Randomness for 4/30

We’re game-heavy this time. Must be some sort of sign.

1) This sort of thing makes me miss gaming.

2) Father takes crazier, funnier pictures of his kids than I ever could of mine.

3) A water slide so dangerous it was shut down immediately.

4) Should I check email? A flowchart.

5) How to escape from zip tie “handcuffs”.

6) A fantastic D&D blog. I’ve added this one to my reading list. I especially liked “Items of Moderate Interest in the Ogre-King’s Hoard.”

7) What’s it going to take for the Don’t Read This Book anthology (which I am in) to turn a profit? A little publishing transparency from Fred Hicks.

28 Apr 2012, 11:25am
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Stupid shoes, pain, and stalling out (a weight loss post)

Like a lot of overweight people, I wear running shoes. (Cut for triggery weight discussion) more »

26 Apr 2012, 10:49pm
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Trying to fix the store

The tech support guy who has been who has been helping me tells me that my online store should be fixed. For the past few weeks, the store has processed payments but the response from PayPal that says “This person has paid. Let them download the story.” has not been getting through. That should be fixed now.

Is there anyone out there who would mind buying a story to make sure it works? “Lord of Reavers” is an original novelette for only a buck, and it’s never been published anywhere but online.

Okay! Not working at all, still. Thanks for trying, folks.

For the time being, when someone buys a story from the store, I’ll be emailing the file as soon as I can. Sorry for the problems.

25 Apr 2012, 8:35am
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Don’t Read This Book

So! You can now pre-order the anthology Don’t Read This Book in softcover. If you do, you’ll get the electronic version immediately. As in, right now.

If all you want to buy is the ebook, you’ll have to wait for the release date. (Thems the rules, apparently.)

Find out more.

For those who haven’t been following along, the stories take place in the setting of the rpg Don’t Rest Your Head, about ordinary people who find themselves trapped in a world of literal nightmares, and risk losing their lives if they fall asleep.

It’s edited by Chuck Wendig, and here’s a list of contributors:

Stephen Blackmoore
Harry Connolly
Rich Dansky
Matt Forbeck
Laura Anne Gilman
Will Hindmarch
Mur Lafferty
Robin D. Laws
Ryan Macklin
C. E. Murphy
Josh Roby
Greg Stolze
Monica Valentinelli

They were nice enough to place my story at the very end; I guess they liked it. Me, I’m just pleased to be included with all those terrific writers.

I’ve been meaning to write a full post about my short fiction: what I’ve done, what I’m selling and where it’s available. Putting that together has been on the list of super-important things for months.

Anyway. Check it out. It’s a terrific book.

25 Apr 2012, 7:50am
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Second temporary return of This Week’s Hypothetical!

A friend comes to you with a question. They know a science fiction/fantasy author who has just won a tidy sum in a lottery–enough that they can quit their day job and write full time in any place in the world. They won’t be rich, but they can be comfortable. However, this FOAF writer has no idea where they should settle; they turned to their friend for advice, and the friend is turning to you.

Now, because the writer is sorta paranoid about how dangerous a sudden influx of money can be, your friend has promised not to reveal anything personal about this author: Their age, ethnicity, political leanings, gender, nothing. They have a family. They speak English. They’re American. Also, they’re open to living anywhere, not just the U.S.A.

Knowing so little about the person, where do you think is the best place in the world for an sf/f writer to live (low-Earth orbit is too pricy, but little else would be)? What factors should they consider? Community? Research materials? Government benefits/no government benefits? Food and healthy lifestyles? Proximity to conventions/NYC? Or doesn’t it really matter?

What advice would you give?

(Quick note because I think I should: I’m not planning to move in the near future and if I were I wouldn’t gather information through a hypothetical post. This is really just a hypothetical.)

24 Apr 2012, 8:17pm
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Tor and Forge drop DRM

So, yeah, it’s a big deal. Tor/Forge aren’t the first publishers to sell their ebooks without DRM–Baen and Angry Robot have already been doing it for a while–but Tor/Forge is absolutely the biggest. Tor is part of Macmillan, one of the “Big Six” out of New York, and what’s more they’re privately-held. No shareholders to worry about.

If you’ve been reading Charlie Stross on the subject (and you should have been) you know that removing DRM is the best way to prevent online ebook sellers from establishing a stranglehold on the market. If readers can buy books from any store and read them on their preferred device, they will. What’s more, they won’t lose their entire libraries (or be forced to torrent them) once their personal devices become obsolete.

Anyway, Stross had an opportunity to write an essay to the CEO of Macmillan about the benefits of dropping DRM, and he’s posted it on his blog. I realize that there have been many voices within the Big Six publishers who have longed for an end to DRM, and there has been years of work moving the Overton Window on this subject.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if history remembered Stross as the decisive force for change, whatever he says in his post.

23 Apr 2012, 6:19pm
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Going offline

I’m going to turn my computer off for the rest of the evening. It’s World Book Night, supposedly, so no Twitter, Netflix, email, whatever. Just my family and their books.

See you on the far side.

23 Apr 2012, 10:08am
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Hey, Artists!

Want to be an artist for the next edition of D&D? Take their art test.

This would be an opportunity to show some diversity in their characters, if that’s your thing.

At first I was all “It’s Pixel-Stained Techno-Peasant Wretch Day again?”

Because I didn’t have free fiction set to give away. What can I say? My son’s “novel” isn’t finished yet and most of my short fiction is already for sale as ebooks, either on my online store (which is still not working ten days after I asked for help from Shopp tech support) or B&N/Amazon.

Then I realized I’m still giving away free chapter of my novels. Chapter one of Child of Fire is here.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t really count. Go easy on me here, I’m behind on my current book.

20 Apr 2012, 7:32am
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Blame yourself, shame yourself

Yesterday on Twitter I was talking about the importance of taking the blame for every failure and rejection. Today I feel like talking about the shame of revisiting work.

There’s not a lot to say, though. After I send something off, I hate to revisit it because I know I’ll see things I want to change. Not little tweaks, either, but places where I use a pronoun with an unclear (to me) antecedent, or text that seems too rushed, or a scene without enough description of the setting.

I just did it last night. Nothing big, you understand. Just a quick little nothing. But looking at it now just makes me feel sad and useless[1]. (Not that I have time to redo it.)

Which is the perfect way to start a writing day! Actually, yesterday was pretty good if a bit tough. Today will be even harder, but I’m hoping to surpass myself. I really really need to finish this book.

[1] Usually when I post something like this, I get people dropping me notes of encouragement or whatever. Thanks, but it’s not necessary.

Kickstarter follow ups

The Tales of the Emerald Serpent anthology is over and it’s fully funded:

(Let’s see if iframe will work in WordPress.)

Thanks to everyone who pledged. I know a lot of readers were unhappy that the benefit level for a physical book was so spendy, but when the book itself comes out I’m sure you can pick up a copy at regular book price.

The Dinopacalypse Kickstarter is nearly over…

and is running out of stretch goals. The benefit levels are pretty reasonable, too. At this point you can get ebooks of several of those novels for a paltry pledge. Take a look.

Finally, here’s a project I’m not involved in at all, except as a backer:

Sentinels of the Multiverse is my new favorite game to play with my son, and they made their goal for the new expansion set AND the second edition of the basic game in one day. That’s how popular this game is becoming. Personally, I’m hoping that they make their stretch goals so we can get the “promo cards” that let us change the way games are played.

Anyway, I’ve been recommending this game (as often as I do such things) but at this point I think it would be best to pick up the second edition. It will have better game balance for the villains and will make record-keeping less of a chore. And the Rook City expansion means tougher fights.

Added later: iframe doesn’t work in the cross-poster, so I’ve added links in the text.

18 Apr 2012, 8:28am
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The temporary return of “This Week’s Hypothetical!”

You are in the kitchen cutting some lunch meat for a sandwich[1] and you give yourself a serious cut on your thumb. You get blood on the cold cuts and on the bread, too. After cleaning and bandaging your injury, you return to the kitchen. There are blood spots on the meat and your bread is red and wet in one corner. Worse, you have no more fixings in the house to make another sandwich.

Do you throw it all out and make something else, or eat it anyway? Heck, you put your thumb into your mouth after you cut it just out of habit, but that bread looks like something from WARHOL’S DRACULA. Would you try to trim it somehow?

Eat the sandwich or not?

[1] If you don’t eat meat, pretend it’s some other ingredient. If you can’t eat gluten, pretend it’s GF bread. If you never eat sandwiches or cut your food or whatever, please don’t jump in to say why the hypothetical simply can’t apply to you, because that’s tedious.

17 Apr 2012, 3:32pm
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For this one, you should read the comments

NPR does a story about the “formula” for bestsellers (pfft! Don’t even), and the comment section turns out the wackiness.

I’m writing an international suspense novel about a vampire wizard from India who is a descendant of both Jesus and Mohammed, and who leads a secret elite team of spies fighting the worldwide crime syndicate. This individual can have out-of-body experiences, visit heaven, or change sexes at will, has a cool costume, and can fly.

17 Apr 2012, 8:28am
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My son’s next homeschool project

I asked him to read this blog post by Mur Lafferty, then I pointed out the quote at the top, which comes from the opening to every episode of BURN NOTICE. We’ve been watching season one of BN, and that quote had gotten by me without notice every time. It was an opportunity to talk to my son about something I try to point out often–the way women and girls are treated in this society.

But there it had been on my TV set and I hadn’t even noticed. I hate that.

Anyway, he read the letter above, and I told him his homework for this week would be to look around him for more examples of this sort of thing: bad-mouthing the female, using women or girls as an example of something shameful.

We’ll see how long it takes him to find them.

13 Apr 2012, 5:27pm
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Surrey, B.C…. It’s like another country!

Have been in Surrey, B.C. for 97 minutes. Still have not tasted poutine. Am too self-conscious to ask the front desk staff about it. Drove to mall where Pokemon tournament will take place tomorrow to make sure we could find it. Discovered they have enough seating for a Neil Gaiman reading, which should be more than enough. Have already scouted outlets for tomorrow’s long event.

Realized I packed my laptop but not my powercord, leaving me with nothing but the charge on a four and a half year old laptop battery. Bought replacement powercord at Mall. Wept tears of blood over price tag. Consoled myself that I completely funded an injured child’s MRI, probably.

Ate at food court at insistence of boy. Not only was food terrible, there wasn’t enough of it. Returned to hotel room to discover this is the only Best Western on the continent to not have a list of local pizza places that deliver in the room.

Boy has declared Surrey much more “futuristic” than Seattle based on an elevated train and hi-rise apartment buildings. How did a kid born in 2001 come to embrace the futurism of the 1930′s? Have tried to convince him that a “mooney” is a coin worth a million dollars, but he is not convinced.

Now he wants to see the hotel pool. May be getting wet soon, but in metric units of water.

Rental car acquired

In a few hours my son and I will be taking off for Surrey and the Pokemon Regionals there. I won’t be dropping by bookstores or meeting folks: this trip is about my son and his fun. I do plan to work on my book while my son plays.

Anyway, progress on A BLESSING OF MONSTERS has been tough lately… right up until yesterday, when I had a great day. Protip: It’s hard to be motivated to write when you know every word is just going to be cut in the second draft. Yesterday I reached a part I knew I would keep, and things magically became easier.

With luck I’ll have time to write a bit later so I won’t lose the whole day. But tomorrow should be better.

13 Apr 2012, 6:05am
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Follow up to Wednesday’s post about Agency pricing and the online store

First the store: It’s not working and I don’t know why it’s not working. Shopp’s help system isn’t very helpful but I plan to create a help ticket (or whatever they call it) sometime tomorrow morning.

Until this gets fixed, everyone who buys a story directly from me will have to wait for me to email the file to them. I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t see another way to handle this for right now. To complicate things, I’m going away this weekend and don’t know how much internet access I’ll have. No matter what, I hope to get some Starbucks time to check emails and so forth.

Anyway, yeah I suck. No big.

About the agency pricing thing: John Scalzi already wrote some sensible advice for people who root for one side or the other in the ebook price battles. But one thing I want to point out (and I’ve talked about this before, bear with me) is that these changes are not the result of some inexorable process.

For too many people, the changes we see around us are treated as though they’re the result of “natural” progressions. They think that New York City has a bunch of highways cutting through it because people like cars, and that’s also Los Angeles dumped the trolley system in favor of all those freeways. But that’s bullshit; people made those decisions, and they didn’t make them because Americans were clamoring for it. They had the power to do what they thought was best and highways were it.

You can argue whether it was a good choice or not (I think not) but despite the fact that people love cars and were buying cars as fast as we could make them, other choices could have been made, other directions taken.

The same is true for ebooks. E-readers and ebooks are beloved by some people, and they want more and more of them. I don’t find ebooks very convenient but I’m not against them–the first half of this post was all about the difficulties I’ve had selling them.

Still talking about “publishers fighting to protect their old business model” or “Time to get ready for this new economy” is childish crap. It’s Naivete dressed up in Cynicism’s old clothes. There is no unavoidable future here, there are only choices. Either we make the choices, or people with money and power will make them for us.

Personally, I’d like to see us work on a system that fosters competitiveness and openness, and you don’t get that with either collusion or monopolies.

11 Apr 2012, 10:42am
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Amazon, Macmillan and my online store

While it may seem as though I repaired my online store today because of turmoil in the online bookselling world (for the click-phobic, that’s a WSJ report that the Dept. of Justice is filing a lawsuit against Apple and five of the so-called Big Six publishers because of agency pricing), that’s just a coincidence. For one thing, Random House came to agency pricing later than the others, so the accusation of collusion doesn’t work. For another, it’s not like I’m selling a ton of books at the moment anyway.

No, the truth is that Shopp 1.2 wasn’t working. Now that they’ve released Shopp 1.2.1, I’m hopeful that it will. If you’re interested in picking up a copy of some of my short fiction or the Twenty Palaces prequel, please do. Just be aware, initial first buyers, that you will be my guinea pigs; I haven’t confirmed that the store works yet. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to pull it offline again.

As for the collusion charges, I’m doubtful about them. I can understand why Amazon wants them to be sustained; their business model relied on taking losses to drive competitors out of the market. Amazon would like to be in the place that Wal-Mart is: they want to be the only retailer connecting large groups of consumers and the people who create products they want to consume.

Of course that won’t happen, and I know it. Didn’t I just put up my own online store again, where I sell electronic versions of my fiction directly to you?

But the portion of the market that Amazon already controls is alarming, and I say that as a person who makes the bulk of his self-publishing money through them. Over Christmas, I earned ten times as much money through Amazon as I did through my own site, and that takes into account the higher royalties I get through Shopp/PayPal.

So I’m not anti-Amazon by any means. I’m also not against the large New York publishers, several of which are already settling the case, according the early news reports. For me, as a writer, I want both to be healthy and vibrant ongoing concerns.

But I also want there to be smaller publishers and smaller booksellers, too, and independent brick and mortar shops where I can browse the shelves, plus online sellers like Indiebound, B&N, all of them. The real threat to this strong market isn’t from the traditional publishers, it’s coming from Amazon and their increasingly draconian contract demands.

A world where Amazon has cornered the market in books and ebooks would be harmful to me, personally. I want them to be out there in the mix, connecting readers to books, but I do NOT want them to strangle everyone else until they dominate the market.

So I’m pleased to see that John Sargent at Macmillan is planning to fight the case. Go, him. And I hope the DOJ moves beyond the accusations of collusion and start looking at the market share that Amazon currently holds, and their own vertical integration issues with the launch of their own publishing arm.

It’s not about being pro-Apple/anti-Apple, or being pro-Amazon/anti-Amazon. It’s not about “liking” NY publishers or an online store. I’m not pro or con any of those things, and I certainly don’t “like” one massive corporation over another. Anyone who says they do is a bit of a fool.

But I do want a healthy market, and I’m not sure the Department of Justice is acting in the best interest of that market.

9 Apr 2012, 8:05am
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John Carter of China

So, Forbes is reporting that JOHN CARTER has earned back its budget overseas, partly by topping the box office for two weeks in a row in China.

Of course, there’s still the marketing budget, but never mind about that. DVD preorders are strong and I like to imagine that quality will out.

But this does give me an excuse to revisit the film, just a little, in a way I couldn’t before.

After seeing it a few times, I think I might have worked out one of the reasons people didn’t go for it in large numbers. The ending. [Spoilers, obvs] In most movies, the big fight scene/marriage would be the end of the film. It feels like an ending.

Then you cut to Dejah waking alone in bed, and Carter walking around the tower deciding to throw away his amulet (wouldn’t it have been nice to take Dejah to Jasoom at some point to see the sailing ships, assuming she could survive in Earth’s gravity?).

Then he’s back on Earth, and we return to the journal and ERB, and…

Okay, here’s where I make a confession: One of the tropes I completely fucking hate to see in a book or movie is “Death will reunite you with the ones you love the most.” I seriously hate it, because to me it seems to be objectively pro-suicide.

There was a novel–I thought it was written by Dan Simmons but a scan of his bibliography doesn’t show anything familiar–that ended that way. His family died at the start, he traveled around like Kwai Chang Caine until he finally jumps off a bridge and is reunited with his loved ones. God, how I hated that ending! I hated it so much that I felt queasy at the finale of GLADIATOR.

But the ending of JOHN CARTER is pretty similar: the protagonist happily walks into his own tomb and shuts the door, then lies back with the lilies around him. He smiles speaks the words that take him out of the this world and into the one he calls home.

And as much as I love this ending, I think it’s the reason people were soft on the movie. Lawrence Block tells the story of a time he sat on a plane while the man beside him watched the movie BURGLAR, which is based on one of Block’s novels. As he tells it, the man was engaged throughout, laughing often. When the film ended, Block asked him: “What did you think of the movie?”

The reply: “It was okay.”

Block believes it was because the ending was soft. The guy enjoyed the whole thing, but it didn’t have a strong ending so his last experience of it was a let down. And what about the people who see JOHN CARTER, expecting a typical action movie denouement? So many folks complained about the nested flashbacks (always with the tone of “Some other people might find this troubling, but not me) that I think the real source of the objection is that ending, where things feel like they’ve been wrapped up, but there’s a whole frame scene story that everyone’s forgotten about.

Did I mention that I love the way it ends? I love fantasy novels and movies. I love adventure stories. And the end of the movie seems so like the way I enter into a fictional world that it felt like falling into a story all over again. Very powerful. Yeah, the movie is flawed, but for me that ending was quite strong.

And now I’ll stop writing about this movie for a while.

  • 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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