Flirting with Ubuntu

So I came this close to ditching Windows in favor of Ubuntu last night. I already had it installed, completely overwriting Windows, and I was loving it. (I booted into Ubuntu so I could get online and download the files I needed to repair my Windows installation. Experimentation led to installing it over Windows as a step toward that solution.) The ultimate problem was that Scrivener wasn’t running well. Apparently it doesn’t play well with Wine; about the bottom third of the screen was left uncovered when I maximized Scrivener’s window. That, and the text looked like I was running it on Windows 95. Very hard on the eyes.

I saw that the folks at Literature and Latte are working up a Linux version of Scrivener, but I’m not quite brave enough to exchange my Windows license for a Linux version. I like how Dropbox allows me to access my work no matter what happens, and tying my work to Linux would threaten that. It’s already tied to Scrivener, somewhat.

So here I am, back to Bill’s bloated, unimaginative GUI software. At least everything runs.

That’s Highly Annoying, TradPub

So I’m shopping for a good book on writing descriptions, and here’s what I see:

Delayed Description Book

Oh cool, there’s a new edition of the book I wanted. Wait, there’s no Kindle edition? That’s annoying. Wait, December 12, 2014? It’s not even out? YOU’VE ALREADY FINISHED THE COVER!!! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE AND NOT WANTING TO MAKE MONEY???

pepe

Le sigh.

(This came hot on the trail of Google refusing to show me an Amazon link to the book page, showing me screens of Google Books results even when I searched for “word painting Rebecca Mcclanahan amazon.” Biased much? Also, after reading a lot of reviews, I’m not planning to get the book. Don’t take the picture as a recommendation.)

Mindmaps! You should make some!

So I was just tinkering around with XMind, a freemium mindmapping program. I was throwing notes together for the next project in my pipeline, and I discovered something very cool. When adding notes together, you automatically start grouping them according to their relationship with each other. What I found myself doing was this:

XMind Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I began throwing different factors in the plot onto the map, they naturally represent the different pieces of the conflict and the resulting outcomes from each. I had not set out to do an outline, but one started to come together anyway.

This looks like an easy, organic, and visual way to develop a story, while being able to look at all the parts at the same time. And it’s not just a single set of nested brackets, either; I have four main branches going in different directions for different purposes. Note, this all happened within the first 15 minutes or so of me using the program, and there are tons of features I haven’t touched even in the free version. I’m planning to use a mindmap to start this project, convert it into a more traditional outline when it’s ready, and see how it goes. I’ll share my results, too, of course.

(And since I’m using Scrivener, it’ll be easy to staple all of this to the book project and keep everything together for reference and safekeeping.)

North Korea, Humanitarian Utopia (yes, sarcasm)

Just read this article about a girl that won life’s biggest lottery: she escaped from North Korea. She talks about how the state propaganda affected her beliefs about the fat, disgusting, murdering dictator (FDMD) Kim Jong-Il.

The FDMD is the main blame, of course, but after that comes China. China props that little hellhole up intentionally, I imagine to keep a burr in our undies and to make themselves look relatively good. Side note: I’ll never forget the day I sat in China watching a documentary on NK with an older Chinese friend, who looked at me and said “That’s exactly how it was here 15 years ago.” (That was back in 2007.)

Well, the girl had to learn things like why her opinion mattered (yes, really) and what freedom and rights really meant. I want to give this girl a big Star-Striped Fistbump of Liberty, even though she’s living in SK now (I gather).

One thing that really roasted my goat, though, was the fact that she met South Korean missionaries… who told her and her mother they’d be fine if they could get to Mongolia. So then they had to walk to Mongolia. Little geography lesson: Mongolia is on the opposite side of China’s borders from NK. It’s at one of the thinner sections of the Chinese territory, though, so they only needed to walk about 400 miles. In the winter. In the longitudinal equivalent of Maine. Apparently the missionaries weren’t on a mission to save poor, brainwashed women fleeing the worlds worst oppression. Kinda reminds me of James 2:15-16:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Yeah… bit of a fail, guys. Just saying, I would have driven them to the border, rather than make them walk 400 MILES WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

Marketing for Writers

So I’ve exposed myself to a couple of bits of media recently that have pushed me to a new perspective on writers marketing their work… again. Yes, I know, it seems like every other day I’m “adjusting” my opinion on this. And that’s highly irritating to me. In fact, it’s another variable in this formula; I’ve realized that my wishy-washiness is probably a sign of not knowing for myself what I’m talking about in the “Do Good Books Sell Themselves or Not?” debate. So, I’ve come to a kind of resolution, which I’ll get to in a bit.

The first media that help shift me this time was this blog post by Russel Blake. Especially his first two of eight points:

1) Books Sell Themselves. No, sweetie, they don’t, at all, and never did. That’s why trad pubs spend massively on promotions. Because they know that visibility sells books, not invisible cosmic forces or author brilliance. It’s a highly competitive market with millions of choices, and it’s a retail market, and in retail, visibility is key. Which means constant promotion. Which most authors hate. But it’s reality, so get used to the idea. A companion to this aphorism is the next one…

This myth is the one that’s always been frustrating to me, and yet somehow has managed to infiltrate my own thinking over and over. After all, I’ve found my new favorite indie writers on Amazon, not through some clickthrough advertisement or spam mail or tweet, so the cream must be rising above the crap, right? That thinking breaks all kinds of logical rules, though, such as incomplete comparison (did those authors promote themselves into Amazon visibility, which led to me finding them?) as well as rules of salesmanship (don’t assume that everyone buys the same way you do). If you think about it, everything else besides books is sold through active and passive marketing and sales efforts. Is it really true that books are some kind of exception?

No way. Book contracts are a way of promoting your work, as that will get it in front of bookstore shoppers. Endlessly tweeting about your book does the same, except in a sleazy and annoying and inefficient fashion. The question is not whether promotion leads to sales, but what kind of promotion will be most effective.

2) Just write the next one.

Sure, if you want to have two undiscovered gems instead of one. Look, writing the next one’s important, but not if it’s used to justify not promoting the last one, which is often the case. You have to both market the last one AND write the next one. Sorry. You do.

This one follows #1 logically, both for those that believe it and for refuting it. Emily Dickinson had drawers full of her work, and only a dozen or so were published during her life. How come people weren’t flocking to her drawer to get that wonderful rhyming goodness before then? Because they HAD NO IDEA IT WAS THERE!!! If you believe that you need to submit your work to a publisher or a storefront like Amazon in order to sell your work, then you believe in promoting your work. To say that promotion stops with the product (writing, editing, cover, blurb, sales copy on product page) ignores the fact that you didn’t take all that work and lock it in a drawer. Put your work in every place that will promote it enough to be worth your time, whether that’s a digital storefront or an advertisement site.

The second media that helped swing my vacillating pendulum is the recent episode of The Self Publishing Podcast, titled “Selling Your First 1000 Copies” with guest Tim Grahl. These guys are successful full-time writers that are doing a million things at once, from serials to novels to promo to podcasting and on and on. Tim said several things that made me nod my head or lock up in one of those thoughtful “OH!” moments.

One was the importance of separating yourself from certain decisions. He referenced Tim Ferriss’ method of choosing a book title (basically a series of double-blind testing of several possible titles), which resonated with me as I’m planning to retitle my first book. Back to point, some decisions can’t be made by us ourselves. “What cover will best grab sales?” is a different question from “What cover best encapsulates the story?” or “What cover satisfies my own personal aesthetics?” Also, as Tim Grahl said, we’re often far too close to our own projects to make a good decision. My takeaway is that any part of your product that involves other people making a purchase decision ought to be tested until you find the best alternative, not the one that you choose from a biased perspective.

Another point to the episode was to promo Tim Grahl’s new book, Your First 1000 Copies (who’d a-thunk it?) It was $3.99 as an ebook last I checked, and $1.99 as an audiobook (!!!) Go get it, because I doubt those prices will hold.

So I come away convinced of the need to do more promo work. What’s that going to mean? Paid ads? We’ll see. The first thing I’m going to do is read Tim Grahl’s book, then make more specific decisions. One thing he said that sounded very reasonable and occurred to me before was the need to be putting out material that draws people in, so that they go from not knowing you to knowing you. So more free fiction is going to be a part of the plan, I wager.

P.S. I’d appreciate a summary of KKR’s recent series of blog posts so I can decide whether to go back and read them. It’s a long series, which leads me to think she says more than “write the next book” this time.

Ike

I’m assuming I’m spelling his name correctly. You know, the CEO who just got fired from Mozilla because someone dug up a smallish donation he made in support of putting Proposition 8 on the ballot in California six years ago? Well, being the news whore I sometimes am, I gots to opine.

I’m generally of the opinion that people should leave each other alone. I don’t support a ban on gay marriage any more than I support government control of who can or cannot marry. So when this guy Ike gets fired for having, not even expressing, just having, a belief on a political issue, you know political correctness has turned from annoying to dangerous. I’ve lived in a country where people are afraid to say certain things lest they be turned over to the authorities. I felt a lot of anger and pity over that. To be here, the so-called land of the free, and see a man hunted and dragged down for the legal thing he did in private, that puts me into a more dangerous mood.

If Ike had come out saying he thought homosexuals were disgusting animals, I’d understand. If he had come out and said that gay marriage was a blasphemy against God, I could still understand his firing. As a CEO you have to consider yourself as the symbol of the company at all times, and a business doesn’t owe it to you to carry the burden of your beliefs. If Ike had made any of this mess public himself, I’d be able to find a rationale to agree with his firing.

The reality of this case is more like an Inquisition, though. Ike has been made an example to the rest for something he did in private. Mozilla was too cowardly to tell its critics to leave private politics aside, and I don’t support companies like that.

Sorry, Mozilla, but I’ve uninstalled Firefox from 3 devices, as well as Thunderbird and Filezilla. If you can find the courage to let your employees’ beliefs alone, rather than dump them in pursuit of ideological purity, I’ll think of coming back. It doesn’t look pretty, though; Chrome is a lot nicer and more stable than the beta version I tried last…

BBI3 Coming Very Soon

This book is killing me. I’ve spent way too much time getting it out, and honestly I’m dragging a bit here at the end. Hugh Howey’s www.authorearnings.com put a lot of wind back into my sails, though, so I’m expecting to release before the end of the month. All that’s left is to finish doing revisions on scenes, get a cover and sales copy done, and upload. Huzzah!

Updates and Such

I still live. I’m almost done with the next book and already have three ideas for a next one. 2013 probably will end up being my least productive year so far, so I’m determined to stomp that trend with boots on.

Much like our buddy Mary Sisson, I’m considering making a slight genre change. It won’t be so different that readers of both won’t be able to cross over, and it will let me play in the real world a bit. Yup, I’m considering taking the plunge into dark YA fantasy! I feel that I am more than broody enough for the task, and I’ve always wanted to write about obscure towns in my area. Mary Sue and I will get along famously, I’m sure.

So the year is looking to be a good one.

Learning Writing from Nerds

I’m a huge fan of Overclocked Remix. It’s one of the microcosms of nerd culture that came into being because of the internet, a site that allows people to post their remixed versions of video game music. Mostly I love it for the nostalgia, but every once in a while I run across something that’s just darn good music. The latest example would be The Quick and the Blue. I don’t care for the style much, but the songwriting… that is some Class AAA writing. For those who wouldn’t get it otherwise, this is about the battle between Megaman (who’s mostly colored blue) and one of the enemy bosses, Quick Man. You can guess what Quick Man’s specialty is. I won’t repost the lyrics here without permission, but the lyrics are available on the download page.

What did I learn from the song? Evocative wording. Pacing. Tension and momentum. Go give it a listen. As with everything on OCRemix, it’s free of charge.

Powerful Backstories

I’m a big fan of the anime series Bleach. That might not be unusual, but it probably is unusual that I love it for the depth of its storytelling. Okay, I’ll grant you, everything between the first and last seasons is either filler or get-stronger-to-win-bigger type of stuff. However, you can still see fantastic bits of storytelling all throughout. I’m rewatching the series now, just finished episode five, and came across a moving bit of backstory on a minor character.

WARNING! The following paragraph could be considered a spoiler. If you care, jump down to “CONTINUE” below. (I hate spoilers with a passion.)

The main character has two little sisters. The younger of the two is the perfect little homemaker, even though she’s only about 10 years old. In the course of the first several episodes of the series you see that she does all of the cooking and cleaning. In episode 5, the main character mentions in passing that she started doing all of the housework after their mom died, both as a way of taking care of her family and attempting to fill in the void left by her mom’s death.

CONTINUE

A cute, happy character and her adorable behavior turns out to be someone trying to deal with an enormous amount of emotional pain. It’s the most stereotypical kind of backstory, and yet the way that it’s delivered gives it punch (a punch like a train). There’s more than this, though. The backstory isn’t delivered in stereotypical fashion. No people sitting and talking around a campfire. No explanation from one character to another to answer questions about a third character. No, the main character just compares the situation at hand to his own life and family, and how their similar situation affected them. The emotion behind it speaks for itself.

Why did it work for me? First, because it was unexpected. With the Campfire Explanation, you know exactly what kind of dialogue to expect. You’re ready to absorb it, and to an extent, ready to absorb the impact it will have on you. In this episode of Bleach, the main character delivers the exposition in the middle of facing down a horrible enemy. (Yes, this slows the action, yes, there are times and ways to NOT do this, but that’s a different point.) In fact, in the middle of action is a great time to drop an emotional payload on your reader. We want to feel more strongly during an action scene. We want to be emotional, excited. We put ourselves into that state of mind, and in that state of mind we can react more strongly to anything. It may be melodramatic, but it works.

Second, the delivery was fairly elegant. It wasn’t drawn out, the viewer isn’t told how to feel about the revelation. That’s not even the point. (I’m sure part of the point of this conflict was to expose the main character’s backstory, but in terms of episode plot, it isn’t.) The main character effectively transfers the emotions of the current conflict onto himself, remembers the pain caused in his own life, and then transfers it all back onto the current conflict. The fight is no longer about bad things done to a little boy. It’s about the main character’s suffering, his family’s suffering, and, by extension, the suffering of all people who have had to experience that kind of loss. Oh, and it all takes about 10 seconds to deliver. If you can accomplish something that grand in such a simple way as a writer, you’ve done a fine job.

Third, the exposition actually does matter to the ongoing conflict. It raises the stakes quite a bit for us to see how this matters to the main character, how it’s affecting him. Even if it won’t undo his loss, even if it won’t remove the pain, at least he can exact a little revenge on someone who has caused that kind of loss for someone else.

I’m sure there are a dozen more layers to this. Good storytelling is like an onion in that respect. Those are three that stand out to me, though, ones that I’ll be working to incorporate into my own work.