Monday Five

Five things this Monday morning!

1. I know I’m supposed to give my body a day off to rest and repair itself. The trouble is, I’ve grown to need my daily running fix, and I get cranky if I don’t have it. Yesterday was my rest day. I woke up angry this morning, bounced through my morning run, and hit the climbing wall. That anger is great fuel, but I don’t like it. I have a healthy fear of the destructive power of my own rage. Thankfully, now that I’ve sweated and hauled myself around like a piece of baggage (seriously, I threw myself at the wall today, it was epic) I am reasonably serene. Now I just need to settle down and steady myself for the task at hand.

2. I had this urge to get a CD playing thunderstorm sounds. So I’ve been playing this since Sunday. What the Muse wants, the Muse gets, and I’m apparently needing to hear thunder and rain. At least the Muse isn’t requiring Eddie Rabbit. You know, I used to have Alvin and the Chipmunks doing I Love A Rainy Night on vinyl. I’m old-skool, yo.

3. I knew, when I walked away from my email this weekend, that I would rue it come Monday morning. *glances at inboxes, weeps* I suppose it’s better than coming back to dead silence…but still.

4. Today’s Girl Genius made me about pee myself laughing. This webcomic saved my life about eight months ago, and it continues to throw in a chuckle or two every week. Nicely done, Agatha and crew!

5. I really need to write some fight scenes. Or, more precisely, I need to go out to the heavy bag and work it a little to get some fight scenes clear in my head. I’m in the mood for writing some old-fashioned fisticuffs. In a bar. Or something. Hey, it’s better than actual fisticuffs in a bar, right?

That’s it, the Monday five. Welcome to my brain this afternoon. It’s a weird place to be.

Over and out…

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Slow And Steady

Wow. Are we really just a week and change away from the Jealousy release? How time flies. Seriously, it seems like just a couple weeks ago I was finishing the first book in the series and gnashing my teeth wondering if I could pull the second one off the way I wanted to.

It’s a gray morning, and there’s a lot of work ahead of me. Which is the way I like it, and the way I like it. I like summer just fine, but the 90-100+ weather we had last year really put a dent in me. A nice cloudy morning and a sunny afternoon is just about perfect, and my garden agrees.

So, today there’s an essay to put the finishing touches on, one book to do a final revision pass on, another book to start the revision letter of a first draft on, and all-new wordcount on yet another book to grind out…you know, when I list it like that, it sounds almost doable.

Not long ago, at the Night of Powell’s Pwnage, someone asked how working writers prioritize the different tasks. I believe it was Devon Monk who first laughed and said, “Pure panic.” Which we all agreed with. There’s a certain component of triage any time you have more than one iron in the fire.

Anyway, off I go to get started. My stomach feels a little bruised and tender, and I’m pretty tired from one of the more, shall we say, exciting nights I’ve had in a while (the verdict is a mild stomach flu, not food poisoning, thank goodness) and I can’t seem to take in enough caffeine for my eyelids to prop themselves consistently wide enough. It’s a day for making a list and getting everything done in very small chunks.

Wish me luck.

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Braincramp!

The Essay of DOOOM is now finished. My brain can uncramp and return to normal functioning. Well, normal-for-me functioning, I guess. Part of being under a tight, tight deadline is that once one has managed the impossible, it takes a while for the twitching and frothing to die down. So I should really get on the wordcount I need to be cranking out, and take another look at that edit letter, and there’s the hoovering to be done, and more dishes, and…

…you know what? I’m going to set the timer for twenty minutes and take a nap. Because thinking of everything I have to do is just making me run barking in circles. And that’s not good for anyone.

Regular blogging will return tomorrow. Peace out.

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Ham Death, Marketing, Win Some, Lose Some

This book is trying to kill me. Yes, it’s Dru 5. I even have a tentative title: Sacrifice. Chills the blood, doesn’t it? This morning I realized I had to answer a thorny question about What Happened To One Particular Character, and internal consistency demanded I go for a transfusion instead of an aesthetically-pleasing biting scene. *sigh* Plus, I’m in the “this book sucks so hard nobody will ever want to read it, woe is me” phase. The only cure is completing the damn thing and putting it in a drawer for a couple weeks to a month while I work on something else.

So, while I’m bashing at the book and muttering “die, die, DIE!” under my breath, here’s a few links:

* Maggie Stiefvater on Death By Ham. She makes the point that a good book has a good chance.

I never said that what they were writing was good.

I also never said that these people researched the market, read Writer’s Digest, and figured out how to write query letters and where to send them to. I never said these people were voracious and critical readers and worked constantly on honing their writing craft. I never said that these people sat down and wrote four books and then wrote a fifth book and said this is the one, this is finally getting good.

Because I would venture to say that if we were talking about the publishing odds of that population, those people who live in that paragraph right above this one, we’d be having a different conversation entirely.

And that conversation would go like this: if you write a good book and follow the rules of submitting manuscripts and stick to it, you will eventually find someone who loves that book and will put it between real covers. The statistics might not be 100%, but I’m going to go with at least over 90%. Good books get found. Good books don’t languish in agent slush piles. –Maggie Stiefvater

I agree completely. The initial stages of the process of trad publishing are to largely to winnow out the Speshul Snowflakes and find out whether you can turn in a decent book, follow directions, and act like a professional human being. If you can do those things, you stand a very good chance of getting published.

* Mike Duran on “When does self-promotion become Too Much?” (via Jess Hartley). My own rule of thumb is that my site and blog (not to mention Twitter stream) must be 80% crunchy content (that is, actual content I feel has value instead of being a cheap shill-cry for “mememememe buymybooks buybuybuy!”); 10% marketing, and 10% random WTF. (The last ten percent is just for my own amusement.) Even then, I try to shut up about the marketing unless I honestly have something to say: a book launch, an interview, announcements fans have asked me for, that sort of thing.

Part of this is that I’m highly uncomfortable with hard-sell tactics. (Yes, I’ll link that post about why the hard sell doesn’t work again. It’s still relevant.) I was always uncomfortable with them, as a customer and even while working retail. I point-blank refused to engage in aggressive selling on quite a few of my retail jobs, and I never had any trouble meeting any quotas. Customer service does not have to mean high-pressure; it means being responsive and offering choices. I figure one has a better chance of building a loyal fan or customer base if you don’t insult their intelligence, which is what constant self-promotion basically is. (With a heavy helping of arrogance. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.)

The 80-10-10 rule isn’t hard and fast. Sometimes I have a LOT of stuff to announce, and it feels to me like I’m shilling. And I’m sure a lot of people would say my idea of “worthwhile content” is lame. But oh well.

* And just to fulfill the 10% quota of random WTF, here’s a Snickers cocktail recipe, courtesy of Laura Anne Gilman. I love that woman.

It’s taken me a couple hours to finish this post, mostly because I zoomed out the door to catch an open climb midway. After yesterday’s utter triumph, today was a comedy of falling off the wall and swearing under my breath. Oh well–win some, lose some.

Now I’ve got to go get closer to the end of this book. See you around.

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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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