Wordle Wrap-Up

Saturday, December 31, 2011

3 Chiming In
It's the end of the year for those of us using the Gregorian standard, and this is the time of year that all things turn to clip shows and reminiscences. And thanks to the nifty little creation engine on Wordle.com, I can give you clips for the year. YAY! (Pretend this is exciting. I've got a reputation to main - kthxbai)

So here is the year in review:

1st up, ARCLIGHT - aka: The book that sold.

Here's the book at a glance (or at least the book in its most recently edited incarnation). You'll find protagonists and antagonists. Good guys and bad guys. Setting, friends, and for some reason "Mr." counted as a separate word. (It should actually be attached to the word "Pace", as that's the character's name.) I won't give away much, but I will tell you that "Fade" isn't a verb...

Next, we come to: PREMEDITATED - AKA: Query Shark #192 and First Page Shooter #3

This is the one that I think most people who follow this blog assumed would be my first sale, but I went with the novel which had series potential first. (That, and at the time I sent that query to Madame Shark, the novel wasn't exactly finished...) But it's done now, and it's shiny, and it's soon to be on its merry way out in the world.

And finally, we come to: SING DOWN THE STARS - AKA: the book in my sidebar.

This one's a little different for me, because it wasn't something I planned to write. On April Fool's Day of this year, Absolute Write had its annual day of lunacy. This year's theme was "Steampunk'd", (Oh look! It moves!!) and it was the most awesome thing ever. (Here's the thread, which was archived, but it's such a tiny, tiny part of what happened that day. AW is an amazing place to hang out every April 1st.)

Anyway, during the fun crazies a few of the participating writers started doing a real time writing exercise where we'd write for an hour, then share. All that steampunk saturated my brain and this character appeared - she was a clockwork mermaid. For the span of hours we did this little exercise, I posted about this girl with a metal tail, and how she was inside a tank at a circus.

Then I put the story away... but it wouldn't leave me alone. Sometime around July I picked it up again and the story morphed into more than just a circus tale, and ironically, it's one of my favorite things I've ever done. I'll have this one to super-Suzie either today or tomorrow. I was going to wait, but Dec 31st seems to be my cut-off for patience.

So that was my year in completed novels. For 2012, there's sequels and nearly-there MG thing-a-ma-jobbies to get finished, but that's another day, another year, and another post.

Happy New Year, everyone!

The Cost of Free Downloads

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2 Chiming In
I have an odd habit. No, it's not pirating books :-P (But it IS related to the practice.) Ever since I was sent the link to a site which allowed users to freely share copies of books they hadn't purchased, I've been somewhat fascinated by putting authors' names in the search bar and seeing if they're on the "available" lists. (I then tell said authors, if they are, so don't smack me.) I tend to do this when I get stuck on a WIP because it makes me feel productive. Add that to the recent Guardian article about a prominent Spanish author who has decided not to write for a while in protest of such "sharing" practices, and this post was born.

Let me say this upfront: This is NOT a post debating whether or not file sharing is thievery (though if you want to debate this in the comments, that's your right - just try and keep it civil).

It's also NOT a post defending those who choose to upload/download/share files they have not paid for, nor is it a post vilifying them.

I'm NOT going to get into how major authors have found ways to turn book pirates into a tool to boost their sales, or how other authors have tried to mimic those methods and had them fail.

What this post IS:

There's a very specific response to discovering one's books have been passed around, or are available for download, that makes me want to scream - mainly because I think it does more harm than good. It makes the author turn into a snarling banshee, which in turn makes the recipients of their ire go on the defensive, and that's never the best position to be in when you're trying to make a point that will hopefully change the other party's mind about a certain behavior you want to stop.

On its surface, this response makes perfect sense, but the logic doesn't bear out, and in the end all it does is lead to a lot of screaming and finger pointing, and eventually the sort of defensive flame wars that end up going viral.

Here's what usually happens:

Suzie Q. Author has a book. Maybe it's doing well, maybe it isn't, but the fact is the book exists, and as sure as it exists, it's likely on a pirate or file sharing site somewhere. Either a friend/fan or Suzie herself discovers that the book has been uploaded to one of these sites. She checks the download count, sees 5,678... and hits the roof.

"FIVE THOUSAND DOWNLOADS!" she screams, tallying the royalties that would have been paid had those been sales for profit through a legit provider. She hits Twitter and Facebook and her blog and rails about how she's been cheated out of nearly six thousand sales.

Only... she hasn't.

Those illegal downloads don't correlate to sales. They're the equivalent of someone snatching a free flier off a table and stashing it in their shopping bag; if the flier had cost money, it's not likely it would have ever left the table. Free downloads are popular simply because they're free. People take them because they're there; it's not an indication of whether or not someone would ever pay money for the same property.

When a (legal) free novel goes up on Amazon, it can rack up thousands of downloads a day - even if it's gibberish. There are dissertations offered for free, but written in obscure languages or concerning fields with less than 50 members worldwide; they'll still be gobbled up because they're free. They're likely never even opened.

If I were to take 10 public domain novels and put them(even backward or mixed together) into an "omnibus edition" and offer it for free, it's possible that it could be a "best seller" by Amazon standards... because it's free.

Some of these sites are run by kids who swap homework assignments; they've branched out to books. It's not likely they've ever considered what they're doing to be theft. In fact, from what I've seen, most equate it to checking out a book from the library or loaning one to a friend, not realizing that those libraries actually purchase the copies on their shelves.

And if you've never seen the quality of one of those "free" downloads, you may be picturing a high quality version of the novel like you'd get from Amazon or B&N -- it's not. Most are garbage. They're a formatting nightmare that's barely coherent. (I understand from others that a program called Calibre has made this almost a non-issue, but I couldn't say myself.)

The point is, you can't assume that even 1/10 illegal downloads would have ever been a sale.

Again, I'm not excusing the practice - piracy is piracy. I'm just tired of seeing authors jump up and down, waving virtual banners with these huge numbers on them under the delusion that, had they just been paid for those downloads, their advances would go up and they'd be on the NYT bestseller list. Sure they would, but those were never "sales" to begin with.

Let me put it into different terms. I used to write fanfiction. Between my different screen names and fandoms stretching from the ultra small to the ├╝ber large I had tens-of-thousands of readers on a regular basis. (I've had 5-6 different screen names, but I'll only cop to 2 ;-). ) I didn't write in the larger fandoms for long; there are several writers who did which had audiences approaching 100,000. It would be easy for someone with a reader pool that large to assume that it would carry over (I know for a fact there are people who think this is a given.) But again, this is flawed logic.

Fanfiction audiences read in a universe with which they are familiar; they have a vested interest in characters already in existence. And most of all -- fanfiction is free. You can't guarantee that a single person willing to read your work for free will do the same for a fee. Some won't - some can't - others... might.

Does piracy exist? Of course it does.

Is piracy a pain? Of course it is.

Does piracy cost writers sales? Of course it does.

Does piracy cost writers a sale for every download? Not even close.

"If I'd been paid for just 1 out of 4..." is the same idea as "If I had a nickel for every time you said..." It's a nice thought, but it's not reality.

If someone's file-sharing or pirating your book, then do what you're supposed to -- TELL YOUR PUBLISHER. The offending party may not even realize that what they're doing is any different from handing a friend a copy of a book they love; if you come at them, fists swinging, all you're going to do is create an enemy who won't listen to you. If you allow the publisher to handle things, and they submit a shiny C&D or notice that the offending person / site is violating Terms of Service or copyright or whatever else they're able to do through their legal departments then you're more likely to get your books taken down.

There are a couple of file sharing sites that I check regularly and then tell authors with whom I'm familiar that their books are available if I find them, so they can have their books removed from the site if the site runners are willing to do so. (Some are; some aren't.)

I wasn't even aware these sorts of sites existed until a couple of years ago when I was looking for information on a specific book. I was given a link to a site which I thought was some sort of on-line library, only it was a download site. One author in particular, who I knew through a writers' site, was listed with every book she'd ever published - nearly 10,000 downloads. She informed the site, and they took down her books. Recently I checked my site stats and found that a few readers were jumping over from one of those homework sites I mentioned; I took a look and found that there were hundreds of books there being passed around.

Never assume that a site which was intended for large scale file sharing knows about, or condones, the transfer of copyrighted files. Some are attempting to run a legitimate service, and will cooperate with anyone who holds copyright to something that's been uploaded to their site.

10 Facts

Thursday, December 22, 2011

7 Chiming In
Since I'm out of ideas for blog posts at the moment, I'm taking the suggestion to do a "10 Facts About Me" post.

1. I once ate so many carrots that I turned orange. I was either in elementary or intermediate school, and for some reason I didn't like eating anything else. I still love carrots, but I'm much more careful with them now...

2. I stopped growing taller when I was about eleven; my feet stopped growing when I was around seven.

3. My grandfather was both saved, and killed, by a lit cigarette. (And no, I don't mean from cancer. The first incident involved a sniper, and the second involved high explosives.)

4. My other grandfather helped design the insulation for the space capsule which carried the first chimps into space; I have a piece of the prototype in my closet. They called it a "space sandwich", according to the plate on it.

5. I live in a town which was part of the filming for Born of the Forth of July. I moved from where they filmed Places in the Heart, after moving from where they shot Pure Country, after moving from a town which became a Lifetime movie of the week.

6. I have gone to 3 universities, and never attended a single class. (MIT, Tulane, and ORU, if you're interested.)

7. My French teacher was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and incarceration in a concentration camp.

8. While I don't consciously remember much French, I do occasionally dream in French.

9. My original major in college was Genetic Engineering.

10. I, at various times, attended school in a toga, a death shroud and cowl, and a headpiece made to look like a Christmas tree, with a wrapped box for a skirt.

And, a bonus one:

  • 11. The city in which I attended school was the proud owner of the first failed attempts at solar power on an elementary school, as well as a high school.
  • It was the last "officially" integrated school district in the country - not a point of pride, but ironic when you consider that it was the home town of John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me.
  • Until it was razed to make way for a new high school, the city had the world's oldest, continual indoor rodeo.
  • Anyone who cares to Google any of that information will discover that the aforementioned "movie of the week" dealt with a headline-grabbing homicide... one of the murderers was the checker at our grocery store; the victim was in my church youth group.

Flash Fiction - The Unexplainable Photos

Friday, December 16, 2011

0 Chiming In
Over on Chuck Wendig's blog, it's a Friday tradition to do a piece of flash fiction. I haven't done one in a while, but this week, my curiosity was piqued when he linked to a set of (really, really - disturbingly - really, really) odd old photos. The idea was to create a story based on one of them, but instead, for what I'm putting here, it was the communal sense of otherness that came from the collection.

I think at some point, this may become the prologue to a creepy book, but for now, I give you


People born to the mountains know, it’s more than air you breathe up there. If you climb high enough, and have the nerve to lose yourself in the parts of the world that haven’t touched human hands since apples only grew in Eden, you’ll know it, too.

Every breath is magic.

It hangs heavy and thick, like moss off the trees. It bursts off burning logs as embers that turn to fireflies, carrying just enough of that sense of other to unnerve those weaker souls who come too close. It lives in grandmothers’ tales of ghosts and strange happenings, and it drizzles down in the creeks come spring, when ice that formed before your ancestors were born melts off the peak and brings its memories with it to the world below.

You can’t touch real magic and not know it.

You can smell it, and if the night is very, very clear, and your ears are open, you can hear it. A song that drifts along the lazy breeze in places where the trees are packed so close they don’t sway in the wind.

When the wind calls to you, you answer, simple as that. Try to ignore it, and the urge to run and feel the air on your face becomes overwhelming, exciting for the promise of whatever lies ahead, as though you’re running toward something you can almost see, and it’s the thing you want more than anything else in the world, even if you don’t know what it is yet. It gets in your blood.

Things like that change a person. Though for the good or bad, no one knows until it’s too late to change your mind.

Meet Dinah

Friday, November 18, 2011

3 Chiming In
Okay, so technically, if you've read this blog for a while, you've already met Dinah. She's the main character from PREMEDITATED, my first attempt at a contemporary YA novel (which is currently being shined to perfection by Super-Suzie).

I mentioned her here, and the original query was on Query Shark almost a year ago, here.

As I stutter and stumble through NaNo, blogging's been sort of falling off my to-do list on a regular basis, so I thought I'd remedy that by putting up a snip from Premeditated's first chapter. So, here you go; I hope you enjoy it.

"Your aunt and uncle really appreciate this," he said, rather than argue the point. "Having you around the house makes it easier..."

He let it drop, the way everyone did when they started to mention Claire. They all choked on her name, like she was ghost who hadn't quite caught on yet.

"Don't think you have to shoulder this, kid."

"I want to stay close in case something changes, and I don't want to go back to Ninth Street if I'm only going to be here a few weeks." That was the conservative estimate. Claire would either wake-up, or they'd stop expecting her to. "I'd just have to say good-bye to everyone again when Mom makes me come home. This way, I'll only be leaving strangers, and Aunt Helen and Uncle Paul didn't waste the tuition money."

"In a few weeks, they won't be strangers anymore."

Our truck melded into the flow of sedans and SUV's circling a paved drive with an ornate fountain in the middle. Stone deer and bear cubs played in marble flowers, while fairies poured water into a stream that emptied into the main bowl.

My old school had a flagpole and a dirt ring that, according to legend, held gladiolas at some point.

"People from a place like this will always be strange to me."

"I'm proud of you, D," he said.

D, which is short for Dinah, which is short for my great-grandmother, is my given name, and the first recorded instance of my dad protecting me from my mother. She intended to name me Diamond Rain or Rayne or Rhane – the spelling changes with each lament when she retells the story. Kind of like plain old Stacy became Stacia for the acting career that never was. Dinah, and all associated nicknames were rejected as too plain for her taste; they set off her allergy to the mundane. Thankfully, Dad still had a spine in those days, and filled in my birth certificate before her meds wore off.

Dad's hands tightened on the wheel again as he coasted into the "departing" area where other kids were climbing out of other cars. They gawked like they'd never seen a no-longer-quite-cherry red truck outside its natural habitat of the mechanic's shop before.

"Batter up, baby doll."

He may speak English, but sports analogies are my dad’s mother tongue.

"You haven't called me that since I was-"

"A real blonde?" he teased.

"Young enough to count my age on my fingers," I said.

"Same thing."

"Bye, Dad."

"It's nice to see the real Dinah again."

The real me, also known as the "me no one had seen since sixth grade", was how he referred to my choice of clothing before I actually had a choice. When my mother used me as her personal paper doll, and paraded me down every runway within a hundred mile radius.

"Don't miss your flight." I shut the passenger-side door as he shouted a last request for photographic evidence that I'd returned from the dark side to give Mom when he got home.

'Over my dead body,' I thought.

Lightning was welcome to strike me down – so long as Brooks went first.

Random Ramblings - winter cleaning edition

Thursday, November 10, 2011

5 Chiming In
My brain is NaNo fried at the moment (ignore the sidebar counters. They haven't been updated.). While looking for things to do other than write (things I could at least pretend were important enough to skiv off writing for...) I decided to clean out my closet. Not just any closet...

wait for it....



Terrifying as this prospect was, it yielded some interesting things. I found $65, my dog's walking harness, and a whole stack of old sketches stretching back to my high school days. Right in the middle of that stack, I came face-to-face with one of the earliest incarnations of what would become Arclight.

Now, I know I've said in another post that the original idea for Arclight came from a story about army ants on the news, and I'm fairly certain that I've told you that the novel was Frankensteined together from other things, including a screenplay I wrote when I was in high school.

The screenplay (which I also found) was nothing like Arclight on its face. It wasn't YA; it wasn't set on Terra Firma, and the main character wasn't a teenage girl. Ouroboros, named for the spaceship where the story was set, was a hard core sci-fi space opera with lots of Alien-esque jump-out-of-your-seat moments, conspiracies, and a rip-your-hair-out (cliched...) bait-and-switch ending.

I actually loved, and still love, that original incarnation, and if I could figure out a way to pare down some parts to a YA or MG level, I'd retool what I didn't use for Arclight and make something of it.

The main character was the ship's captain, and while his image wasn't among the ones I found, I did find these three (I apologize for the quality; these things are old and I hate my new scanner):


If you've ever "seen" me on Absolute Write, you'll recognize the name "Cyia" as my screen name there - this character is where it came from. I *LOVE* this character to pieces and bits. She's one of my absolute favorite that I've ever created, a sort of combination of Han Solo and Princess Leia, who is, actually a princess. But she's a princess in a duster coat and at the helm of a smuggling ship because her entire planet was pretty much overrun by the big bad villain, and this is how she fights back. (Firefly parallels are inevitable, but Cyia came before captain Reynolds and Zoe, so there :-P )


Cassandra was a half-human / half-Nari (my alien species) who ran what amounted to a galactic switch-house for travelers going different places, only via wormhole rather than train tracks. She died a noble and tragic death.

Somewhere, this image exists in full oil color painting, complete with the earth outside the funky-looking window arch behind her. You have to imagine her with silver-blue skin and black stripes. What looks like "dots" would be red or gold, and they're a part of a very detailed social order that went with the species. They're what hold that veil-like thing on the lower part of her face.

Take away the veil and the dots and the bone ridges, and you get the origin of the way one of the groups in Arclight looks. (Another part of that group came from a species called simply the Aether, because that's where they lived. They only appeared as a shimmer or smudge to most people, as they were trans-dimensional.)

And finally, there's this one:


These were the "ruling" aliens in my story, and I really don't remember much about them other than their name came from mixing the letters of "Jaguar", they were red-skinned with heavy tattoos, and while they appeared antagonistic at first, in one of the later installments (I wrote 3), they were actually a great help to the MC's.

Sadly missing was the schematic of the Nari ship, called a Hornet's Nest, which was basically a giant gyroscope with attack ships attacked on the upper and lower halves (Hornets). It was a sphere when in one piece, but the Hornets could break off into individual manned (and semi-sentient) vessels. The whole system was pretty cool - at least it was to me when I was in high school.

I could go on and on, but I'll spare you that torture and get back to NaNo now. Thanks for putting up with my silliness. :-P

Wherein I Answer a Question that Made me Laugh

Thursday, November 3, 2011

3 Chiming In
Question: Why are your profile pictures either cropped or distorted?

Answer: I suppose this is the nice way of asking if I'm hiding something horrible about my face, eh?

Just kidding - the honest answer is that I was having a vanity moment and wanted to hide the fact that I have a Spock eyebrow. :-P

With the "cartoonized" image I use for Twitter, you can't see it because it's in a color block:

But in the source image, you can see how my left eyebrow goes vertical in the middle. It's not always like that, but for some reason that day, it was being weird. When I uploaded the image to my computer, I decided to work around it, so I used a cartoon filter for Twitter and I cropped off the side of my face for my profile picture here.

There are very few pictures in existence with me in them - I HATE cameras. I realized I'd need a real picture of myself when Suzie sold my book, so I took this one. (Here's another secret - I took this in my bathroom mirror, myself, and photoshopped the pecan tree into the background.)

Sneaky writer is sneaky...

So... NaNo...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

3 Chiming In
Well, it's day 2, meaning that yesterday was day 1, and so far, things are going okay.

I'm not doing NaNo in the traditional sense of starting a new project and finishing it in a month, but rather, I'm using the time to polish a project and finish out a draft of 2 others (yes, that's 3 projects, so I may be slightly nuts).


If you're interested, here's a snip of yesterday's progress:

1. Sing Down the Stars:

The sister reached up and took a chain from around her neck. It was long, and hung hidden inside her dress, and when she laid it in my palm, the gold medallion on the end was warm where it had touched her skin. It was much heavier than its delicate appearance hinted at.

“We can’t take anything else from you,” I said, and tried to hand the necklace back, but she curled my fingers around it into a fist and pressed my hand away from her.

‘It’s a gift, and it’s been given. There’s no returning it, now – and I think you have more need for it than I do. That’s St. Christopher; he’ll keep you safe on your way home.

I opened my hand and took a better look at the medallion. It was small and brassy, with a man on the face who carried a walking stick. He had a strange, etched halo around him, and looked a bit like Zavel - too old to do much protecting, but I was sure she meant well, so I put it on and tucked it into my dress. I’d been right about the weight; it wasn’t heavy, but it dragged down low.

Sister Mary Alban and I had burned through the excuse of talking about destinations and handing off gifts; I needed something else to create a conversation before she found more questions to ask that I didn’t want to answer. I went for the most obvious.

“Is there nothing mechanical here at all?” I asked.

2. Blue:

Early the next morning, when the sun had barely begun to shine, O’Keefe was no longer thinking about strange flames on candles. The rain had stopped and was well on its way to soaking into the ground, and the sky outside was clear. It looked like it might be a perfect day. (Though he was going to have to insist on new curtains. His father had hung the ones he’d used in Kindergarten, and he’d long since lost interest in cowboys and horses.)

Despite the hour, O’Keefe thought he might stay awake and get his first real look at South Avenue. He threw on his jeans, which had dried from the night before, but didn't bother with combing his hair or putting on shoes, as he'd always liked squishing his feet in muddy lawn puddles. There was really no better way to judge a new house than by the quality of mud it provided and there was no better way to judge a new street than to see if it contained others who felt the same way. He hoped maybe he'd be lucky and find some other children his age in one of the neighboring houses.

3. The Glower House:

From her seat at the head of the table, Madam Webb clapped her hands. Hundreds of spiders dropped down from the ceiling, making Leni jump. The spiders lassoed all of the large vases full of wilted flowers which ran in a line down the center of the table and pulled them up into the rafters.

Leni found this fascinating, as the spiders who occasionally found their way into her house on Mulberry Street were never quite so helpful, but seemed to prefer spinning webs at the precise height required to hit her face when she walked through them.

The spiders dropped onto the now bare table and skittered from one end to the other in a wide line. As they passed, a new tablecloth spun behind them until the entire tabletop was covered, and a knotted bridge had been built that crossed from the floor to the table's edge.

“Just lovely,” said Madam Webb. “Thank you. I'm sure our guest appreciates your effort.”

“Oh... yes, of course,” said Leni, when she realized the spiders were waiting for an answer from her. “I've never seen a better spiderwebbing tablecloth before... it's so grand, I really don't know what to say.”

Apparently, this made the spiders very happy, as a set of five hurried back to her part of the table and added a table-mat before disappearing into the ceiling with the others.