A Few Thoughts

A few thoughts knocking around inside my head:

* No matter how much being a full-time writer sometimes sucks, I really, really like that I don’t have to work retail right now unless I choose to. I do volunteer at a bookstore (Cover to Cover Books in beautiful Uptown Vancouver, come and see us!) but I don’t have to deal with the General Public every day. As someone who has worked a lot of retail, this pleases me a great deal. Which is why I find this so amusing. Anyone who works retail or food service need a huge sense of humor and more endurance than Job.

* There’s a special place in hell for those who steal books. That being said, the Tome Raider is a huge plot bunny. My steampunky forensic sorceress and her two sidekicks (one of them a Sherlock-Holmesian master of observation and deduction) could SO use this story.

* Some thoughts on the “democratization of slush” that digital and self-publishing is opening up.

You’ve either experienced slush or you haven’t, and the difference is not trivial. People who have never had the job of reading through the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts sent to anyone even remotely connected with publishing typically have no inkling of two awful facts: 1) just how much slush is out there, and 2) how really, really, really, really terrible the vast majority of it is. Civilians who kvetch about the bad writing of Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or any other hugely popular but critically disdained novelist can talk as much trash as they want about the supposedly low standards of traditional publishing. They haven’t seen the vast majority of what didn’t get published — and believe me, if you have, it’s enough to make your blood run cold, thinking about that stuff being introduced into the general population.

Everybody acknowledges that there have to be a few gems out in the slush pile — one manuscript in 10,000, say — buried under all the dreck. The problem lies in finding it. A diamond encased in a mountain of solid granite may be truly valuable, but at a certain point the cost of extracting it exceeds the value of the jewel. With slush, the cost is not only financial (many publishers can no longer afford to assign junior editors to read unsolicited manuscripts) but also — as is less often admitted — emotional and even moral.

It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters — not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés — for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that’s almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn’t been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue. You walk in the door pledging your soul to literature, and you walk out with a crazed glint in your eyes, thinking that the Hitler Youth guy who said, “Whenever I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver” might have had a point after all. Recovery is possible, but it’ll take a while (apply liberal doses of F. Scott Fitzgerald). In the meantime, instead of picking up every new manuscript with an open mind and a tiny nibbling hope, you learn to expect the worst. Because almost every time, the worst is exactly what you’ll get. Laura Miller, Salon

Oh, God. SO TRUE.

* This brings me to another train of thought: people are once again yelling wildly that digital and self-publishing are nails in the coffin of trad publishing. Um, no. One of the things very few people who sound off about this realize is that digital publishing, (most of) self-publishing, and e-readers largely presuppose a number of things:

-an infrastructure to deliver Internet service
-disposable income/sweat equity to pay for some aspects of self-publishing, and definitely to pay for marketing
-access to or disposable income to buy Internet service
-access to a computer or the disposable income to buy a computer
-access to or the disposable income to buy an e-reader
-that the quality control a trad publisher delivers (editing, copyediting, art departments, proofing, production values) Doesn’t Count

I’m not saying that digital or self-publishing is bad. Far from. I just don’t think a lot of the underpinning assumptions beneath grand sweeping statements about the Death of Trad Publishing or about how Trad Publishers Are Keeping Quality From The Masses are founded on any kind of reality. Plenty of people who are very vocal in this discussion don’t realize that the Internet and e-readers aren’t ubiquitous, it just feels like they are if you have access and income enough to take advantage of them. Self-published successes, or so-called “digital” successes, are still the exception rather than the rule, and trad publishing has better resources and a better track record at this point in time. Trad publishing also makes books available to a vast mass of people who aren’t privileged enough to be plugged in. Sherman Alexie made this point not too long ago:

Having grown up poor, I’m also highly aware that there’s always a massive technology gap between rich and poor kids. I haven’t yet heard what Amazon plans to do about this potential technology gap. And that’s a vital question considering that Bezos wants to change the way we read books. How does he plan to change the way that poor kids read books? How does he plan to make sure that poor kids have access to the technology? Poor kids all over the country don’t have access to current textbooks, so will they have access to Kindle? Sherman Alexie, Edrants

I have very mixed feelings about ebooks. Part of this is because I’m very in love with the sensuous experience of reading a physical book–the smell of the paper, the feel of the pages. Partly because used bookstores and libraries were my salvation before the Internet existed, they were my salvation when I was too poor for a high-speed connection or indeed any connection at all, and they still continue to be the places I patronize when looking for books, because I don’t want to spend the money on an e-reader and deal with the hassle of platform changes, technology burps, and the distributor deciding to take things off my private electronic device even after I’ve paid for them–I could go on and on.

A greater part of my mixed feelings about ebooks comes from the fact that I can look at torrenting sites and see people stealing my work. (Mike Briggs addresses this eloquently in his Copyright And Free piece.) Maybe my books are shoplifted from brick-and-mortars, I don’t know. But I can look and see them being stolen online, and that irritates me.

Now I’ve got some more fiction to commit. Like I said, these are just some thoughts knocking around inside my head today. Make of them what you will, and play nice in comments.

See you around.

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And Really Bad Eggs…

First off, some really cool news: I can now announce the official Strange Angels website! I think it looks ultra-ducky-cool. The peeps at Penguin are very excited about this, and I am too. Soon there will be quizzes and other super-fun stuff, so stay tuned. You can also hang out on my forum (NOT at Penguin, on my own personal site, there, disclaimer done) and share theories about Jealousy with other fans, as well as hang out and have fun chatting about other series.

We have no word about who’s won the Dame Smackdown yet. The last we heard, Dame Devon and I were tied. Which may mean, if we’ve finished on a tie, that BOTH of us have to post excerpts. *evil laugh* But we’ll see. I’m on tenterhooks.

Otherwise, this morning has been very quiet. It’s one of those mornings that smells like baking bread; I felt like I could run forever on the treadmill. Just point me at the horizon and let me go, let me breathe and run and stretch. It’s nice to feel that way, even if I know it’s just the endorphins talking. I’ll take it. I spent a long time trapped in a very tiny box. Now that I’m out, well, I like the idea of going as far as I can, under a wide-open sky.

Which makes me feel like Jack Sparrow. “Bring me that horizon…”

Oh yeah. I’ve got my ship, my compass that points to my heart’s desire, a song to sing, the wind in my hair and a cutlass at my side.

Bring it.

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Tonight At Powell’s

I love my writing partner, because she sends me little links, like this one to a zebra-striped cake. Which I can dial up for birthdays next year.

I’m gearing up for tonight, when I’ll be at Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s, at 7PM sharp, with fellow Dame Devon Monk and Ilona and Gordon Andrews. I’ve decided I’m going to read from Heaven’s Spite, the upcoming Jill Kismet book. I can only answer some questions about Jealousy, so please understand if I say “I can’t answer that.”

I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces out in Beaverton. Be prepared to, um, see a bit less of me, guys. I look a little different now.

Today is largely going to be spent writing–the fifth Dru book has reached 30K and taken a left-turn into the dark place where the story starts wiggling like a live thing of its own accord. This is pretty much where the magic begins happening, and one of my favorite times in a book’s creation. It’s going to be hard to pull myself away tonight.

See you at Powell’s!

ETA: Yes, there will be at least 5 Dru books. I’m hard at work on #5 right now.

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From One Terror To The Next

Yesterday was the Ooligan Press event, I had a great time. Public speaking terrifies me like almost nothing else; I’m always soaked with sweat and trembling after any sort of appearance, especially one where I have to speak for more than five minutes. I have a much better time with panels or readings, since there’s some give-and-take. Anyway, the event was awesome; the Ooligan Press people were so nice, helpful, and supportive. Thanks, guys! You rock.

I did have an exotic moment of sheer terror when I realized Chuck Palahniuk–who is a very nice guy–was sitting in the front row writing stuff down while I spoke. I think he was working on a story, but my brain threatened to freeze. Fortunately I had my notes, so I just made a joke about bodily noises and kept going.

Yeah, I’m like that.

I also got to meet the incredible Virginia Euwer Wolff, who was an absolute delight. The questions from the audience were good, too–everything from “do you think of your target audience while you write?” to “I have kids and I need to write. What do I do?” I’m told there will be a podcast-type thing where you can listen to all the talks; as soon as that goes live I’ll link to it here. I am also told there were photos taken. (Eep!) All in all, that has to be one of the most pleasant events I’ve ever attended, and I hope they invite me back.

Driving home was a bit of a letdown–two hours in traffic no matter which bridge I chose, so I ended up getting Indian food as a reward. Can’t complain–and I was endlessly grateful to have a decent car now. It made the stop and go traffic (mostly stop) bearable because I wasn’t worrying about my vehicle exploding. (Thanks, Subaru Shawn!)

Tomorrow I’ll be at Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s, at 7PM sharp, with fellow Dame Devon Monk and Ilona and Gordon Andrews. I think there will be readings, and I have no fricking idea what to read, so I’ll pick a bit from Heaven’s Spite and a bit from Jealousy and make the audience decide. For I am evil.

Today will be spent running errands and tossing a chunk of about two thousand words from the Dru book in process; I think I want to take it in a different direction than I initially proposed. This happens far more often than I like to admit. Sometimes you just have to go a little way down the path to determine it isn’t the path you want to follow. In writing, you can always turn around and go back. It’s a shame life isn’t more like that.

Over and out!

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Just a quick in and out today, dear Readers. I managed to get 3K+ out yesterday, which means today is for trimming and cleaning and getting another respectable 2-3K of fresh wordcount. Yes, I’m aiming high. I finally have some emotional energy to burn, and it’s all going to go into the work. Safest place for it, I think.

I’ve had a productive morning, including a wild fling with a double-tall skinny Cinnamon Dolce latte. It’s ridiculous to say–unless I’m ordering just two shots and a little half-n-half to cut it, I feel like all floofy ordering coffee. The sugar-free syrup is going to displease my stomach, but the caffeine is so good I don’t care. I need some little indulgences to make up for the severe calorie restriction. Rewarding myself is the only way to make sure I stick with it.

So. I’ve got my techno music on, my heroine covered in mud and blood, betrayal lurking around every corner, and my hair is actually behaving today. All systems go, ready for liftoff, pedal to the metal and rubber to the road.


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A Ramble About Shelves

When Monday morning is a relief, you know your weekend was borked.

It wasn’t all bad. I did, for example, get three bookcases put together. Now I have a whole reference bookcase, instead of my reference books scattered all over the house in uneven lumps. A book collection is like oatmeal–you want some clumps, but easy ones. Anyway, my Tanith Lee collection is sharing a much bigger case with my Latin books now, and my working metaphysical library has been taken from my altar and placed in my bedroom. Now I have to organize it instead of finding the book I want by a type of intuitive leap. *snort* Ah, maybe I should leave the metaphysical ones jumbled to keep my intuition sharp.

I was amazed to find out just how much poetry I have, too. I should set aside a shelf for that. It’s odd, because there aren’t many poets I truly like. Blake, Shelley, Keats, all right, some Byron when I can forget what he was like in real life. Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Dowson–of course, and I shelve them together because I’m That Way. Sexton, Plath, Auden, most e.e. cummings, Marge Piercy, some (not all) Kerouac; then there’s the shelf with Yehuda Amichai, Neruda, Yeats, and Dylan Thomas. The Beat Reader, for some reason, goes there instead of with Kerouac. Plus, Mira and Rumi go together, but with a reasonable, respectful distance between their physical selves. Some other poets–Sappho, Propertius, Ovid–go with Greek and Latin books instead of in poetry per se. Just like I shelve Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books with the WWII history books. Still, there is one Ovid and one Sappho that go with the poetry just because the translations are so beautiful.

My bookshelves are organized, it just might not look that way to the innocent bystander. I can generally find any book I own in seconds, unless (this is a big thing) someone else who lives here has moved it. I HATE that, because I can’t rest until I find a particular book, if I’m wanting to loan it to someone or just cross-check something in it. I don’t mind people reading the damn books, that’s what they’re for, but I DO like them being put back where you found them. Otherwise I get all messed up. Some people who have lived with me have even hid books from me just to make me crazy.

I always hated that.

Anyway. My weekend was long, complex, draining, but also productive. I put all my Nabokov in my bedroom (a dangerous place, I know) and it’s sharing a small bookshelf with my French and (very small) Russian Revolution collections. This amuses me every time I pass it, though it probably would not amuse him.

Of course, the dust is still settling and small leftover bits are still being sorted into their proper places. But the bulk of the work is done, all that needs to happen now is tiny little shifts in adjustment. A book collection (I hesitate to use the word library in connection with my crowd of well-loved, dusty, ill-behaved and eclectic books, both “working” and leisurely) is like a creative brain. There’s enough order to make things reasonable, and a little disorder to open the door to magic.

So now that I’ve completely bored you talking about my bookshelves, off I go to the rest of my day. I have a little slice of time where I can work only on writing the things I want to write, and there’s a certain self-hating, murderous fae who would like some of my attention.

See you in a bit, dear Reader…

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Simple Link Soup

Today is Take Your Middle-Schooler To Work Day. Since I work at home…yeah, there was pleading. The Princess is usually so good, and she’s worked so hard, that I am allowing her to “come to work” with me today. Which basically means running errands with me, and hanging around the house while I bonk my head against revisions. The lucky little chickadee.

I’m deep in the wilds of revision and making a final push today, plus I have a ton of people who really need answers and correspondence from me. They’ve been very patient, and I need to get right on that and start cracking. So today it’s just a couple of links:

* Yes, health insurers want you dead. Or at least, very ill. Why else would they have $2 billion in stock in fast food companies? (h/t to Mark Morford.)

* Lucienne Diver with three things every writer should know.

* And something I’ve found helpful lately: 50 things you can control right now. In this vein, Thich Nhat Hanh on the here and now. Deeeep breath.

There now. That’s better.

See you on the other side, dear Readers.

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