Tag Archives: fiction

Cleaning Up A Sweepstakes Mess

The first point where I knew something had gone wrong was when I signed into my email and saw a note from the winner of my Short Frictions/Think Geek giveaway.

After a brief sweepstakes entry period, I’d Rafflecoptered for a winner and sent a $15 gift code to a reader who’d faithfully liked, shared, tweeted and retweeted a brief message about the book almost every day. Now, she wrote, she was having trouble redeeming the code. The Think Geek site was telling her it had already been used. Which it hadn’t, because she’d been saving it to shop for the holidays.

My heart sank. I logged into Think Geek and checked the code, and sent it to her again to confirm there hadn’t been a typo, but she was right – the balance on the code was showing up as zero. I really didn’t know what had happened, especially since another code I’d sent out the same day had been redeemed without a problem.

Finally, I decided to check in with the Think Geek team. I’m always hesitant to start talking to customer service. I find it incredibly stressful and frustrating, particularly after some of the experiences I’ve had with other companies this year, but without getting in touch with them there was no way to figure out what had happened.

It took two tries to get a customer service rep to respond on the Think Geek site. I’m not sure what happened the first time, but I spent several minutes typing in an explanation of what had happened and waiting for a response that never came. I logged out, logged back in, and tried again. This time, after five or so minutes, a rep came online and asked me to describe my problem. After confirming she could read and reply to my messages, I explained, and she started to investigate.

My hope was to confirm with Think Geek when the gift card balance had been used, in case there had been some kind of technical glitch; I wasn’t sure if they’d tell me the date and amount of whatever purchase tracked back to the giveaway gift code, but I figured the best idea was to get as much information as I could before I sent the sweepstakes winner an update.

After five or ten more minutes, the customer rep sent a message that far surpassed my expectations: she had added the credit back onto the gift code. I’m not sure if she found a glitch in the sale or if there was some kind of error, or if Think Geek just decided that such a small amount wasn’t worth haggling over (which I’d already decided was going to be my approach if it turned out they couldn’t reinstate the credit, because the giveaway winner had put a lot of effort into spreading word of Short Frictions on social media). But I was relieved that the matter was resolved so easily.

Once I had confirmation from the customer service team, I emailed the winner and let her know that everything should be up and running and she could make her purchases; I haven’t heard from her since, so am assuming everything went well.

From start to finish, resolving the situation took about half an hour, but I was shocked at how stressful I found it.  As self-published authors, being in charge of marketing and PR is a huge part of what we do – and when something goes wrong, there’s no PR rep to hide behind, no publishing house to help defray the cost of issues like lost prizes and credits. Plus, it’s our name out there on the line. This contest winner was extremely understanding and patient as I worked to resolve the gift code issue, but just as easily could have been someone far less inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.

I’m lucky enough, currently, to be in a position where I could have afforded to replace the prize if need be – but what if I wasn’t? What if the prize was something bigger, or Think Geek had turned replacing the credit into more of a production?

When you self-publish, you’re taking control and ownership of every aspect of sharing your work. The buck stops with you. Making sure you’re mentally and financially prepared (not to mention knowing you have enough time on your hands) to represent your work to the best of your ability is an important part of being a self-published author. And it’s not something to take on lightly.

Thankfully, in this case, the mess that had to be cleaned up wasn’t a big one. Hopefully (knock on wood) it never will be. If and when future issues arise, no matter what area of self-publishing they might be in, I’ll handle them as quickly and smoothly as possible, and hope for the best.

Cleaning up when something goes wrong is something every self-publishing author has to be prepared for, whether the hitch happens in writing, editing, publishing, art directing or publicity. Be prepared, keep your cool, and think your options through, and hopefully your next hitch won’t throw you for a loop.

 

 

Buy your own copy of Short Frictions on Amazon or Smashwords.

Stretching Your Writing Limits

This is going to be a bit of a ramble. I hope you don’t mind, and would appreciate your thoughts at the end via comment.

For the last year or do, I’ve been working on an ambitious project: a series of novels spanning epic concepts of philosophy, religion and mythology, with my friend @sareliz. Both of us wrote first drafts of two chunks of narrative last November as part of NaNoWriMo, then earlier this spring I knocked out a 50K first draft of a third book. As I’ve chipped away at rewrites, however, I’ve become more and more aware of one simple fact: in order to be true to the reality of my protagonist’s world, things are going to have to get a lot darker and more brutal than I ever anticipated, which is going to require a metric f*ckton more research than I’ve done so far.

The book isn’t supposed to be gritty or hard-hitting in a way that features depictions of extreme violence or torture, so there’s also going to have to be a balance stuck between realism and the fantasy world of the series. The more I research, the more I question: can I do this? Have my ambitions gotten ahead of my ability?

This story story, currently planned as the first novel in the series, involves a reporter who travels to a corrupt county to look for a friend and colleague who’s gone missing. As part of my research I’ve been reading about reporters in war zones and oppressive regimes (which plays into another aspect of the series’ overall plot), and with each article I read I realize that the draft i have so far actually features what could be called “danger-lite.” Terrifying things happen to journalists who travel abroad to investigate corruption. They are beheaded, jailed, tortured, ‘disappeared’ and more. The citizens of the countries they investigate are far from immune to brutal treatment, too: look at the kidnapped/murdered Mexican teachers, girls kidnapped and sold into “forced marriages” by Boko Haram, and activists murdered by drug cartels. Even in America, police Senn able to act with near impunity when out comes to summarily executing American citizens in the street.

While there are certainly overlaps in how oppressive regimes the world over treat their citizens and their media figures, (Pakistan and Myanmar are currently in the spotlight on this issue) specificity is key in writing what you don’t know, perhaps top an even greater degree than when writing what you do know. After all, I might take poetic license if I’m writing about a bar in Buffalo or a subway route in New York City, but that’s an informed choice. Blundering the details in a novel about another country or another culture just comes across as lazy ignorance.

Even the small chunks of reading I’ve done so far have highlighted my own ignorance while at the same time pouting my research in stark contrast to lived experience. Reading books like THE BRIEF WONDEROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz, being immersed in a world where a revolutionary leader reigns over the lives of citizens with sadistic whim, is nothing like living under such a regime. ‘They’ say to write what you know, but what chance do I have (thank goodness) to understand the lifestyles of people in those circumstances with any degree of accuracy in fiction? How does someone like me write inclusive, relevant, diverse novels on topics like this without fucking it up royally?

The only answer I have is research.

So I’m trying. Really hard. I’m reading what I can, trying to get a feel for both the human, day to day lives of people living under the repressive circumstances the story needs to portray, but also trying to gain more knowledge of the truly horrifying acts oppressive governments can subject their citizens to. At the same time, Itry to find a way to retain the ability to see the monsters responsible for these reprehensible acts as humans, with motivations that made sense to their own internal logic, because it’s a rare human being who sees themselves as a villain, no matter how vile they might be. I try to think of ways i can portray the horror of human suffering at the hands of others while being honest but while avoiding graphic depictions of circumstances that don’t fit the tone of a series of fantasy novels. And then I question myself and start to feel paralyzed. And then i remind myself I’m still working on a draft. There’s always time for another rewrite.

There are bright spots in my research. My trip to St. Martin last year and the one i just took to St. Thomas both informed me on climates, terrain and cultures that will also figure in to the stories my cowriter and i will be telling. And I keep reminding myself of the importance of this, whole trying not to get to bogged down in the details. But when a simple hike through a national park demonstrates that you’ve completely miscategorized your story’s setting, how can you ever know when you’ve researched enough to get on with the writing? And even writing  this, I cringe, because I feel like I’m wading into waters where it would be so easy to give offense.

They say to write what you know, but it’s also critical that writers be willing to learn what we don’t know so we’re can write accurate, diversity populated fiction in terms of our characters, settings and cultures. Whether it takes the form of readings, conversations or traveling, the only answer to this conundrum is research.

Oh, and asking for recommendations. Anybody got any suggestions on trying material or media I can consume? Please leave them in the comments. Your thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Advance Copies, coming up!

Woooo! Just got the manuscript for Short Frictions back from my editor, with some great notes. Now that I’m working through those, it’s also time to prep for a new stage in my new self-publishing checklist: advance reviewers.

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

Image from phys.org (http://phys.org/news/2014-01-google-machines-robotics-companies-involved.html).

About a month ago, I took a webinar from Writer.ly  that suggested ways of getting the word out about your self-published book. One of the ideas I loved was setting up a list of readers who would comment on the book before its publication, then leave reviews on release day!

Adding a new step to a self-publishing strategy is tricky, but one of the points @Kelsye (who gave the webinar) made that really stuck with me was that reaching as many advance reviewers as possible is important because of how it helps generate word of mouth, and gives people an incentive to read and review your work. While I’ve heard of some writers (specifically, Guy Kawasaki) crowdsourcing feedback, I’ve never tried this strategy myself – it’s a little nervewracking, but I think it will be worth it!

If you still want to sign up to be an advance reader and reviewer, there’s still time to get me your info! You’ll receive a thank-you in the final edition of the book, as well as a free e-copy. Interested? Click here for more information.

Blogging the Moment: Riding the Wave On a Hot-Button Issue

Photo used under Creative Commons from nathangibbs (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nathangibbs/).

Photo used under Creative Commons from nathangibbs (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nathangibbs/).

How quickly do you put your thoughts together when there’s a hot-button issue? Do you take a few days to think about what you want to say, then carefully structure and write 500 words on the topic? Or do you dive in and let furious waves of eloquence bombard your blog and its readers, concerning yourself more with timeliness and instinct rather than restraint and premeditated point-making?

Recently, a friend chose diving in with fury regarding “YA as Guilty Pleasure” controversy, first holding forth on her Twitter account then translating her tweets into a blog post. A popular internet blog had posted an article slagging off adult readers of Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction (here’s looking at you, Hunger Games readers over the age of 18). The piece hit a nerve with a wide swath of the internet, because – as I’m sure you’re aware, if you haven’t been living under a rock since the 80s or even earlier – adults like well-written stories, no matter who the publisher things they ought to be marketed to. The result of my friend’s righteous anger was an impassioned, shoot-from-the-hip piece that not only spoke to the issue being debated, but also swept its readers up with its pure and forceful emotive oomph. From her blog:

 I don’t care whether you’re fifteen or fifty; if something brings you joy and causes no harm to others (which, memo to the intelligentsia: that does not count readers’ love of MG/YA hurting your feelings), you should do that as often as you possibly can.  Adulthood is serious business, and to get through it all and take on the responsibility of making the world what we want and need it to be, we need to feed our whole selves — we need those reserves of hope and joy, we need that catharsis, we need those reminders of possibility and who we were and who we could be.

Just a few days after posting her piece, my friend’s blog was picked up by Freshly Pressed (a WordPress.com feature that collects pieces the site’s editors consider worthy of being shared with a wider audience), and a piece that had already garnered significant attention was suddenly exposed to far larger audiences. Would this have happened if she’d waited a few weeks before posting her piece? Maybe, but my guess is the chances of it would have been significantly lower, simply because of the internet’s rapid news cycle and lack of ongoing attention span.

This bears out my own experience. When, on its second day, I posted my reactions to the #YesAllWomen hashtag, my blog experienced a surge of both organic search results and referrals. When I posted about David Tennant just after the Gracepoint trailer was revealed? Same thing. It’s the same reason TV bloggers often post their recaps within hours – or even minutes – of the end credits of a show. The internet has the attention span of a mayfly. Even this piece, from a legal site looking at criminal procedure via a certain recent event concerning Joffrey on Game of Thrones, already seems dated – just two weeks after the events the blog discusses.

Emily Suess, one of my blogger touchpoints for years now, recently wrote a piece titled Your Content Will Be Devoured, discussing how hungry internet readers are for content – and yet, she highlighted that even the most schedule-happy blogger must leave room to adjust around the news of the day.

As illustrated by both my and my friends’ experience, this is absolutely something bloggers should be aware of. Being able to quickly organize your thoughts and distribute a coherent take on an unfolding event is a skill every blogger should develop and use – otherwise, you risk missing hits and losing credibility when it comes to your selected field of interest.

Whatever your blog is about, try picking a news piece that relates to it and is currently being debated. Get fired up, write a blog piece, and post it before you give yourself enough time to calm down. See what you come up with – and feel free to post the link in the comments!

Thinning the Book-Herd

paring down my libraryI was reading this article from the Guardian Saturday morning, and it reminded me of my own recent library purge.

I’ve always loved books. When I was in elementary school, I used to walk through the halls reading a book. While I never crashed into anyone, my teacher had a prejudice against allowing this kind of nerdery to go unchecked. Similarly, I (though not other children) was banned from bringing a book to the cafeteria for lunchtime. (This problem was solved by reading over a friend’s shoulder – we were both obsessed with The Babysitters Club, so it worked out well.)

Over the years, I built up quite the collection: science fiction, historical fiction, foreign fiction fiction-fiction, mythology and more. Once, I calculated the cover value of my Star Trek novels alone – it amounted to several thousand dollars, and I was only in my mid-teens. Growing older, moving to college and then graduate school and then to live on my own, however, my collection was slowly pared down. First, the books moved to my parents’ basement and garage. Every time I’d come home, I’d go through them and winnow them down to fewer and fewer volumes. Several boxes came to New York City with me, but as my apartments grew smaller and smaller, even these – which I had thought of as the books I could never part with – became fewer in number.

The last few months have seen another reduction, setting bags on the stoop of my building with signs: “FREE BOOKS!” on sunny weekend mornings.

In her article (an excerpt from her book) Linda Grant writes:

The methodology I used for my cull was very high-minded: I would preserve those books of literary merit, the books I had not yet read but wanted to and the books given as gifts with an inscription on the flyleaf. “

This reasoning approximated my own library reduction. I kept the sci-fi greats, books I would not be able to easily replace. Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card – these were books that remained on my shelf, in part because their writing styles always inspired me but also partly because I can’t imagine going out and re-buying these books.

My books of “literary merit” also included classics and old books inherited from my grandparents. I have an entire set of the complete works of Tolstoy, of Sir Walter Scott, of Victor Hugo. The Tolstoy was published in the early 1900s and the author himself was consulted on the translation; I can’t see how reading another version of War and Peace will take me closer to the original Russian, which I don’t read and can’t see myself learning.

Then there are the plays I’ve seen and loved: mostly scripts purchased from the Traverse Theatre or the Royal Court, or gifted to me by playwrights like Alan Wilkins or Jo Clifford.

There are books of sentimental value: my complete set of Moomin novels, by Tove Jansson, or Avi’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. And there are many books I haven’t read yet, but want to, but suspect I may not: Heaney’s Beowulf, some Balzac, a few graphic novels.

What remains on my shelf is eclectic, and still takes up an entire shelf on my wall, but it is pared down. There is a surprising amount of nonfiction, for someone with reading
roots so deeply associated with sci-fi and other imagined worlds. And these days, I hardly buy books any more: I check out digital editions from the library or purchase copies of the books I want from Kindle. If they’re classic, there are almost always free digital versions (or low-cost ones) and if they’re new I can usually borrow the digital copy from a friend, or occasionally spring for it. I read more indie novels, paging through Wattpad in search of samples that get my mind going.

While Grant laments having gotten rid of so many of her books in her move, I find that I rarely miss the physical volumes I’ve let leave my life. Once or twice I’ve wanted a quote only to find that the book in question left me long ago, but for the most part I have what I need. Most of my college textbooks are finally gone – if I want to get back into filmmaking, rather than scriptwriting, there are websites and other resources where I’ll be able to refresh my memory. I no longer felt attached to my British editions of Harry Potter, and kept only a handful of my favorite Star Trek novels – mostly by Peter David and Daffyd ab Hugh (whose no-holds-barred stories satisfied my affection for bloodthirsty sci-fi, as a teen).

What I realized the other day – and what I found a bit upsetting – is how few of the books on my shelf are written by women. While it’s not yet time for me to rebuild my library – that will have to wait until I own my own home instead of rent a small shoebox – the temptation to refill my shelves with Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Poppy Z. Brite, Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffery, Diana Gabaldon and more is difficult to resist. They and others are finding their place on my virtual bookshelf, but it’s clear to me that I need to put more effort into reading (and buying) non-white, non-male authors.

What books do you read? What are some that you’d recommend? Leave a comment to let me know, and don’t be discouraged by the weird error message that comes up when you click “submit” – the comments are posting, there’s just something wrong with the blog.

 

Like reading? Enjoy writing reviews? I’m currently seeking beta readers/advance reviewers for my upcoming collection of sci-fi and speculative fiction stories, SHORT FRICTIONS. If you’re interested, please click here to find out more.

SciFi Flash Fiction: A Step Ahead

“It’s okay,” they kept saying when oil stores got low. “Science stays a step ahead.” They said it when the gush slowed to a slow-bleeding trickle, out of the scars of the ground.

They said it again in the wake of the twenty-teens extinctions. “Biological diversity? Eh, it’s fine. We’ve got DNA samples in the lab. We’re all good.” Even the species that hadn’t been sampled. “We can extrapolate. Science stays a step ahead.”

When the water dried up and there was nothing to drink, there were tiny nuclear-powered pumps sucking liquid from the air Science stayed a step ahead.

When the environment was pushed to its limits and the human die-offs occurred, late  in the mid-2020s, a void was presented. Plagues had decimated populations before; as before, food supplies and resources were at a premium. Automated service units were built for those who remained.

Finally, even those humans who remained could not extract enough from around them to continue, and they imprinted themselves into the  those automated units, and the planet whirred and clicked along like a gear through the heavens.

Science stayed a step ahead.

***

Years ago, my dad and I talked about how the human population planet was using up fossil fuels.  I was worried about a school lecture or something I’d seen on the news, and in addition to a joke about how an uncle of his used to say “if the combustion engine hadn’t been invented, we’d all be knee-deep in horse shit!”, he told me about a new technology that was being explored, which allowed gas companies to take advantage of new processes and extract new reserves of fossil fuels through the use of pressure and chemicals. Over the years, it’s become clear that he was talking about hydraulic fracturing – fracking.

That conversation is what I think about when I think about using advancing sciences as an excuse not to worry about how we use the resources we have today. 

It’s not that I don’t believe in science – I do. Very strongly. But I sometimes don’t think much of where we’re taking ourselves when we  put it to use.

Anyway, taking a cue from the quote, “All a first draft must do to be successful is exist,” I’m posting this as is. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

 

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Stuff That’s Worth Your Time

Invisible Nursing Woman
Shoshana Rachel (great middle name!) talks about breast-feeding, cleavage and invisible women over at GirlBodyPride.

I Review Tear The Curtain
Earlier this month, I had the chance to interview one of the creators of a supposedly-groundbreaking new Canadian theatre piece. Schedules allowed me to chat with co-creator Kevin Kerr, and this weekend just gone, I was able to see the production in one of its final performances. My review is available through The British Theatre Guide, where I’ve been a contributor since 2003ish.

A Fan Letter To Certain Conservative Politicians
From @scalzi on Twitter. A letter to anti-choice politicians from a satirical rapist. Triggering, yet scathing on the order of Jonathan Swift’s  A Modest Proposal. A skilled piece of writing, whether or not you agree with his political views.

Climate Change
I’ve been following the campaigns, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the major candidates have refrained from significant discussion on the topic of climate change. Earlier this year, I did a project called Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change and I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest that sometimes, fiction can be an effective way of starting conversations on a grassroots level. Short stories include work by Sare Liz Gordy, RJ Astruc, Miranda Doerfler and Eric Sipple.

Trailer – Celeste Bright
I’ve mentioned a web series project in previous posts, and have to thank @thepowerobject for pointing me to this trailer. Gorgeously shot, the editing and music take you along for the ride – I’m going to pop in the first episode and see what I think of the product. This is part of my research on form and webseries; while I’m still trying to make it through Aidan 5’s full season, learning the language of a quality webseries is coming to the front in my ever-revolving priorities binder.

Ack. I just said binder, didn’t I.

We’re about ten days away from Election Day and voters in key swing states are already heading to the polls. If you spend time on “Twittah“, you already know my views, so I won’t bore you. Politics are, however, relevant, because of my new writing project.

Electalytics.

Back in June, I had the idea for a novella that would look at the mechanics of a modern-day election, in scifi-punk terms. Having read a lot of cyberpunk in my teens, and growing out from the ongoing progress of my AI Anthology, Electalytics was meant to give me a chance to express some anxieties about the current election cycle, as well as the framing of political action/content within what I felt (and still feel) to be outdated models – all within a technopunk framework.

Electalytics started off as a challenge – could I write 30K words in a month? By July, I was still shy 2.5K, but I had the solid basis of a piece – and since then, I’ve been editing and refining the story. It’s lost mass and gained focus, and I’m excited to be offering a free look at the first chapter to the first 50 people who sign up on my mailing list. We’re about halfway to our subscription goal, so sign up for the free promo.

Also, come November 6th? Vote.