You might know them, but they don’t know you.

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So, apparently Anne Wheaton started to receive harassment because she offered cash support to Feminist Frequency, and once the inevitable creepy tweets started, she decided to donate extra for every jerk she had to mute.

Then, inevitably:

Apparently, this ridiculous threat is a copypasta meme, and that supposedly means that it’s not supposed to be taken seriously. Wheaton was supposed to recognize it, then dismiss it as a non-issue.

But really, even if she’d recognized it (I’d never heard of it before), why should she write it off? It’s coming from a (now-suspended) user account that she knows nothing about. Why’s the burden on her to make assumptions about strangers?

Yeah, a big part of the answer to that last question is “Sexism,” but other more knowledgeable people can address that better than I can. I’d rather talk about illusory internet friendships.

I’ve seen people on social media shit-mouth writers, artists, and actors as though they were old college pals who talked trash all the time. I’ve seen fans of a TV show criticize the creators in the most outrageous ways. And I’ve seen authors and other non-celebrities asking people not to glom onto them in public spaces.

Yes, the anonymity of the internet contributes to these problems, but too often I’ve seen people insisting they were not trolling, not trying to be awful. They’re just being friendly with someone they know, and were treating the person the way they treat their friends: with good-natured ribbing and straight talk. Sometimes the harassers act like casual acquaintances; not friends, but people who know you and feel they have the social capital to set you straight.

And that’s the problem: because they have someone in their social media, they think they have them in their social circle.

The thing is, it’s only friendly trash-talk if the recipient thinks it is. And while the trash-talker might have donated to cover a vet bill, or have closely followed months of complaints about a contractor, or a child’s learning disability, or a new job, the recipient might not know that person at all.

Now, to be clear, it’s unlikely that Wheaton’s harasser was simply misguided, treating her like a pal. It seems pretty obvious that he’s a straight up shit eater. The people I’m talking about are the hangers-on, who slide into her mentions telling her how she’s supposed to feel about a threat against her life. I’m also talking about the times John Scalzi has posted pictures out his hotel room windows while on book tours, then had to ask people not to track him down and stalk him in the lobby. I’m talking about the people who drove Damon Lindelof off Twitter because they didn’t like the last episode of LOST; in fact, if Lindelof’s harassers had faced, in real life, the sort of contempt they showed, over something as minor as their shoes or their haircut, they’d have been griping about it to their friends for a week. But they felt perfectly comfortable lashing out at him over a project he spent years of his life creating, which they got to watch for free.

This isn’t to say that people should never try to interact with others online–or that they should be obsequious about it–just that it’s important to understand that it’s the recipient who decides how “jokes” and criticisms will be interpreted.

Actually, that’s a useful writing tip in general, but never mind.

Randomness for 4/23

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1) The day Hank Aaron’s bodyguard didn’t shoot.

2) Onlookers mistake fallen construction crane at Dallas Museum of Art as an art installation.

3) Yelp reviews of new-born babies.

4) A person is creating 3d printing templates for every creature in the Monster Manual.

5) The simple brilliance of David Aja. This dude is half of the reason that the Hawkeye comic has been so amazing. I really love the design sense that artists bring to comics now. They’re so much more interesting than they used to be.

6) Why don’t our brains explode when we see movie cuts? (What a sensible way to phrase that question.)

7) Pictures of food that very little kids “can’t eat” and why.

Randomness for 4/9

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1) A map of all the places mentioned in Tom Waits songs.

2) An autobiographical webcomic imagining Conan the Barbarian as a spirit guide.

3) Reader, I LOL-ed. Reaction Table: High Level Cleric of Law Asked to Raise Dead Associate(s).

4) Every Frame a Painting on film editing, video essays, and creating narrative. Video.

5) When Nerf Modding goes too far.

6) Understanding Art: The Death of Socrates. Video. Interesting to see a tool as simple as masking in Photoshop used to such good effect.

7) Risky Date: a lesson in a webcomic.

This is the way football ends

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It’s been a few weeks since this news report came out, and I’ve been wanting to comment on it, but life keeps getting in the way. But here it is: NFL player’s retirement at 24 prompts new debate about football concussions.

Borland was the fourth NFL player age 30 or younger to retire in a week… the article states, and while age 30 is pretty old for a game where players have careers that average 3.2 years (although the NFL disputes that number) that’s a lot of people dropping out in a short time.

And this is the way that football could actually fade away: not by legislative ban, and not by organized activism. It’s by young men who decide that the damage is serious and can’t be ignored, viewers who change the channel, and parents who refuse to let their kids play.

Randomness for 3/31

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1) Man trolls bookstore w/ fake self-help book covers.

2) A super-tall webcomic about unhappy stories.

3) Double space after a period? Single space? A history.

4) Arnold Schwarzenegger went to reddit to encourage a guy who had a rough day at the gym.

5) Joy Division + Teletubbies = This video

6) A businessman’s affair with his secretary, meticulously documented.

7) Thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon eye remedy proves effective against MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria.

Randomness for 3/15

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1) Movie posters redesigned using only circles.

2) Completely amazing: All the silences in an episode of Dr. Phil. Video.

3) An analysis of one of The Dark Knight’s action sequences, to examine why so many people found it incoherent. Video.

4) Concepts With Which Boys at Parties Have Asked Me if I’m Familiar: a Spreadsheet

5) Best OKCupid profile ever.

6) A brand new thirteen-story apartment building in Shanghai tipped over. Only one death, because the building was so new it was unoccupied.

7) Ten “Things You Didn’t Know” about Led Zeppelin IV.

Brandon Sanderson Thinks You Shouldn’t Give Up On Writing

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On this page for NaNoWriMo pep talks, Brandon Sanderson wants you to know that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams of being a writer because you never know if the book you just finished, or submitted, or self-published, might be the one to break out. Maybe it’ll get you that publishing deal or climb that bestseller list. You never know!

I agree with him up to a point. You shouldn’t give up on writing, unless you have something better to do. Perseverance is a fine quality until it isn’t, and it’s hard to know where to divide the line.

Because I was in a similar place once. I had a day job I hated, answering phones for a doctor’s office, and we were so understaffed that calls were 20-30 deep all the time, and people who have waited on hold are rarely polite when they finally get someone. I spoke to addicts who’d been denied a refill of their narcotics. I spoke to people in terrible pain who were denied relief because of the fear of addiction. I spoke to a man whose wife was vomiting feces. I spoke to women who had just had miscarriages. I spoke to the parent of a chronically ill teenager who had run away with her boyfriend and left all her medications behind.

It was an endless succession of other people’s pain.

I was sick of working a job I hated, of not having any money, of not having time with my family, and with the constant failure and rejection from the writing end of things.

And I was ashamed. I’d pursued the writing dream for a long time, and had nothing to show for it but a family I could barely support.

So I decided I was going to quit writing, go back to school, and get a new career. I took GRE study guides out of the library and said things like “There’s got to be a better life!” to my co-workers.

However, I’d already written CHILD OF FIRE, then called HARVEST OF FIRE, and I’d spent part of the summer on the query letter. We didn’t have much money, but I could afford postage. The weekend before Labor Day, I started sending out queries. By February, I had an offer from Del Rey.

From there, my story and Sanderson’s… let’s just say they diverge. He went on to become a bestseller and I’m doing whatever the fuck I’m doing. Still, he has followup advice here about marketing yourself and quitting your day job, and I don’t want to disagree with him. I do want to point out that not every writer can follow his path (and they shouldn’t try).

But it’s interesting information.

Randomness for 1/10

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1) A random comic generator. NSFW.

2) Things said by and to a two-year-old, as graphic design posters.

3) Was 2014 the Year of the Video Essay? Who knew? How to make a great video essay: Video (naturally)

4) A long run down a concrete luge in New Zealand. Video.

5) Artist adds cute illustrations to photos on Instagram. So cool.

6) Google maps for fantasy spaces. Cute.

7) Questions posed to librarians before the internet.

Christmas Kindness

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I debated writing about this, but what the hell. Here goes.

We don’t have very much money. This isn’t a lament or an accusation, just a fact. My family lives without a lot of the things that other people have (car, home, cell phones, cable TV, etc) and that’s largely a conscious choice. We homeschool. We write and paint. We are at home a lot and together, eating meals at the table and spending time together, not eating in our car as we drive from one thing to another.

Still, even though these are the choices we’ve made, sometimes they’re still tough. Very tough. Case in point: grocery shopping. For the last six or seven years, we have pulled a child’s red wagon the eight blocks or so from our apartment to the supermarket, locked it to a bike rack, shopped, then put the bags in the wagon and pulled it home.

It’s not an activity that ever made me feel like an up-and-comer, let me tell you. Worse was when the cheap plastic tread on the wheels split and fell apart, leaving the wagon to rattle on its white “rims”.

So when my wife announced that she was going to take over the shopping, I was glad and embarrassed. If I were more successful, we’d have more fun money for a car or something.[1]

And I started to learn about the staff at the supermarket. I’m not really one for talking to strangers, but she’s an extrovert and will talk to just about anyone willing chat back. So I heard about the staff and what they’re doing, and I had a few conversations with them when I’d stop in for something quick. “Where’s your wife? Tell her this tell her that tell her I said hello.” She even told them about my new book, something I would have never done.

What I’m saying is, she’s the nicest person I’ve ever known, and she’s very comfortable connecting with people.

To get to the point of this story, when she was shopping on Christmas Eve, the supermarket staff were unusually attentive, checking in with her and asking if she was ready to check out. When she went to check out, she was doing her usual thing, facing the register and chatting while she sorted the food.

Then she realized the whole staff had gathered around, and they invited her to turn around, and she realized they had all chipped in and bought her a gift.

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And assembled it, too.

It really meant a lot to her, that gesture of kindness from people who had no reason to offer it except that it was Christmas and they wanted to make her happy. And they did.

It’s been a subdued holiday season with a few big distractions[2] but this was a moment that really made things special.

[1] Yeah, I know about Uber, Flexcar, and the rest. I’m not looking for advice on how we could spend our money better.

[2] Which means I have a new book out.

Looking at numbers, part 2

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Part 1 is here and it talks about the numbers without giving specifics, but this post will.

No, not sales numbers. Clicks. And not clicks for something I’m trying to sell. This is a situation where “click” = “something people already paid for.”

Obviously, I’m talking about Kickstarter backers getting copies of my new book, plus.

Some background:

Because I had to get ebooks to almost 1200 people, I couldn’t send a flood of emails, especially ones with attachments over 5 or 10MB. That would have gotten me blacklisted by a bunch of ISPs (don’t ask me how I know that).

So I set up a newsletter program that would automate the emails, spreading them out over many hours. I also uploaded the ebooks to a folder on my website so I could send download links instead of attachments.

Finally, I did my best to make things as simple as possible. The email subject line was “The Great Way ebooks are here!” to be totally unambiguous. The list of books included cover pics. The download links were alone in their own section with a single line of text for each of the links. This is what it looked like (behind the cut) for people who backed at $25 or above. Backers at $12 had two fewer covers. Continue reading