Book Synchronicity, Again

Spring Break is over. The Little Prince is back in school, and the Princess tells me her fellow retail workers are kind of thrilled there won’t be kids racing the mobility scooters in the aisles anymore.1 Consequently, the house is very quiet.

Too quiet.

We’ve had a couple days of houseguests to close out the holiday as well, which means the dogs were all excited over the regular routine being broken. So excited, in fact, that Odd Trundles is seriously behind on his napping, and eschewed most of his brekkie today in favor of trundling back to the office and his Super Fancy Dog Bed. Miss B is tired but also a bit frazzled from Constantly Supervising New People, so she’ll accompany me for a gentle half-hour run to work all her fidgets out and wind her down so she can sleep. It’s lovely to have people over, but it’s also lovely to have the house back afterward.

I’m also waiting with various stages of patience for the home warranty company to get in touch with me about NEW DISHWASHER. I fidget whenever I think about it, especially since I did a lot of cooking this past week. The pasta pot needs scrubbing, and so does the giant crock pot. I am willing to make cookies for whoever delivers and installs a new goddamn dishwasher, then shoo them out the door and test-drive said new dishwasher.

In other news, Season 3 of Roadtrip Z releases on April 17, and yes, there will be a paperback, it’s just not dropping until my faithful subscribers get their free ebooks. (Serial subscribers get free ebooks of the unedited AND edited seasons. I try to make it a good deal for my peeps.) And we’re coming up on the release of Afterwar in May, which…you know, I typed “finis” at the end of that zero draft over a year ago, and that book has had such a hard road to publication I’m expecting AWFUL NEWS ABOUT IT every day from now until it actually goes on sale. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, there was just a perfect storm of Things Going Wrong Outside Everyone’s Control, but dear God I have only just recovered from it.

…as I was writing this, my new editor at Orbit tweeted a picture of a stack of Afterwar, so synchronicity is alive and well, AND the printers didn’t burst into flame and sink into a swamp2 which is ALL TO THE GOOD and maybe the book will go out without any further disaster.

I just winced, typing that. I’m sure the gods of publishing are laughing at me. Loudly.

I had other plans for this blog post, but it kind of derailed, and I’ve got to get out for a run. I also got our last houseguest loaded into his car during the writing of this, so any train of thought I had is well and truly derailed. Maybe I’ll do like the dogs and take a nap?

Maybe. But only after I run.

Over and out.

Walking Away

I’ve walked away from a lot of things in my life. Toxic lovers. “Friends” who weren’t. Bad publishing deals–you get the idea. I used to think never walking away, never giving up, was a point of pride. But then I got older, and I figured out that saving your energy for the things and people that deserve it is a more honorable way to live. You can’t be effective if you’re spending yourself on the black holes of sick systems.

Why am I thinking about this today? Because of the whole Cambridge Analytica/Facebook thing. I’ve known for some time that Facebook is toxic, has bad business practices, and is run by a bro who calls his users “dumb fucks.”

I haven’t checked my Facebook messages for years, because they were always stuffed full of dick pics and strangers assuming they were entitled to my time and attention because some aspects of my author-life are public. (The two overlapped a lot, actually.) I never “liked” things there because of anxiety–the idea that I might upset/hurt someone by not pressing the button for their posts was overwhelming, and that’s turned out to be lucky, since it robbed Facebook of a great deal of information about me. Keeping my fan page from degenerating into a circus took more time than I liked, and it’s grown progressively worse. The fact that I can’t even be sure any of the fans who have signed up for updates will see them was only icing on that shit cake.

So. I’ve deleted my official fan page and deactivated my personal Facebook account. I was going to just straight-up delete the latter, but someone made the excellent point that I don’t want (yet another) impersonator causing trouble on a social media platform, so…yeah. I guess that’s where I’m at, and when the inevitable crash comes and FB becomes Myspace, I can quietly delete it at that point. I had a few moments of Fear Of Missing Out, but really…every time I dealt with FB I disliked it, and I don’t feel safe.

In short, it was time to walk away.

Twitter is a garbage fire, but it doesn’t have the access to my personal info Facebook was so intent on getting and using. Plus, I can just crosspost from my Mastodon instance if I don’t want to log in and see the burning. There’s also my Living Room, which is a much better platform for a fan page.

What I wasn’t prepared for when I hit the “delete” and “deactivate” buttons, though, was…the feeling of liberation. There was a flood of relief that damn near knocked me onto my heels. I wasn’t aware the FB juggernaut was irritating me so much, and the measure of the toxicity is the depth of the release.

That’s today’s news. Whether or not it’ll lead to increased productivity, who can tell? I need to get into Atlanta Bound and cut out a bunch of girlfriend to make way for some roller derby. Ginny, Lee, & the gang are about to have a Very Bad Day.

Over and out.

On Wish Fulfillment, and “Art”

Someone made a snotty comment about art and entertainment being mutually exclusive (yes, this was on Twitter, how did you know?) and it irritated me enough to pop off a thread in response. It also got me thinking about wish fulfillment.

Inevitably, whenever someone starts making the case for entertainment being art too, goddamn if someone doesn’t trot out the Schlock Argument. The Schlock Argument is “this very popular thing is also critically panned and will not Stand the Test of Time, therefore your argument about entertainment being worthwhile is invalid.”1

Glossed over by the Schlock Argument are two very important things: who are the “critics” and how much time are we talking about standing the test of? In literature, critics have historically and overwhelmingly been old white men, and coincidentally (or not) it’s those same old, privileged white men who get to decide what gets kept and taught, held up as example and poured into malleable young minds. I’m sure you, my discerning reader, can see the problems inherent in that.

Which brings us to Twilight, and Fifty Shades.

No, I’m not joking.

I have often called the Twilight series “Mormon Housewife Wish Fulfillment”, with varying degrees of insolence, amusement, and sometimes even a touch of disgust. I can’t count the number of times in a private setting I was privy or party to a hashing out of the problems with characterization, narrative structure, plot, believability, or anything else involving Sparkly Vampires. The massive popularity of very weak tea indeed filled plenty of other writers with head-scratching bemusement or fury. “This is just so bad,” they would say to me. “Why, dear God, why?” And I agreed. Twilight is, by any standard, a hot mess lacking any real characterization or craft, and full of questionable things. (Renesmee, anyone?)

It is also art.

Twilight provoked a massive emotional and financial response. The latter has little bearing on this, except to underscore the intensity of the former. Twilight was genuinely, absolutely bonkers–but it was true. It provoked that emotional response because it was the absolute, unfiltered wish fulfillment of a human being in a particular time and place. I wish Livejournal hadn’t gone over to the Russians, because way back when the Sparkly Vampire Fandom was at full throttle, I read a marvelous piece by a former Mormon detailing how Latter-Day Saints theology and peculiarities filled the books to the brim. I remember exactly where I was sitting while reading that piece, because it burst upon me like blinding sunshine. I would love to link it here and give proper credit, because it was a dilly.

Bella as a character is a fabulous nonentity, so vague and dim the reader can project the reader’s own self onto her with little trouble at all, and therein lies an attraction, a powerful (and somewhat guilty, for me) pleasure. We all feel clumsy and at sea, and we all dream of finding out we’re special–not just everyday human special, but freesia-scented special. Stephenie Meyer either got her ego out of the way or sank so deeply into it as to become unself-conscious to the point of enlightenment; the result was a pure, grade-A, unfiltered wish fulfillment fantasy that was so specific to her time and place it became universal.

A paradox of art, that. Everyone alive has wanted to be freesia-scented special. Everyone wants a soulmate, if only to be completely understood. Everyone likes the idea of being protected by supernally beautiful creatures, everyone wants excitement and danger that isn’t really danger because you know you’ll be saved anyway.2 Twilight launched a billion fanfics and a massively profitable phenomenon because it went all-in, and readers could sense and responded to that commitment.3 It reminds me of the craze around Gothic novels, especially the ones wildly popular in their day and all but forgotten now because they were largely written for (and often by) women. Repressed sexuality and wish fulfillment is a powerful combination, and speaking truly about either is magnetic.

I’m sure you can guess why I mention Fifty Shades, as well. Yes, the fanfic (and the eventual book) is problematic as fuck. Issues of consent, authenticity, suppression of women, the poison of patriarchy run through both Fifty Shades and Twilight, which Fifty Shades was written mostly in response too. But both hit it big, because both evoked a huge emotional response–both are fantasies of wish fulfillment, of endless love, of submission becoming a power without the drawbacks normally accompanying real power.

Wish fulfillment isn’t just for women, either. Just look at Tom Clancy novels, or any movie starring Tom Cruise.

“Yes,” I hear you saying, “but, Lili, come on. Art? You’re calling them art?”

Yes. They were true, people responded to them, they are art. The false dichotomy between “art” and “entertainment” exists only to oppress; it’s a fucking classist fairytale. The idea that art has to be Serious, Disturbing, Approved by Professors, or Have Survived The Test of Time Plus Racism, Sexism, and Other Isms is pure bullshit. Art must be true, and the audience will respond to that truth. Whether or not art “survives the test of time” depends on cultural narratives of importance and who’s funding the fucking universities, not on any worth inherent in the art or artist themselves. Which sucks ass–how many beautiful, amazing things have been lost because nobody thought an artist a real human being because of their dangly bits, skin color, or socioeconomic position? The answer, always, is “too many.”

Yes, Twilight and Fifty Shades are badly written. The craft of either is bloody abysmal. They’re messy, farfetched, and often incoherent. But they are true. The artists behind them went right to the wall with gusto, refusing to water down the fantasy, the wish-fulfillment. Both of them were incredibly lucky to hit during a historical era where they could reach wide dissemination and reap financial returns. Both of them were fortuitous in their timing, and in tapping a few deep cultural veins.

None of the luck means they are not art.

Art is made for humans, by humans. It is to evoke an emotional response. I have often told my writing students the flavor of the response doesn’t matter–hate, love, laughter, weeping. It’s the response itself you’re going for, and the only way to get it is by telling the truth, in whatever fashion you can and refusing to look away. Don’t ask, is it art? Ask instead, is it true?

And if it’s not, revise until it is. You may hit it big, you may not, but either way, you’re a fucking artist. End of story, period, amen.

***

Is It Monday Yet?

Roaring lioness
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
So CreateSpace decided–after the paperback of Beast of Wonder was already on sale–to “suppress” the book for “copyright verification.” They didn’t bother to verify the copyright during the proofing phase, no, they decided to pull this bullshit after the week-and-a-half wait for me to get and approve the paper proof. If I’d been planning a huge marketing push instead of a pretty incidental one, it would have been wasted. As it is, I’ve lost critical release-announcement sales as well as had to spend valuable working time dealing with this issue.

Not a good look, CS. I’m asking where to send the invoice. (Quixotic of me, but I am irritated enough not to care.)

I’m pretty sure they’re going to be folded into KDP soon, especially since KDP’s made the announcement that proof and author’s copies are going to be a thing and the recent announcement that Createspace is shuttering their author services (cover help, editing, marketing, etc.) arm. Really, the writing was on the wall as soon as Amazon bought them, but many authors I know were holding out hope CS would continue to function independently because their print quality was reasonably high.

Anyway, that was the weekend’s nasty news. In better events, I got some more earth turned in the upper garden boxes, and though there’s a risk of another frost, I should get some tender things in the ground. Maybe I can hide the pumpkin seeds from the squirrels if I plant enough of them? I’m pretty sure they got all the peas. *sigh* And what they didn’t get Miss B probably rooted out, thinking she was Finding What Mum Lost and Won’t Mum Be Glad.

Also on the bright side, Pocalypse Road is up for preorder! Yes, it will be available for Kindle, Nook, iBook, and Kobo; yes, there will be a paperback version; and yes, serial subscribers (on Patreon or Gumroad) will get the unedited AND edited ebook for free, as usual.

I also have space on my ebook formatting and cover copy waitlist, if that’s something you’re interested in. I have one editing slot open for the last six months of 2018, too.

Whew. It might not sound like a lot, but damn, the weekend was full. Now it’s back to the word mines–but first, Miss B has that gleam in her eye that means a run is necessary.

Over and out.

New Stuff

I’ve opened up my waitlist for freelance services again! I’m using Airtable to handle clients and stages, and Cushion to handle time-tracking and invoicing, so we’ll see how it goes. I’d love to get some integration between Cushion and Airtable, but I might decide just to go to PayPal invoicing. We’ll see. Learning new things is fun.

I decided to go with an hourly rate and down payments because of the nature of this type of work. This means I have to get serious about time-tracking, which I normally avoid like the plague. But it will be fun to see how much time is spent on different things–especially administrivia and web stuff. It might also help me stay on track, since I tend to flit if a particular task is not interesting, or if I hit a bump. For some things flitting is okay and even necessary, but for others it’s not optimal. The big thing, of course, is that I’ll get data about just how much time administrivia eats up. Ugh.

In any case, Airtable is pretty robust, and much better than the waitlist options I had before. We do truly live in the future, and it’s nice to be able to take advantage of some of these things. Offloading tasks like scheduling onto electronics means I have more bandwidth for writing stories, which is the whole point of the game. Freelance work is more of a moonlighting thing, but there’s no reason not to make it as professional as possible. Things like cover copy are actually relaxing for me; formatting, now that I have the capacity, is oddly soothing. It’s nice to have all this technology and experience and be able to use it in new ways.

Anyway, that’s the news this morning. There was an Incident involving Odd Trundles’s hind end after his walkies, which was not nearly as nice as setting up invoices, client tracking, and project schedules. Poor fellow, his peristalsis is boom or bust, and walkies trigger a boom cycle.

There’s also grocery shopping that needs to get done today, if I’m to have any hope of producing edible dinners over the next two weeks. At least I don’t have to time-track that.

*puts on goggles* Cover me, I’m going in.

Somewhat Cranky

Of course, the instant I step out the door to take both dogs for Odd Trundles’s constitutional, EVERYONE has to come down our street, from the rattling delivery trucks Miss B lunges at to schoolchildren she and Odd both desperately want to make acquaintance of, and bicyclists Miss B wishes to herd as well. And then there’s the guy walking his Rottweiler who sees me retreat into my driveway with both my dogs, OBVIOUSLY not wanting to interact, but crosses the street with his dog anyway and walks at the edge of my driveway while Miss B barks and lunges and Odd, excited now that Someone Is Making Noise, does everything possible to get in on the action. Then, once he was past my house, he went back to the other side of the street. He just could have stayed on that side to begin with and saved us all trouble.

Thanks, Creepy Dude. That was a beautiful fucking start to my morning.

Anyway, we persevered, and now Odd has been walked and is settled for his morning nap. As soon as I absorb some coffee and am relatively sure it will stay down, it’s out the door for a run, and I’m seriously considering not taking B. I’m not sure I have the patience to cut traffic for her today; both of us are somewhat cranky. I might simply make a circuit, take her for half my planned distance then bring her home and finish the other half on my own.

My subscribers get a fresh new chapter of Pocalypse Road today, and I aim to get at least 5k of wordcount in between Atlanta Bound–which is season four of Roadtrip Z–and the not-really-YA. It’s the latter that will really make me grit my teeth, probably because I’m worried my agent wants to sell the YA despite me telling her it’s not going to. And…well, I have feelings about YA publishing. Not writing books with teenage protagonists, which I like doing well enough when there’s a story that wants me to tell it. But the constant pushback from institutions scared of Bible Belt buckle-idiots clutching their pearls if a teen character says “fuck” or thinks about sex or drugs or any of the normal things teens sometimes do think about is exhausting, and was the thing that drove me away from YA. I still read it when I can, and I write stories with teen protagonists, I just…really don’t want to have to fight those uphill battles anymore. I do not have the energy.

Regardless, my agent asked for this book, and I promised, so it’s going to be as good as I can make it before it goes out the door to her. Which means serious wordcount, and putting in that POV I had no idea needed to be inserted until the zero draft was done, and which gave me a vertiginous feeling of telling the story from the wrong point of view anyway…but not really, because we need the other main POVs to understand just why this one is so compelling.

All in all, never a dull moment a la Chez Saintcrow. Also, this morning, I went down a side-road involving telepathic dogmen and frontier myth-making. So yeah, I can tell today’s going to be fun.

Over and out.

From the Mailbag

I’m getting plenty of mail from my Gumroad post. This missive, in particular, asked a very good question, so I thought I would post it (redacted for privacy) and my answer.

Hi Lili!

Thank you for writing the article on The Gumroad Blog – “A patronage model with Gumroad.” (Link)

I’m a musician with a Patreon, and along with you I’m angry about the unannounced fee structure change they made – they lost my trust.

Your article explains with great detail how Gumroad can be a great Patreon alternative. Thank you for peeling back the curtain and showing us how you’ve set things up!

One question I have is not about Gumroad per se, but the PayPal subscriptions. When you have a $1 subscription, are you paying the 2.9% + .30 fee, leaving you with $0.66? I ask because the vast majority of my Patrons are $1 pledgers. Pinching pennies, yes, but it adds up!

If you could take the the time to answer this I’d appreciate it! I plan to follow your lead and give Gumroad a try!

With gratitude,

**redacted name**

Here’s my reply:

Dear **redacted**,

I believe I do pay the 2.9% and $.30 fee on dollar PayPal donation subscriptions. I don’t care about this as much as I do about Patreon’s fees, for two reasons: one, PayPal has always been up-front about said fees, and two, PayPal doesn’t add a second fee to the patron/customer the way Patreon was planning to do. I bear the cost, which I believe is only natural and proper. I offer the PayPal $1 subscriptions along with $3 and $5, and since PayPal lets them set up recurring monthly payments or choose to make a lump-sum donation, it’s super convenient for patrons in a way Patreon never has been.

Gumroad has a $.99 minimum, which may be a little more cost effective if you have enough subscribers to carry the monthly $10 premium fee; if you don’t, the free Gumroad option will take a similar chunk of the payment from you but still not charge the customer/patron more. I do have occasional Ko-Fi patrons, but I tend to steer new patrons who just want to show support with a couple bucks per month to PayPal, for their ease and for the consumer trust PayPal has built up. I seem to recall that at the time this all went down Ko-Fi didn’t have a recurring payments option but were looking at adding it in the near future.

I think if you already have a patron base, a mix of PayPal and Gumroad might serve the ones who want to move away from Patreon better—certainly that’s the route I chose, as you can tell! I know there are creators who have set up workflows to send perks to their PayPal patrons, but I chose not to, because I need my time for writing and Gumroad is way more flexible and time-saving when it comes to sending out perks. The limit to upload files for your Gumroad membership customers is 16gb, which is comfortable for musicians, I think. (Subscribers get updates through email, and I’m not sure what the file limits are there.)

So yes, PayPal does take a chunk of each dollar donation, but I’m fine bearing that cost because there’s more trust and they do NOT charge my patron for the transaction, which was the exact thing I was furious with Patreon for even considering. I do not advocate burning your Patreon to the ground—there are still several of my clients who prefer to stay with “the devil they know”, as is their right. As long as I have a single patron there, I’ll stay on the platform, but I’m open with them about why I think Gumroad’s a better option for both of us, and those who have made the switch seem to agree. If my patrons move on wholly to other platforms, I’ll feel just fine about deleting my Patreon, but as long as they want to use that service, I’ll keep content there for them.

I hope this helps. Thank you for your feedback!

I am extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from my darling Readers. If anything good has come of Patreon’s ham-fisted attempt, it’s that I’ve been shown in concrete ways just how much my beloved Readers care. (I mean, aside from buying my books, which is awesome in and of itself.) The internet has been a giant blessing and curse for creators, but most of the time the former overwhelms the latter for me.

Thanks, guys.