Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

We don't actually do anything to celebrate Halloween the last few years, but it's a holiday I like in principle; a flexible sort of holiday, with a variety of meanings depending on your culture and lifestyle. The fact that it's historically been the one day of the year when cross-gender dressing was legal in much of the US makes it a big day in the gay subcultural calendar. Its religious roots make it important in both Catholic and pagan traditions. Day of the Dead celebration has prompted some of the defining images of arte folklorico, not to mention coffin-and-skeleton themed candy in convenience stores. Trick-or-treat may be the best thing that ever happened to the American candy industry, especially given parental paranoia about home-made goodies. Carving pumpkins is fun, if dangerous (but that scar I got when I was six is barely visible these days.) News outlets fall all over themselves to publicize local ghostlore during this time of year; ghost stories can still get published in October issues even of mundane magazines; libraries make displays of themed anthologies of spooky stories for every taste;and TV stations start airing old horror classics, often in marathons. What is not to like?

This year, I got a nice bonus surprise: a new review of The Ghost Sitter, twelve years after publication! Not in any big, influential venue; but from a satisfying one, the blog of someone who's read it several times, still likes it, and wants to share. Again, what is not to like?

Sorry to miss the garage sale this weekend; should have had a Halloween one ready, couldn't get into gear. I trust my reputation, such as it is, will survive.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Guess I Have to Buy an E-Reader Now...

Queer Teen Press's boilerplate is better than any big publisher's contract I've ever signed in a couple of respects. Every contract should have an "if publisher goes belly-up, rights revert to authors automatically" clause! It's never happened to me, but oh, the horror stories I've heard! No advance, but the royalty rate is generous, so we'll see how it goes. As I said earlier this week, I wrote this in the mid-90s and have never been able to shift it, so that makes it a good book to launch upon the dubious seas of the virtual book market.

Sullivan, That Summer made me write it out of the depths of my crush on Dana Scully on The X-Files (I would like to emphasize that the crush was on Scully, the character, not on Gillian Anderson; though I will happily watch anything GA is in.) It's about meeting your idols, mostly, and the fact that this happens in the context of a lesbian coming-out story is, not exactly incidental, but not the most important thing about it. But it's not edgy, which mitigated against it when I first wrote it, and it's essential to the story structure that an adult protagonist remembering the main action of the teen years intrudes occasionally, which mitigates against it these days, even though the difference between teen Cherry and adult Cherry is not profound. This, for example, is Adult Cherry:

When I get home, I stagger through the claustrophobic entryway to the living area. "I'm dead," I announce. "All is lost. Order my plot."
Chris, dressed for the office, but barefoot, continues tossing salad. "What's killing you this time?"

Obviously, she pulls this teeny drama queen stuff all the time. Mostly as a joke. Mostly.

I wish we had progressed to the point where this book could wind up in a place where a general audience, not just an LBGT one, was likely to find it, but after all we're in the age of the niche market, and after an eight-year gap in the career, I'm not going to quibble about where I make a sale, just so I make one!

I just hope there really will be some money in it.

P.S. Early voting this week! Have you gone out to save democracy yet? Better get on it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Um - Yay for Me?!

Blink, blink.

I have a contract on the way. For a YA book. Called Sullivan, That Summer.

Well, for an e-book, which still doesn't feel like a real book to me. For a small press in a niche market. I've seen a sample of the company's contracts and it looks straightforward enough, though structured differently from previous contracts I've had with big New York companies for print books. The royalty rate is even generous, though industry standard is "net profits" and I've heard enough about how Hollywood works net profits that I wish the industry had a different standard. Still, this is a book I wrote in the mid-90s and have never been able to sell anywhere, through no fault of its own, and I'll be glad to have Sullivan out there working for me and giving pleasure to readers rather than rotting on my hard drive. And the fact that it's for a niche market should mean that it goes directly into the hands of the audience most likely to value what it is.

Probably because of the e-book factor, and the lack of advance, I'm not feeling any of the satisfaction I ought to feel right now. It doesn't seem like a real thing that will ever net me real money. When I have an actual printed contract in hand, or start getting editorial notes, it'll kick in. At the moment, though...

Well, put it this way. In our Pathfinder game this week, we located, battled, defeated, and my character personally beheaded the shapeshifter who enchanted our captain, wrecked our ship with all hands lost but us, and turned the captain into a ghoul. I feel a lot more like someone who just avenged all that than I do like someone who just sold a book.

Details forthcoming, after I sign the contract.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Bird's Eye Mysteries

A professor at Idaho State University has put together a project for aerial reconnaissance of the northwestern American forests, in order to look for Bigfoot. This strikes me as a good approach to the problem. I am reminded of an anecdote repeated to me by the operator of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum,
who is the natural depository of any and every passers-by's bigfoot story, of a small plane pilot overflying a clearcut area littered with felled, but not yet removed, trees. Below him he saw a truck driving down the road, and a large dark more or less humanoid shape paralleling it; when they came to an angle at which they could view each other, the humanoid threw itself to the ground in imitation of the logs!

My own belief is that Bigfoot is a good old-fashioned shape-changing fairy, but I approve of this project. If nothing else, it will take reams of footage of ordinary daily life in the flyover area, which is almost bound to discover unexpected behavior in known animals. The technology could also be adapted to security and search-and-rescue uses.

And of course fictional ones. Suppose you had a small self-propelled group of crypto-hunters put together one of these, or simply using a remote-controlled toy to survey an area in which they suspected a bigfoot, or chupacabras, or Goat Man, was hanging out. What human activity might be going on in the same area - secret activity, of people who will go to considerable lengths to keep from being found out?

You could write a crime drama around this premise. Or a more basic juvenile mystery, with the drone camera called into service to clear somebody of, say, vandalism. You could have mundane secrets cross tracks with exotic ones. The drone's operator could disappear, and his fate be puzzled out based on the evidence in the drone's camera. You could uncover Bigfoot - or bigfoot hoaxers - or both at once. You could have a comedy of errors, with the camouflaged drone mistaken for something exotic by a separate group of mystery-hunters, and the drone's deployers misreading their shots of the mystery-hunters' own cleverly disguised attempts to track the Thunderbird.

Why not?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Synopses Suck

Just by their nature, they suck. If I could tell the story well in two double-spaced pages, it wouldn't be a novel, now would it?

The constant fight against the instinct to write well and be interesting, as opposed to merely getting across all the plot points, is agonizing. I have to break it up with frequent tab-overs to the net. Like this one.

I have actually bumped potential publishers down the submission list just for requiring a synopsis. But there's no putting this one off any longer. So, back I go.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: City on the Brink

Sometimes the dreams that present as more or less coherent stories retain their shape when you awake.

A city, middle of nowhere, closed to outsiders; but the outsiders in question had a choice between the city and death in the wilderness, so they found a way in. The city had good reason to close itself off. A minority of the population was born with an inability to digest normal food, but had to absorb nutriment through the skin from a bright green ointment derived from a rare local plant. If they couldn't get this, they would go into rapid decline and die - unless they drank human blood. But then they were full vampires, who reproduced by drinking from the same person multiple times.

The plant, apparently, could not be cultivated.

You see the problem.

I had found some of the plant and made what I thought was a considerable quantity of the ointment, so I took it to the nursery where a human woman was trying to save a baby. I took the child and started applying my ointment. At first she turned from sickly yellow to bright healthy green; but the effect faded with startling rapidity. She'd gotten too close to starving. I used up all the ointment and was scraping residue off my skin, trying frantically to save her, but the nurse told me it was too late. If one of us didn't feed her blood, she'd die. I resisted this, explaining the logic of the situation to her - as if she weren't all-too-keenly aware of it already! Yes, she agreed, if we fed her blood we'd make the overall problem worse; but if we didn't, we would watch her die right here, right now, and know we could have saved her.

So I woke up; an option that should be more widely available when we are faced with insoluble problems.

The basic premise here is of course absurd - how on earth would a condition like that arise in the normal course of events? A curse, perhaps. The outsiders who got in could see that the population had gotten so resigned to their untenable situation that they weren't even trying to fix it - using up every bit of the plant as soon as they found it, without leaving anything to reseed, but not even looking for the only long-term solution, a cure for the condition. Even though they knew that the vampires were going to run out of things to eat in the near future, as more and more people turned.

Not my kind of story (I hate vampires), so - why did I dream it?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Comments, and Doubt

This blog is not moderated. If you post a comment, and don't see it right away, please e-mail me to let me know, and give me any info you can on it. I know one person has tried twice, and I never saw a thing.

Sometimes I think I'm sabotaging myself with the blog; specifically, with the Garage Sale part. I wonder if the reason I haven't knuckled down to a new project since completing Len is not the depressing effect of having, oh cripes, seven books to market; five to publishers and two trolling for agents; and not getting nibbles on any of them - which is a plausible reason, I have to admit - but the habit of mind of once a week pulling an idea out of my head specifically in order not to work on it.

This goes along with my persistent suspicion that I'm malingering. I can't possibly feel bad enough to justify how little I've gotten done this year - can I? I mean, my life's not in danger by a long chalk. If I just pushed myself a little harder, couldn't I get more done? Yes, I have days when I am indisputably, undeniably, annoyingly incapacitated - but I bet I could get a lot more done on the other days if I hadn't fallen into the habit of treating myself like an invalid. And isn't is suspicious how, on the day after I make a lot of resolutions and plans and take steps to implement them, I crash and burn and can't do any of it? Even when I specifically restrained myself from overdoing it? Last week's migraine hit within 24 hours of my launching an initiative to do yardwork for 20 minutes a day, not one minute longer. No way in heck is 20 minutes overdoing it!

The people around me tell me none of this is so, but I don't know...I'm the only one around me 24/7, and it's far from clear to me that I am not the engineer of my own frustration.

If I were a character in a book, I'd know.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Discovery Dogs

Lascaux Cave was discovered by a dog named Robot while out roaming the woods with his boys.

Mary Leakey had her dogs with her when she found the skull that made her family's name world-famous.

Not too long ago, a Russian boy walking his dogs found a frozen mammoth carcass.

I'm sure if you put the right terms into the search engine, you'd come up with a lot of other good examples of discoveries mediated by dogs.

This is partly because dogs are so good at finding things. Unlike most social animals, they aren't interested in following the beaten path. They want to go exploring, following the scent trails of the less-social animals into the depths of the landscape. You'll never catch them hanging out under the street lamp looking for something that got lost in the field, just because the light is better under the lamp.

It's partly because people and dogs go together, far back into prehistory. The date, like most dates, gets pushed back periodically. But dogs and humans have lived in close proximity for tens of thousands of years, training each other, relying on each other. Dogs were probably hanging around, unnoticed by the record, for lots and lots of discoveries that changed the world, or at least (as in the above examples) how we think and feel about our places in it.

Any fantasy spun about dogs ruling the world would have to deal with the incredible amount of misery that dogs have had to cope with at the hands of their human masters - cruelty, neglect, abandonment, puppy farms, breeding for extreme traits to produce breeds with congenital health problems.

But some sort of canine scientific network, the members of which guide their humans to make discoveries in the field in which they happen to be interested, has possibilities.

So does the New Agey notion that dogs are earthly manifestations of some spiritual agency, dedicated to bringing out our true moral - and immoral - natures. How you behave to those who love and depend on you, after all, has huge implications for your personal development.

And don't tell me Hitler loved dogs, as if that proved something. There's no reason to think Hitler ever loved anyone or anything particularly, and in any case, if we, for fictional purposes, grant dogs a degree of moral agency which real dogs lack, we have to grant them the capacity for evil as well as good.

I, of course, am a cat person. A cat organization would have different goals and manifestations entirely than a dog organization. Though a cat could easily become packmaster to a bunch of dogs and organize them to do something. (Any cat worth its salt an in possession of a set of claws can easily dominate any dog, not actually trained to attack cats, with a soft and tender nose. Mostly, they don't even have to deploy the claws.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Did you know...

...that Diana Wynne Jones is readable even through a migraine?

Granted, by migraine standards mine are so mild that I've resisted for years the idea that I had them; but nope, that definitely was one. I read Hexwood and The Ogre Downstairs. I'm not sure what possessed me to even try to read Hexwood under the circumstances - you'd think that complicated structure would play holy hell with a migraine-fuddled brain, but it didn't. And Gwinny's attempt to murder the Ogre is still laugh-out-loud funny even when you're too sick to laugh.

I get more in awe of that woman all the time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Peculiar Little Pleasures, and Their Cost

Several years ago, I got a letter from a girl asking permission to name her doll Ada, after Ada Bauer, one of the heroines of Switching Well.

I have no idea why she felt she needed permission, but I'm just as glad she did, because if she hadn't written to ask, I'd never know she'd liked Ada well enough to want to do that. Of course I told her she could, and threw in the additional information that I'd borrowed the name Ada, myself, from my grandmother, who went by Lois and didn't use the Ada part of her name. I like the chain of associations there, me honoring Gramma with Ada, and the girl honoring all of us with the doll.

Recently, in my simming newsgroup, I posted a picture of the new cutest toddler in my neighborhood, Swainson Hawkins, and another poster agreed that he was amazingly squeelicious and wanted a copy of him. Since I know her to not be a sim-torturer (there are people I'd no more share my imaginary people with than I'd loan my cat to a serial killer), of course I complied, and this week she sent me pictures of him, all grown up, married to a sim she made, and with their toddler child - Peni Hawkins! Who, I am told, is much smarter than other sim toddlers (Well, she would be!)and gets read to all the time.

This, lets's face it, is one of the reasons not to be content with creating just for ourselves. We are social animals. We like compliments, which is exactly what both these incidents are. We get satisfaction from sharing our work, and also from seeing the uses to which other people put our work. Writing a story that no one ever reads is like baking a cake no one eats.

This is one reason why creation sells so cheap. It's easy for the general public to make us feel that we should be satisfied to be noticed, and not expect to be valued to the extent of getting paid a living wage. Because the sensations of having a little girl's doll named after my character, and that of having a sim named after me, are so similar, it is easy to conflate the processes by which these satisfactions arise. But, though creating Ada was about as much fun as creating Swainson, creating Ada was work, and creating Swainson was play. I deserve money for creating Ada, in the form of royalties from her story, but not for Swainson.

Yet all over the world, because the internet makes it so easy, people are giving their work away, in return for a handful of compliments. But the compliments are not guaranteed, and the creator who does not get them then feels much, much worse than he would if he'd simply failed to get accepted by a regular publisher.

Compliments are lagniappe. If they are your only recompense, and you don't get them, you will feel cheated.

Don't put yourself in that position. Give freely, and from the heart, of your play and your duty; but sell your work.

If you volunteer your work for a cause, that is admirable, but don't expect thanks; then, if you are not thanked (and most volunteers aren't, I'm afraid; most volunteers are taken for granted) there's no harm done and if you are, it's a delightful bonus.

Remember this when you're using other people's creations, too. The cost to you of telling the cook you liked her cake is miniscule, compared to the pleasure being told so gives to the cook!