6.26.2006

What Action Hero Are You?


You scored as Lara Croft. A thrill-seeking, slightly unscrupulous, tough-as-nails archaeologist, Lara Croft travels the world in search of ancient relics perhaps better left hidden. She packs two Colt .45s and has no fear of jumping off buildings, exploring creepy tombs, or taking on evil meglomaniacs bent on world domination.

Lara Croft

88%

Maximus

79%

Captain Jack Sparrow

71%

Batman, the Dark Knight

71%

Indiana Jones

63%

James Bond, Agent 007

58%

Neo, the "One"

54%

The Terminator

50%

The Amazing Spider-Man

42%

El Zorro

38%

William Wallace

38%

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com

6.22.2006

On Back Blurbs


I was browsing the bookstore shelves the other day and, amazingly enough, found a book that looked interesting (the fact that I was in the mystery section may have had something to do with this).

Since it was the first in a series, I quickly scanned the back of the next one to see see if it'd be worthwhile to buy them both right away.

Big mistake.

The cover for the second book had the right names, but none of the same details as the first. The heroine's job had changed from something respectable to criminal, and the love interest (husband, no less!) was not even someone mentioned on the back blurb of the first book.

I put them both back and did a little research* when I got home. Turns out that the second book's blurb had just utterly spoiled both of the major twists in the first book (the heroine's real job and the real love interest).

I don't insist that the back covers of sequels be spoiler free. But I'd at least like a *little* mystery left to the earlier books, especially when it'd be as easy as leaving out a name.

* I usually wish the jerks who leave spoiler-laden and vapid summaries masquerading as reviews on Amazon would FOAD, but in this case it came in handy.

6.20.2006

Rejection Obsession


Is it terrible that I find 'rejection obsession' to be hilarious?

Several of the blogs I read regularly have posts on the topic up today. Miss Snark and Evil Editor discuss the hidden meanings of rejection letters, and on Pub Rants, the issue is writers responding in an unprofessional manner to rejections.

I wish these rejected authors would get a clue. Yes, it hurts. Yes, by god, you've been rejected. Someone said NO to you, and it's so horribly unfair, and you'll show them someday.

Have you considered that perhaps your work isn't that good? That you may have seen worse things on the shelf, but your work doesn't have to beat out the worst book on the shelf, it has to beat out the best available to the agent in question right now? That perhaps your "edgy, gritty, character-driven 300,000 word YA novel" is not suitable for the market no matter how stubbornly you insist you're just a misunderstood genius?

Agents make their living by selling manuscripts that succeed financially to editors. Do you honestly think they earn anything by crushing your dreams with a paltry form letter or by spending hours devising a way to encode vicious, hurtful things into an apparently innocuous missive?

A well-written form letter has the necessary grease to keep most feelings uninjured without inviting unnecessary intimacy from the rejected party. No more, no less.

6.14.2006

Fugly Writing Websites

Okay, maybe not all are horrible, but too many are.


Why, oh, why must writing websites be so damn ugly?

It's like a Law, the Law of Ugly Writing Websites or something. Agents, small presses, helpful people offering writing advice, scammers, if it's even tangentially related to writing, it's bound to be hideous and dated (ugh).

The look is from the late 90's; one mile-long page of oddly spaced and erratically centered text with dancing bananas sprinkled throughout at random. They're the visual equivalent of an "As You Know, Bob"; everything barfed out onto the page as needed without regard to subtlety or panache or interest.

Occasionally, the page will use frames (FRAMES!), and be broken up into sections that make no real logical sense and are so random as to suggest a serious lack of coherency in the mind of the site's designer.

There are three predominant color schemes. Multi-colored text on a white background, multi-colored text on a black background, or, most hideously, a horribly cluttered and blindingly ugly pattern against which the poorly chosen text color blends into unreadability.

And, without fail, every last goddamn ugly page has ugly gifs bracketing the title text. You know what I'm talking about; an immense title in the center top of the page, bracketed by two grainy, dirty gifs (usually run through several photoshop filters badly).

Who looks at those gifs and says, "Hey, two ugly clipart faux-Celtic lions, compressed to speckles, and then dyed blue and poorly cropped! I *totally* need these for my webpage!"?

And, for the LOVE of GOD, if you must put a picture of yourself up, make sure it's professionally done (and that you have a copyright release; it's theft otherwise, no matter how much you paid Sears for the print) and appropriately spaced on the page.

Even the less offensively ugly ones are still pretty bad; blocky squares of text, laid out in what's supposed to be an eye-catching fashion but just looks cluttered.

There's one writing forum where I couldn't even *find* the link to the forum from the main page. I finally discovered by accident that the forum was actually on the main page, below a screenful of intro graphics, blurbs, and text.

On some level, I actually find it kind of sweet; it's like these writers are saying, "I'm an artist with words, but I'm too humble to claim any visual skill; please, be gentle with my lack of knowledge about your amazing graphical world".

And I suspect that most of those visiting don't really care that the page is fugly, or even notice after the first few visits.

But the design of your webpage is a place where you have the opportunity to give others a glimpse into what you consider beautiful and to share some of your personality visually.

Many of these writing websites say "my personality is blocky, earnest, and a little clumsy, and I'm enthusiastically oblivious to appearances". I don't want *my* webpage to say I'm a golden retriever, but apparently these folks don't care.

Oh, and tip of the day: "Copyright" deals with the rights surrounding your copy (ie, your work). "Copywrite" is nothing.

I Like Slush

Browse if you dare (link is nofollow).


I have a confession to make.

I like reading slush.

Sometimes, when I should probably be working, I'll go to iUniverse, or Author's Den, or (shamefully) rosedog.com, and dig through until I find some really delightfully awful prose.

And then I giggle to myself about how horrible it is, and feel vicariously embarrassed for the author, and contemplate blogging about it, tearing it into little pieces for my own amusement.

I don't, usually, though I have to admit to a certain amount of pity for these folks; part of the shudder of enjoyment is very much horror that that might be me under different circumstances.

And I've seen authors who were dissected rant and rail against the hand wielding the knife, and I can't help but feel sorry for them even though they asked for it.

6.13.2006

Thoughts on Critiques, Part I

“A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car.” ~ Kenneth Tynan


I like to critique. It's a passion, a mission, a driving need to tell others what the hell is wrong with them. Some might say I have a real gift for it.

And it's not easy to write a good critique.

You have to provide feedback on both technical and craft flaws, nurture (as opposed to smother, inflate, coddle, or pander to) the writer's ego, and give an honest opinion as to what your reader's intuition says "works" while keeping your own biases in mind (and admitting to them as necessary).

And, quite frequently, you get blasted by the author for a multitude of reasons ranging from "You're jealous!" to "You're an asshole!" to "What do you know?".

I know I just offered you the opinion you asked for; you didn't specify "only flattering opinions, lol" in your critique request, did you? (If you did, I am deeply, deeply sorry. I mean it -- I'm sorry I even bothered.)

So if you find yourself tempted to use any of the following, please don't. You'll only insure that nobody of any skill at that venue will want to critique for you in the future.

1. "Yeah? Well, what have YOU written? Don't criticize unless you've written a novel too."

So what you're saying is that you've written a book that can only be appreciated by fellow authors? Great for you! Because fellow authors tend to be poor, frugal, and highly critical. Exactly what I want in an audience too.

You don't have to direct a movie to know if it's any good as you walk out of the theater; you don't have to write a book to spot flaws in one. It's called "discrimination" and it's a faculty everyone should possess. I am a discriminating reader who likes and reads in most genres; I am your worst nightma- er, your target audience.

2. "You're missing the point. What I MEANT is..."

This is actually a good thing. See, you can just explain to each of your fans individually, in person, what you really meant (since you can't seem to via text, that is). This may be a bit time-consuming, but, hey, it's great marketing!

I am literate, intelligent (such modesty!), and reasonably conversant with the conventions of the genres I critique in. If you have to explain it to me, your writing has failed. The purpose of writing is to communicate, and if your audience isn't getting it, you need to take a long, hard look at what's on the paper.

I knew a guy who actually tried this argument on me in Real Life when I commented that I dislike an author he loved.

"But if you'd just met him at the convention like I did, you'd really *get* his books," he told me, as if speaking with the author is a perfectly reasonable requirement for judging the author's work.

And as if, having spoken with the author, I'd suddenly understand why his characters were about as engaging as plain brussel sprouts (on second thought, this might have become apparent if the author was a real attaccabottoni -- but not a good thing regardless).

I'll say it again; the purpose of writing is to communicate. If your reader is in your target audience, you shouldn't have to explain your writing to him.

4. "I'm different; I don't follow the norms for the genre."

It might have romance in it but it isn't a 'Romance" (capital "R") if there's no Happily Ever After (or at least the promise of one after the sequel). Genre fans like to be surprised, but nobody likes broken promises. And by packaging your work as a specific genre, you're making promises about it, even if they're only marginal.

Why aren't you following "the norms"? Are you better than that? Are the norms, appreciated by most if not all of the readers of that genre, beneath you?

Maybe you're writing in the wrong genre.

5. "Plot's not important to me. The characters are what matters."

This is usually said in a very smug, very patronizing way that implies that the reader is a philistine, an action-adventure lover with more testosterone than brains, a vapid sheeple who can't possible be expected to understand character-driven literature.

Hehehehehehehe. Hee. Hee.

Now that that's out of the way... this is patently stupid. Character and plot are both required for a story to work effectively. Your characters' actions drive the plot, while the plot drives the characters' reactions.

Some works are definitely more to one side or the other, but dismissing either aspect as less important or of no importance at all is a very big mistake.

If nothing happens (see "plot"), nobody will keep reading past the first few pages, no matter how witty your characters' dialogue, anguished their emotions, or tragic their histories. If your characters have no character (see "motivation"), the reader will not be engaged by your characters and will not care about them enough to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Either way, you lose. A reader's time is valuable; it's what, along with the cover price, he brings to the table. And if you waste that reader's time, you lose him as a reader.

---

When you ask for a critique, and you get one, do NOT rush off like a fool to defend your baby. Take a deep breath. One critique, by itself, means nothing unless it resonates with you or you respect and trust the reviewer.

If you think the person providing the critique is full of shit, thank them for their time (always assume they wrote it with good intentions; anybody writing substantial critiques with bad intentions is obviously crazy and has shown they have the time to stalk you if you piss them off) and move on.

If you find that all of your critics are full of shit, especially if they all seem to agree, you're either using the wrong venue to get feedback (lol! I lurv'd it!) or your critics aren't the ones who are wrong.

Yawn


I had something amazing to blog about this morning but I forget what it was.

Don't you hate that? You're lying in bed, hashing out this great idea for tomorrow, and you wake up and can't even remember the basic idea.

Oh, yeah. I think I'm cranky and am going to write some posts on the common reactions to critiques. Because I am TIRED of seeing the same damn responses every damn time.

Later. After tea.

6.12.2006

Publishing Scam Thoughts, Part II

"When you believe in things that you don't understand . . . you suffer!"
~ Stevie Wonder


To continue with my thoughts from earlier, it seems to me as if the people who get sucked into these publishing scams fall into two big categories and one little tiny one.

The first, and probably largest, group is people who are inexperienced. They just don't know better; they've finished a memoir or a book of poetry, and they trust to the world to see them through okay. They're so naive they make my teeth hurt but I see a lot of myself as a young Fool in them and I can't help but feel sympathy for their plight. Yes, I was idealistic once too.

The second group is made up of people who don't believe the rules apply to them. Their book isn't unpublishable because it's flawed or awkward or poorly crafted, it's being Held Back By The Man, and by god, finally someone is appreciating their genius. And don't you dare tell them otherwise; they bite, and they are often rabid.

I don't have much sympathy for these guys; they're like boars in a thicket, crashing about, hurting themselves on the thorns and bellowing in rage at the world for cutting them. And I'm no sweet-tempered princess to lead them out of the woods with a gentle smile and a helping hand. I just don't have the energy or the patience, and I'm constantly amazed by the people who selflessly do, time after time, without flinching or losing their tempers or giving up after the nth repetition of good advice or common sense.

The third group is very small; people who believe they're purchasing a service. They have a manuscript, usually non-fiction, that they wish to sell at seminars or their office or what have you, and they believe they've done the research necessary to decide on a reputable contractor to perform the service of polishing, binding, and producing copies of their book.

They fail to realize that scammer agents and publishers are not in the business of providing a service. These predators are equal parts bully and sycophant; they thrive on brow-beating the gullible and weak and sucking up to the angry and disenfranchised.

Anyway, I'm a bit ashamed of myself right now. I've always felt a bit smug about this topic; I've had run-ins with con artists in the Real World before (and I've got the scars to prove it), but I was young and foolish then, and I hadn't yet realized that "nothing is free*" isn't a condemnation of the world but instead a statement of fact.

And I certainly know to google when I'm looking for a service or product. And I wouldn't dream of signing a contract or applying for a job without at least googling the company name + "scam".

So, out of curiousity, I googled the term "book publisher". I left off the 'scam' for the first search; when performing these experiments, I try to think like my mother-in-law, who is fairly savvy in the Real World but not particularly internet literate.

The top two sponsored links right now on google are iuniverse and AuthorHouse (earlier it was two I recognized as scams and one, tatepublishing, that I didn't recognize).

Top five regular results? Publish America, Random House, Author House, Publisher's Weekly Online, PMA.

If I didn't know the magic word ("scam"), I'd be confident that any publisher who popped up ahead of Random House was at least worth a look. And if that were my first stop, fresh from finishing a manuscript and having done no research at all, I might just be convinced of the hype on the PA website.

A search for "book agent" is even worse; it wasn't until I tried "novel publisher" that I found a link to a very good article on Absolute Write about this very issue.

* Anyone who tells you different is selling something. Or your mother, but she's going to get you emotionally eventually, so it'll still cost you.

Publishing Scam Thoughts, Part I

There but for the grace of God...


After reading A.C. Crispin's latest blog post about the abuse the Writer Beware staff takes, I wasn't so much surprised that people can be so stupid as appalled by it.

I understand it's human nature to take out anger at a message on the messenger, and to lash out when wounded, but to waffle and equivocate becase you want something to be true and haven't examined your own motives is hard to forgive.

I've seen many threads on writing forums where the poster, after being told that the agent he's considering signing with is possibly a scammer, follows up with repeated posts to the effect of "But what about this straw? Does this straw mitigate everything else?" despite the chorus of responses to the contrary.

Or where the person viciously and maliciously attacks the messenger because they have devoted so much of their own self-worth into the transaction that they react like a wounded, cornered animal.

Usually these are the ones who eventually see the light and join the Side of Good, but, unfortunately, use the same tactics against those they formerly sided with. And it's ugly no matter who it's aimed at.

I have great respect for the folks at Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors, and I admire their patience, energy, and dedication to a cause that must sometimes seem like trying to rescue a drowning swimmer who insists he can breathe water.

6.08.2006

No Sims 2 For Me


Grrr. I just booted up Windows while rummaging around for my Sims 2 disk so I could reinstall it on my nice fresh Windows install.

I've been anticipating starting over with a clean slate (plus all my gorgeous lots, I do love building houses). And then I remembered.

I sent my Sims 2 disk to Iraq.

With a good friend who'll be coming home in November. And all I can say is, he'd better bring the damn disks back with him. And that second edition copy of Bill the Galactic Spacehero I sent him. That was a loan, you hear? A loan!


I really wish he'd call so we'd know he's all right.

Signs of Over-Blogging

A man's dreams are an index to his greatness.


I had the weirdest dream last night. ("Eeeeps!", I hear you shrieking as you run away; no, no. It's short, I swear.)

Yesterday I discovered a really sweet space simulator, Celestia. It's essentially a planetarium (universarium?) that lets you explore the universe from your desktop. It has a constellation mode where it draws lines between the different stars and labels them.

So in my dream, I was floating through the blogosphere universe (and my god! It was full of stars! And looked just like Celestia!) and all the blogs I check on a daily basis were there, scattered throughout the blackness like tiny points of light, each connected to others by glowing blue lines.

That's about it; I vaguely remember swooshing past Miss Snark's blog's star, then over to the Scrivener's Error blog star (and they were each labeled neatly in Courier, 10 pitch, bright pink), and then I woke up.

I wish I could say this means something, but I think honestly that it just means I've been blogging too much lately and maybe need to lay off the chocolate milk right before bedtime. At least it's better than the one with a zillion zombies trying to eat my brains, right?

6.05.2006

It's Not the Years, It's the Mileage


Whew!

Okay, I've been MIA for a few days; I had a slight computer malfunction and, well, ended up having to reformat my hard drive. This computer isn't that old, and it's been receiving regular transfusions of parts, but it still seems to be moving slower and slower as time goes by.

Fortunately, I made very thorough backups. So I lost nothing except a Sunday's worth of web-browsing. And we had such a full day yesterday, what with the game and the concert, that I wouldn't have been able to do much anyway.

I'd hoped Linux would revitalize it; unfortunately, while Windows was still there, it just wasn't booting. And other issues prevented me from really tweaking the hell out of it until it worked. So a quick format (I remember when those things used to take hours), some pre-laid partitions, and a couple of installs later -- I'm dual-booting Windows and Linux.

In fact, I'm writing this write now in Linux; it's a dream. All the programs I use regularly are native (!), load quickly, and, best of all, don't require clunky frameworks to run.

I guess I'll see how I like it over the next few days; I'm still a little leery of trusting my creative data to the whims of my main drive (I have a 'backup' drive I use for, well, backups). But I'm tentatively optimistic.

6.02.2006

Heh. I'm SHOCKED, I tell ya

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
~ Mark Twain


Sooooo... I don't think I'm going to be using technorati tags any longer.

A fellow known as Made From Dust thoughtfully left me this comment on my last post:
Writing is an amazing tool when used for the right purposes, especially when done well. Rather than write, I have started a photography blog to tell some stories. Stop by and let me know what you think about the quality, content, and stories told. Thanks.
Spam, right? It's barely relevant to the post, just about what you'd expect from a keyword hunting spambot. But then I thought... it might be worth a laugh. Yeah. I make mistakes like this more often than you'd think.

So the blog is all oddly posed, badly lit, amateur photos of skinny naked men and their genitalia. Artistic? Nope. If I were being charitable, I'd say Mr. Dust needs to start using a disclaimer in his comments; if I weren't, I'd say that I suspect he's an exhibitionist with a seriously warped sense of propriety.

Anyway, is this some weird blogspot thing? Spam? Did I accidentally stumble into the naked-man-enjoying porn community? Why would you go to someone you don't know's blog and ask them to check out photos of naked men without giving them warning? Is there any profit in it?

I'm really curious about this; when I was working in a photo lab, I always assumed it was because the perpetrator gets his sexual thrills by shocking unsuspecting people or by knowing that they're looking at his or his boyfriends' naked bodies. I can only say that I don't get it.

Just one more weird thing to add to today's list, I suppose. And at least blogging about it got me out of twenty minutes of actually working on something important.

Absolute Write Hope & News

"Talk: excessive. Time: limited."


The busy crew at Absolute Write have been given access (for a scant 24 hours) to their database. The general gist of the official thread as of this morning is that they're waiting for their new host to do a restore, and that it's looking tentatively optimistic.

This is fantastic news. The ex-host hasn't won any brownie points by their handling of the situation or the aftermath. Bizarrely, to announce the release of data, the woman posted a snippy comment in her blog's comment thread that was incomprehensible at the time but makes sense in light of the official word last night.

Then her husband chimed in by bitching in the Making Light thread about not getting the kudos he apparently feels he deserves for magnamiously letting a customer have her own data back.

(Tangent alert.)

Writing is about communication, and if you are so utterly incoherent and disorganized in your thoughts that you can't communicate a simple thought in a logical, coherent way, you have no business being a writer. And I'm not talking about a pre-coffee dashed off comment, or that post you wrote while drunk off your ass at 2AM; those are forgivable. But anything you've had the chance to review and edit (and that isn't being left up as a reminder not to drink so much because LOOK what happens) should be, at the minimum, organized to the standards of your high school English teacher.

(Uh... end tangent. Ahem.)

Oh, and to those who are claiming this is a lynch mob effort -- you're welcome to jump on the opposite side and defend 'em if you can. One of the hazards of ticking writers off is that they will write about you and your actions; nobody's forcing you or readers or tomorrow's readers to believe anything.

And to those who are on AW's side and making remarks about how "cool the anti-Barbara Bauer" effort is, and how "scary" AW's members are when they get riled up; please stop. It's not cool, it's not scary, it's not a lynch mob or an AW army or an unstoppable juggernaut of bitchslappin' scammers or whatever. It's a bunch of people who believe something wrong has happened, who have voices, and who are trying to use those voices to right that wrong. And that's it.

(Okay, end tangent here. Promise.)

In the end, I'm just glad that Absolute Write has a shot at being fixed up properly, and that things can get back to normal.

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