hate your mother and she's despairing of ever getting through to you and helping you over the hump into adulthood.

In other stuff I've been doing instead of working, John Scalzi's Redshirts is the best Star Trek novel you'll ever read, in much the same way that Galaxyquest is the best Star Trek movie you'll ever see. Because, face it, Star Trek works much better as a cultural meme than it does as an actual show.

Past time to take another stab at the query so I can get back to the devil program.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Devil Program Redux

Apparently, I can only make one-word bookmarks. Careful experimentation and observation indicates that I lose the "add" option as soon as I hit a space key. This is a) stupid and b) not mentioned anywhere in the "help" tab that explains how you use bookmarks.

I apologize to no one for my pure and holy hatred of this program, with burns with the white-hot flame of a thousand suns.

You think I'm joking. People always think I'm being hyperbolic about this program when I'm merely coldly accurate.

I will now turn off the internet so I don't keep finding more important things to do than wrestle with it, like reading LOLcats, sim blogs, and the results of googling my own name.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's just a devil program...

...with evil on its mind...

So. If anybody out there reading this actually uses Word (as opposed to used by it), and is comfortable with it to the point of being able to make it do what you want even when what you want it to do is outside what the original programmers assumed you'd want - where should I look in Microsoft Word 2010 in order to figure out how to enable bookmarking the .doc I'm editing in compatibility mode? Because I can go to the screen where you create bookmarks, and it'll let me type stuff in, but it won't give me any options except "close."

I'm not asking you to solve my problem. I'll never master this hellspawn if other people solve my problems and in any case you can't see what I did. Just point me in the right direction, that's all I ask.

A friend of mine, when I was running around trying to figure out what format I should use for scanning, said she envisioned me typing it all in and revising and having it ready in about ten years. And it's true that as long as I'm going through it taking out all the line breaks in the middles of lines and the places where the text got rearranged or the scanner read a capital I as a 1, I'm tweaking it a bit.

Who wouldn't?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: The Desk

No idea why I suddenly thought of this one, out of the blue. But here it is.

Long, long ago I acted as teacher's aid to a teacher with no organizational skill whatsoever. This was my first experience of office work and I had no idea how to go about it, but I did my best. I seem to have blotted most of the experience from conscious memory, but I do remember that I started playing with a story in my head, about a desk that ate papers, office supplies, books, purses, bookbags, and, ultimately, teachers' aids. The only sign of them remaining would be a single hair hanging from a drawer, and a small burping sound.

I've gotten a lot of office experience since then, temping and permanent and personal, and I believe the core idea is probably valid. I remember the professor who, when talking to the person who was supposed to help him pack his office, led with: "Okay, the stuff in the chairs - that's current." I remember the restauranteur who got angry that a menu typist had gotten the price of a wine wrong in a new list, and the enormous stack of photocopies of old wine lists necessary to prove that the price hadn't changed once since he originally set it, several years before. (Why we had to photocopy the wine lists rather than just show him the file, I don't recall, but this is the same guy who got so angry he ranted for fifteen minutes with flecks of foam in the corners of his mouth without completing a sentence, over stamps on a mass-mailing being put on sideways). I remember bosses who would never keep anything, bosses who would never throw anything out, bosses who would never let anyone touch their desks and could never find anything, and desk after desk after desk that could easily have swallowed any number of teachers' aids.

The thing about horror is that it is so close to parody, I often can't tell the difference. And that pretty much sums up my attitude toward office work, too; I can't tell it from horror, or from parody.