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A Productive Few Weeks and a Call for Betas

June 6, 2014

The last few weeks have been pretty good, and in particular as it relates to writing time. I’ve found time to write on at least two or three days in each of the last several weeks, and it’s proven quite productive for me. I’ve gone from virtually no editing work done at all on “Story of V” to done, finished, complete with the latest draft.

Of course, my editing process being what it is, I’ve also gone from comfortably under 6,000 words to just past 10,000. Obviously that’s a big jump: way more than I’d either anticipated or planned. I knew it would go up some, but I figured probably around a thousand words, maybe two. A 75% increase in length must be some kind of record, even for me. But even under normal circumstances, I’m learning it’s not unusual for me to have an increase in length of something like 20 to 50%.  (My first completed story which I consider to be of “professional” quality, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Dragons”, which earned an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s of the Future contest, increased in size by about 25% between the two main drafts, from about 9,500 words to about 12,100 words.  My second, Resurrection Spell increased almost 50% from 7,800 words to 11,700 words.)

Which leaves one (i.e. me) to wonder: what’s up with my writing process that this large increase in wordcounts between drafts is normal for me?  Don’t other writers go the other way?

Okay, so I’m not really the best person to say what other writers do, but I expect I’m the most qualified to talk about my own process (even if I’m still learning it, myself). A common thread I’ve noticed between these the stories is about what, precisely, goes into that extra wordcount. The largest part: increased depth of characterization. The second largest part: additional worldbuilding details. The third: some mix of clearing up needless obfuscation and attempts to wax a little more poetic.

You know… I think there’s a good post to be written on this topic.  So, with this hopefully as a teaser, I’ll leave a further examination of what I’ve learned about my writing process until the next time.

For now… the second draft of “Story of V” is finished, and you know what? I think it’s pretty good.  Much better, I believe, than I’d originally expected it to be.  But while I’m happy enough with this draft, I don’t think I’ve reached the end of the writing process here.

And that’s where you, dear reader, may be able to help out.  I always feel a little bit like a tool doing this, but I’m reaching out and looking for volunteer Beta Readers.  What are the qualifications?  An interest in reading a 10,000-word length story, to begin with.  An appreciation for the Epic Fantasy genre would help.  An ability to articulate what you liked and disliked is pretty crucial.

If and when I get any respondents offering their “services”, I do have a few specific requests for certain kinds of feedback, which I’ll detail to those who volunteer.  Basically, at this stage I’m somewhat more interested in style over substance, since I think I’ve got the nuts-and-bolts part pretty well figured out.  Of course… I’m close to the work, and there’s certainly a non-insubstantial chance that I’ve missed some obvious, glaring deficiencies in the work, and I appreciate having those pointed out to me as well.

For those who answer the call I can’t really offer anything but my appreciation: I can’t even make a promise of quid-pro-quo critiquing of something you’ve written.  (I can entertain doing critiques on a case-by-case basis for those who have something they’d like me to critique if I find I have bandwidth, but I can make no solid predictions about what my bandwidth looks like over more than about a week at a time.  Naturally, I would likewise expect no promised quid-pro-quo in return if I am able to take on a critique for anyone out there.)

Shout out here in the comments if you’ve got the time, means, and wherewithal to take a crack at an epic fantasy novelette written by yours truly.

I Can Haz Writing Tymz?

May 13, 2014

So… I wrote something last night. Actual words of fiction. And not just notes about actual words of fiction that I intend to write in the future (although I did that, too). I didn’t keep a wordcount on it – it wasn’t a whole heckuva lot of words, anyway, and the net might actually be a negative wordcount since I was editing on a prior draft of a short story, and I cut out a fair amount, too.

But it felt good.

The work in question is the story I’d code-named “Story of V”. This one’s been a long time in coming… I think I first started work on it sometime in early 2013. Now there’s a real chance I’ll finish it in 2014. Huzzah!

Links to Chew On: Art and Eruptions and AI Bookbots

April 30, 2014

Okay, so here goes with the trying to put these up on a quarterly basis (on the last day of the first month of each quarter; although I’m going to have to decide what to do since Halloween always falls on the last day of the first month of the 4th quarter…) A bridge to cross when we come to it. For now, lessons learned: don’t try to compile a list of links on recent genre controversies for one of these posts.  Those take a lot of thought to say anything cogent about them. (So I had to save all my genre controversy links for a later post…)

  • Every Award-Winning Book Sucks: Scalzi’s faux-sensationalistic headline makes a very basic point – the book with universal appeal has yet to be written, and the most highly-praised books will be a let-down for someone.  So enjoy this sampling of one-star reviews of Hugo award-winning novels from the past decade…
  • The Future is Now! At least, last year, a ton of science-fictional concepts made giants leaps closer to reality. You know, the really cool stuff, like mental control of a robotic arm (hello Cyborg and RoboCop) and robotic exoskeletons, spray-on skin, the legalization of self-driving cars (in some states), and artificial leaf technology. This stuff is mind-boggling.
  • Amtrak may be making Residencies for Writers on Trains a thing… I like trains. And I like writing. It would never have occurred to me to put the two together. Note that the article linked calls these “free rides for writers” in the headline, but in reality if this becomes an ongoing thing, there will be a cost. Discounted tickets maybe? Who knows, since there was only an individual, promotional test-run.
  • I feel like this is something I’ve shared an opinion or two about before, but NPR recently aired a story questioning whether popular, famous, even universally-acclaimed works of art have achieved such status wholly on the merit and quality of the work or… if there’s something else, some element of chance, involved in their rise to ubiquitous-praise.  “Good art is popular because it’s good, right?” But a study on that question suggests: well… not quite. Chance plays a huge factor: what gets buzz early tends to build on that buzz over time, such that a small but crucially-timed bit of word-of-mouth can lead to a massive response, and vice-versa. The caveat: there’s a minimum threshold of quality to which a work of art must rise before this element of chance can have it’s effect. In essence: you can’t accidentally explode the popularity of something that’s truly crap. The caveat to the caveat, of course: quality is in the eye of the art beholder. But my feelings are that this is reflective of the writing world, as well. You have to be good, to write good and engaging stories. Good writing, I’ve come to believe, is a necessary but insufficient precondition to success in the writing world. The other factor is wildly erratic good luck. There’s a lot you can do about the first part. (I.e. practice, practice, practice, write, write, and write some more. Also, read a lot, too.) There’s roughly squat you can do about the second. Still… the second won’t do you a bit of good unless you’ve got the first. “Opportunity Knocks” is a lot of chance and luck, but Opportunity only comes in and stays a while if you’ve cleaned the place up and have a special place reserved, I guess.  Have I beat this string of metaphors enough?
  • Author Jim C. Hines adds a little more context to his annual Writing Income reveal, for those that are interested in this sort of information (i.e., yours truly).
  • Hines also has some advice on Chasing the Market: don’t.  Sounds like good advice to me.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many of us who write dream of making it big and writing a book that can be fairly described as “the next Harry Potter” or “the next Hunger Games” or “the next” whatever it takes to be a massive best-seller.  Not all of us, but some of us, and I daresay many if not most.  But frankly? I don’t think you’ll get there unless you first abide by the maxim: “Write what you love.”  Because otherwise? I think the writing will show that your heart ain’t in it – and your reader’s hearts won’t be in it either.  Which is not to say that writing what you love is a guaranteed path to riches – far from it, of course – but I do believe it’s a necessary prerequisite for finding that path if you’re looking for it down the writing road.
  • Speaking of writing what you love, I’m sure you’ve heard that old aphorism “Do what you love”.  But maybe we should stop saying that? “You keep saying that.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Miya Tokumitsu, writing for Slate Magazine, argues that the aphorism unnecessarily apotheosizes the many “lovable” career options and roles available to the already-elite, but degrades and demeans the hard, often physical labor options available to the middle and lower classes – work that’s rarely “lovable” but always necessary to making something valuable happen.  I must say, I found the article compelling, and not just in a “Solidarity Forever” sort of way.  It gets to something science-fictional but fast become socio-economic reality that I’ve often wondered about: someday, there will undoubtedly be robots to do all (or most of) the hard, physical, manual, and unpleasant labor that is necessary for the functioning of society.  Is this a good thing?  What happens to the human workers it displaces? Do higher level “service” and knowledge-work roles expand as a result, requiring the efforts of those displaced? Do folks whose roles have been replaced by machines get another shot at taking on service, creative or knowledge-based work?  Is there sufficiently increased demand for this increased supply of labor? Seems doubtful. Does it simply drive down the real wages of people working in these sectors such that they are now paid for less than what it costs to maintain a robot?  In many ways, it’s the same set of moral and ethical questions presented by the problems of outsourcing.  To which I have few if any easy answers.
  • Want to know the truth about Hermione Granger? Author J.K. Rowling says she got it wrong! Hermione would’ve been with Harry, not Ron. Say it ain’t so? Okay, let’s be honest: this is not earth-shattering news. Not earth-shattering because many, many of us knew this a long time ago. Most of us (or at least your humble correspondent) shrugged our shoulders and said “Oh, well, that’s how the author wanted it to go,” and we were fine with that because taken as a whole, including little quibbling flaws like that, the Harry Potter series was pretty fantastic.  But, I mean, this was self-evident from at least the second book (Chamber of Secrets) when Ginny came basically out of nowhere (she was barely even mentioned in the first book) to play a damsel-in-distress with a crush on Harry, and you could immediately see the plot machinations that were going to force Harry and Ginny together since Hermione and Ron were already predestined to be together.
  • While we’re on the topic of Harry Potter, have you heard the news that there are more HP-universe movies coming? Now, Harry won’t be in them, but the scuttle-butt on the street is that “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and “Quidditch Through the Ages” are headed for the big screen.  I’m of two minds. First, let’s be upfront and clear about this: yes this is a mercenary cash grab. You and I both know that Harry’s story is done, and being a tale well-told, there’s no need to tell more. However, and you knew this was coming, didn’t you: there may not be the need, but there’s so very clearly the desire for more. So many people fell in love with the characters and world of the Harry Potter stories, and many of them would dearly love to see more stories told in that universe. And they’ll pay to see these movies. So why shouldn’t those movies exist? Will they be as good as the HP movies? Will they make as much of the so-much-money? Well, no and no. But I’d put money on this: they’ll be entertaining, and they’ll be successful.
  • Back on the subject of publishing, and of self-publishing, Chuck Wendig calls for criticism of the Self-publishing movement – as in folks actually being willing to post negative reviews and/or find some way of separating the proverbial self-published wheat from the tons and tons of self-published chaff (oh so much chaff… and so much of it is actually crap).  Le Gasp!  What Madness Eez Thees? His thesis is pretty simple, and hard-to-dispute: If self-publishing is every bit as legitimate a career choice as traditional publishing (and he argues that it is), then it (i.e. the culture around self-publishing) needs to stop being self-congratulatory, stop celebrating mediocrity, and start building systems that allow high-quality and professional work to be recognized and found.  But who will fill this role? Wendig offers few answers. It won’t be editors and publishing houses – that’s the traditional gatekeeper method. Perhaps it will be other (successful) self-pubbers? But I’m not sure I see much of an impetus to create these traditions and mechanisms.
  • Continuing on his critique of the culture of self-publishing, Wending compares the glut of low-quality material to a volcano that spews… well… this is an expletive-light blog, so let’s just call it fecal matter. The real meat of the post is about the problem of “discovery” in a field of self-publishing where large number of (mostly) low-quality work are available – how do readers avoid the stuff that doesn’t work for them and find the stuff that does? It’s hard. And blogger Suw Charman-Anderson warns that the eruption of said volcano is unlikely to abate any time soon – and she makes a very interesting logical argument about the problems of the Dunning-Kruger effect in relation to self-publishing. I find myself in the category where I consider myself moderately competent at what I do (vis-a-vis writing), but not sufficiently competent to warrant a paying career in this industry as yet. That’s in part because I lack much by way of objective external validation of my competency, and I don’t trust my inner sense of that competency. So what Suw says here resonated with me. Mike Cane believes that Amazon itself will have sufficient motive to put an end to the glut of low-quality (and, importantly, non-selling) literary output, on the basis that hosting this material takes up server space and disrupts the Amazon search and recommendation algorithms. This is, of course, predicated on the assumption that the costs to Amazon of hosting very-low selling titles is non-negligible, that they won’t make substantive improvements to their search and recommendation algorithms over time, and that the cost of each of these would be greater than the negative goodwill this move would generate among the hosts of digital self-publisher’s cheerleaders. So there’s some logic and merit to the argument, but we on the outside can’t really penetrate the opaque walls of Amazon’s own self-interest (or any other corporation’s self-interest, for that matter) to gauge which of these factors is more influential to their strategy and thinking. Suw reiterates these limitations to Mike’s theory, with a bonus helping of actual numbers that suggest that the cost to Amazon of hosting large amounts of literary excrement is entirely negligible. Then she fantasizes about the impact of post-singularity  technologies (she doesn’t use that phrase, but still…) on discoverability and the future utopia of reading that AI will bring. The latter, of course, reads like science fiction, but hey it could happen – and I could dig it.

 

2014: Movies of Interest

February 12, 2014
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In what loook to be an ongoing annual feature here, I thought I’d look ahead at movies coming out in 2014 – especially of the SF&F variety – that have caught my interest… and, in a few cases, which I think I’ll actually see in theaters.

  • The Hobbit: There And Back Again Because duh! Huge epic fantasy fan, here. Not going to miss this one.  If I see only one movie released in 2014 in theaters, this will likely be it. (Even if, as with The Desolation of Smaug, I don’t actually get to see it in the year it is released…) Releases December 17, 2014
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 I liked the Hunger Games movie and, if anything, Catching Fire was even better, IMO.  So I’m looking forward to the next installment in the film series, and I expect there’s a strong likelihood I’ll catch it in Theaters as well.  But I can’t let this go without mentioning how sad I was to hear about the untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Releases November 21, 2014
  • The Lego Movie I am an unrepentant geek.  I had reservations about this movie when I first saw the original trailer, but let’s be honest: this was never not going to win me over.  I mean, it has Batman!  (And not Ben Affleck as Batman!) And also Star Wars!  I expect it to be a glorious medley and hash of everything I love about Legos, and to not make one whit of sense, and still to be oh-so-much fun.  Plus, the reviews of this one are actually pretty fantastic. Something tells me B.T. would get pretty excited about this movie, too, if he knew about it.  Already Released
  • Robocop I loved the original (probably much more violent than I really needed at that age) Robocop as a kid.  So I was naturally curious about this.  On the general topic of reboots and remakes, I sit on the fence: some are good, and some are bad.  And, you know what? I’ve been really impressed by the trailers for this particular remake.  Plus, it looks like some actual thought went into how the themes of the original Robocop are, in some interesting ways, more relevant today than ever, and it looks like this movie is going to explore the implications of those themes in the post Predator-drone world.  I was this close to catching a pre-release screening of this one (courtesy of some opportunities made available through my day job), but the various “winter storms” that have spread across the land like a shadow from Mordor had other plans.  Releases February 12, 2014
  • The Wind Rises Mainly because, as I’ve stated before, I adore the work of Hayao Miyazaki.  This one seems to be grounded in actual history and reality, rather than the typical SF&Fnal themes Miyazaki often explores, but what the heck.  One of these days, I’ll get myself all caught up on Miyazaki.  Releases February 21, 2014
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier I still haven’t gotten caught up with The Avengers and it’s several tentacle-like offshoot movies, so it’s unlikely I’ll see the newest Captain America in Theaters.  But would you look at that: this movie’s got flying aircraft carriers.  How very deiselpunk. Anyway, I enjoyed the first Captain America, so this’ll go on my DVD-for-sure list.  Releases April 4, 2014
  • Godzilla Like Robocop above, this is a remake of a movie I loved as a kid. Given how iconic Godzilla is, you probably did, too.  And, just like Robocop above, this is one where the trailer made me go “Wow, that looks really, really cool”. The same caveats about remakes apply, of course. But… well… this looks really cool.  Releases May 16, 2014
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past I loved the first two X-Men movies back in 2000 and 2003. I felt like they were great adaptations of the X-Men material, and they really helped to usher in the modern era of superhero flicks. But the third X-Men movie was kind of a disaster – a mostly incoherent mishmash of plots, any one of which likely would’ve made a fantastic movie by itself but together felt disjointed.  I haven’t seen an X-Men movie since.  (Okay, let’s be honest: that’s not for lack of interest; X-Men: The Last Stand wasn’t so bad that it soured me on X-Men movies. Rather, between that and the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine I’d gotten married and started grad school and my go-and-see-a-movie-because-I-want-to-on-a-whim free time began evaporating into the black hole of adult responsibility. Hey, it happens.) Since then, though, I’ve really liked the look of what I’ve seen on trailers for First Class and The Wolverine. And Days of Future Past looks like it does a good job of picking up from there, based on some pretty impressive trailers. But I haven’t yet seen First Class or Wolverine (see aforementioned comment on free time versus black hole of adult responsibility).  So I won’t be seeing this in theaters.  But I do want to see it – right after I finish up catching the other X-Men movies I’ve missed on DVD… Releases May 23, 2014
  • Maleficent I’m a sucker for Disney movies. I never quite grew out of them, and I’ve no shame in that (why should someone have to grow out of it, anyway). As mentioned here several times, in general I have mild reservations about remakes – but ultimately I reserve my judgment based on the final product itself. And so far, this one is looking like a very interesting retelling of the classic Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. And, wow, does Angelina Jolie really embody Maleficent so well. Maleficent really is, after all, probably the best animated Disney Villain. My biggest hope for this movie is that, before the end, she turns into a dragon. There aren’t enough dragons in movies, and the dragon from the original Sleeping Beauty was probably one of the top 5 or 6 movie dragons ever.  Releases May 30, 2014
  • Edge of Tomorrow So… it’s Groundhog’s Day but with an alien invasion and powered armor suits? Color me… intrigued at the very least. I know there weren’t a lot of positive reviews for Cruise’s most recent science-fictional outing, but I’m still interested enough to be watching this one very closely. I mean, what’s not to love about the formulation above? Releases June 6, 2014
  • How To Train Your Dragon 2 Remember when I said there weren’t enough dragons in movies? I stand by that, but this movie helps to close the gap. I pretty much loved the first How To Train Your Dragon, and this looks like it’s going to take the world that was explored in that movie and really push its boundaries. I’d be delighted to return to that world, and to experience more dragony goodness. In all honesty, I expect this to be a fantastic movie. Releases June 14, 2014
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I haven’t seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes yet, though it’s on my to-rent-on-DVD-when-I-have-time-to-watch-movies list. I don’t expect that time to magically materialize between now and when this movie comes out, so I don’t expect to see this in theaters. But there were a lot of good reviews for Rise, and Dawn looks to be just as good. It looks like this new Planet of the Apes series is taking the basic premise of the original and really finding some interesting and compelling new stories to tell based on that premise. Releases July 11, 2014
  • Into the Woods I know nothing about this except that it is, I believe, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. In which case, I’ve got to put this on my list. I’ve long wanted to see the Broadway show. Releases December 25, 2014

Honorable Mentions

There are a few movies that have landed on my radar that I’m currently on-the-fence about. I’ve just no way of knowing how I’ll feel about these, yet, and for most of them I expect I’ll be plenty happy waiting for the reviews to come in before I decide if I want to see these at some point…

Noah This looks potentially epic.  Hey, it’s about the end of the world… albeit one that occurred a long time ago. (It’s alright.  The world got better…)  And of course, there’s the little fact that this is based on one of the primary mythic narratives of several of the world’s major religions.  All that said, I would not shun an opportunity to see this, were it to arise.  Releases March 28, 2014

Transendence A movie about the Singularity, and of course this being Hollywood the Singularity is a bad thing. But it’s also got Johnny Depp not being a quirky pirate, or a quirky vampire, or a quirky denizen of nonsense-land, or a quirky Native American sidekick, or a quirky anything really. Actually… it looks like he’s basically the bad guy and it looks like he plays it pretty straight.  That alone might be worth seeing. Releases April 18, 2014

Interstellar What is this about? The trailer says I’m a deep movie about pushing human frontiers, and also I’m emotionally complex, or something, but damned if I have a plot. IMBD says it’s about “explorers” using a “newly discovered wormhole” to make an “interstellar voyage”. To where? And why? So far mum’s the word. It’s directed by Christopher Nolan. That’s good. It stars Matthew McConaughy. Yawn. It’s an original story, not a remake, adaptation, or sequel. That’s interesting. So this is on the radar, but right now I know too little about it to judge how high my interest will be.  Releases November 7, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 I’m still not ready for the too-soon Spider-Man reboot. Give it a couple years, and I’m sure Tobey Maguire’s turn as the web-slinger will be enough of a memory that I’ll be able to enjoy these movies.  Releases May 2, 2014

Jupiter Ascending In theory this is all a super-cool Epic Fantasy Space Opera whiz-bang bonanza. It’s from the Wachowski Siblings, who previously brought us The Matrix (Yay!) and also Speed Racer (Boo!) and also Cloud Atlas (Bwuh?). This could go any way. My personal bet, though: this is going to be 2014′s box office boondoggle. So far there just doesn’t sound like there’s anything truly original in this story – it’s all generic “poor or orphaned young person is secretly destined to destroy the evil tyrannical dictator”. You know, like orphans do. I enjoy that basic storyline as much as the next Epic Fantasy fan, but I like to have something truly new added to that mix. And making the poor young destiny-laden hero a girl doesn’t exactly count as new.  (It’s not a bad idea that the Chosen One is a she – that’s certainly a welcome addition to the oeuvre of the trope – but gender-swapping tropes is nothing particularly new.) Releases July 18, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Do we need a remake of the Turtles? Yeah, as a kid I thought they were awesome. I’m sure today’s kids will also think they’re awesome. I’ll just have to wait-and-see, I guess, how I’ll actually feel about this once I catch a couple trailers and maybe see some buzz and/or reviews… Releases August 8, 2014

The Maze Runner In an ideal world, I’d want to read the book, first. I’ve heard it’s actually a pretty good book. The basic plot outline certainly leaves me intrigued: a kid with amnesia finds himself awaking in the middle of a maze with no explanation, and must become part of a community of kids who have likewise been deposited in this maze.  And, you know, maybe solve the maze and figure out what’s going on here? At least, I’d guess that’s where the story wants to go. (Like I said, I haven’t read this yet, and while it’s on my reading list, it was pretty far down on the list behind lots of other stuff I also want to read.)  Releases September 19, 2014

The Boxtrolls The teasers I’ve seen for this make it look positively charming, and I love the stop-motion aesthetic. But this doesn’t have the look of “must-see on the big screen”. Still, I imagine it will be a wonderfully entertaining movie.  Releases September 26, 2014

Movies from 2013

2013′s movie outings went pretty much as expected.

I saw 4 movies that were released in 2013, the first of which was Man of Steel.  This was also my biggest disappointment of the year.  I’d give the movie somewhere between a B+ and an A-.  But it could have been, should have been, an A+.  The pieces were almost all there – IMHO, a solid script and excellent casting and acting capability – but I think the directing by Zack Snyder left… something to be desired.  It was frenetic and action-oriented and left too-little time for character building and spent way, way, way too much time on stuff blowing up. How his continued helmsmanship of the DC-Universe movies figures into things does not fill me with hope for the future of my two favorite superheroes.  (I’m still unreservedly against Bat-fleck, and despite my love of this material, I’m convinced that Man of Steel II will be a disastrous box office bomb.  When it happens… nobody can say WB wasn’t warned.)

The next three movies I saw from 2013 I didn’t actually see until this year, and include one surprise visit from last year’s Honorable Mention list.  Of course, my other two top 2013 movies are on this list – Catching Fire and The Desolation of Smaug – both great and entertaining movies that, if anything topped the first of their respective series.  And then there was Frozen.  When I wrote up my movies list for 2013 I didn’t know much about Frozen.  Turns out it was a great Disney movie in the classical Disney style. It was also B.T’s first bonafide going-to-the-movies experience.  (His favorite part, he says, was when the princess turned to ice. Also the reindeer. And the snowman.)

I still want desperately to see Pacific Rim, which I heard described as either “the most awesome dumb movie, or the dumbest awesome movie” ever. Some inner-child in me fills with squee at the very thought of such a delightful concept.  Other than that, though, 2013 went as well as can be expected in terms of movie watching for a family man with a newborn infant in the house.

Links to Chew On: Can You Hack It?

January 31, 2014

So… I’m going to try to make this a regular feature – regular here meaning “happening on a consistent basis” as opposed to the very irregular thing they’ve been in the past.  I’m thinking, the last day of the first month of each quarter (thus, January 31st, and subsequently March 31st, June 30th, etc.).

And so without further ado, here are some tasty links to chew on:

  • Author Jason Sanford has some wise and reasonable words to share with you about all the “rules” of writing: don’t let them turn you into a hack!  Now, I’m no pro (as yet and, who knows, possibly ever) but I get this feeling I’ve expressed similar sentiments before.  Good to know I’m in good company when it comes to thinking that way.
  • Who would win in a fight between Zombies and Mother Nature?  BoingBoing says Mother Nature.  Her secret weapons include vultures, the California Condor, flies and their maggoty offspring, bacteria, molds, and fungi.
  • Musician David Lowery says “Silicon Valley Must Be Stopped, or Creativity Will Be Destroyed” in an interview that mainly seems to be a response to the GoldieBlox/Beastie Boys controversy. What he means is that tech start-ups that intend to make money off of the work of artists and creatives without first obtaining permission from those creatives for the use of the the things those creatives created need to be reigned in, and copyright law needs to be followed.  And, while this is undoubtedly true, it makes for a rather less-sensationalist headline.  And, frankly, in this particular instance, at least, it’s difficult for me to feel a lot of sympathy for the Beastie Boys – this may not be, as the article says, a “David and Goliath” story in terms of who’s got the money, but it’s certainly a “Daisy and Goliath” story in terms of the broader cultural headwinds. Still, it’s an interesting read – and while I might personally fall slightly on GoldieBlox’s side in this round (for one thing, I’m actually inclined to like GoldieBlox’s version of the song in question), I can definitely appreciate how this can be abused.
  • So, more and more teenagers are getting published, both through traditional means and through new digital self-publishing means.  This is a thing.  Oh, what I wouldn’t have given, at the age of something-less-than-twenty, to have had a book published.  And oh how glad I am, at the age of something-more-than-thirty, that what I wrote back then wasn’t published. I’ll stand by the Scalzi quote in that article: “The bad news [for teenage writers]: Right now your writing sucks.”  Mine did.  (I’d say it sucks arguably a lot less now.)
  • Chuck Wendig talks about the Digital Book World survey of self-publishers, traditionally-published authors, and hybrid-authors, and about digital author-publisher Hugh Howey’s response to that survey (along with a link to a rundown of this discussion by Porter Anderson).  Later, Chuck discusses the latest big news-splash author turning down a major traditional deal (i.e. romance author Brenna Aubrey) and gives his take on it.  The summary version: There’s different things going on in the different worlds of digital self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and they have different risks and different rewards, and authors should take into account a lot more than just the money side of the equation into their decision-making matrix.  That’s more-or-less how I roll on this ongoing digital evolution discussion. So Wendig gets my vote for “guy (i.e. person) who actually thinks before blathering on the internet about digital self-publishing”.
  • The Smithsonian talks about a new study published in PLOS ONE that demonstrates a strong statistical correlation between the language and tone of a book and the economic conditions that preceded it.  Or, in other words, books published after hard economic times with high unemployment tend to be darker and more negative.  I wonder what this suggests about the book(s) I will someday write…?
  • So Daddy Blogs are a thing that exists. I did not know this before. (I have a wife, so of course I knew that Mommy Blogs were a thing). And here’s a daddy who’s kicking butt and taking names – especially when it comes to diaper-changing stations in public Men’s restrooms.  As a dad, this is something that I’ve been aware of as being a problem already, but since reading this post I’ve started noticing a little more often whether a men’s restroom has a changing station or not. Suffice to say, of course, that as a devoted and loving father, I’m on-board with this campaign.  So far, most places I’ve been out to have had changing stations in the men’s rooms.  Next thing I’d like to add to this list, as a father of a semi-independent pre-schooler: retractable step stools for at least one of the sinks (in both men’s and women’s rooms).  Try holding a baby, the baby’s diaper bag, and then trying to lift a 3-4 year old up so he can reach the faucet to wash his hands! It’s cumbersome to say the least… I’ve seen these places so I know it’s a thing that can be done, but I see them far-too rarely, and often not at places where I think they’d make the most sense (like places specifically catering to the toddler or younger crowd).

2014: Goals, Plans, Dreams

January 15, 2014

On one hand, I’m not sure there’s much purpose, at this point, in setting “goals” for the year.  I frankly have no idea what to expect in terms of time, sleeping of the baby, and energy levels in the year to come.  How can I set goals if I don’t even know what I’m going to have to work with?  However, I think there’s value in looking forward to the year and trying to assess what can be accomplished and what I want to accomplish.  So I’m going to follow the model I’ve set for myself the past couple years and look at my year ahead, and how that fits into my longer-term goals and dreams.  The one caveat: this year, I’m going to focus here primarily on the first half of the year, after which time passes I’ll assess where I am again and plan going forward from there.

Thinking About Long-term Goals

My thinking about my long-term goals hasn’t changed much over the past year.  Here’s what I had to say about my long-term goals last year:

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams… it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write… but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  …Now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.

I then went on to dig into some of the “whys” behind my preference for “traditional” publishing to “digital self-publishing”, but I won’t rehash those here.  The reasons remain, largely, the same, though perhaps the size of my dreams has moderated somewhat in the year past.  (I’m basically in my mid-thirties, now.  Older and wiser.  Getting “rich” off of writing no longer seems even remotely achievable, even as a stretch-dream.)  But the overarching long-term goal I stated before, and the reasons for pursuing it that I give, remain the guiding star by which I’m plotting my medium-term journeys.

2014 Goals

In the last two years, I’ve given my goals as it relates across 4 categories: how much I plan to read during the year, how frequently I intend to write, completion of manuscripts and submission of manuscripts.  This year I’d like to add some new categories, while I’ll be dialing back somewhat on several of the prior four.

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: In 2013, I was able to put over a million words worth of fiction reading under my belt.  I’d like to think I could do that again.  But I’m not quite ready to publicly lay down a goal that ambitious for this year, and given the total state of flux that V.R. has left our life in, I can’t even say whether it’s realistic or feasible to do it again.  Instead, I’ll focus on the first half of the year.  I want to try to do at least 400,000 words of fiction by July 1st, 2014.  Depending on how I do on that goal, I’ll adjust my 2014 expectations accordingly at that time.

2) Find a consistent writing schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: In the past two years I’ve set ambitious goals for myself in terms of the frequency of my writing – at least, they were ambitious to me.  In both years I failed utterly to achieve those goals.  Right now, I simply don’t have a clear idea of whether or not I even can keep a consistent writing schedule.  So my goal for the first half of 2014 is to try and find one.  This is at least partially contingent on V.R. finding his own consistent sleeping schedule.  While 2013 was marked by a complete lack of consistency on his part with regard to sleep, 2014 is so far shaping up to look like it might be different.  I’m not sure what happened on January 1st, but things have been normalizing quite a bit since then in V.R.’s sleep department, though we’re by no means out of the woods.

If I can make it to the mid-year point on this goal successfully, then I’ll be in a better position to gauge how much writing I can achieve, and how frequently I can write in the second half of the year.  If not, it’ll be a continued search for a predictable and consistent schedule.

3) Contingent on the success of Goal #2, focus on completing a final draft of one short story: This goal is entirely contingent.  If I can succeed in finding some sort of consistent writing schedule in 2014, then my first effort will be to complete a final draft of a short story, namely the same short I’d been working on previously (i.e. Story of V).  Since last I put words down on Story of V, the world of that story has blossomed in my head, and it now constitutes an out-of-chronological-order “chapter” in a longer epic fantasy series of short stories.  In my head, these stories are each independent stories with their own characters (with a few recurring characters) and their own beginnings, middles, and ends.  But a thread runs through them that ties them together into a larger, hopefully coherent narrative.  That’s the idea, anyway.  But first… if I can, I want to finish this story.

4) Contingent on the success of Goal #3, submit completed story to a professional market or content: More contingency goals. If I can find time to write, and if I can thereafter finish a draft of this story, then and only then will I have something to submit.  Basically: I’ll cross this bridge when and if I come to it.

5) Develop a plan to revitalize the blog: The first of my new goal categories concerns this very blog.  Simply put, the site is dated and clunky. For a long time I’ve been wanting to update the blog to make it better and cleaner and update the visual appeal.  The blog also lagged a lot in 2013 for posts and content. A lot of this was due to lack of time for blogging, this is largely true. But some of it was for lack of something to blog about.  I believe that I need to take a broader view on what sorts of things are of value to discuss on this blog, and what I want to talk about.

This goal isn’t to complete the revitalization.  It’s to set up a plan to do so.  That plan will need to balance competing desires for maximum blog-beautifulosity and interestingification with minimum time input.

6) Find a consistent blogging schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: Similar to Goal #2 in almost all respects except instead of relating to fiction, it relates to blogging.  I’ve long wanted a consistent posting schedule; maybe in 2014 I can figure out what a realistic schedule might be.

7) Personal Life Renewal: You know something else that dropped off a lot in 2013? My personal life. As in the whole Husband and Father thing.  I was so overtaken by being father I had to be (for little V.R.’s sake) that I hadn’t taken time to focus on being the father I want to be (for both V.R. and B.T.) Not to mention, you know, romancing Dear Wife. Of this I’ll say no more, except that I want to be very clear that these three people are my highest priority, and I want to acknowledge that here in my blog.

There.  That should be enough to keep me very busy for the next six months.  How do you plan to spend all that time?

2013 In Review: Blogging

January 2, 2014

As promised, I thought it would be fun to post up a review of my blogging for the year.  Most of this is covered in WordPress’s automatically-generated annual Stats Report, which you can see below.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

No surprises here, but 2013 continued the annual trend of declining page views here, from a high of around 16,000 in 2011 down to 14,000 in 2012 and 10,000 in 2013.  There seems to be a strong correlation with the number of posts I’ve written – from 189 in 2011 to 122 in 2012 and down to only 30 in 2013.

Yeah… 30 posts.  That’s all I managed to find time for in 2013.  That’s rather less than once-a-week.  This goes back to the theme that prevailed in the rest of my writing throughout this year that I discussed in my last post.  The realities of Fatherhood 2.0 (which is clearly still in beta) leave me without sufficient time to adequately maintain this blog.

It logically follows, then, that my most popular posts on this blog in 2013 were all written in prior years – mostly 2011 and 2012.  Basically, I wrote nothing of any consequence or depth in 2013.

Incidentally… does anyone out there run a WordPress.com blog but use some other mechanism to track their blog stats? There’s nothing wrong that I could definitively see in WordPress’s stats, but I don’t have any way of accessing and performing my own data manipulations to get at anything that interests me in particular… I’d love to be able to do that.  Also, after a certain amount of time, old data becomes inaccessible to me.  If there’s some other way to look at the data and/or to store that information long-term, I’d love to take it for a whirl.  Sound off in comments if you’ve got a way of working around WordPress.com’s stats limitations.

When time allows… I’ll start looking at my prognosis for 2014 in my next annual Goals, Plans, and Dreams post…

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