Thursday, February 28, 2013

So You Want to Share

We come at the desire to share our creations from one of two directions - the inside, or the outside.

The inside track starts with the creation. You've been working/playing on something you enjoy, and you've gotten good enough at it that you want to share it with other people. Maybe you know you're good; maybe you feel you need to hear what other people say about it; maybe you just feel that whatever you've made is as complete as you can make it, but it will never be finished till it has an audience. Maybe you've realized that more traditional means of making a living don't suit you and you want to get paid for doing what you love.

In capitalist terms, you have what you feel is a marketable skill, and you want to find the market for it.

The outside track starts with the sharing; and we see this a lot on the internet. You've been out there playing on the internet, you love social media, you understand electronic publishing forms, you're excited by the concept of "infinite canvas," maybe you hang out with talented people who share their creations and you want to have something to bring to the table. Maybe you see something that somebody ought to be doing, and decide that you're the one to do it.

Or, you see a market, and you want to provide for it.

Coming from either direction, we're likely to flounder, especially at first. I know my gut feeling is that I should just be able to put a good story out there, and it'll get read, because it's good. The process of submission has always felt onerous to me. I sold my first book by sending a complete manuscript to Margaret K. McElderry, whose name and address was on the dust jackets of many books I loved and considered comparable to my own; but even in those days (the late 80s, which don't seem so far away to me) that sort of thing was rare. Query letters, synopses, writing guidelines, agents - arrgh! If self-publishing had been as easy back then as it is now, I would have been tempted to use it - and I would have languished unseen, because I lack the business savvy necessary to self-publish successfully. The whole process of learning the business end of things, when you come at it from the creative end, seems too complicated. Too hard. We don't want to do it; we have to fight our reluctance to take the time to get it right.

But people who have that business savvy often have nothing to market. They have ideas - bright shiny wonderful ideas! - and they put off learning how to develop those ideas while they set up their platforms, thinking it'll be easy to bring the idea to fruition. And then they find out that it's work, but it's not in fact work the know how to do to a marketable standard. They may or may not know what the marketable standard is, or how to ensure that they reach it. They may think their brilliant salesmanship will cover up the holes. The whole process of learning the craft end of things, when you come at it from the marketing end, seems too complicated. Too hard. We don't want to do it; we have to fight our reluctance to take the time to get it right.

So there we are. What to do?

Well, start with what you know. Because you do know something. But you have to look at what you know differently than you've been accustomed to. Analytically. Odds are good you've been riding a zen wave till now, doing things which are intuitive for you. Thinking analytically may even seem wrong to you, or dangerous - for if you think too hard about it, you can't do it anymore, right?

No, not really. Not if you learn when to shut off the analysis and get zen again, and that's a matter of practice.

I've been writing for publication (as opposed to actively marketing or getting published, which are different matters) since I was fourteen. I don't remember in any detail any more how I went about it, and in any case the details are different now in this wildly different world. But it's only a matter of months since I first started building a Sims2 neighborhood to share, and the process wasn't, in its essence, all that different.

I had been playing the game for over a year, and hanging out on the fringes of the game's subculture for rather less than that, sharing "war stories" and advice and so on like any other player. If you're not familiar with the Sims line of games, they bill themselves as "life simulators," though they could also be called "virtual dollhouses." It is a quintessentially "sandbox" game as, instead of chasing monsters across pre-existing environments and following preset storylines, you create your pixel characters - as many as you like - and their environment - by default a kind of 20.5th century American suburbia - and guide them through school, work, marriage, child-rearing, etc. Your sims can live in hovels or mansions, marry well or badly or not at all, run businesses, support or neglect their families, succeed or fail, and die sad and alone or happy and surrounded by all they love best, just as you direct.

From the beginning, the franchise's fanbase has created all kinds of custom content for it, to make it even more freestyle, so that anybody who wants to play a Victorian or Ancient Egyptian or all-male neighborhood, or have sims with skins all colors of the rainbow, or play out a zombie apocalypse, can do so. That's all beyond me because I have no skills in the visual arts and don't care enough about them to acquire them. We don't even own a copy of Photoshop and have never felt the need for it.

But at some point, I became aware of a demand in the subculture for new occupied neighborhoods with established characters and storylines, like those that come loaded with the game. And there are indeed such neighborhoods out there for upload - just download the folder containing all the information for the neighborhood, drop it into the correct location in your game's files, and off you go. I didn't see the appeal myself but hey, I'm the one constantly generating more new ideas than I could use in a lifetime. Not everyone has a brain stuck in storymaking mode, and many of the same people who make the beautiful custom content I download to use because I can't make it would like someone else's story ideas to get them rolling for actual gameplay.

Once I'd been playing and reading other people's war stories for awhile, also, I began to see the attraction of playing with established characters, and comparing the fates of the Curious Brothers in one's own game to those worked out in others. I even started playing one of the Base Game neighborhoods, Strangetown, occasionally. But I saw nothing particular to interest me in the small number of third-party neighborhoods available for download; especially when I learned that most of them are more or less "corrupt;" i.e., that mistakes were made in creating and making them available which left bad code kicking around the game, which eventually would render the neighborhood unplayable.

And then I followed a link to a thread in which the process of making a shareable neighborhood without corruption was outlined, and I realized that I have a level of competence in the game that would allow me to follow the directions.

And I realized that this was something I could do to contribute to and participate in this subculture at a deeper level. I don't know programming and I can't manipulate images, but by golly, I know how to wrangle stories and characters!

Furthermore, I knew my audience. The newsgroup where I hang out also hosts downloads, thousands of them, in a well-organized way, and has fora dedicated to helping creators work out creative problems. If I could make a clean, shareable, interesting neighborhood, and get it hosted at Mod The Sims, the people who know me there (I'm afraid I talk rather a lot) would be able to find and download it without any problem, if they thought, based on my posts, that they would like a neighborhood I'd made. Every one of my posts would be an ad for my neighborhood, even if I never mentioned it! For once in my life, I had a platform! Once I considered it in that way, of course I had to take a shot.

So I had the basic skill, I had the potential audience, and - most importantly - I knew where to go to get the skills I knew I didn't have in order to carry out the design.

It's the same for someone who wants to write for publication, or illustrate books, or design clothes. Look first at the resources and skills you have; and identify the gaps. You know, because this is not the first time you've learned how do something, that those gaps are closeable. Probably not all at once; but you can pick one to start working on. If you can't do drafting and you need to, where can you go to learn that?

"Oh, but I can't afford to take a drafting course, so I'll never be able to do this." Really? You'll never, ever, under any circumstances be able to afford a drafting course, and nobody can possibly learn drafting except by spending money to learn?

Then I submit that you don't really want to do the thing that requires you to draft, and should stop mooning after it and go do something you do, in fact, want to do. Because if you want it badly enough, you'll find a way!

Maybe you can save up for the drafting course and work on another, more accessible gap in the meantime.

And of course you can start noodling around with the parts of the project that you do, in fact, know how to do. So that's what I'll talk about next time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


This has been a month of quiet, almost sub rosa publication for me, with Sullivan appearing as an e-book and my Sims2 neighborhood, though not yet officially hosted anywhere, being played by a handful of people who PMed me about it to whom I sent the Mediafire link, and as a consequence I've been turning over in my mind the possibility of a series of blog posts about bridging the gap between creating something and publishing it.

It is a peculiarity of our age that traditional venues for publication are consolidating and growing less accessible at the same time that new ones are proliferating, along with windows into the affairs of others; so that where ever I go on the internet I encounter two kinds of people: those who think there's something special and esoteric about creation and publication, and those who think that there's nothing special about either at all and anybody can just go and do them. The first sort of person is likely to never venture to do what she wants because she thinks she's not special enough; the second is likely to rush in and attempt to publish too soon, with less than optimal results.

My main thesis is that we are all creative. Since we are a social species, we often wish to share that creation; but creating and sharing are two different things, and different kinds of work require different kinds of sharing. One may know how to do either thing and not the other, or find that habits developed in the process of sharing (for example) new recipes may not serve us well when we want to share a portfolio or a story. That's certainly what I found when I decided to make Widespot to share; yet I soon found an underlying unity between the experience of making the game neighborhood and making a book. So I was thinking a post or two of practical advice, extracting this underlying unity and giving examples of how the same principles apply, might be useful to beginners in almost any field, and the first thing I thought was: "Start with what you know."

But the more I tried to shape that first paragraph mentally, the more I realized that what you know is not where the process of creation or of publication starts.

They start with desire.

We all have the raw desire to create. If anything is a human universal, this is; and if some creative force suitable to be called God exists, then this creative desire is the divine connection between it and us. We create things we need, certainly; but more than that, we create things to create them. Scratch marks on stone, tunes hummed through hollow reeds, stories in word and gesture, piles of pretty rocks - we like to make them and we have always made them. It's fun. And beneficial, not only because we create things we use, but because we train our minds and our hands and our senses into competence, until we can make clothes that fit, food fit to eat, shelters that keep out the wind and the rain, stories that help us make sense of our lives, rules that keep most of us at peace with most of the rest of us most of the time. None of us is good at any of these things when we're born, but we learn them, and learning is fun, and fun is learning.

So we all start with play.

Creation is fun.

That's principle number one.

"But what about clothes?" I think. "I don't make clothes because I like to; I make them because if I don't, I don't have clothes that fit." And that's true - we all make things out of necessity as well as pleasure. But then I realize, I also don't create my clothes from scratch. I follow a pattern, modifying it as needed, and sometimes, when I'm familiar enough with it, and comfortable with it, I will make a major change to a pattern, like adding sleeves or pockets or something. But before I ever go so far as to design clothes, I would have to reach a point of actively liking to sew; and even if I designed a few items for me, I would require a certain level of competence before I felt called on, or any desire to, design them to share with anyone else. I'd have to know that my experience solving the problems of fitting a new design to my own body would be useful to others out there, somewhere, trying to get clothes that fit their bodies; and part of the draw of publishing a design would be to give those people something that would please them. It's work I can't do, until I've played with it awhile.

So play, or pleasure if you prefer, is the bedrock on which we create and the background that enables us to publish effectively.

That's point number one, and I'll leave you to ponder it while I work out what point number two is, possibly this week.

(We're all making everything up as we go along, mostly, anyway. You understand that, right?)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Pots and Pans

Hmm...I had something in mind for the garage sale earlier this week, but I didn't make a note and now I can't find it in my head. Oh, well, if it's any good I'll think of it again and meantime I still haven't filed that issue of Fortean Times, so let's see what else we've got.

Ah, here's something for those of us with World-Builder Disease: World's Oldest (so far) Pottery found in China, about 20,000 years old. It's about eight inches deep and six to ten inches in diameter. The picture shows a plain terra cotta colored sherd with ridges in it, though I don't know enough about pottery to guess whether they're decoration or tell something about the manufacturing process.

The reason this is a big deal, of course, is that traditionally pottery has been assumed to have been invented in agricultural societies, of which there were exactly none 20,000 years Before Present. Hunter-gatherer societies were assumed to be mobile (an assumption increasingly questioned these days) and pottery is bulky and fragile to move around a lot. However, I doubt I'm the only person not particularly surprised. Archeologists are constantly turning up artifacts and evidence that challenge and even disprove their assumptions; and news sources are constantly overstating the firmness and universality of those assumptions, too.

For one thing, Catal Hoyuk is a pre-agricultural city, though it is Neolithic. Hard as it is for us to imagine a permanent urban settlement without a sizable rural agricultural support infrastructure, the evidence is right there in Turkey.

For another, this is far from the oldest ceramic found. Some Paleolitchic "Venus figurines" are made of fired clay and are older than this pottery. Furthermore, evidence of cooking practices that could easily act as gateways to the discoveries necessary to make ceramic pots and pans a reality is abundant and non-controversial. Humans have used earth ovens (basically digging a pit and filling it with hot coals) and baskets, which can be lined to make them waterproof, for millenia. Probably for about as long as we've been cooking; which, since we can't maintain breeding weight on a raw-food diet and have evolutionary adaptations suitable for living primarily on cooked foods, must have been a very long time, possibly since before we were homo sapiens.

Which is all scientifically very interesting, but what does it do for a storyteller?

Why, what but give us a viable platform for imagining unique settings for our stories? Whether science fiction, fantasy, or historical, we tend to default to a handful of tropes when depicting alien societies, but this is far from necessary. What was prepared or served in that pottery (Alcohol? Soup? Porridge? Candy?)? Who prepared it? Who invented it? On what occasions - special or mundane - was it used? Imagining all this gives us a chance to free ourselves from our imaginative ruts. Maybe you don't have the patience or skills to do the research (much of it probably in Chinese archeological journals) necessary to reconstruct the society the produced the pottery; but that doesn't stop you from imagining a hunter-gatherer society unlike any ever imagined before, putting it on an extrasolar planet, and landing a spaceship in the middle of it. It doesn't stop you from imagining a magical world of hunting-gathering kingdoms in which witches use pottery vessels to brew up either trouble or solutions to problems.

Writers who have also worked in ceramics may have practical knowledge that makes the whole question of when and how pottery was first made look very different than how it looks from an academic angle. Someone outside a discipline may have difficulty trying to introduce a valid insight into the discussion; may not know how to express that insight properly, or who to express it to. But encapsulating that insight into a story - now, that's quite another matter. That's a way to get your own ideas out into the public discourse without feeling arrogant or risking rejection. Everyone responds to story imagery, if it's done well.

Fiction writers can and do change the discussion. It is not through publications in scientific journals that we see the past, but through stories written using that material - or, all too often, ignoring it. Fiction writers can speculate where archeologists can't. Fiction writers can take a potsherd and build a convincing world; and their audiences, including archeologists, can stretch their minds into new shapes around that world, and see new possibilities in the evidence.

Maybe even, by that roundabout way, enable themselves to make the hypothesis that eventually wins out over the others to become enshrined as fact.

Don't laugh. It happens. Our minds work that way.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Andre Norton Award Nominees Announced

Blatantly copy-pasting from the SFWA website:
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

Holey cheese, I've even read two of these already! (In italics.)

Running my eyes over the list, my bet is on the China Mieville because he's a name that will be familiar to the adult readership. But I also expect that to be the book I like least. David Levithan's will be the funniest. Beyond that, I'll have to read them, won't I? Oh, good, a project.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Excuse me...

Idea Garage Dale? I was in a hurry yesterday, wasn't I?

The e-version of Sullivan, That Summer is available from the publisher now and will go out to distributors next week.

In case, you know, you want to buy one. (I have good reasons for not working in advertising.)

This post doubles as a test of the setup for mirroring the blog at the appropriate Facebook site.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Idea Garage Dale: A Sunday Brunch Buffet

Before we begin, please, I would like to appeal to anybody out there who knows how to update Facebook with this blog to contact me and tell me how it's done. Because I know people do this sort of thing, but neither I nor the person who helped me set up pages for Sullivan and me can figure it out.

All right, on to the regularly scheduled Garage Sale and since I have a new Fortean Times again, I'll go back to that bottomless well, Human Weirdness. I open it at random and find myself faced with the Strange Days feature. A man who has licked every cathedral in the British Isles on a bet. A naked "Texas Wildman" who lives in a cave in "the hills" (a phrase which conjures up completely inaccurate pictures of the landscape in question) around El Paso, living by donating blood and recycling cans, who harasses hikers and puts out dead snakes as food for wildlife. Hmm...A Japanese man whose library cards were washed away by the March 2011 tsunami hopes someone on the west coast of the US will find and return them...Holey Cheese, an empty 28-foot yacht with no identification markings, a tidy cabin, and Dutch sea charts, recovered about six miles from a nuclear power plant in Suffolk. And the world's oldest parrot, Tarbu, dead at age 55.

Not surprisingly, given the structure of the Strange Days features, each of these news snippets lacks an important feature necessary to the production of a full-fledged story; but each of them has potential. Taking them in order:

With the cathedral-licking story (the feature for the page, with a full column of text and two pictures) we have an attention-getting, but largely pointless, story. A bet is not, in and of itself, sufficient motivation for odd behavior for a story. Something else needs to be going on for this to be a good novel; probably the licker's character arc. And a character arc is implied by his reluctance to claim the original forfeit for the bet, which was that the friend who made the challenge streak outside York Minster. This now seems disrespectful, and he's likely to change the terms to a monetary contribution to York Minster. Yes, something could be done with it; and something has, and possibly will be, as he has a blog on the subject and considers writing a book. Therefore, the rest of us need to keep our hands off of this until it's undergone a chemical change in the compost heaps of our brains and produced something that won't infringe on his intellectual property rights in the matter of his own life.

Moving on to the "Texas Wildman," what we have here is, on the face of it, only another homeless person with mental issues, and most of the mystery and intrigue of the situation would probably vanish if we knew more about it. The fact that the snippet is credited to the Sydney MX News rather than any closer news source would seem to indicate that the people who live near him find him more annoying and/or pitiable than interesting. This is not unusual, as the poor of distant places, for whose welfare one cannot by any stretch of the imagination be made responsible, are often exotic and mysterious, while those who live close by are a mere itch in the conscience we would rather not notice. Given that poverty and inadequate public mental health provisions are not readily soluble problems, what we have here is a character without a plot. The plot, however, could be generated by an unflinching imaginative exploration of the character. Is the assumption of mental issues true, to begin with, or does he in fact have rational, functional reasons for his behavior? If he does, what are they, and where do they take him? Who are the other characters in his life - family, friends and ex-friends, the hikers (does he truly harass them, or do they feel harassed by his mere existence?), the owner or representative of the owner of the land on which he lives? Perhaps it's family land. Perhaps he owns it. What about the snakes? Does he wear clothes to cash in his recycling and give blood? How do the staff at the plasma center feel about him? You start answering questions like that and investigating the difficulties of the life he's leading, you'll find yourself a story, I promise you.

The Japanese man with the library cards is a character without a story; an optimist, or someone with no concept of scale. You couldn't stop with the library cards for this person. You'd have to show him in action, moving through mundane life at a completely different level than those people around him - ridiculous, maybe annoying, maybe endearing - and make some kind of point about the disconnect between expectation and reality. I wonder what would happen if his life trajectory intersected that of the man in the cave? Or the cathedral licker's?

And then the Marine Mystery, oh boy! What we have here is a teaser leading nowhere, the mystery rather than the solution, a nearly blank slate. A writing prompt, in fact. First, you'd have to decide from which direction to tackle the situation - will you be telling the story of the people who created the mystery, or of people who come upon it after the fact and uncover that story? Either way, you need to work out what happened. Is the nearby nuclear plant relevant, or a red herring? Are we talking a supernatural mystery, a thriller, or a personal tragedy? What are the implications of the lack of identification on the vessel? What maritime laws are broken here; what maritime customs make sense of this or that feature that merely puzzles a landlubber?

The 55-year-old parrot, who said "Hello, my darling" to his owner every morning, is a character without a story. Unless, of course, you put him alone on that empty yacht...

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Non-Compete Clause

Another thing Mr. Lewis said in his keynote, and which he considered so important that he actually said: "Write this down," was "Never compete with the imagination of the child." He was addressing the picture book illustrator particularly, but it can also apply to the tendency of writers to overexplain.

Not explicitly stated, but demonstrated during the "first impressions" panel, is that the writer and illustrator must not compete with each other. More than one picture book text was too wordy and left nothing for the illustrator to do, while illustrations were cluttered with unnecessary details that detracted from the overall effect and were probably better explained in text or left up to the reader to supply. A picture book text and illustrations will ideally work together without redundancy, so they have to trust each other and not step on one another's lines, as well as trusting the audience to get the point without a big textual or illustrative hand emphasizing it. This is one of the reasons why the picture book is the most difficult artistic medium to master.

I'm not given to flat statements of fact on subjective matters, or hierarchical arrangements of anything; but I think "The picture book is the most difficult artistic medium to master" is as near as nothing a statement of fact, not opinion, and anybody who thinks differently should try it. But that is by the way.

Anyway, it occurs to me that the point here is that we all have to trust our collaborators in the creative process. And we all have collaborators, unless we hoard our talent and never let an audience at it. The audience changes the art.

It's like the observer effect in science (I think, if I understand that effect correctly.) The most perfectly-designed experiment has to be observed, recorded, and interpreted before anything can be learned from it; and the act of observing, recording, and interpreting changes the result in subtle, unquantifiable ways. That's something scientists can't get rid of and just have to live with and work around as best they can.

Artists do have a way out of releasing their work to be changed willy-nilly by any old person who happens along; but the price of it is too high. Art that no one looks at is art you fully control, but - what's the point? Unless somebody somewhere sings your song, dances your dance, plays your game, reads your book, eats your meal, or sits in your garden, it might as well not exist.

Which means that we have to be prepared to relinquish control; and that starts when we leave room in the creative process for the audience and our other collaborators - the people who play the instruments as well as the people who listen to the symphony.

When we resist the temptation to compete with the imaginations of the children.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I'm finding Facebook a lot less intuitive than I expected. Therefore, there's nothing on it and I haven't invited anybody to be friends.

For the record, I will not be your neighbor on Farmville and if you invite me to play Sims Social I will explain to you exactly why it is Not Real Sims. So don't even go there.

So far this week all the social networking I've done involved going to the SCBWI conference in Austin. I drove up the night before, stayed overnight with friends, and as usual left not long after the raffle to come straight home. In between, though I had a good day. Especially compared to the last time I attended this conference at this place, when I had to simultaneously cope with Moby's brakes and steering letting me down pretty badly. I saw people I only see at conferences, met a person I only know from online, bought Cyn Smith's most recent book about the supernatural scene in Austin, Feral Nights (you'll never know how menacing a werearmadillo can be till you read this, I tell you what), attended panels and breakout sessions, bid at the silent auction, and all that good stuff.

I often say that I don't know anything about art, not even what I like; which is probably why my favorite parts of the conference involved listening to illustrator E.B. Lewis talk about the visual language used in picture books. Possibly because he was a teacher and a fine artist before he became an illustrator and was used to thinking and speaking analytically about art as well seeing and feeling analytically about it - these are separate skills for all the creative arts; many excellent artists can't explain why this or that work in their art does or doesn't succeed - he was able to discuss both the various pictures of his own that he used in his presentation, and the submitted portfolio pieces in the "First Impressions" panel in terms I could actually follow.

Make no mistake about it - the trained eye sees (and the trained ear hears) differently than the untrained one. I look at a picture with human figures and think that they're stiff; Lewis looks at it and says that the artist needs to decide whether his voice is stylized or realistic, because if the one then this is where to focus effort and if the other then that is.

It would never have occurred to me to think of an artistic voice in a visual medium, either; but once he started talking about it I started being able to hear it. And choosing between stylization and realism - writers have to do that, too, though I hadn't put it in those terms before. For all I know, so do musicians. It's certainly at the heart of the art of gaming.

I do not know how useful, in the long run, this sort of cross-medium enlightenment is, but I know it's refreshing, and I know it can't be useless. So I'm going to call that a weekend well-spent.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Quoth the Raven, Flaming War!

So anyway Friday afternoon I drove up to Austin to stay overnight with some friends prior to attending the SCBWI conference in Austin, and we went out to eat at Kerby Lane. I of course showed them the cover for Sullivan, and remembered during supper that I've been saying for ages that I'd get on Facebook when I had a book to promote, so now I need to hurry up about it. So I got advice on how to keep it from eating my life.

My friends had also, the previous day, been to an event for The Apes of Wrath, an anthology of great ape stories edited by Richard Klaw, including Poe, and Robert E. Howard, and James P. Blaylock. At some point in the course of conversation, one of us made a joking remark about how hard it had been resurrecting Poe and Howard and the other dead authors on the list to get a contribution.

But the really hard party, I realized, would be getting any decent work out of Poe once he discovered the internet.

See, Poe did not die poor and alone because he was an alcoholic, or a tormented genius, or any of that. He did so at least partly because he frittered away a vast amount of his talent, energy, and editorial capital in the 19th-century version of flamewars. He was a harsh literary critic of others and could not leave an argument alone.

This was no more unusual in the 19th century than it is now; newspaper editors, in particular, wasted a lot of ink in vituperative attacks on each other. But at least in the 19th century this sort of thing was limited in the damage it could do to a life by the pace of composition, publication, and response. You wrote your screed, you sent it to press, and then you could do something productive for a little while, and once it appeared, savor the unanswerability of your remarks for the time it took your opponent(s) to write their screeds and get them through the press. Whereas now, of course, you sling your mud at a Facebook wall, or through Twitter, or onto a newsgroup, and before you have time to shift gears not one but a dozen idiots, hacks, demagogues, and illogical evildoers have demolished all your perfectly-reasoned, balanced, and above all justified zingers with the hatchet of their blunt and inferior wits. So then you have to demolish them in turn and suddenly the day is gone.

The concept of Poe with a Facebook page, Twitter feed, online news outlets with enabled comments, etc., is not at all a bad one for a satire. If you happen to enjoy Poe's style particularly, you could have a lot of fun writing it.

Poe's style gives me a bit of a headache, personally; and flamewars give me a huge one. My approach to them is to walk away.

Which is a big help to my personal life, but not at all funny for the onlooker.

And, believe me, when you think you're making your most cogent points in a flamewar? That's when people who don't like you are laughing at you the hardest, while the people who love you are rolling their eyes and wishing you'd consider your blood pressure.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sullivan's Cover!

I just sent off the galleys for Sullivan, That Summer and got a final of the cover in return. Not bad for a stock photo, huh?

Also, the release date has been moved up to February 17!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Idea Garage Sale: Wherefor Aren't Thou?

So I'm wondering - where are the queer literary takes on Shakespeare?

Recasting the culture's iconic literature to highlight the characters and concepts present, but not truly represented, in the original is a standard way of establishing a dialog between broad culture and individual experience, questioning received wisdom, or even just jolting modern audiences into seeing the classic work as relevant to modern day concerns. It doesn't often produce great literature (What do you think, is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead great? How about West Side Story?) but hey, what does? Nobody's surprised to see feminist glosses of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet with interracial casts.

The queer thing just seems so obvious. Think of all the cross-dressing in the comedies! Think of all the female parts - great female parts, Lady Macbeth and Juliet and Beatrice - first played by prepubescent boys in drag! Think of the characterization of the Duke and Olivia in Twelfth Night! Twelfth Night's genderbending creates such violent emotional reversals in the final scene that I found it a useful work to reference in the lesbian western. Len speds part of her scant income on it first of all the unfamiliar Shakespeare plays available to her in the bookstores of San Antonio because of the extended cross-dressing, hoping Viola's story will give her useful hints. She's disappointed in that; but it enables her to have an illuminating conversation with Di, so her money is not wasted.

But shouldn't there be, somewhere, a text exploring the situation with the possibility of same-sex pair-bonding not assumed away by magic hand-waving?

Where is the queer version of Romeo and Juliet? I can't believe there isn't one.

Maybe they exist and can't find publishers due to the continued squeamishness of the industry, or distaste for the ways the news media can be expected to react to them. If so, and someone reading this is the author of such a thing, listen up: This is the age of the niche market. If you can't get it over the transom to the mainstream houses, look farther.

Stupider concepts have seen print.

But for pity's sake, do it well.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hey, It Works!

No, not the zipper (though I have now put in three in a row on the first try - it pays to do it again before you forget how); the Garage Sale!

Andrew May took the Mechanical Gorilla notion, merged it with the hoax Bigfoot killed on the side of the road, and produced a funny, pulpy tale of mad science, appropriately called The Mechanical Gorilla. Available in electronic format. Check it out.

I'm, like, a literary godmother, or aunt, or something.

My very favorite sentence, from sane-sounding scientist Dr. Azuma: "That would violate Cambridge Town Council's strict regulations vis-a-vis the utilization of combat robots in a peacetime urban environment." That's a whole lotta world-building, right there.