Friday, August 28, 2015

Creative Differences

I'm a terrible person and only just read Michelle's Monday blog post right before sitting down to write this one. But her footnote made me giggle enough that I thought it was worth dedicating this post to. I mean, kind of. In a way. Not really.

Basically, the low-down: American Gods is one of my favorite books. Michelle reviewed it and didn't like it as much as I did (you can read her review by clicking the link above), then added in her footnote "Please don’t kill me, Emer." While I might jokingly take off her head for insulting my favorites, I don't actually take offense.

Here's the thing: everyone's entitled to their own opinions. Not everyone's going to like the same story or the same movie or the same podcast (but you better like ours, damn it). And that's okay. That's part of what makes creating and consuming art worth the effort. If everyone liked exactly the same thing, we wouldn't need to continue creating or strive to find something new, because everyone would be content with the things that are already out there.

While my co-hosts and I might discuss and disagree on different books/stories or aspects of them, we fundamentally respect each other and our differing opinions (even when we're being sarcastic little jerks to each other). I think that respect of other peoples' thoughts and ideas is something we really need to cultivate more of, both within the creative community and in the world at large. And, yeah, that makes me sound like a total naive optimist, but oh well. I still think it's important.

And, no, Michelle, I'm not going to kill you. But you still need to read the Sandman comics.

Emily gets very passionate about the things she likes and loves convincing other people to read/watch them, even if they don't like it as much. She also enjoys heavy doses of sarcasm, mythology-inspired stories, and comics. She may or may not have been on a rom com binge for the last week. She's certainly not confirming or denying the rumors.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Contributing to Writing Organizations

We've talked about writing organizations before. We'll probably talk about them again. This week's episode featured a new group coming to Colorado: the UAA. While I haven't decided if I'm going to join them as a member, I plan on supporting them and pointing people their way. The fact that they help promote literacy is a big deal to me, and they put together membership requirements that encourage the building of a community.

I've gotten a lot out of my membership with other writing groups, and I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had to give back. This podcast has a growing audience with wide interests, and being able to bring writers on who've helped me in the past is a nice benefit of co-hosting the show. It may not be much, but it's what I can offer the community that I'm a part of.

Like I said, I don't know if I'm going to sign up for the UAA. I'm undecided about renewing my membership with RMFW, too. There are many organizations I want to join, but depending on the nature of the group, there's only so much I can offer.

You see, a community is only a community if the people involved work together. Getting one "leader" and a bunch of "takers" isn't a community, it's a service. Writing organizations shouldn't be a service. The ones that are really need to charge more to their members. I take this seriously, and while paying my dues and showing up to events is "allowed," I want to give more. Many of the writers I interact with are becoming my friends. Some of them are ALREADY my friends. New members are joining these groups every year, too. And I want to be able to help them as much as I've been helped.

Contributions to the community, on any level, will help it grow. And as the year winds to a close in the next four months, I plan on trying to figure out how I can contribute. Right now, that means working with writers through this podcast and blog. In the future, it may be something different. I'm not going to be a taker. I'll accept help and take advantage of opportunities to grow, but I want to give back.

Thinking back, episodes like this week's and our discussion of the Kindle Scout user agreement with Susan Spann are the reason I want to do this podcast. We get to put new information out there for listeners who may be looking into these programs. Some of them (like the UAA) are simply awesome. Others (like Kindle Scout) require more information to make an educated decision. And getting that information out to people who may not have any other place to turn is something that I'm passionate about. Because that builds community and gives organizations like the UAA and RMFW somewhere to point their members when they have questions.

Giles is psyched to bring good information to the listeners. When he's not spending quality time with his wife writing/researching ways to improve his writing, he's playing video games, brewing beer, or watching TV. He has one semester of school to attend this fall, then he's going to pursue a third career (juggling three at once). He's a bit crazy, but it's all for the community.

Monday, August 24, 2015

American Gods: A Book Review

I finished reading American Gods this weekend, and it’s taken me three days to wrap my head around it. It’s not my typical reading material – you can generally find me square in front of a young adult fantasy novel – but Emer kept squealing about it, and it’s by Neil Gaiman, fer Pete’s sake.

Gaiman is one of those talented writers you really, really want to hate. I mean, really. He’s just so.dang.good. American Gods has plot, sure, and great characters. But the craft, people. His craft is near perfection. It is the cherry on top of an epic sundae of deliciousness. It is a glory to behold.

And yet… (am I even allowed to say this?*) I got bored in the middle. Technically it was somewhere between Disk 3 and Disk 10. Not exactly the middle when there are 19 disks, but it felt like the middle of the story. I digress.

Why did I get bored? Well, the plot meanders. It’s a travel book first and a fantasy second, and that mix just didn’t ring my bell. It’s also enormous, so the plot pieces that are there can be difficult to connect before you get to the very end. I felt a little lost trying to give meaning to the seemingly random events that didn’t spark my fancy.

On the other hand – and this shows just how good Gaiman is – when you reach the end, your suspicions are confirmed, and Shadow, the protagonist, finally figures everything out, it’s like climbing up into the light after a year underground. When I reached the epilogue and saw how the breadcrumbs had led to those final moments, I did feel satisfied with the ending. I may not adore the way the book got from A to Z, but I can appreciate the views I glimpsed on the way there.  

I definitely recommend American Gods to lovers of fantasy and road trip novels**. It’s beautifully written and worth the journey.

Michelle enjoyed her trip into books for grown ups, but she's ready for some new YA reads. You should suggest something to her!

*Please don’t kill me, Emer.

**FYI for younger readers and parents…there are a few sex scenes (which I honestly found unnecessary/unwarranted, but that’s another talk altogether). This book does not pull its punches – expect real life, with very real, intense people. That means cursing and sex and other things that not everyone is ready to read.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Do You Create?

I picked up a book called The Writer's Guide to Persistence a couple weeks ago (mostly because I have problems sticking with a project until it's done and I was curious). One of the first exercises in this book is to take a look at why you're writing in the first place. What first got you into writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, genre or literary? What gets you excited about putting words on the page? What is your driving reason to create?

Is it to entertain yourself and your readers? Is it because you need an outlet for all those voices in your head? Is it because you want fame and fortune? (If it's the last one, I highly suggest a different career; not to be pessimistic, but the odds of getting famous and filthy rich from writing are very slim.)

I thought it was an interesting exercise, to go back and look at the root of what got me into this craziness in the first place. The reasons I came up with were: to entertain, to get the voices out of my head (because my characters are persistent), to explore the human condition, and to help increase diversity in literature (even if only a handful of people ever read my work). Since I came up with this list, I've been trying to go back to it when I'm feeling stuck. How can I utilize my desire to entertain to get over the stuck I'm feeling on this project? How fix this story I hate to help explore what it means to be alive?

I can't say it's been 100% successful yet, but I do think it's a something we should all think about. What about you? What keeps your creative clock ticking?

Emily is having a hard time coming up with something witty for her bio today. She'd much rather be out in the sunshine with her camera.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Some Favorites

We've discussed adaptations before, but talking about books that were turned into movies is a very touchy subject, especially to readers who LOVE their books. Rather than talking about the bad side, though, I'm just going to recommend a few of my favorite adaptations and send you off for a weekend of watching.

First, here are five movies that I love, adapted from books I never read (though I intend to read some of them eventually):

1. High Fidelity (based on the book by Nick Hornby). My all time favorite movie.

2. About a Boy (also based on a book by Nick Hornby).

3. The Bourne Identity (JUST picked up the audiobook for this one and plan on listening to it right after The Maze Runner).

4. Scott Pilgrim.

5. The Princess Bride (Duh! Awesome movie. Just need to get around to the book).

Now, five MORE movies based on books that I HAVE read:

1. Harry Potter (all of them. They're not all great, but I enjoyed the movies and LOVED the books!).

2. Pride and Prejudice (the BBC version. Really enjoyed the book, and this adaptation is fun to watch on Date Night).

3. Ender's Game (I thought the movie was okay, but wished they'd done it differently. SERIOUSLY loved the book, though!).

4. Mockingjay Pt. 1 (the other ones bored me a bit. Didn't hate them, but the third movie is the first time I got REALLY pulled into the film).

5. Interview With the Vampire (movie is pretty good, but the book blew me away).

That's it. That's all you get. Now go read a book and watch a movie.

Looks like readers have something to watch this week. If you have more movies you love, leave a comment or shoot Giles a message on his twitter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Precedent (or why Traditional Publishers are [still] Awesome)

This week's episode is a look at Amazon's new payment policy for self-published authors. People have been talking about this for a while, and I'm aware that we're "late" to the game. However, the nature of how we're required to prepare for the show means we can't stay "up to date" on all of the topics we discuss.

I did some digging around on this topic when we recorded, and one of the thing I discovered is that, if I were a self-published author with a massive novel on Kindle Unlimited, and I heard that the person who wrote a 5k-word project got paid the same per copy that I did, I might be upset (I'm not in that situation, so I can't say for sure, of course). If I'm getting paid a dollar and change for my 100k+ word novel, and the other person is getting a dollar and change for their 5k word short story, why should I bother with the long piece when I could punch out twenty pieces and make twenty times more? Or split up my book into installments.

So, I can see where author complaints came from, and why Amazon chose to respond the way they did. In my opinion, this policy COULD encourage an increase in quality (the better a book is, the more likely a reader is to finish it), but, like the abandoned payment scheme, the end-result will tend to push toward quantity. Longer books with (possibly) more unnecessary descriptions, subplots, and overarching storylines.


That is speculation, and the GREAT thing about new technology is that AMAZING authors have the freedom to self-publish their books if they want to. I will not trash the METHOD used to get books into the world. I will only comment on QUALITY of the finished product, and when (yes I said WHEN) I find a self-published book with the same quality as my favorite traditionally published book, I'll tell as many people about it as I can. Because great books deserve to be shared.

No, the problem I have with this new author-payment scheme is the precedent it sets for the industry overall. I don't believe in conspiracies, but that's really what makes this disconcerting. Amazon already made the change. It's done, over-with, and probably not going anywhere. If people still decide to self-publish through them, ostensibly accepting the policy, and it turns out that Amazon can still be profitable, what's to stop other publishers from doing the same thing? Or something similar, anyway?

Business as a whole are still trying to figure out how to remain profitable in this economy, especially on a global scale, and EXTRA ESPECIALLY in industries that are not considered "vital" for survival (like food and housing). The publishing industry, much like music, got smacked in the face with new technology. Like most multi-national organizations with shareholders they're obligated to pay who ALSO have a say in how the business can be run, they're slow to react to changes. Even if they could adapt more quickly, the changes seem to be happening so fast that another change is JUST around the corner. A real "problem" with technology.

So we have businesses with employees and shareholders and assets they're looking to acquire (stories). One company is changing the "value" of those assets AND renegotiating how those assets are paid for. The businesses that have been around the longest don't want to put their employees on unemployment. Because of the way investment laws work and are regulated by the federal government, the people running these companies also have to make sure that the people who invested money in those businesses get their investment returned. If the assets can suddenly be acquired and paid for in a method that guarantees that the mail-room guy, receptionist, editor, typesetter, and all the shareholders continue to get their money, why should they ignore that? Because of some "moral" obligation to the asset-creator?

I am NOT saying that publishers are out there to take advantage of authors for the sake of a few bucks. Editors and publishing houses have treated most authors better over the years than many readers have. More importantly, most editors I've seen on the web very much dislike Amazon's new policy. Every editor I've known LOVES to read. And they LOVE to make sure that the authors they work with get taken care of.

This is a complex issue, and over the course of the next few years, it's going to get more complicated. All of us need to eat. And so far, the traditional publishing world looks like they're trying to make sure that their employees are taken care of while also ensuring that their "assets" are well paid for. I APPLAUD the publishing industry for not jumping on the Amazon bandwagon.

I also implore them to stay strong. Take care of the authors, treat them well, and they will continue to produce quality work.

Giles BELIEVES in the traditional publishing world. It's his goal to reach professional publication through the traditional method. Roadblocks keep getting in his way, but it's less of a struggle than having to just "live" with payment changes that come from Amazon without notice.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pitch Wars

A writer friend suggested that I should do Pitch Wars this year, so I said, “Maybe! Sounds fun!” and very quickly went to Google to ask it what the heck Pitch Wars is all about. I’d heard of the contest before, but all I knew was that it had something to do with Twitter and pitching manuscripts.

Pitch Wars, it turns out, is pretty dang cool. Published/agented authors mentor unpublished authors with the goal of getting their manuscript ready for agents to fight over. It doesn’t actually occur over Twitter, which is what I thought (not sure how I came to that conclusion). If your manuscript is chosen by one of the mentors, you two spend two months clearing out the dross and polishing it to a spectacular sheen. Then you pitch to agents, which hopefully will lead to a Happily Ever After ending*.

If you need some entertainment, some of the mentors are already pretending to trash-talk one another using #PitchWars. I say “pretending” because everyone is actually very nice and encouraging. There are some hilarious “Send So-And-So This” with terrible plotline ideas. Terrible, but funny.

I’m not 100% sure I’m going to jump into the madness that is Pitch Wars, but I’m definitely leaning toward it. I’m feeling great about my work in progress and there seem to be a few mentors who love YA, superpowers, and dry humor. Either way it’s nearly time to query, and you never know what’ll happen…

What do you think? Are contests like this worth the effort?

Last night Michelle felt really proud of herself for doing an adult-y thing called “Watering the Lawn”. And then it rained. Torrentially.

*Unless you’re one of those “Happy endings are just stories that aren’t finished yet” people, in which case you will hopefully get a Happy For Today ending, which is just as good and probably more realistic. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

SF Signal Awesomeness

Last night, we had the incredible honor of recording with Patrick Hester from the SF Signal podcast! It was a great time with pizza, jokes galore, and a huge amount of nerding out. Our rather rambly conversation will go live on the SF Signal feed on Monday, but in the meantime, here's a short list of just some of the things you can expect:
  • We discuss what we're currently reading and which authors have influenced our personal writing styles 
  • We gossip talk about some of the incredible people we and Patrick have both interviewed 
  • We gloat about all the nerd swag we have that you can't see because it's an audio recording
  • We go over a little bit about what our recording and podcast organization stuff looks like 
  • Michelle whispers things that the mic still picks up 
  • Giles gushes about Jim Butcher again 
  • I forget I'm wearing an American Gods shirt and get really passionate about diversity in fiction and Ms. Marvel comics 
  • There are occasional comments by a cat 
Basically, we had a blast and we can't thank Patrick enough for having us on! We're hoping to return the favor someday soon. In the meantime, tune into the SF Signal on Monday (and keep in mind that there is a bit more cursing than we tend to keep in our episodes).

Emily might have too many opinions she can't express adequately and winds up flailing ineffectually about a certain topic. It's kind of hilarious to watch. She's always found it frustrating. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Learning from Other Art Forms

Over the weekend, my sister-in-law turned me onto the show Ink Master. I've considered getting a tattoo off and on for about a decade, now, and I've always been intrigued by the unique art form that is making pictures on skin. So it shouldn't be a surprise that I binge-watched the entire season that Netflix had available, then tracked down the rest of the seasons on Hulu.

After that, I thought maybe I should look into what it takes to become a tattoo artist (not for my own sake: I can't draw AT ALL, and any ink I poked into someone's skin would just turn into an ugly mess). But I found a podcast hosted by a man who's been tattooing for a very long time. He said something that really struck me as relevant to any artist, whether they're a writer, painter, comic-artist, or musician.

This man (Keith Ciaramello) said that as a young man, he would draw in sketch books, but any time a finger, or a nose, or an eye failed to turn out the way he wanted it to, he would turn to the next page in the sketch book and start something new. What tattooing did for him was it forced him to finally finish a piece of artwork. As a result, he started to really grow as an artist.

This reminded me of something I've been thinking through (and possibly even blogged about in the past). To really grow as an artist, the artist has to finish something. Good or bad, I can't grow as a writer until I get a chance to see the picture as a WHOLE.

That's all I'm going to say on the topic. If you want to grow, finish your projects. Learn from the structure, see what you did right, what you did wrong, and then see if you can fix it before you move on to the next project.

Giles still likes the idea of getting a tattoo, but it might be a few more years. If ever. Until then, he'll enjoy artwork from afar.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Awesome Book Nerd Things!

As co-host of a nerdy podcast and writer of sci-fi and fantasy, I consider it my sacred duty to alert people of awesome things. It’s my pleasure, therefore, to show you the glory that is Litographs.

In case you haven’t seen these super cool t-shirts making their rounds on social media, Litographs is a company that sells merch covered with the actual text of classic literature. Well, I say “classic”, but the books span everything from Frankenstein and Hamlet to The Time Traveler’s Wife and Little Brother. If your favorite book isn’t already a part of their collection, you can vote on titles to be added. If the text isn't part of the public domain, they work with the author to whip something up

Everything you buy is designed by hand, which I just think is really cool. Here are a few of the designs for my favorite books. Can you guess which classics they are?

How has human civilization gone so long without these? Seriously, you all need to go and buy stuff from these guys so we can all gain cool points together.

Michelle's birthday is in October. Just sayin’. 

The Litographs designs shown above are: