31 Jan 2012, 8:00am
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Much ado about fifth edition D&D

So much ado, in fact, that Forbes Magazine even did a piece on the new “crowd-sourced” rule set.

Me, I was disappointed that this was the big news. For a long time now, I’ve been waiting to hear that Wizards would work out a licensing deal with Lego to create a Dungeons and Dragons line of figures, with swappable accessories and armor. Hell, they already have many of the humanoid creatures. How hard could it be to create a few Yuan-Ti, amirite? And everyone would buy a Lego beholder, just because.

I mentioned this to my son, and he immediately began to put together a tableau. Here are some high-level heroes taking on a red dragon and its minions.

IMG_0349

Skeleton kebob!

More pictures at the flickr set.

30 Jan 2012, 4:45pm
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By the time you read this, my internet fast will have begun

It’ll just be a few days. I have a couple of blog posts scheduled to go up, so there’ll be something to read here, but I won’t be doing much responding.

29 Jan 2012, 12:37pm
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On obsessing over email and twitter

It’s amazing how deep I can get into checking email over and over, not to mention refreshing my Twitter client. The deadly thing about Twitter is that it contains links. Many, many links of tremendous interest, and before I know it, an hour has passed.

With emails, it’s more complicated, but there are some things I need to respond to right away and I feel guilty about waiting. These are not good choices.

Anyway I did a little test: I promised myself I would do 300 words before I checked email again. I turned off my wifi, wrote 500 words instead, then got back online.

No emails had come in. On Twitter, I had 11 new tweets, two as part of a conversation I was having. It took me all of three minutes to get through them, and I was ready for another 500 words.

In this way, empires are built.

28 Jan 2012, 10:37am
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The “Implied” Author

Posited: When a critic says “George R.R. Martin is a conservative authoritarian who believes monarchy is a great system of government,” they’re not referring to the real George R.R. Martin. They’re talking about an imaginary George R.R. Martin they dreamed up while reading one of his books. If you confuse the real GRRM with that imaginary one solely because the critic is referring to the imaginary one with by the real author’s name, that’s only because you’re insufficiently knowledgeable about criticism.

I’m agnostic about whether this is true or not, but if it is, that rule would be just as stupid as if it’s a made up thing.

By the way, if you’re not reading James Nicoll’s LJ and comment section, you’re missing out.

Five Things on a Friday

1) I have a number of things to take care of in the upcoming week, so I will be offline for much of that time. I have some posts that are scheduled to go up, but I’m going to be focusing on family and my WIP.

2) Often times, when I’m online, I don’t have access to all my online “stuff.” Sometimes I’m on Twitter but not email. Sometimes I’m online but not ready to reply to a comment on my LJ. Don’t ride me about that, please. Everyone controls their online time in the ways they think are best.

3) I like asparagus with my breakfast. I also need to create a new map for my WIP. These things are not related in any way.

4) I have figured out the “ending” of my book, and my word counts are going to start piling up again. Hopefully the time coming up this week will allow me to finish by the end of next month.

5) My son wanted to play Neverwinter Nights, so we started it up. (I “received” the anthology for Getmas, which means I bought it for myself and thanked my family for their thoughtfulness.) He played it for his entire computer time, and he really enjoyed it. Watching the LOTR movies has given him a love of dwarven fighters. After he finished, he asked me to take a turn. And omg, I really like it and want to be playing it again right now. I recognize this feeling and I fear it. Computer games can make me obsessive, so I’m hopeful that I can keep this thing at arm’s length.

Randomness for 1/26

1) 20 Amazingly Weird Pieces of Classic Video Game Box Art.

2) AZ school officials ban “ethnic studies.” No racism here, folks, just move along.

3) What a comic script is for, by Warren Ellis

4) Cop or Soldier? I could only get 12 out of 21. Can you do better?

5) Meljean Brooks’s Diary of an Author Reader, I LOLed.

6) A comic script, from conception to finished product.

7) A funny video about breast cancer self examinations. No, really. Also features hot dudes with their shirts off. Video. Via +Kat Richardson

26 Jan 2012, 6:01am
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25 Jan 2012, 11:13pm
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RIP John Kuchera

A good man. He raised three terrific kids–including my wonderful wife–and made some joyful art. Frankly, I couldn’t have hoped for a kinder father-in-law.

He’d been unwell for a long time, but his strength of will and good humor always made him seem unbeatable. But none of us are.

25 Jan 2012, 6:01am
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I’ve read some bad comics in my time, but…

The Dusk Society set a… well, is it a new low? Because I’ve read some genuine shit in my time, and this book, while it was definitely bad, was mostly just dull and anti-dramatic. The villain continually thought up reasons not to kill his enemies, the photo-based art was ugly, and if there was an interesting way to get a plot point across, this book dodged it.

Sure, it’s supposed to be fore kids, so they didn’t want a lot of bloody murder, but you can’t call a villain worse than Satan if all he ever does is collect magic trinkets and tell his henches not to kill people.

The plot covers the recruitment of four modern teens into a monster-fighting society (they each have Speshul Powers Or Skills). I got bored with it less than halfway through, but my son read the whole thing, laughing all the way through.

Then you get to the end of the book, when the sexy teacher in the bad clothes who inducted the students into the Dusk Society offers a contract to the reader. Would YOU like to be a secret monster fighter???

Dusk Society Contract FAIL!

The large size is easier to read. But here’s what the contract says:

Contract

I solemnly promise to serve The Dusk Society, with my life* if needed.

I understand that my life will at risk–everyday.

————
Signature of member

Notice that asterisk? What it refers to is handled in a caption, not even on the contract itself. It reads:

*UPON DEATH, ALL YOUR LIFE SAVINGS AND PROPERTY WILL BE SEIZED BY THE DUSK SOCIETY. WITHOUT NOTICE, THE DUSK SOCIETY MAY ALSO EXERCISE THE RIGHT TO ACQUIRE THE SAVINGS AND PROPERTY OF ANY SURVIVING RELATIVES.

That is one helluva clause, isn’t it? I’m tempted to make a joke about asking kids under 18 to sign contracts, or about the ways cults enrich themselves from their members, but in truth this sort of dopey story choice just makes me depressed.

By the way, that thing beside the couch is a cat.

24 Jan 2012, 6:03am
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Guest Post: Joshua Palmatier and Benjamin Tate

Some years ago, when Miss Snark was active online, she recommended that aspiring authors read debut novels to study up on what’s selling. I did that for several months straight, and one of the books I read was Joshua Palmatier’s The Skewed Throne. It was pretty intense stuff.

Since then he’s released a new series under the name Benjamin Tate, and since I will probably be adopting a pen name for my post-Twenty Palaces writing, I asked if he wouldn’t mind talking about it a bit. Here he is:

***~~~***

First, thanks, Harry, for having me guest blog today. I hope your readers enjoy!

One of the most common questions I get as soon as I introduce myself at signings or on panels at conventions is, “Why are you published under two names?” If you weren’t aware, I have a split personality. My “Throne of Amenkor” series and most of my short stories are published under my real name, Joshua Palmatier. I also edit anthologies under that name. My newest series (check out LEAVES OF FLAME, just released) is published under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate.

The short answer to that question is easy: marketing. All of the more detailed reasons I’ll get to shortly boil down to that: marketing. The publisher is attempting to make as much money off of the books produced by the author as possible. Marketing is what drives the publishing machine, and most decisions—from the cover art, cover copy, even what appears inside the book—comes down to what the publisher thinks will sell the most copies.

Let’s talk about some of the marketing reasons that a pseudonym might seem like a good idea. I’ll only hit a few, some of the more obvious ones, because I don’t think you want the entire novel. And the reasons are numerous enough that you could probably get a book out of this. Let’s stick to two:

First, SALES: I’d hazard that this is the most common reason a pseudonym is used. Basically, the number of copies ordered by the bookstores like Barnes & Noble depends on the number of copies of previous books sold by that author. If the author is new, B&N has no previous numbers to base their ordered on, so it comes down to how well the publisher can excite them about the book. But once the author has a second or third book on the shelf, the publisher can talk all they want, but B&N is going to look up the previous sales before they order the new book. And in general, if the previous book sold, say 20 copies in one store, they will order FEWER copies of the new book. I see you shaking your head; I shake my head as well. I don’t understand it, but that’s how it happens. Sometimes the publisher can convince the bookstore to order more, if the title has some particular buzz or other selling point, but most of the time not. What happens is what writers and publisher refer to as the “death spiral.” Book 1 sells 20 copies in a particular store; the store orders in 15 copies of book 2 (and typically won’t reorder if these sell out); the store looks at the 12 copies of book 2 sold when book 3 comes out and orders 10 copies for the store; etc, etc, etc. You can see where this is heading.

So, if a particular series from an author is caught in the death spiral, when that author introduces a NEW series, the publisher can risk the bookstore looking back at the old sales and saying it didn’t sell well, we aren’t going to order much of this new series, even though its new . . . OR the publisher can introduce the new series under a pseudonym. The bookstore has no previous sales records to look at, so they order 20 copies, as if it were a debut author. And then the publisher and author hope that the book and pseudonym takes off and avoids the death spiral.

A second reason for using a pseudonym is GENRE. Often an author is interested in writing in more than one genre of fiction, say fantasy and mystery, or science fiction and romance. In this case, the author may want to keep the marketing of the two genres separate. You don’t want the exuberant fan of your cozy mystery novels seeing your name on the cover of a new book, pick it up expecting a cozy mystery, and then discovering that the new book is erotica. That could alienate your fan. (Or it could make them an even bigger fan, who knows? It’s a risk.) To avoid this possibility, you write one genre under one name, and the other under a different name, thus keeping the two genres separate. No one accidentally picks up your western novel when they’re a fan of your science fiction. This can also be done for subgenres as well—say using one name for your historical romances and a second for your paranormal romances, just to keep them separate.

As I said, there are other reasons for using pseudonyms, but I think those are the two main reasons. Both of them come down to marketing in the end—whether it’s marketing a new name to escape the sales records, or marketing a new name for a particular genre. Which reason was it for me? I have to admit it was the death spiral. While the sales of my “Throne of Amenkor” series weren’t horrible (they were modest), my publisher felt that I might be able to expand my audience by using what’s called an “open” pseudonym—basically a pseudonym whose real identity wasn’t kept secret after the release of the new book. It was hoped that the “Joshua Palmatier” fans would learn that I was now writing under the “Benjamin Tate” name and buy the new books, while I’d pick up new readers for the “Ben Tate” books by catching people browsing the shelves and running across this debut author.

Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy—The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne—under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series—Well of Sorrows and the just released Leaves of Flame—by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies Close Encounters of the Urban Kind (edited by Jennifer Brozek), Beauty Has Her Way (Jennifer Brozek), and River (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and the upcoming The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). Find out more about both names at www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).

***~~~***

Just to throw my own two cents in, when I first started coming online in the middle 90′s, I discovered that some editors hated pen names and actually refused to honor them in their magazines. Apparently, writers used to use them to hide the shameful truth about their second, science fictional careers and this editor (who is dead now and shall remain nameless) just assumed that anyone using a pen name was being insulting. Oh, genre, you’re so wacky.

Hey, check out the cover to “Tate’s” new book:

Leaves of Flame.

It looks fantastic.

23 Jan 2012, 9:30am
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Writing for someone specific

In the comments on my LiveJournal mirror of yesterday’s post (spam made me turn comments off here, but you can always comment on LJ/Dreamwidth/Twitter), I mentioned that: “I write with one or two actual readers in mind (as well as myself).”

CE Murphy, who blurbed Game of Cages and has a number of terrific urban fantasy series of her own, wrote a post about it. I mean, yes, I *clearly* hope lots and lots and lots of other people are going to enjoy what I’m writing. But like many of us, I write the stories I want to read*.

To clarify, so do I. I wrote Twenty Palaces because I wanted to see a number of different things in urban fantasy (a non-expert protagonist, like Murphy talks about in her post, is one). I wrote A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark because I couldn’t find an urban fantasy with a protagonist over sixty years old.

And so on. But I also try to imagine 1-3 specific people who will be reading the book, and I try to make it something they would like. I never identify those readers, either privately or publicly. What would be the point, since they are often people I barely know? Still, it helps me focus on the book and broaden its appeal.

Additional note: Over the weekend, I posted about The Wooden Man charity auction at Pat Rothfuss’s Worldbuilder charity auction, but I know there are a lot of folks who miss weekend posts. Learn how you can win your own ghost knife! Details in the blog post.

22 Jan 2012, 12:25pm
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Trying to write betterish

Nick Mamatas has some thoughts on bad writing advice that pros give to aspiring writers and I’m pretty much in agreement with everything he says[1]. I was thinking of posting a few additions to the list, until I realized that would be too much like teaching, which isn’t what this blog is about[2].

Instead I want to talk about my own learning process in a very brief way.

Pre-Internet, I was one of those people who subscribed to Writers Digest, took writing classes, and belonged to a writing group. I bought and read how-to books, the whole deal. When I got online, I found a whole slew of professional, published writers. Did it matter that I hadn’t heard of most of them before? Not to me![3]

But when I asked them how to be a good writer, their answers were frustratingly vague. Paraphrased, they came to “Don’t be dull.”

That was not what I wanted to hear. At all. I wanted technique. I wanted rules and tools. “Luckily,” I knew a bunch of actors at the time, and they convinced me to try scriptwriting[4].

When I went online to find scriptwriting advice, I was overjoyed. HERE was the concrete advice I was looking for: Acts end on pages X and Y. Dialog should be no longer than 3 lines. No flashbacks!

It quickly became clear that these rules were there only because so many people were Doing It Wrong. Flashbacks weren’t bad, necessarily, but so many people wrote them poorly that noobs weren’t to be trusted with them.

I spent years in online forums arguing over these techniques, and some of the people I met there remain friends to this day (and some of them still make me shudder when I think of them).

What’s more, some of this advice helped me. Like everyone, my writing and my storytelling[5] were broken in very specific ways. The advice that made me face what was wrong did me a world of good. The other advice was a waste of my time.

At this point, I’m still working damn hard to improve, but I never give any thought to these rules. I show or tell depending on what seems right, and I use flashbacks when flashbacks are called for. I also try to average 1K words a day (not necessarily finished words, either) but not when the book is stuck. In fact, my WIP is stuck right now and I’ve put new word counts aside until I get some character stuff worked out.

So what happened was that I took in all these rules–good, bad, and indifferent–thought about them, wrestled with them, blah blah blah, and eventually, after years of practice, returned to that same place those professional writers I’d never heard of tried to bring me to so many years before:

“Be interesting.”

In other news, that omnibus/ghost knife auction for Pat Rothfuss’s Worldbuilders fundraiser is already up to $260. Thank you so much to everyone who has bid so far.

Finally, I’m composing this post on my wife’s iPad, which has a deeply annoying interface. I’m not all that fond of autocorrect, either; it’s already turned “thought” into “trout” in the paragraphs above. Any goofy text up there? Because this is one musician ready to blame his instrument.

[1] I think there’s some value in turning the writing/submission process into a game, if that helps you produce good work. The important thing to remember is that the win condition is “produce good work” not “submit X stories a month” or “write X words per day”. The game has to stop when playing it becomes actively harmful (just like Angry Birds).

[2] If anyone has an idea what this blog is about, let me know, because I have no damn clue.

[3] And it still doesn’t. I hadn’t heard of them because I was ignorant, not because they weren’t good.

[4] In my life, I’ve done two things before they became The Thing Everyone Else Is Doing. One was move to Seattle. The other was waste my time writing spec scripts.

[5] These are two very different things on one level and identical to each other on another.

Get your own ghost knife. Seriously.

I wish I didn’t have to drop this note on the weekend, but the email came yesterday. I’ll be posting about this again next week when more folks are actually looking at the web.

News: Pat Rothfuss’s Worldbuilder fundraiser has two copies of my SFBC omnibus edition of The Wooden Man–as I mentioned on Twitter, these are the only two copies I’m planning to sign. One is in the general lottery: you donate ten bucks, you have a chance to win one of the items being offered at random. The other is up for auction. I guess several readers sent notes to him asking for a more direct chance to buy it, so thank you!

But once I saw my book was in the auction, I wanted to sweeten the deal. I took the ghost knife prop for the book trailer–the only one I kept–and popped it in an envelope.

So! If you’re the winning bid on this auction, not only will you get a rare signed 20P omnibus, you’ll also get your own ghost knife to use as a bookmark. Best of all, it’s for a really good cause. Here’s a direct link to the auction.

Pat’s a good guy for running this, so I hope we can help bring in a few extra bucks for his favorite cause. The auction ends on the 29th, so don’t wait to make your bid.

20 Jan 2012, 9:20am
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Starting my day two hours late

but that’s not a surprise, considering yesterday’s ice storm and the continuing threat of flooding, potential landslides, and power outages in my area. Still! I’m heading out to do today’s pages. I have a warm hat given to my by a Canadian friend and I have bread bags on my feet to keep my socks dry. Wish me luck.

19 Jan 2012, 12:58pm
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Video evidence that my wife is awesome

After warnings from the weather folk of snowfalls up to ten inches deep (which actually fell in surrounding areas), yesterday we received about three inches of snow.

I know, I know: Where you are, three inches of snow is called “Wednesday.” But here in Seattle we have lots of very steep hills and no infrastructure to deal with snowfalls. Last winter, we didn’t even get one sleddable accumulation (yes, that’s a word). So three inches here can be a big deal.

Did I mention steep hills? Because Seattle folk don’t run off to the park to do their sledding, not when so many of our streets are near 18% grade. Instead we head out to blocked-off streets. And yesterday, I gave my wife our little point and click digital camera and asked her to video herself tobogganing down the street.

A toboggan ride, 1/18/12 from Harry Connolly on Vimeo.

At the end of the video, she says “two blocks,” but it was actually three. She claims the last wasn’t steep enough to count. Also, this is the sort of thing I Can Not Watch. I imagine too many awful things, so I hide indoors while they have this sort of fun.

Edited because I forgot to mention: It started snowing yesterday before dawn. It started snowing again this morning. You might think that the most Seattle thing I saw on my walk would be stranded cars or traffic accidents, but no. The most Seattle thing was that no one, at all, had made even a token effort to shovel their walk. Including me.

17 Jan 2012, 7:32am
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Workspace screencap

John Scalzi recently said (too lazy to link) that he likes composing his novels in WordPress because he can set the writing space to “full screen” so nothing shows but the edge of the browser. I’m trying that feature right now for the first time and I feel a little self-conscious about it. What if someone walks by my library table right now? Their gaze will have only one thing to fall on, and that would be this text.

Okay, turning things back to normal now.

Anyway, like a lot of writers, I’ve switched to Scrivener as my writing software, but I sorta don’t like it. Sure, it has (too) many features and a long list of ways to tweak the screen, but to me it’s too fussy.

I don’t like the way it handles searches. I don’t like the prominence of the fake index card/synopsis stuff. I have no use for their character/setting sketch templates. There are so many menu items and checkboxes that it can take forever for me to find something simple, like the title of the story which gets auto-inserted into the file in certain places. And it’s a resource hog.

The search thing is a big deal.

It does have useful features: The session wordcount has been incredibly useful for my productivity. The ease with which I can keep two files open at once has saved me a lot of time as I keep track of names and places. And there’s the compile.

The reason I decided to drop the money on Scrivener, finally, was because of the ease with which it creates ebooks out of its text files. They’re solid files, too, without errors, and once I got past the learning curve they turned out to be relatively easy to handle. Their website has a video tutorial (complete with the obligatory English-accented narrator) who makes it look a little easier than it is, but if I figured it out, most anyone can.

But that learning curve was a pain in the ass.

Here’s what it looks like:

Scrivener Screencap

In the upper left, the chapters are color-coded by POV characters. The files in the folder “Goof” are all the crap I need to keep track of when I write the book. It’s a great relief to dispense with the notepad of handwritten names I used to carry with me.

Covering those files is the word count, which is a floating window. It might seem smarter to move that to the lower right, but I’m going to be putting important plotting info into those document notes (or Custom Meta-Data, whichever seems best) Real Soon Now. I’ve been putting off doing a timeline, which isn’t smart but what the hell. It’s boring.

In the upper right you can see the synopsis. I pretty much do these chapter by chapter, writing down what should happen next, then going through the bullet points (even though I uses dashes instead of bullets). Annoying thing: There’s a character limit in the synopsis window so the synopsis also has to go into the body of the text.

Finally, down the center, are the two open files. The top one is the chapter I’m working on (which is a first draft, people so be gentle). The bottom is the file in the goof that I expect to reference.

Anyway, I do sorta like that each chapter is its own file, and that I can open the whole manuscript at once by clicking the folder containing the manuscripts. The nice thing about Scrivener is that the folders are text documents, too.

So, Scrivener… not perfect, but useful. And I spent money on it so I’m not going to switch. (Plus the ebooks thing, seriously.)

14 Jan 2012, 3:33pm
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The prize for the World Fantasy Award apparently includes freedom

I went to see Nancy Pearl interview Jo Walton at the UW Bookstore last night. It was an opportunity to chat briefly with some local folks I only know from online (which was a nice surprise; usually I slip in and out of these things without talking to anyone) and of course Jo Walton is a very smart person.

One thing she said that stuck with me (the whole session will air on the Seattle Channel in the near future, so you can probably hear everything she said when (if) it goes online) was that she can’t have the usual fantasy writer’s career–defined as working on a long-running series or two within a particular subgenre, and she didn’t say it in a pejorative way–because she’s too easily bored. When she was supposed to be writing the fourth book in the King’s Peace series, she couldn’t force herself to do it, and she wrote Tooth and Claw instead.

Luckily, it was accepted by her publisher. Then she added that, when she won the World Fantasy Award with it, it gave her the freedom to write what she wanted. She went from Victorian dragons to alt-historical parody mysteries, and has now released Among Others, which I haven’t read but seems to be a semi-autobiographical coming of age story with magic and a gigantic reading list.

In other words, she’s writing whatever she wants.

Unsaid (by her) is that she’s a smart and skillful writer which, you know, helps. But I hadn’t expected her to attribute so much to an award.

Maybe that’s my prejudice, since I’m not all that interested in them (don’t expect to see me post a list of my award-eligible works any time soon) and it’s possible that she’s placing too much weight on it.

Still, it’s thought-provoking. There’s an awful lot about the publishing/genre ecosystem that I don’t understand.

14 Jan 2012, 11:03am
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How DARE you write such a negative review!!!

This review is too mean!! Obviously this is all just envy! This review is less professional than the book! Grammar doesn’t matter if the book is entertaining! You mean women should deal with your mental health issues! This review is a personal attack on the author!

(I’d suspect linkbait if there were ads on that page)

13 Jan 2012, 7:53am
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Writing and productivity

Holy crap, you guys. Yesterday I wrote over 3500 words yesterday. I am never that productive. Never.

Long time readers know I’ve been working on my productivity for years. I used to write two pages a day and crap out. I thought I could never do more.

Well, blah blah blah, I’ve been trying to do better, and it’s working out. I’m not writing faster because I’m writing sloppier; it’s because I’m changing the way I work so I can focus more.

You know what else helped? This:

Guest Post: How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day.

I’m not doing exactly what this author is doing: I don’t write out the upcoming plot points on a legal pad, I type them into the end the actual file and delete them as I go through. I also don’t have a spreadsheet, mainly because: spreadsheet. However, I am finding that, the more quickly I work, the happier I am with the sentences I put down. There are fewer word echoes, at least.

Anyway, I’m off to do today’s pages and if history is any judge, today is going to be incredibly difficult.

  • 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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