The Cyber Monday Blues

One of the troublesome things about the great retail holidays that always gets to me is the certainty that–somewhere out there–is the perfect deal on the perfect thing that will lift my spirits and make my life better. Somewhere there’s the perfect deal on an ice fishing drill. (I could take up ice. Fishing seems a bit out of my league.) Or a kayak. Or… stemless wine glasses? Something.

The truth is, I need nothing. There are a few books that have been on my TBR list forever, and I might pick those up. And I really do need a new pair of shoes. Uhm, well, you know… in the sense that I have feet.

Other than that, if I get sucked in, I’ll probably spend more money on the kind of things that are excellent bargains you had no idea you needed until you saw them. Zucchini shoe-stringer? Well, ordinarily, no… but it is seventy-five percent off.

I’m not shopping for shoes today. I will take a quick glance at my various wish lists and see if anything I actually want is on sale. My guess would be no, but you know. Might as well. Carefully. And without letting myself get tricked into thinking everybody else is doing it.

I did actually go walk around a real life, physical mall for a while. (The Black-Friday crowds have now died down.) Shrug.

The sad truth is that the things that make me happy–in a more enduring kind of way–actually turn out to be hard work on a project I love, exercise, and eating my vegetables. I am such a grown-up!

Unpopular Opinion Coming Through

Over my lunch hour, today, I got caught at the chatty table. I’m not exactly sure how that happened. Poetic justice, really. I sat down at the empty table, and wouldn’t you know it? Ten minutes later, it was the social event of the season. Women talking about their sons and grandsons, and the wonderful world of high-school wrestling. I know next to nothing about wrestling, and I have no sons or grandsons, so you can imagine my role in the conversation. Mostly smiling and nodding, while I wonder if it’s okay to get out my earphones, yet.

So, the coach has announced that he will be very carefully monitoring the boys’ weights to be sure that no one is doing unhealthy things to get the weight class of their choice.

Yup. It was a conversation about eating disorders, but no one actually said “eating disorder.” Not even the woman who was describing her kid, who was compulsively chewing gum in order to soak up moisture from his body. (I’m not sure I totally got the process, but that’s the theory.)

You have to imagine a weird mix of pride and concern. Here and there, a mother setting her foot down, that her son is NOT going to endanger his future health so he can wrestle for a couple of years. Less clear about how, exactly, she intends to stop it.

Damn it, no! You cannot have a puppy eating disorder.

It’s weird how deep and dark and deadly serious high school sports are. And if you think they’re just a game… well, you’re either an optimist or completely out of touch.

The first time I remember anyone talking about this was several years after my older cousin stopped (football, wrestling, etc.) He’d played in high school. And college. And for what it’s worth, I thought he was pretty good. (what I could see from over the edge of my book, anyway.) I thought of him as athletic. Fit. Healthy.

And then, all of a sudden, people were talking about how much better he looked, now that he wasn’t trying to maintain his weight class… How much weight he’d lost. And they were right, of course. I’d just never thought of him as anything other than a “big” guy.  I was surprised by the comment, and more surprised to realize… well, wow… sports probably weren’t all that good for him.

Kids push themselves hard. Not just boys.

And they don’t always have a clear idea of whether they have an actual chance of being a pro football player or a prima ballerina.

The cost-benefit assessment is more an adult’s job.

The idea of a coach lecturing an entire team on “eat right or else?” I hope he was talking to one specific kid, but I don’t believe it. And honestly, I think a more recreational approach to high school sports might be wise.

Stepping Back, Big Picture…

One of the things I do a lot of while I’m revising is comparing timelines. Right now, it’s my MCs’ timelines vs my villain’s timeline. They have to match up, so I don’t have to work in a time machine to make everybody meet up in the thrilling conclusion.

Now, let’s be honest. More often than not, I wind up looking at timelines when I have no idea what’s supposed to come next, or what I’m supposed to be writing at any given moment. I really should probably do it before I wind up getting lost.

So, you remember Cornell notes from back in 7th grade, right? Those really annoying, and frequently required things where you fold the paper in half and write the question on one side and the answer on the other? Yup. Finally figured out a use for those. You fold the paper in half. And then, you put the antagonist on one side and the protagonist on the other side. And the only question is: What’s the other guy doing?

The answer, of course, is… Blowing up a planet. And thinking of becoming a comic book character. In sentence fragments. Just to see your seventh grade English teacher cry.

So, that’s what I did, this afternoon. Aside from the day job. And the exercise.

And somewhere along the line, something clicked, and the timelines started to fall into place.

I’m going to wind up rewriting another scene.

But I know what that scene should look like.

There’s enough time for MC the first and MC the second to get to know each other.

And the villain’s timeline collides with their timeline nearly at the right place.

Gee, I wish I had a machine that could state the obvious.

My Fitbit registered a whopping hour and fifty-one minutes of sleep last night. I have it on a sensitive setting,(because it can’t tell sleeping from reading, if I don’t.) but that’s “significantly less” than my usual amount of sleep. I am reminded to get back to my usual schedule. There are moments where you’d like to slap your activity and fitness tracker, aren’t there?

 

Comic Books and Thanksgiving at the Hi-Way Diner

After four or five generations of togetherness, the “Family Thanksgiving” finally exploded a few years back. Nothing horrible ever happened. It was more of an old woman who lived in a shoe arrangement. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins’ spouses/significant others/crypto-others and their children. And if you’re doing math, that’s roughly two busloads full of people crammed into one three-bedroom house, where some poor woman who thought she was marrying well will try to seat and feed them all in a domestic kitchen. She will do this with less and less help, and more and more people, since not so many of the girls are learning to cook. (What? You mean I have to put my hand inside a turkey?)

Collapse was inevitable.

Even so, it somehow managed to survive for long enough that my legs and back are permanently contorted to fit at the kiddie table. (Yup. I’m the young end of the cousins.)

So, eventually, the obligatory invitation–and the equally obligatory acceptance–simply stopped coming. It would have been warmer, and fuzzier all around, if someone had had the sense to stop it years earlier (or break it down into the individual families at the generation that was doing the actual work.)

But there you go. It collapsed. It’s dead, and I’m glad it’s dead.

I took my happily child-free butt and went to the Hi-Way Diner. 24-7, and the only minor who’s gonna get near me is the one taking my order. I had a Ruben sandwich. My mother had an omelette. Nobody had to eat turkey, or Aunt Thelma’s Pinch-of-Salt Cookies. No one had to die so that I could finally inherit a big-people chair. Nobody asked me if I’d like a left-over straw of donor sperm. It was awesome.

Then, I came home and downloaded a couple of comic books. Because the sales really are amazing. And because my quest to read all of the Hugo&Nebula winning novels in the world needed another distraction.

And as soon as I’m done with the next chapter in my revision, I’ll read them. Right now… well, the scene’s perfect. Except that neither of the characters who are in it belongs there. And it’s in the wrong setting. And the motivations are completely off.

Other than that it’s perfect.

Should be done in no time.

The Thing About Exposure

This is a picture of a train.

And if you don’t mind my saying so, it happens to be a particularly snazzy picture of a train.

I should know. I drew it. And excuse the glare.

By the way, please don’t tell anyone I drew it. Because… I don’t really draw trains. In fact, for the most part, I don’t draw anything recognizable. Whatever I am, I fall well and truly on the abstract side of the road.

The train is a special occasion. Specifically, a friend asked me to draw a train for her grandfather, a retired engineer (who happened to be one of the adult mentors in a youth club we both belonged to.) So, I drew a train.

And the train hung on his wall, viewed by tens of people. Tens, I’m telling you.

Well, fine. I did it to make a friend happy.

Now, imagine, on the other hand that I had done it for exposure.

I get a lot of pay-in-exposure type requests. Some of them are direct, and others beat around the bush a lot, and some of them are open calls to all of the artists in the area.

Among the more notable versions of the request are the community art project, in which I would wind up having to buy an unfinished rocking chair (for example) from them, paint it according to their “theme”, and then let them auction it off for “their” charity. (And I’ve seen this with other objects, ranging from trash barrels to giant rodents.) And it usually is for charity. And always “exposure.”

So, imagine I drew a train for exposure.

What I usually draw, and what I want to draw, is this:

This:

Or, this.

But the exposure I’d get for a train picture is tens (or hundreds, or thousands) of people who have seen work I don’t typically do. The people who want what I do probably aren’t going to connect my abstract work to that picture of a train. And the people who really liked the train and call me? Well, they’re probably going to want more trains.

The same goes for people who liked the rocking chair, the trash barrel, or the giant rodent.

The exposure that I would be getting paid in isn’t usually exposure for what I do, or what I want to do. It’s exposure for what someone else wanted me to do, or talked me into doing for the poor orphans.

You could send a hell of a lot of train picture aficionados my way before it becomes worth it to draw that train. I don’t do trains. And yes, there may be some crossover, and maybe somebody will look at the paintings I do have, and fall madly in love… but more likely, they’ll take a quick look around, realize there are no train pictures, and then walk back out.

And the people who do like what I want to do? Well, they probably never bothered looking for the train artist in the first place.

So, where do I draw the line?

1.) If this is a personal favor, how well do I know the person who is asking, and anyone else involved with it? For instance, I’d known both my friend and her grandfather since we were kids.

2.) If this is a fundraising thing, is this a charity I would give actual, cold, hard cash to? You know the saying Time is money? Well, why would you invest your time in a charity you wouldn’t invest money in?

3.) Is the exposure worth it? Does it highlight the direction I want my art and my business to go? The skills and aesthetic that I’m proud of? Is the piece that I’m showing off similar to pieces I do in real life? Is there enough space in my artist’s biography for a couple of pictures of what I really do, and a comment that I’ve done something out of my comfort zone to support the cause?

4.) Does the “exposure” actively damage your brand? For instance, if you draw children’s books, auctioning off an erotic nude for charity could be a very bad idea. Or is that life-sized wombat statue really what you’d like to be associated with?

5.) What happened the last time? Did I get a ton of traffic from links on their website? Or was it pretty much a one-way street?

Revision Progress, Math, and Holidays

I cut 5,000 words from my manuscript today. To be honest, I was relieved to see them go. You know that point when you realize that every chunk you can cut is another chunk you don’t have to revise? Oh, yeah. I’m there.

So, now I have revision notes to my page numbers. Specifically, something to tell me what page comes after page 27. It’s 38, in case you’re wondering.

A little math in my head, and that brings me to a very conservative word count, so I’ll have some space, at least to play around with some of the scenes I really did think existed.

There are exactly two lengths of manuscript, and somehow, I usually manage to bounce between them for my entire revision. There’s the Oh, shit, I’ve written a pamphlet length, and the oh, shit… did I really have to use every word in the English language length. There is no middle ground.

The most recent cut means I’ve gone from not a lot of space to play with to… just barely squeaking into my goal range. (But don’t worry, there are some gaps I still need to fill in.)

I’m looking forward to a mellow, introvert’s Thanksgiving in a few days. Something where I can get some actual work done, and maybe coax a piece of pie out of the universe. Holidays… well, you know the definition of Holiday, right? A holiday is any day on which you run a significant risk of having to explain the word homoerotic to Aunt Thelma. (No, no context. why?) So I’m having a Thanksgiving non-holiday.

My revision is on schedule, my nanowrimo is mostly not. And as for the holidays? I’m escaping.

How Can You Tell If Your Work is Good?

This morning, I ran across what has to be the single most objectively bad book cover I’ve ever seen in my life. Someone I follow retweeted it to help out the author. And even at the ass crack of dawn with an hour and five minutes of sleep (an actual Fitbit reading, not hyperbole) I could tell that this cover was slow down and look at the train wreck bad. It’s not pardon me, your slip is showing. It’s more… Hey, your bikini waxer missed a spot.

The book in question was a BDSM romance in the vein of 50 Shades. The adver-tweet, itself said BDSM romance, and yes, I actually followed the link to more description on Amazon. No, I can’t remember a dang word of what Amazon said.

The models on the cover were the requisite well-built and shirtless man(cropped at the neck), and a blonde woman who was pasted over him at a rather odd angle. You got the impression that some other background had been removed, and the original furniture didn’t really have the same contours as a hard six-pack. The whole thing was very clearly patched together.

She also had an expression on her face that didn’t really suggest a consenting adult. I’m very serious when I say that my first thought was that she’s dead. In the sense of… well, that’s a very life-like makeup job. Literally dead. (This is partially the weird angle she was at, and partially the expression on her face.) Dead. Overdosed. Vapid blow-up doll surprise. Best case scenario, she looked like a vulnerable adult.

And yet… someone not only decided that collage of images was sexy… they chose it to represent their book.

The cover had absoutely nothing to suggest BDSM or any other part of the plot. The only thing that made me notice it at all was just how awful it was. Who the hell is sending me this crap?

Writers are not artists. Most of us don’t have a lot of graphic design background. I get that.

I still found myself looking at this cover and wondering just how it happened. Author designing their own cover to save money? Probably. But still. How objective do you have to be to catch that your female model looks dead or intoxicated? Author not getting or not trusting feedback on the cover picture? Probably that, too.

And of course, to some extent, I’m guilty too. After all, I didn’t pull the author aside and send them a nice note that says… hey, uhm… did you know?

I have a writers’ group on line–an actually fairly large forum–where people can post titles, cover copy, and cover images for feedback. You get to vote as to which thing you like best, and then you get to comment about why. And the longer I’m there, the clearer I am getting about sorting out the objective–this is just wrong–information (Such as The cover model is a blonde Caucasian, but you described the character as a pretty Afro-Caribbean) from the subjective. (I like the blue one.)

So, the question is… how do you find the friends who will say hey, your slip is showing, your breath stinks, and you can’t for the world tell the American spelling from the British one?

How do you know when what you’ve done is actually good, and how do you develop the taste that lets you know the difference?

The Festival of Queries: A Writerly Celebration of Death

I’m finishing up my revision, and that means it’s time to start the weeping an gnashing of teeth Uhm… working on a query letter. So, this is the process by which we take the novel–all 100 thousand words of it–and cram it into a post-it note, or better yet, a postage stamp.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. I actually get about three hundred and fifty words.

It’s not really supposed to be the whole story line. It’s more of a hook with a couple of jaw-dropping, earth-shaking plot points.

In other words, I get to leave almost everything out.

My current word count for the damn thing highly streamlined and professional piece of correspondence. is sixty-nine words. Yup. In other words, I’m pretty well good with the hook part, and now, I’m debating what I should use to flesh it out a little more.

And that’s where I get completely and totally lost. Sixty-nine words is plenty, thank you very much. Now, can I send you a picture of household pets, or possibly one of my grandmother’s cookie recipes?

Apparently not.

So, now I start trying to figure out what’s vitally important information, and what’s not.

Pricing and Podcasting Microphones

blueyeti pro mic w/pricing

I was in a Best Buy the other day. That’s something I don’t do all that often because it tends to make me a little nostalgia-y sad. (They’ve really pared down their components in recent years, and the sad truth is that I usually know more than the staff does. Especially if I’ve been researching a purchase, and have now abandoned my jammies.The staff, of course, has been trained to be as outgoing as possible, so there’s no real chance of reading the box before it’s being read to you.) In general, the prices don’t really lure me in, either.

In this particular case, the goal was a highly educational documentary of no particular description, due to the fact that I remember their video section being… well, better.

I cannot go into one of these places without looking at things, though.

So, after a brief stop by internet connected locks, which was interrupted by a salesman (really, they just appear out of no where) I headed over to my current fascination. Podcasting equipment.

They are not selling any of the things that are in my basement, right now, and the next step on my list isn’t there, either.  But I did find the pricing interesting, and worth mentioning. This is a Blue Yeti Pro microphone. It’s priced locally at $179 ish, but is generally priced at about $245. And it’s priced at $245 on the Best Buy website, as well. So, the unadvertised local price is roughly $66 cheaper. And it has been for a couple of months at least.

Don’t take this as a recommendation for the microphone itself. For a podcast, this is actually a lot of overkill, and the microphone I chose is about half of the good price. I would like to own this one… mainly because it has a lot of fiddly knobs for me to play with. But if I’m just reading stories on the internet, it’s too much. But it’s an interesting exercise in pricing.

This is also–I checked–the only microphone in the store that has both a USB and an XLR connector. And that means I’ve gotta remind everybody that it’s a big red flag anytime a store only has one selection of anything. In this case, it means they’ve stocked the really expensive version where you get more than most people will ever need for more than most people should pay. Sometimes, it means you’re getting the bargain basement version. Or the “popular” version. It very rarely means you’re getting the right fit.