12 Feb 2014, 11:24pm
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The Mallory Ortberg Appreciation Society

Anyone who’s been reading my Randomness posts will recognize the name in the subject header: She’s one of the writers and editors of The Toast, and she’s hilarious. For example:

Your Constant Vigilance Is The Only Thing Keeping The Shape At Your Window From Coming Inside

It’s A Bunch of Years After The War And Everything Is Different


Things That Actually Happened In The Movie Vampire Academy, A Movie That Is About An Academy For Vampires

“Are You There God? It’s Me, MacGyver.”

A Gender-Flipped Version of “The Bodyguard” Starring Kanye West and Brienne From Game of Thrones

There Is A Book Inside Of You (I’m so, so sorry.)

She’s funny, and I’m not wildly envious of her ability. Just, you know, somewhat envious.

Also, I made my son read “After the war…” because he’s big on the dystopias and after he finished he turned to me and said “That’s every book I’ve ever read.” I didn’t tell him that was because he won’t read mine.

11 Feb 2014, 4:47pm
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FYI: I don’t care about readers, clearly

My previous post about the Amazon reviewers who follow Harriet Klausner around Amazon to harass and mock her has now revealed an unseemly and unsettling truth about me: I don’t care about readers!

Yep, shocking but true. I spent decades of my life reading and writing, studying texts and story, and sweating over revisions of my own work only to hoodwink readers. You got me!

Or maybe I think that Amazon reviews are not especially important. Maybe I think an unknown number of the reviews are completely fake/done as a personal favor. Maybe a substantial number are written because the reader has some weird axe to grind that has little to do with the book at hand. Certainly many of the reviews are written by readers eager to share their honest opinions without much evidence that those honest opinions actually have an impact.

I’ve been trying to come up with a metaphor for this, but nothing seems right. Not every reviewer is being paid, so you can’t call it a whorehouse. Not every reviewer is friend or family to the author, so you can’t call it a theatrical review of a grade school play. Not every reviewer is a twitchy reactionary lunatic, so you can’t call it a recruitment session for the Libertarian Party (I kid, I kid).

I suppose I could ask if anyone reading this can think up an appropriate metaphor, but seriously, fuck you guys.

Randomness for 2/11

1) An alternate history of “Flappy Bird” a successful game that was pulled from sale because of the gamers abused its creator.

2) Marvel opens its image archive and api to the public. I’m pretty sure this is cool, and if I were ten years younger I might understand why.

3) Calvin and Muad’Dib. Calvin & Hobbes cartoons with quotes from Dune to replace the dialog.

4) Teddy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules for Reading. Sensible guy.

5) Male artist creates art show with woman’s art, doesn’t feel he needs to name her.

6) An Infinity of Alternate Batmen.

7) Well, Valentine’s Day is coming, and this tumblr has created Valentine’s messages from actual comments on Pornhub. NSFW, obviously.

9 Feb 2014, 11:42am
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The Making of THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN Docu (only 18 minutes long)

Check it out, you guys: a short documentary on the making of Thundarr.

I honestly had no idea they’d released the complete series on DVD. Thirty bucks is a pretty steep price, but I may treat myself as a reward for finishing and releasing The Great Way. Still, it sucks that the DVD case says it’s part of the “Hannah Barbera Collection” when it wasn’t a Hannah Barbera show.

Why is this not on Netflix? How is this IP laying fallow when they’re doing another fucking Ninja Turtle movie? Channing Tatum should should stop campaigning to play Gambit (of all things) and push for a live-action Thundarr instead.

I’d be at the front of the line.

8 Feb 2014, 12:33pm
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“Klausner” became a verb. Now we need to coin the word “Anti-Klausner”

For folks who don’t know who Harriet Klausner is, a brief introduction. Here’s the full text of her review of my debut novel, CHILD OF FIRE:

In Hammer Bay, Washington, the ecomony is booming due to the toy factory; however, residents even those who work at the prime employer fail to realzie that some of their offspring can use magic.

Twenty Palace Society field agent Annalise Powliss hunts and kills rogue magic practitioners. Convicted felon Ray Lilly is her chauffeur, but they share a not so kind past as he betrayed her so he knows she plans to kill him at the most opportune time. The Society learns of the goings-on in Hammer Bay and led by take no prisoners Annalise plan to destroy the factory and kill anyone of any age who uses magic. However, the execution fails and Annalise is hurt; Ray must finish the assignment against a much more powerful sorcerer who sacrifices humans especially children to gain incredible amounts of power.

The key to this small town fantasy is the use of magic as collateral damage is not only acceptable it is preferable if needed to complete a mission. That premise ties the rogue and the Society together as innocent bystanders die in high numerical waves, which in turn brings a sense of realism to the exciting story line. The dysfunctional relationship between the driver and his boss enhances the tension of an exhilarating High Noon paranormal thriller.

Harriet Klausner

All spelling infelicities in the original; this is just a cut and paste.

As Klausner’s reviews go, this one is better than average. Yes, it appears to have been written as quickly as possible with little regard for spelling or how it reads. Yes, some details are wrong; Ray isn’t anyone’s chauffeur, although he is driving the beater van at the start of the book. However, most of the plot details are correct, which isn’t always a given in Ms. Klausner’s reviews. However, she did give my book her lowest review: only 4 stars. For her, that’s practically a slam.

So, yeah. Her reviews are not insightful and some this year she will post her 30,000th on Amazon.com. That’s, er, a lot. I’ve heard that some times she posts as many as six reviews a day; how many books could you speed read in a day?

But whatever, right? No harm done… unless you’re the sort of person who’s Bothered By Things. See this 2012 “investigation” into Klausner’s reviews, which discovered that she received free ARCs from publishers, gives them positive reviews, then hands them off to her son to sell for COLD HARD CASH.

Nevermind that The Strand bookstore is floor to rafters with resold ARCs from other book reviewers. Nevermind that there’s no difference in what Klausner does and what other reviewers do besides scale. Apparently, she’s a woman reviewing badly for nefarious purposes and a group of people have begun to follow her around and badmouth her reviews. That link takes you to Sharon Lee’s new book Carousel Sun; how pleased would you be to discover that, on the week your book comes out, Internet Melodrama is breaking out on the book’s Amazon page that has nothing to do with the author. (Buy her book, folks, to help soothe that pain.)

[Edited to add: There are, as of this writing, 46 comments under Klausner's review, many justifying the decision to follow Klausner from page to page to taunt and mock her including one comparing her to Timothy McVeigh(!). Ugh.]

And if you think that’s the only review this self-appointed posse has hunted down and attacked, you would be wrong!

You might think I would be upset about what Harriet does–write universally positive reviews so she can continue to churn out incomprehensible reviews on books she’s barely skimmed for a few thin bucks, but once again you’d be wrong. My take is this: It’s a hard hard world. If she can make a few bucks (nobody is getting rich selling ARCs on fucking half.com) for herself and her family, and if publishers want to keep sending review copies to her, let them. As sins go, this isn’t half so terrible as the moving flame war hitting the Amazon pages of author after author.

Klausner-stalkers, find something useful to do. Advocate. Make something. In fact, Instead of reviewing Klausner’s work (fish -> barrel) write your own, and make them good. If your lives are so comfortable that a minor transgression like this annoys you so much, give thanks to whatever deity you worship and go volunteer at a food bank.

Because this thing where you follow a woman from page to page to insult her? That’s just sad.

#SFWApro

5 Feb 2014, 11:57am
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Guest Post: Free Possessed Chickens

Today we have a guest post, courtesy of my son. I told him a story of seeing a tiny chicken coop set out between the curb and the sidewalk like a discarded couch (Seattle is full of residential chicken coops) and he wanted to write a post for my blog, which turned out to be a pastiche of his current favorite book: Hyperbole and a Half. Interestingly, he wrote it from “my” point of view. Here it is:

The Box

Yesterday, while walking to my local Starbucks, I passed a Large-ish (is that a word?) Box out on that grassy strip of space between the road and Sidewalk.

I stopped to take a closer look, as boxes sometimes have interesting contents. The Box was really a sort of Wooden frame, filled by chicken wire, and It contained chickens. One was kind of lying there, dragging itself across the cage back and forth, seemingly with no real goal. The other chicken, however, Looked like it was from a horror movie where aliens invade chicken’s brains before they realize chickens are kept in neat little cages.

Chickens

It repeatedly slammed itself at the walls of the cage.

The chicken didn’t seem to be attacking me in particular, but instead, the shape of the house. maybe this is why the chickens were abandoned out here in the savage sidewalk-roadlands.

I can almost imagine a sign that says “FREE POSSESSED CHICKENS!”

I may have to go back with some paper and a sharpie.

Women online receive threats of physical harm, part 2,000,342

How surprised would anyone be to learn that Shay Festa, the “Quid Pro Quo” book review blogger I wrote about over the weekend has not only been called a cunt and a bitch but has also received threats of physical harm?

Over a book review policy?

I really, really hope that no one who followed one of my links to her site was involved in that at all, because if my blog posts start inspiring threats against women online, I’m not going to write them. It’s not worth it at all.

In the meantime, I want to thank Michelle Sagara for pointing out this blog post: Reviews: A Service for Authors? by Chrysoula Tzavelas.

The gist of Tzavels’s post is that the Bookiemonster site is open to reviews by indie authors, who constantly struggle to get reviews of their work so they can stand out from the crowd. She suspects (and the request for more reviewers seems to confirm) that they’re inundated with books from people with little other opportunity to find critical attention and who are desperate to stand out from the pack. Self-published writers are likely to be a major portion of the Bookiemonster readership, too. You know, in the old days of the turn of the century, it was a truism that the main readership for self-published fiction was other self-publishers. They were all reading each other’s work. I thought that had finally changed with the release of ereaders, but maybe not for everyone. Maybe it’s only the bestselling self-pub and hybrid authors with a readership beyond other authors in the long tail. I’d be interested to know where that stands.

Anyway, it demonstrates the way subtle pressures can drive people to make decisions they wouldn’t ordinarily make. Like doctors who, with only their patients’ best interests in mind (as far as they’re concerned), schedule as much followup care as they need to make their monthly nut, so too does a site like Bookiemonster respond to subtle incentives. I had recommended that Ms. Festa turn to her readership for the SEO books she was seeking; readers are incredibly generous, especially if they’re grateful for the writing being offered. What hadn’t occurred to me was that the readers and the writers might be pretty much one and the same.

In any event, none of that matters now. Ms. Festa has posted a mea culpa followup post called Sometimes We Just Get It Wrong, in which she expresses gratitude for the non-vicious, non-threatening feedback people have given her and withdraws the whole idea of asking authors for likes, follows, and upvotes. I will say: far too many people would have looked at the most extreme criticisms she received–the name-calling and the threats–and used that to dismiss all criticism. That’s what Bill Keller did after his disgusting editorial about cancer patients and social media, and that dude writes for the NY Times. It’s to her credit that she sorted the rage-aholics from the fair responses, even ones that were extremely critical, like mine.

And that’s that.

28 Jan 2014, 2:51am
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Click through no click through

Christ, I meant to watch a few minutes of THE MAN FROM NOWHERE and now it’s quarter to three in the morning and I’m supposed to be getting up to work in the morning.

Anyway, I hate writing short blog posts–esp if it’s just a link to something on another site–because it feels like such a cheat. WordPress automatically posts notice of the new entry on my Facebook, Twitter, and G+, and all people find when they click it is a link to another site. So, for example, if I want to let people know how to write for a game company like Evil Hat, it would make more sense if the tweeted link they’re clicking was the direct one. Just saying.

But the weird thing is that fewer than half the people who click a link to my blog actually bother to click the direct link. It’s like they click the one, see another link and just give up. They cared enough to click once, right?

I feel like Werner Herzog in JACK REACHER: “They always choose the bullet. I do not understand.”

Oh god I’m tired.

27 Jan 2014, 9:25am
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26 Jan 2014, 3:52pm
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25 Jan 2014, 11:20am
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“If I were more trite I’d be successful!”

I’ve been neglecting this space lately except for link salads and new announcements (Twenty Palaces print edition! Buying from B&N earns more for me than Amazon orders do!) mostly because I’ve been on a big push to finish initial major revisions for all three books in The Great Way.

That’s done and I’ve sent them to my agent. Next I have a short story to revise and more Kickstarter work to wrap up. Unfinished tasks unrelated to actually making the trilogy include:

* Fate game supplement for TGW.
* New revision for A KEY, AN EGG, AN UNFORTUNATE REMARK.
* Fate game supplement for KEY/EGG.
* Straighten out notes for Twenty Palaces short story.
* Write Twenty Palaces short story.
* Compile that story plus others (with introductions) into a collection.
* Assorted tasks associated with all that shit, including covers.

Actually, that list doesn’t look too bad from here.

However! In an attempt to remake the habit of posting here, let me resurrect a post that I started and abandoned last July(!) regarding British crime writer John Connor, spurred by this advertisement interview.

Mostly, I was annoyed by this quote:

He says: “It’s been a struggle all along. If you come at it from the point of view of wanting to write something interesting and worthwhile and entertaining, well, those are the three things that makes it hard if you want to produce something other than some stupid trite piece of content.

“You set yourself a goal of doing any of those things in one genre. It’s easy to do two of those, but doing all three feels like one long compromise. It ended up being a long way from doing what I wanted to do at the start.”

See, Connor (actually a pen name, for some reason) is a former prosecutor, and he pretty much hates the way popular mystery and thriller writers portray crime and its effects.

Which is completely fair. He has real world experience and he can call bullshit on what he (and others, too) call the torture porn aspects of the genre. Frankly, I’m not such a big fan of torture porn either, so I’m sympathetic.

And getting the emotions right–that is, treating tragedies like tragedies and not excuses for heroic rage–is a laudable goal. He earned another measure of sympathy with that one.

Still, it’s painful to see him blaming his perfectly ordinary midlist career on his integrity. Without having read any of his books:

First of all, as pen names go, “John Connor” is terrible. It’s bland. It’s easily misspelled (as “Conner” or “Jon”). It doesn’t even let the cover designer set his last name in huge type; six letters isn’t bad, but a four-letter long last name has size. It would be more memorable if he followed Donald Westlake’s advice of using a super-common last name and an unusual first name. “Connor Johns” is a better pen name than what he’s chosen.

Second, I’ve read plenty of books by actual cops and other people with law enforcement day jobs, and while it’s great for marketing, for the most part I prefer books by outsiders.

It’s not that I’m against realism; it’s that realism often has a certain plodding flatness to it. Every job comes with a certain amount of tedium, even the sort they make hit TV shows of. That’s why you don’t give the boring rote work to the lead character; that’s for the supporting cast to explain with a phone call. That’s why you don’t have them wander aimlessly through the clues; make that shit into a trail. Be fun.

Third, if you approach your own genre with this attitude:

“I have experienced those crimes – that’s half my problem. I’ve experienced them and I know what they’re like which makes me think: ‘You can’t do that just for entertainment!’”

Maybe you should be writing something else.

#sfwapro

Randomness for 1/21

1) The flowchart of medieval penitent sex.

2) Gorgeous high-magnification sand photos.

3) 15 Massive corporate logo fails. It’s amazing how many of these look like people having sex.

4) Researchers compare language in successful and unsuccessful Kickstarters and discover trends.

5) I’m old enough not to be up on the latest music (and feel perfectly comfortable with that) but I have to offer this: a band called Prodigy did a music video called Firestarter (video) and here’s the same video, but musicless (video). Reader, I lol-ed. h/t to @robertnlee

6) Hero Forge lets you design an rpg character, then print it in 3D. Gaming miniatures aren’t really my thing, but I suspect a few of you will be interested in this.

7) Hatchet Job Of The Year Shortlist – 2013′s most negative reviews in quotes. I confess to a weakness for savage reviews and these are pretty acid.

(I’ve been seriously neglecting this space. I plan to write a note explaining why soon.)

27 Dec 2013, 5:54am
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24 Dec 2013, 9:04am
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Warning: Can not be unseen or unheard

The podcast War Rocket Ajax created the Worst Christmas Mixtape Ever for their War on Christmas episode.

Aside from the warning in the subject header, you should also know these are not just incredibly terrible and physically painful, some are downright offensive.

Direct link here.

You’re welcome.

Randomness for 12/24

Not Christmas-related. Isn’t that a relief?

1) Skyrim mod replaces dragons with Thomas the Tank Engine. Video. Maybe that should be in a story seeds post.

2) Mountain goats climb nearly vertical dam for the salt.

3) Iron Moon. Video. via Kurt Busiek.

4) The world’s largest mall has an occupancy rate of less than 1%. via Fred Hicks.

5) How long it takes a typical worker to earn as much as their company CEO makes in an hour.

6) Story Corps, Animated. Video. If you have been listening to Story Corps here and there, you’ll know why this is something not to be missed. If not, Story Corps is a project where two people sit with a microphone to permanently record (for the Library of Congress) a personal story from their lives. If the news has you thinking people are mostly awful, Story Corps will change your mind.

7) Chief O’Brien At Work.

23 Dec 2013, 6:32am
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Christmas Secular Symbolism: a guide

If, like me, you really enjoy Christmas but are not a Christian, it can feel a little weird to fill your home with Christian symbols of the celebration: the tree, the star, the candy canes, the wreaths, the whole deal. A fair list of those Christian symbols can be found here and here.

I figured it was long past time we came up with a list of explicitly secular symbols for the modern Christmas decorations, so that they can not only be beautiful decorations, but meaningful to non-Christians as well.

The artificial tree: Long reviled by purists, fake trees look better and better each year and they’re becoming more popular. Of course, they’re made of serious plastic, so they have to be in use for some 15 years or so before they offset the effect of cutting down trees every year. But an artificial tree reminds us of what we make out of the world and that we have to be mindful of how we use it. As human beings, we make our lives better by creating joy and beauty, but we have to remember that it comes at a cost.

The natural tree: Except for the part about “serious plastic” and fifteen years, same thing.

The star atop the tree: Stars are the source of all life (well, ours is) and they also represent the future. As we celebrate this annual holiday, we need something to remind us to keep moving forward.

Multi-colored lights on the tree: It would be easy to say that these stand for the need to keep a wide variety of people in your life–not just variety in the color of their skin but also in their political beliefs, their gender, their sexual orientation, their hobbies and preferences. That would be easy but it’s not enough. The colorful lights should also remind us to seek out a wide variety of experiences, too, and to do so brightly with exuberance. And, of course, they’re all strung together, because it’s important to share those experiences with the important people in our lives.

Little white lights on the tree: These symbolize a need for uniformity, conformity, and a desire to withhold powerful emotional expressions to give the appearance of good taste. (Sorry, white-lighters, but ugh, go for the color.)

The wreath: Everything that comes out of the Earth must return to it someday.

Garland: A strand or rope of bright reflective stuff, garland represents the connection we feel with the people closest to us all year long. Sometimes that’s family, sometimes it’s friends, sometimes it’s a family of choice. And best of all, garland is easy to break when it has to be broken.

Stockings: I’m told that once upon a time, the stocking hung by the chimney with care were actual stockings sized to fit actual feet, and people received their gifts in them and were grateful. Now they’re sized for giants, are sewn to hang flat (to be decorative) and are made to hold gifts. What’s more, the gifts inside stockings have become the little things we get for each other, trifles that we don’t have to wrap or put a lot of thought into. “Stocking-stuffers.”

Those giant, oversized stockings should remind us all of the *stuff* we can make now, and how cheaply we can make it, how little we really value most of it, and the poverty of some of those people who actually do the manufacturing.

Mistletoe: Once again, I refer to the olden days (of not that olden ago): Women were mostly forbidden from expressing overt interest in a guy if she wanted to be treated with respect. She wasn’t allowed to *want* to kiss, not at first. So you had bullshit like mistletoe, which gave people an excuse to kiss someone else, and hopefully that someone else actually wanted to be kissed and was glad for the excuse.

Nowadays, that stigma is reduced to the point that we don’t need excuses like mistletoe anymore, which means it now represents people taking liberties they would not otherwise be offered. Mistletoe: a tradition we can do without.

Santa Claus: Santa represents generosity, which is especially important for little kids. Generosity can be very difficult for little kids to grasp, and all the myth and story around Santa Claus present utterly selfless generosity to them in the best possible light. Among the other benefits of believing in Ol’ St. Nick, he’s a role model for very young kids that their parents can never be.

For you very young child, everything comes from their parents and/or guardians: clothes, meals, TV time, a special milkshake all your own–getting stuff from your parents is how the world works. But Santa is different. Yeah, he is also giving things to kids, but it *feels* so different. It feels like a special occassion.

Finally, when a kid gets old enough to figure out that Santa is just a story, what do they discover? That their parents have been behind it all along and taking absolutely zero credit.

Secret kindness. Generosity without expectation of being repaid. Just talking about it makes me want to watch the end of HOGFATHER again.

What else? Are these too dour? Is there a decoration I left out? Do you want to defend little white lights (as if)? Comments are turned off on my blog but you can add them on LiveJournal, Twitter, Facebook, or G+ if you want.

23 Dec 2013, 6:26am
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Six Things Make A Post

1)

2) Ten Things Food Banks Need But Won’t Ask For. At first I thought it was a little late for me to be posting this, but then I smacked my forehead. People are hungry all year round, not just during the holiday.

3) At first, I thought this was satirical, but when I saw that it was Conservapedia, I believed it. Those people are too far gone to satirize: Extreme right wingers rewriting Bible because it’s not conservative enough.

4) Why Marketers Fear The Female Geek. As a marketing category, “geek” is not truly going to come into its own until every kind is welcomed.

5) U of C study demonstrates that “drug-sniffing” dogs do not actually sniff drugs. What they actually do is respond to the K9 officer’s signals on when to alert, essentially giving police the power for warrantless searches.

6) Downtown Seattle’s PERSON OF INTEREST technology. Okay, so it’s not quite POI, but what the SPD has installed (and won’t talk about) is creepily invasive.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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