Category Archives: Writing the Great American Novel

They Say You Shouldn’t

FALL IN LOVE WITH your writing. That you should be willing to kill your children. All of that. Nevertheless, I think this might be one of the best scenes I’ve ever written that doesn’t come to a conclusion.

And, to paraphrase River Song: Spoilers, sweetie.

Post Graduate Housing, North Campus, East College, February 15, 1998


“What’s this, Babe?” Xe asked, a rectangle of white paper — a photo print — in her hand.

“Where’d you get that?” Rowan demanded, all defensive and bristling.

“It was in that drawer you told me to use.”

“Oh.” The big climb-down. “Sorry. I must have missed it when I was cleaning.”

“So who is that?” She in the photo was incredibly beautiful in an exotic way. Gypsy? Very romantic, nevertheless, with raven hair in ringlets and deep, dark, soulful, anime eyes.


“Wassa Morgan?” Xe wasn’t confrontational, just curious. She could tell instantly from the Elf princess’s reaction that she might as well have shouted a deadly insult and thrown down a chain mail gauntlet. “I’m sorry,” she blurted in a burst of sudden contrition. “Forget I asked.”

Rowan sighed. “No. I’m sorry. You should know. Morgan was my roommate when we were both getting our doctorates at the Thaum. I stayed to do post-doc work here; she went to work at Hephaestus Industries, taking a place on the Executive Action team — the Nine Walkers.”

“That was Mitchell Drummond’s bunch,” Xe realized out loud.

“Yes,” Rowan said. It was hard to imagine a word that could be freighted with as much weltschmertz and agony of the heart that wasn’t no. But Rowan didn’t cry. Only looked like she might. Quite a concession for the normally stone-faced Elf royal.

Light dawned in the dark dolly’s mind. “She was your girlfriend.”

“And I hers.”

“She was killed.”

“In Athens. By Astarté.” Rowan’s eyes remained hooded. She would not meet Xe’s gaze, no matter how sympathetic and loving.

“So you owe Gabrielle…”

“After a fashion.” Which might have been the only thing that had held her back from a full-on physical assault of Redpath and Drummond on being told that the Genesis undertaking had been officially unsanctioned work and she was unlikely to get course credit for her work on it — that the newly-born of the project, Gabrielle East had somehow managed to catch the Goddess Astarté in a distracted moment and take off her head with a Japanese sword. Even so, Rowan had left the mark of her hand on Redpath’s cheek. Xe hadn’t been there at that precise moment — only later that night — but she’d heard about it, nearly in real time. Albeit from sources less-than-reliable. She and Rowan were among a very select handful of folks who knew that the Gabrielle dolly had survived the night of her Genesis and was hunted by the Babylonian God Marduk. Wherever she was, she had yet to be found, (it had only been two days, after all), but were she to reappear on campus, it would be the death of her, for sure.


Callsign Baby Troll

A SNIPPET FROM the current work in progress to exposit the origin of Dolly’s nickname, Baby Troll.

Callsign: Baby Troll

The Gabrielle Dolly

When she and Aphrodite first arrived in Camp Meander via teleport, in September of ’97, the recruit company had been already a week into its training cycle. The dolly had, therefor, considerable catching up to do. She imagined and was subsequently told that there had been much debate as to whether it was wise to put her in such a position. It was seen by some as setting her up for failure. But Aphrodite was antsy and wanted her charge embarked on some activity — and meaningful activity at that; make-work was unacceptable. She asserted that the dolly would suffer far greater developmental damage from inactivity than from any possible failure. Further, she claimed, the dolly would not fail in any case.

An assessment with which the dolly was rather in greater agreement before she embarked on her training than she would be later on.

Until she got caught up, the dolly was subject to much harsh, no-nonsense treatment at the hands of the instructors, as she was always the last in her platoon at everything. Not only was she inexperienced and playing catchup, she was also smaller, lighter, and weaker than her platoon mates. Each new obstacle, each new task was to her a greater challenge than it would ever be to her comrades — even the billilaala, who were more her size.

It started the first day as she fell in on the parade ground with the rest and ended up at the wrong end of her rank. To be fair, they’d told her to line up according to height. Since everybody was taller than she, she figured it was mox nix — she’d always be the shortest and it made no never-mind which end she was on. She picked an end at random and took her position there. It was, however, a lapse which could not fail to attract the eye and ire of the lead instructor — Gunnery Sergeant Meru, a reputed martinet born in the Patkar Hills of Northern Burma and emigrant to the Canadian Rockies.

“What have we here?” the towering frekun ang said as she approached the dolly’s position at the wrong end of the rank. “Is this a baby Troll?”

Later, they would have better discipline, but it was early days, still, and the platoon had yet to learn better than to laugh.

“You lot think that’s funny, do you?” Meru asked in her very best parade ground voice. “Let’s see how funny you find it after a morning on the Main Loop. By squads. Double-time… HARCH!”

The Main Loop was a fifty-mile track that circumscribed most of the base. It was not paved. It was not level. It was cleared on occasion when NCOs thought some recruit unit needed to work on its brush-clearing skills. But otherwise, it was left alone, and the vegetation overgrew it with wild abandon. It was poorly marked. Passage through the woods just there was colloquially known as bush-whacking. It was held as an article of faith by all recruits that some alleged portions of the Loop existed only in the collective imaginations of the junior training NCOs, who accompanied trainee units on the route — and woe betide you if you mistook the trail. They might even send you back to start over. Independent Study, it was called.

For having been the cause of the platoon’s having to run the Loop — nobody ever walked the whole thing — the dolly caught holy Hell. She also earned a nickname from the experience. Nicknames were uncomfortable things to earn in Basic in the Troll Guard, so the instructors generally tried to find one for everybody — to spread the misery around evenly and find appropriate radio callsigns for everyone. The dolly’s was, from that day forth, Baby Troll. She’d be forever trying to live it down — until she learned to make it a badge of honor and accept it as her callsign. It’s worth noting that, once she’d made that accommodation with reality — as the Americans put it, once she’d embraced the suck — she was generally treated with greater respect.


Works in Progress Update

JUST A QUICK NOTE to keep everybody up-to-date. #ThisIsThePlaceILovedHerMemoir is still in-progress, albeit stalled. As I said to J, although I know what’s next, I don’t feel moved to continue just now. I’m back to the first of the story-a-week challenge, the first of what I’m calling “The Further Adventures” of Dolly and Drummond. It’s been almost three weeks since I started it and It’s far from finished. I have two other starts, (including the HashTag and a third in an entirely other ficton). Progress being made in fits and starts on all. Also: working still on The Origin Protocols. No significant wordage down recently on anything. A lot of staring at blank and half-blank screens and — air quotes — “thinking”.

I’m Sure Most of You

WILL HAVE HEARD but just in case you haven’t. The Dear and priceless Connie du Toit has passed, leaving the world bereft of her scintillating presence. And her beloved Kim is now alone in life and reaches out via a renewal of his blogness at Splendid Isolation Go. Read. Register so you can comment. It will doubtless be a lively community and participation will only be possible via commentary.

Dolly and I will attempt to keep up, though I’m dead certain Kim will set a lively pace.

It’s Dolly’s Birthday!!!

EVEN WHEN I THINK about it in advance and plan for it, I tend to forget this central fact about my ficton: Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East made The Leap from a free-floating anima to a fully-integrated soul inhabiting a human body — in short, she was born — today 19 years ago, February 14, 1998.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote this novel, detailing the first twelve hours of Dolly’s life.

Check it out. Buy it, if you are so moved. Enjoy it. I am certain you will.

Happy Valentine’s Day. As Niel Finn of Crowded House put it: I don’t pretend to know what you want, but I offer love.

This Is The Place Update

THIS IS THE PLACE I LOVED HER — the memoir mentioned earlier, has progressed to 7500 words in (so far) 9 chapters. It’s a short book and will be a fast read. I expect it will also be a heart-wrencher. At least, bringing forth the memories requisite to writing it is proving to be so.

I am taking as my text for the sermon lyrics from Crowded House songs — at present mainly “She Goes On” but, almost inevitably, “Fall At Your Feet”, as the latter song has proven to be a literal script for what I should have said to her forty-four years ago.

Artful Living Announcement

I HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMNT to make — for all of you following along at home. I have two new stories starting up. One is a science fiction story that I’m trying to make unique and special, given it’s about an old-ish topic. The other is a literary memoir — which may prove the kiss of death for it — but I’m strongly moved by recent currents in my lifestream.

The Origin Protocols (Baby Troll Chronicles, Book Three) is still in process.

That’s all I had to say.

As the Weather Toughens Up

AND, INDEED, THEY ARE evacuating Gatlinburg due to fires we hope a rain storm juiced by a hurricane in the Gulf might lay down enough precipitation to abate the fires some, I am once again thinking about art and possibly revamping the cover styles for the Baby Troll Chronicles series.

Bearing in mind that a cover design has to sell the book, not describe it, I find myself drawn to 19th Century advertising posters designed and illustrated by Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha, whom I have typed as the heart and soul of the Art Nouveau movement. I’m a major fan of art nouveau for the romantic feel of it and the crafsmanship that it requires — unlike the BS poseur-ism of modern and post modern — scorn quotes — “art.” That plus that I, being lazy, can essentially “steal” (in Picasso’s terms) virtually whole designs and yet score points for a practical level of “originality”. The image at right could be a romanticized rendition of Drummond and Dolly in hot-and-heavy clinch all while ticking each and every box to sell the book.

It’s right down the line with how, over my career at Otto, I would teach myself a particular style of commercial art — Peter Max, Punk rock album cover, San Francisco Art Nouveau, what-have-you — and rip off its jargon and vernacular for my projects. Of course, your ordinary backstage pass project doesn’t call for or allow the kind of depth and extent that a real ripoff requires, so the touch has to be light, and actually, barely recognizable as being such. (Sort of qualifies as Heinlein’s filing off the serial numbers.)

For these book covers, I’m going to study and appropriate art nouveau — and, along the way, generate a large amount of collateral. I’ll be starting in two places at once — first, the general layout and framing techniques and, second, the fine-detail illustration techniques and motifs. The finish will be the main figures to fill the frames, showing the characters. Then we’ll throw type over the top: our title and credits. Each title — by the time we’re done with this first lot, there’ll be three — will be covered in 3 formats, hardback, trade paperback, and eback. We may not be able to publish hard cover with the resources available to indies right now. But someday — one hopes someday soon — we will. No sense in doing all the work now only to have to do it all over down the road. Have it ready now and, when the opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready.

I only started the raw layout sketches today, so it’ll be a slow-ish process. But I’ll be posting every day or two with progress reports. I hope.

In My Early Teens, Despite Never Having Been…

OUT TO SEA, OR EVEN out on water in anything more substantial than a car ferry, I designed a sailboat. Which, to my delight, my nautically-inclined leatherneck uncle pronounced a fair-looking craft. He even thought it would float.

In world building my ficton for the Baby Troll Chronicles, I’ve included in my back story a character who is partly attached to the modern stories of the adventures of Gabrielle “Dolly” East, her karmic predecessor, Gabrielle Francesca East, called the most successful Childe of the East in the long history of Upothesa, who held that office from 1838 to 1863 and founded East College of the Americas, which is the main venue for most of the stories.

During her tenure, GFE1, as I call her for short, served for a time as the chief factor of the commercial enterprises of the Greek God Hephaestus — Olympia Trading, Ltd. As such, she was required to travel the world at some length (indeed, spending all of her 20s at sea, participating in such various historical events as the founding of Hong Kong and the Crimean War). Her vehicle for these travels is an iconic sailing vessel, which I have early on typed as a sloop and christened Bella Donna (Italian, meaning Beautiful Lady). The choice of sloop seemed appropriate at first, as it could be crewed by a small complement, but would be seaworthy for long voyages, given opportunities and resources for resupply.

Here recently, I’ve been exercising my love of sailing ships and conning them across the open water by gathering images of tall ships on a Pinterest board I’ve called Tall Ships, Blue Water. Along with that, I’ve been reading about sailing vessels — renewing my acquaintance with the types. And I’ve come to think that the sloop is not so much the appropriate type for Bella Donna, the first Gabrielle Francesca’s yacht and have settled, perhaps, on a schooner, such as The Lady Washington (left below) or The Pride of Baltimore (right), although a three-masted, ketch-rigged, fore-and-aft, topsail schooner would fit the bill completely, which takes us into the realm more of a brig or a brigantine.

As I take up my pencil and pens to re-up my drafting chops, I find myself eager to try drawing a sailing vessel of some type, albeit not one so complex and sophisticated as those above. Wish me success, please.

For some reason, the embed code for the pins of the ship images above is problematic. If you can’t see the thumbnails and want to see the full images, click on the box(es) to be taken to the Pinterest board in question. There’s a wealth of reading on the subject at Wikipedia, and, being as the subject is not one where opinions are as heated as, say, whether or not Hillary Clinton is a double-damned dirty traitor or Donald Trump is a money-grubbing parvenu, most of the articles may be trusted as relatively accurate.

Can’t block the signal, Mal

ROY EDROSO is a closed-minded, bigoted left-wing extremist tool.

Pass it on.

Quote of the Day

The other eye-popper here is that indie authors are outselling the Big Five. That’s the entire Big Five. Combined. Indie and small-press books account for half of the e-book sales in the most popular and bestselling genres on Amazon.

Joe Konrath

Apologies to All

INCLUDING READER Random Lurker (We’ll call him Randy.), who commented on the bewbage, for not having posted in a frakkin’ week.Sorry ’bout that, Chief. And more bewbage later. And, yeah, I know the rules: “Never apologize; never explain.” But it just felt like the right lede. I do more of that that I probably should admit to — going on gut instinct.

Anyway, through a creative use of paid holidays, I have managed to stretch my vacation to the end of the year, starting Monday just passed. And then for another week into 2014, using days from next year’s vacation days (I did the same at the beginning of this year, so it kind of rolls over.) All-in-all three weeks of free time, with the exception of family visits on Christmas Day.

My intentions were threefold (and still are, to the extent that life rolls have messed with my momentum). I want to write substantial wordage on Discovery — the working title of the current novel. I want to get started on a regimen of yoga and develop the habit of exercising daily. And I want to start working to get my drawing chops back. I had, in fact, hoped to have reports of developments on all three fronts — and can report that I have written 5,000 new words — but life has conspired to fuck my shit up.

Kris Rusch calls these little bobbles in the event continuum Life Rolls. I can’t argue. Life does roll — right over you. But I can’t help snarking back — life doesn’t so much roll as it sucks. But I’ve had a few minor life rolls in the last few days.

Last Thursday evening, I was fixing dinner. Chicken and Spanish Rice. On this occasion, I had discovered a package of white mushrooms in the produce drawer and figured that, since they were almost two weeks old, they probably ought to get cooked before they started to spore. I washed theme, breaking the stems off the caps and running the stems down the disposal. I cut up the caps and was sauteeing them in butter when I noticed that the water had not gone down in the sink. No panic. This has happened before. I got the plunger and wanked the drain with it.


Yeah, Dolly. Ever seen somebody plunge a sink drain?

…Oh! Wanked. I see.

Anyway, no joy. the water went back-and-forth between the plain drain and the disposal, but none of it went down.

Then I noticed my feet were wet. “Why is there water on the floor, coming out of the base cabinet?” I asked myself. “Where could the water be coming from?

As it turned out, it was coming out of the bottom of the disposal.



Did I ever tell you how much I HATE working on the plumbing under the sink?

I just didn’t feel like messing with it on a school night. So, I sent an email to Toni (who was on an away gig) that the kitchen sink was non-operational and went to bed. Friday, went to work, had an amazing day. (Why do customers always call with last-minute projects right when you’re trying to get out of the place for vacation?). Friday evening, I had leftover chicken and Spanish rice. Washed my dishes in the bathroom sink, but resolved not to trust it and re-wash them all once the kitchen sink was fixed. Toni wondered if that was sane, but once she saw the situation for herself, ratified my decision.

Some quick research on the Innertubez informed me that water leaking from the bottom of the disposal means the disposal’s main seal has blown. I should take it out and take it to the nearest service center (which is clear the other side of the county). In-Sink-Er-Ator verified this on their site, so I felt pretty confident I had the straight poop. (Remember: they can’t put anything on the Internet if it’s not true.) Meanwhile, Home Depot told me a new one would cost $80.00. What do you think the service center would charge to replace a main seal? Add in gas and time and. No brainer. Get a new one. Did. Put it in. Didn’t fix the no-drainee problem.

Tried various flavors of chemical drain cleaners. Couldn’t find a microbial variety at Home Depot, which I suspect would have worked just fine. Advise from the Internet (verified, of course), was that the next step is to snake the drain.

Oh, joy.

Now, I had a snake already. But it was one of those long-straight ones that you attach to your drill, pull the trigger, and it twists into a pretty plumber’s braid. So, back to Home Depot (one more visit and it’s a project), to get a better snake. One with a reel and a crank handle.

SO. The video instructions for the snake show a guy standing at a kitchen sink. His narration leads me to believe that he was dealing with a single drain that went straight down to the trap and then straight across to the wall. How convenient. But not in this house you don’t.

Here, you have a different situation. One side of the double-bowl sink is the disposal. Even I know better than to put a snake down a disposal. the other side, the drain goes down to where it meets the cross connection that would have been the join if there were NOT a disposal on the right. Then there’s an elbow onto a straight shot…

No. That’s not right.

Oh, I don’t know.

Then it all goes back to meet the laundry drain. But somehow, this all goes down to a last horizontal run that joins with a brass compression fitting to the side drain that services then across and down to the trap, then to the side line that serves this side of the house. That last run is where I want to insert my snake into the line. It’s about two inches above the floor of the cabinet and way at the back. NOT someplace you can get to standing up. Or even in a comfortable crouch.

I could have used a creeper just about then.

Swewnneyway, I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon spinning away at that snake, lying on my back, with my hands over my head in awkward positions. (It would have been fine if my elbows bent the other way. As it was: pain.) The lip of the cabinet was sharp and hard, so I grabbed a bunch of throw rugs to build up a support for my shoulders. It worked, sort of. After a lot of shifting around, I finally found a position I could stand and cranked the snake out to its full length (25′) and brought it back. Cranking five or ten minutes, then breaking for five or ten… or fifteen… or twenty.

Aside from a few stray strands of… don’t ask… there was no sign on the snake of any serious blockage. But, when I put the drain back together (Yay! for threaded, hand-tighten PVC connections.), damned if it didn’t run free. But that managed to blow two days’ free time, and thus no bloggage.

Then, Wednesday morning, I woke up with a cough. Last couple of days, it have been just a thrill to be me.

At the moment, I’m still under the weather, but feeling better than since Wednesday. Here’s hoping this cold-flu-whatever continues to improve.

When Black Friday Comes

I’LL BE ON THAT HILL… well, no. Not really. I’ll probably be right here at this desk, pounding out more adventures for Dolly. But you, you good American consume-a-holic, you, you’ll be out there spending yourself into oblivion to support the economy and make Obama look good in the government’s phoney baloney numbers.

And, since I’m a greedy capitalist type, and have a product on the market (to wit, my book), I have a dog in this fight, so to speak. You see, my book is on special for Black Friday.

It’s set up on what Amazon calls a Countdown Deal. The price is dropped by some staggering amount on the first day. (Or hour, or whatever.) Then, over a given period of time, it goes back up by increments until it’s back at “regular” price.

Ours starts at Five AM PST today and runs through… well. That would be telling.

So here’s your chance to get in at the beginning. Get the first edition of my first novel. You can say you read Alger before Alger was cool. Come on! You know I’m gonna be cool some day!

cvr hi-t shebang1013

Possible Approaches

TO STORY by Georges Polti.

They’ll Make It Up

IN VOLUME? Somehow, my brain, on hearing about Smashwords’ Oyster program, keeps going there. As one author asks in comments, how does this do anything but lose money? I guess that Coker must have figured somehow that there’s a margin to be made, there, between the number of books read per month and the subscription rate. But I don’t see it. The whole buffet effect and all that.

I guess we’ll see.

And We’re Moving On

WHILE THERE WILL BE promotional work to be done, and — down the road, when the KDP Select enrollment has played out — a paper edition, I’m pretty much done with The High T Shebang. Now, it belongs to the reader and I move on to the next one.

The working title is vague. At the moment, it’s Discovery and I’m thinking of it as a sort of an origin issue. (To use the comic book jargon.) Except that it won’t be the only one. I’ll have several over the years, I’m sure.

This one picks up Dolly’s tale the morning after her Genesis and carries through, more-or-less chronologically, to Cally’s Genesis, passing along the way Dolly’s training in the Troll Guard at Camp Meander and the start of her relationship with Drummond as her being a Real Grrl. And those are the last spoilers you’ll get out of me.

I’m also intending to seriously buckle down and get my drawing chops back. I have a pencil. I have paper. I have a scanner. I have drawn in the past. I will draw again in the future.

It. Is. Up.

I DON’T FEEL SO much like a poseur any more — talking a good game while not actually delivering. But, after 50 years of trying, I’ve finally published my first novel and it’s up for sale at Amazon. And, if you go and buy it by clicking the link at right, you help defray the costs of operating this site at no additional cost to you.

Everyone around Gabrielle Francesca East — Dolly to her friends — has an agenda. Mitchell Drummond, her lover, guardian, and Geppetto wants to wrap her up in bubble wrap and protect her from the world. Dolly just wants him to make her forget her name by making hot, monkey love with her. Her family resent Dolly’s fortune: a fortune they assert is rightfully theirs. Dolly? She just wants to shop. Half the Gods want to control her; the other half want her dead; Dolly just wants to party with her friends.

When clones of blonde, Hollywood starlets — probably from the same lab that made Dolly’s body — start showing up halfway around the world, Drummond and Dolly set out at the head of the Troll Action Team to find out what’s behind the clones. The answer will send shock waves through the whole shebang.

Growing out of a long series of email exchanges on The Center for Xena Studies, a Xena: Warrior Princess mailing list, The High T Shebang is the first volume of the long-awaited epic, the Dolly Apocrypha. See where it all began.

Truth in advertising disclaimer: Violence. Explicit and graphic sexual dialog and situations. Adults only. Parental discretion strongly advised. Not for children or young teens.

Coming in 2014, The Baby Troll Chronicles continue.

Also. Some time ago, I promised that anyone who became a member of my old blog site would get a free copy of my ebook. About a thousand responded. While this is a different book, I feel it incumbent upon me to honor that promise. As soon as I can figure out how to do it, if you are among that thousand-or-so, you will be receiving an email detailing how to get a copy.

Wronging Rights

IF YOU’RE NOT IN THE letters industry, you may be unaware of a local tempest-in-a-teapot that popped up here recently. Seems a bunch of seamy books, self-published, for the most part, but not exclusively, have been removed from public view — the aggregator claims temporarily, but with no assurance of the length of the temp involved. (Irish indie author David Gaughran posts.)

Much… well, some as been made of the contention that there is no right to free speech in the UK. Not true. The right exists, the state has merely chosen not to recognize it. We in the United States have what purports to be a constitutional guarantee, which guarantees seem by and large to be honored more in the breach. However, I contend, the defense of it does not go far enough.

You hear this all the time. I suspect the most frequent assertion of the mistake notions about rights comes from the political Right which says “There’s no right to abortion in the Constitution,” with the follow-on claim it therefor doesn’t exist. While I agree that abortion is, on balance, reprehensible — possibly even murder, albeit without a clear legal definition, not much more can be made of it — a right to access the procedure does exist. It must. At the same time, it must be made clear that the right to access a medical procedure (provided one possesses the wherewithal to compensate the providers) does not guarantee that said providers are obligated to — so to speak — provide it, whether compensated or not. “We don’t serve your kind in here,” is well within the most simple and primitive rights of the individual to assert and enforce. That some find it unaesthetic or inconvenient notwithstanding.

The right to freedom speech, expression, the press is free-standing and pre-exists any state. All a state can do is recognize or infringe upon it. And all an individual can do is recognize or infringe upon it.

And that last is where the crowd that says, “Private entities’ infringing upon freedom of speech is not censorship.” Bullshit. It most certainly is. And, it might be seen, such behavior from private individuals or corporations is MORE reprehensible than it may be from governments, as there never was any contemplation of granting private entities any let over the free expression of individuals. The right is free-standing and absolute. It inheres to the individual human being. NO actor may infringe. The right shall not be infringed — under law. (In a lawless state, an individual may do anything he can get away with; that’s the difference between anarchism and libertarianism. The latter acknowledges the possibility of a need for a state, however skeletal and minimal.)

The Constitution limits the state. As the 800lb gorilla of politics, the state must needs be set about with limits. It has too great a potential to damage fragile liberty. But that is not to say that the rights of the individual are not enforceable against infringing individuals or corporation.

Now, granted, there are private property rights and rights of free association — not to mention rights of commercial liberty — in possible conflict in the situation alluded to at the beginning of this post. A merchant has every right to choose what merchandise to stock. However, an entity — such as Amazon — which puts itself forward as the landlord (so to speak) of an open marketplace may be seen as operating a kind of a public accommodation. And, whatever your take on that principle, it is a recognized legal principle of our structure of civil rights.

Where we go from there, I do not know — or haven’t formed an opinion, yet — but it seems clear to me that Smiths, Kobo, Amazon, and the rest are engaged in censorship, are not blameless, and owe it to their suppliers, their customers, and the nation of Man at large to create a structure that meets the needs of everyone, even-handedly, not forcing offending materials on an unwilling public, nor allowing its access by the unprepared young, nor infringing on the freedom of expression of the authors using their marketplaces.

And most certainly, no one should respect the complaints of those who assert the right to infringe upon the rights of individuals for the sake of offense or convenience. Those deserve nothing but our collective (and individual) scorn.

If Any of Them Respond

cvr hi-t shebang1013THE HIGH T SHEBANG WILL BE going to the betas over the next couple of days and, one hopes, on sale next week. Wish us luck.

Update: in my fog of fatigue after mindight, I uploaded the wrong cover file. Oops. Fixed, now.

So… I Got Squirrelled Yesterday

cvr hi-t sm 0913BY AN INTERESTING post and discussion of Human Wave self-and-mutual promotion over at Sarah Hoyt’s blog (not to mention grocery shopping, which seems to take it out of me more than it should), so I didn’t get nearly all the work done on re-drafting Chapter 3 of The High T Affair, but I’m real close, now.

In the meantime, I had a few bored minutes near the end of the day and I opened up the cover art, which I’ve been staring at on and off for the requisite days, in Photoshop and messed around with a few things at the margin — mostly adding a muzzle flash to Dolly’s gun and putting the old map of the East family demesne in the background. The whole overall still looks to action-adventury and cartoony to me, and not enough dark-and-gritty urban science fantasy-y. But, as I review each characteristic, I don’t see an alternative that moves in that direction. So — to quote Pooh — bother.

The question cropped up in the above-alluded-to discussion, “Why is this work Human Wave?” Good question, and more than a little bothersome. But, here goes.

First off, the lead character in the Baby Troll Chronicles, the eponymous Baby Troll (a.k.a., Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East) is an anarchist. She doesn’t think so — she may be the most relentlessly apolitical character you’ll ever meet. But she is. As I describe her (in the perspective of her lover, Mitchell Cary Drummond), she is a teleological chaos machine. But she also resents anything or anyone who gets in her way, which makes her a natural anarchist, even if she wouldn’t respond to the description. So, while not a libertarian per se, she acts in a manner that reflects a core belief in the supremacy of the individual human mind.

She gets that in large part from Drummond. While she is the reincarnation of the Hero of a Thousand Generations, in this lifetime, her early development was greatly influenced not only by Drummond himself, but by his influences. In her time as a dolly (whence comes her nickname), she was confined largely to Drummond’s Over the Rhine loft in Cincinnati and limited for her input to Drummond’s cable subscription and his library, which took up an entire floor of his building. She had to struggle to deal with books that, in many cases, were larger than she, but there were so many of them. And, from Adam Smith to Ayn Rand, Lysander Spooner to Murray Rothbard, she steeped in the philosophers of liberty.

And put her own spin on it.

And Drummond is a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian. Agonizes over it. Goes overboard in his respect for individual autonomy to the point he wonders whether he has the right to urge Dolly to get medical treatment.

And the larger situation. Upothesa, the vast, global conspiracy to which both owe fealty of a sorts is a supra-national un-governed organization. Involved in commerce, it almost inevitably engages in smuggling, albeit never of arms, drugs, or humans. Being supra-national and pre-existing all nations, it has little respect for government and goes its own way on the “Do what you like, just don’t let the policeman on the corner see you doing it” principle.

Upothesa started back in the Stone Age as a partnership between Gods and a family of Men. Since the Twilight of the Gods, which began with Zarathustra and continues to this day, the Gods themselves have diminished and Men have become greater. At the time in which Dolly and Drummond swim in these waters, great changes in the power structures of Upothesa portend. I can’t say much without spoilage, but the Trolls — traditionally very xenophobic — have begun to admit select members of other hominid species into their secret worlds. Gods are increasingly withdrawing from the daily affairs of Upothesa. There is a great conflict brewing between Trolls and Elves. And the very edifice of Upothesa is threatened. All of which means that mankind — if it can sieze the day — faces a future fraught with possibility.

The very definition of the Human Wave.

Not that I intended it. When I began writing the Dolly stories fourteen years ago this winter, the Human Wave wasn’t even a glimmer in Sarah Hoyt’s eyes, though in retrospect, it would seem to be inevitable. But, then, historical moments almost always do. But, as I think on it and work through the issues of getting the stories on the page and screen, it seems a natural fit. Mankind is shedding its gods and marching toward a future in which we must stand alone, masters of our own destiny. That’s Human Wave. That’s why the Baby Troll Chronicles are Human Wave.

Now I Have to Stare at It For a Few Days

cvr hi-t 0913BUT, FOR THE MOMENT at least, it answers most of my concerns about earlier design attempts. Click through the category link to compare and contrast the changes.


I JUST CHANGED the entire first quarter of my novel. In one of those Disney moves. You know, where the painbrush waves across the screen like a magic wand and — hey! presto! — the scene changes from winter to spring in a waterfall of paint colors. The challenge is to make all the changes in two chapters. OK. Not a quarter. A Twelfth. But still… By next Sunday.

Think I can do it?

And, yes, it should improve things immensely. First Reader agrees it should be an improvement in pacing, if nothing else.

I Remember Back in the Early ’70s

JOHN W. CAMPBELL, shortly before he died, saying something to the effect of, “All those space-ships and time-travel and telepathy, and not one of us anticipated the digital computer.”

And it’s true. Even as late as 1964-65, when Heinlein was inventing that Dinkum Thinkum, Mike, one gets the impression that computers a hundred years down the road would still be made of massive steel frames holding racks and rows of racks of vacuum tubes manipulating limited computing resources in an arcane art and science managed by engineer-priests.

And, even so, the state of the art just then was the DEC PDP11, if memory serves. The VAX, 8088, and the microcomputer were still in the future.

My point being not to disparage the greats of the Golden Age of science fiction, but to point out (for the billionth time) the futility of trying to predict surprises in so chaotic a space as the enterprises of men.

You wanted a flying car? How about a flying truck?

Play with that notion for a moment. How far down the — pun intended — road do you suppose this development will come? Get ready to defend your flyover rights.

How I Spent My End-of-Summer Vacation

cvr hi-t 0813SO I TOOK A COUPLE of extra days off to extend the three-day weekend to five. Days, that is. My intent was to, by the end of the weekend, have a copy of my ebook edition of The High T Affair that I could send to beta readers, and to have made contact with all those who have volunteered or been roped into volunteering to beta-read this thing. (Apparently, none of them read BTB on a holiday weekend or they haven’t taken the hint, because none of them have gotten in touch with me.)

Well, just after bedtime on Tuesday (before going back to work at the Patch Factory on Wednesday), I have a nearly-perfect conversion (sans table-of-contents and with an extra scene separator) to show around. Yay, me.

So, the first lesson here is to never give up until you win. Because you will always — ALWAYS — lose until you win. So, if you give up before you win, guess what? You lose. And that, my dear readers, may just be the canonical definition of a loser: someone who gives up before they win.

Take me, for example. At dinnertime, I was in the depths of despair. I had been beaten by a primitive (open source, yet) word processor. But then, I remembered that word processors leave tons of cruft in their files. (Most programs do. Modern, well-made programs clean up after themselves when they save. Progams made by teenage wonks don’t. Let that be a lesson for you. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may have been heroes to their mothers, but they were teenaged wonks and couldn’t code for shit.

The second — and final for this post — lesson is to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER involve Microsoft Word or any Word emulator in a production workflow in which consistent results are needed time and again. There’s a reason why pro graphics houses WILL NOT accept ANY input from Microsoft — and that includes their mis-named (dis-named, as in disinformation?) MS Publisher. And that is, if your livelihood depends on it, Word will let you down every. Single. Time. Now, in my case, it was Open Office, but the principle holds, whether it’s Word, Word Perfect, Atlantis, Open Office or Sigil or any of the myriad other out there whic MAY be used to provide input to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. They embrace fundamentally flawed premises. And why on earth the engineers at Amazon decided to depend on — or to permit or accept dependence on — Microsoft products for what is essentially a graphic-arts process is beyond me. As we say about Stupid Engineer Tricks day after day at the Patch Factory, “Why would you want to do that?”

As for me, I’ve somehow gotten my clock adjusted to Vacation Time and I have to get up early as all fuck in the morning. Say, “Good night,” Gracie.

Good night, Gracie.

So What’s Been Going On

cvr hi-t sm 0913IN THE WORLD since I’ve been gone?

You were gone?

Ha! Ha! Very funny. No. BSN. I spent all day Friday and Saturday combing through the final edit of The High T Affair and setting named styles for EVERY. SINGLE. CHARACTER. (Including spaces.) (Especially spaces.)

I have this to conclude: Word processors are aggravating as hell. They never get it right. You tell them to do something and they get it wrong. You tell them to do something the same way twice in a row and you get two different results. The rituals required to get ANY results are arcane and inconsistent. Asking for consistency is asking for the blood to go back in the moon. The documentation sucks. For example: In Open Office (version 4) — TRY to find a list of what all the special characters mean. Just TRY.

And then, output. Why are supposedly modern word processors STILL using a brute-force, inline-style driven approach to rolling HTML? Why are they still rolling HTML 2.x? WHY ARE THEY STILL USING UPPERCASE TAGS?

On the other hand, I have gotten a fairly clean and elegant build in both MOBI and ePub of the book. A few minor tweaks (which Murphy tells me will take all day TODAY) and I should have something to send to betas.

Oh! And I’ve changed the cover. Not final, but a radical departure from where I was before. I need to write post or posts about THAT. Don’t know when I’ll be able to find the time.

Looks like pub date will be pushed back a week.

Not to Be

A ONE BOOK WRITER Kris Rusch writes on the difference between getting published and making a career at writing. In aid that… With the publication of my first novel perhaps a week or so away, I am mindful of the keystone requirement — the next book.

Even as I’m trying to wrangle beta readers and get the cover together for The High T Affair, I am in the background processes of setting up the next one: pouring the first draft into Scrivener; considering whether to meld another story line into this one; wincing at the terribly juvenile plot, characterization, dialog, etc. of the first draft.

I’m also looking two, three, four books down the road, trying to chivvy the ideas into line, playing the long-story-arc game.

How’s your career planning going?

Interesting to note that writing buddy, Jaime Lee Moyer’s first novel, Delia’s Shadow is set for release September 17, but has been available for pre-order on Amazon for several months. We met on the OWW thirteen years ago. (Before, I should note, it was the OWW, back when Mr. Redley (Del Rey Books) was the sponsor.) Who beat whom to book publication? (And does it matter?) I have a copy of the MS for the third book in her trilogy. I’ve read earlier drafts and am excited to see the final thing. Back in the workshop days, I compared her voice to Zenna Henderson. I still get the gentle warmth, but now it’s uniquely Jaime’s. The genre is paranormal fantasy with a soupcon of San Francisco history. Recommended.

Dolly’s Going to WorldCon


Well, not the way I’d hope you’d think from the headline.

My first reader, in order to Get Right On It, is taking a printout (I supposed it’s a bootleg, but I think it’s OK; I know the rights holder personally.) to WorldCon to read in the down times. One of which will be, I’m told, babysitting for a Hugo nominee.

Our brush with fame.

Except that One of the Gang is going to be reading, the rest doesn’t really mean much. It’s just kind of funny.

Amusing-and-cute funny, not disturbed-and-potentially-violent-neighbor funny.

It’s National Go Topless Day!

bouncybouncyAND DA DOLL plans to participate. Photo from last year’s event. In observance of the day, I stole a scene from Alger’s latest work, The High T Affair, which is due out in probably two weeks, now, it looks like.

By the way, he’s still looking for beta readers.

Minoan Tits

“You dirty old man!” Olivia stage-whispered at him, slapping him on the shoulder while giggling and simultaneously trying to keep the blanket pulled tight around herself with only one hand.
“That’s me,” Drummond said as drolly as he could manage. “The old original cradle robber. Anyway, I’d wager it’s a high standard.”


“Canadian not you are?” He grinned at her. “Your tits. If the rest is anything to judge by, I’d say they set a high standard. Might even be Minoan tits.”

“OK, now. What? In all. The Hells of Santa Ana. Are you talkin’ ’bout?”

“OK. Well. I can’t claim credit for this. I just heard it somewhere, but… You know those murals they discovered in the palace at Knossos — the capital of the Minoan Empire? (Which the Gods in Upothesa can tell you was the source of the Atlantis myth.) All those ladies of the court wearing their bosom-baring fashions?”

She nodded. “Sure as eggs, all of them heifers have fine knockers. Almost like somebody’s husband or daddy paid the painter to… improve on the subject.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Or the painters had a particular type.”

“Yeah. Minoan tits. So how…?”

“Well, you know, I’m sure, that there are those who want for it to be considered decent — or, at any rate, legal — for women to go topless in places not the beach or their bedrooms.”

He looked sidelong at her, one eyebrow raised.”

She pursed her lips. “I most certainly do. And I’d be in favor of it, too.”

“Because,” he said. “It would make you look good, you with your world-class, weapons-grade rack. Is I wrong, or is I right?”

“You is not wrong. Or so I hear.” She gave him a wicked grin. “I bet we could find us a linen closet and you an’ me could play doctor, ‘n’ I could prove it to you.”

Drummond grinned back at her. “Get thee behind me.”

“So what’s this-all got to do with prehistoric porn on palace walls?”

“I figure that, if they did make it legal for women to go topless, some bunch of fools with more power than sense would try to legislate on the basis of aesthetics. After all, it’s a matter of keepin’ our city beautiful. Can’t have big ol’ saggy hooters with wrinkly skin, hangin’ down to the lady’s knees out there for God and everybody to see…” Drummond realized he was unconsciously adopting Olivia’s Texas twang and, with an effort, stopped. “So… a particularly fine pair would be judged street-legal, or…”

Olivia gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Minoan tits! I love it!”

So, whip off those tops ladies. Particularly you young ‘uns with… Yes, with Minoan tits.

Quote of the Day

As for the 99.9% who won’t see my level of success, I would point out that 99.9% of those who submit material to the traditional machine will never see a similar level of success. It isn’t like our option is to self-publish OR see how well our novel does fronted out on an endcap in a bookstore. Our options are to self-publish OR spend a few years landing an agent, another year selling the book to a publisher, a year waiting for that book to come out, and then three months spine-out on dwindling bookshelves before you are out of print and nobody cares about you anymore. If you’re lucky. Most likely, you’ll never even get an agent. Because you aren’t Snooki.

Hugh Howey

Late On the Deadline for the Cover

I KNOW, I KNOW! I’m working furiously away on the edits. I promised to get the latest round to Jaime. She’s just turned in the last book of her trilogy and has about a minute, thirty to pay attention to Dolly — her goddaughter — so I have to hustle. That’s OK. I’d have to hustle even if I didn’t have to make Jaime’s window of availability. I have to keep grinding away if I’m to have a hope in hopscotch of making a September 1 on-sale date.

Why do projects always come down to the last minute?

Maybe because you schedule them that way? Why can’t you go on sale September 2? Or October 1?

Dunno. Maybe when I get this thing on-sale, I’ll have a free second to think about it. Meantime, here’s a whole flock of free ice cream that’s been backed up in the queue for a little while.

Biggest News of the Summer?

I DON’T ORDINARILY blog about what Kris Rusch writes (even though I read it avidly) because bigger dogs with larger audiences always beat me to it. But occasionally, such as this week’s Business Rusch, she posts something that excites a peculiarly idiosyncratic comment from me.

I’ve been involved in business all my adult life. Unless you’ve worked exclusively in government, so have you. All that time, I’ve embraced an attitude best encapsulated (to my uncertain knowledge) in the enthusiasm for Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence, in which he profiled a series of what he called (from his perspective as a McKinsey consultant) “excellent companies.” I firmly believe it is an iron law that the marketplace does not exist for the benefit of the seller, but for that of the buyer, and those who succeed in the market — in the end, ultimately, in the long run — will be those who best serve the customer.

The — or a — countervailing belief to that (among serious contenders — collectivists need not apply) is the short-term eye on the bottom line.
Business is all about money, money is the ultimate thing traded in any market, it is the most important factor in gauging a business’s health, and everything else comes second. In this belief system, the only disagreement there can be revolves around how long a time-scale you’re discussing — daily, weekly, quarterly, annually, or longer-term? As a front line executive, I have always tried to ensure that every single project in which I engage made not only a profit, but came as close to the established margin the business requires to thrive as I could manage.

But, is that always a wise course to follow?

Twenty-to-twenty-five years ago, the Patch Factory was at the end of a decade of phenomenal growth. At the beginning of the decade, as one of Bill Graham’s lieutenants put it, nobody’d heard of us, at the end of it, everybody knew our name and, at some point, did business with us.

The problem was that we were hemorrhaging red ink. Our sales grew month-over-month, year-over-year, but there never was a profit for the owners to take home.

A new owner bought in, a money man, who consolidated matters, cut staff, cut costs, changed the company’s behavior, and made us profitable again.

And a decade later, we were no longer growing. We were shrinking and losing market share to upstarts we should have been able to kill in their infancy, had our leadership not be so relentlessly focused on the bottom line, the 80/20 rule, and eliminating all the little “mice” on our balance sheets.

So, which approach is right?

Kris writes this week about consolidations in the publishing industry, and the importation of or usurpation of front-line business folk’s initiatives by “money men.” I wager they’re going to kill the publishing industry. At the end of the process, the landscape will look considerably different, and successful authors will be cottage industrialists — either self-published, or CEOs of micro-presses with a single author in their stables. And there will not be a single multi-national conglomerate to be seen.

I can only hope that the author and the reader will ultimately benefit from the change.

OK. So the Glittering

HOO-HAHS* of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) have proven the truth of Conquest’s Second and Third Laws:

2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

(The first being, “Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.” And only semi-relevant to this post.)

They have, as a trade guild of authors supposedly active in a field dedicated to challenging conventional thinking, expelled one of their members for politically-incorrect utterances. (No idea what. Don’t care. Not relevant.)

Which should be just fine. Authors these days engaged in efforts to push back the frontiers of ignorance, to labor in the vineyards of the Literature of Ideas (–Harlan Ellison, if memory serves) are, if they’re serious about getting their work out there and making money at it, are independent self-publishers. As such, SFWA is — I don’t care — Not Relevant.

What? Me? Care?

* Coined by either Kate Paulk or Sarah Hoyt. Can’t remember which.

Heads Up Baby Troll Betas!

I HAVE THE EDIT back from Jeff Hill and am rolling through. Time is going to be tight, but confidence is high. Will probably need only read-throughs with thumbs-up or -down. If I’ve talked with you about beta-ing this, stand by. If you have a moment, please drop me a line as to whether you’re still available and interested.

The Eyes Follow You

I intended this post to appear last week, but got caught up in the failure of my home machine to perform up to spec. Accordingly, this appears a half-week late. The alert from Outlook advising of the cover deadline has already popped up. The deadline is this coming Friday. I shan’t assume I’m going to miss it just yet. Rather, I intend to make a heroic effort to meet the deadline despite the setbacks. ‘Cause that’s what pros do. In the meantime, some other ideas have cropped up which, given sufficient time, may prove superior to the one working here at this moment. Stay tuned.

thumb_dolly_eyes_originalIN THE PREVIOUS POST of this series, we finally got around to working on the image itself. In the meantime, I have been playing with the image. My purpose in this play has been to learn about the image and what I can and cannot do with it. Also in the previous post, I mentioned that I cheated, having shown you, faithful readers, the modified version of a photo, but planning to use the original. Here’s the original.

The aim in this exploration is to find the way of least effort to my end vision or some variation of it. I have broken the bits of the image into its components. So far, most of the work has centered on the model’s eyes. First, I need to “float” the eyes independent of the rest of the face.

This is not because I want to — as I might in other circumstances — resize or reposition the eyes. Rather, what I want to do is uncouple the eyes from the face so that I can minipulate the face without greatly influencing the eyes. My aim is to be able to paint the model’s freckles against a white background, which, in essence, floats only the eyes and the freckles on the white ground.

In my experimental exploration, I have determined that the tint values of the freckles and the skin tones are too close together and too light for me to be able to magic wand select them. I could paint a selection mask, and may do that eventually, but really what I need to do is trace or rotoscope the freckles and thus do away with the rest of the face. While doing that, I want to preserve the eyes. So I have to float them.

So now I have to figure out how to cut the pieces apart and yet put them back together seamlessly. Unfortunately, the image doesn’t come with little dotted lines along which to cut. So I have to make my own. The process is simple in conception, if tedious in execution. You simply duplicate the image and remove everything NOT of the piece you want. The trick here is to do this as little as you can get away with, but also to preserve your options to go back to an earlier version.

pal_layrs_1Fortunately, Photoshop has mechanisms which permit the user to do just that. First, never work directly on your original image. There are two layers of this. First, preserve the original as a separate file. Second, make liberal use of Photoshop’s Undo and History features. Finally, if you have the experience to do so, watch the results of your work closely and be ready to step backward through recent work. At right, you can see the state of my layers palette at one step of the way. I suspect I’ll make many more layers as I go, but these are about the elements I anticipate working with at the moment.

I also anticipate that there will be two places where I’ll have to do intensive pixel-editing-slash-painting. Those are isolating the eyes — particularly masking the eyelashes — and picking out the freckles from the skin. Below at right, you can see the model’s right eye. The image I’m after is the eye and the upper lid, more-or-less as draw by the model’s eyeliner. The tricky part is, in order for the image to look natural, I have to pick up the eyelashes, too, which means I have to mask them, hair-by-hair.

scr_eye_rightAnd I have, as a matter of fact, just made a decision, which requires me stepping back. I had started taking the fold of the upper lid as my edge. Then I decided I wanted to cut it tighter, getting only the actual stroke of the eyeliner. And then I saw the result and changed my mind again. So, now, I have to start over. A couple of hours lost, but the whole of the work is saved from my indecision.

So the new direction established, I duplicated the original layer, merged the floating eyeballs layer down to it, then deleted the background except close in around the eyes and started masking off around the eyes and the eyelashes.

Next, once the eyes are floated, we start in on the freckles.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.


IN THE LAST post, you met Dolly’s eyes. Now I get to work to develop this basic image into a book cover illustration. I open the original JPEG file, downloaded from Dreamstime, in Photoshop and immediately resave it under a new name eyes.psd. This is a PhotoShop Document, which uses pack bits (lossless) compression and supports layers with variable-transparency and various built-in blending effects. I will be using these tools to alter the image to suit my needs.

Warning: icky sex talk. If that squicks you, skip the next paragraph.

The original idea is to focus on Dolly’s eyes, looking up in love at Drummond (whom we do not see) at the moment he penetrates her while they are making love. It is an expression most men will know and most women have assumed — whether or not either is sincere, though in this case, I think Dolly is. It is a wide-eye expression, almost one of surprise, with the eyes turned up, as the man is usually looming over the woman at this moment. (Both of them in the horizontal position.)

OK. It’s safe to come back, now.

The image is to focus on and isolate the woman’s eyes, even stylize them a bit, and render them in what’s called a high-key image on a white background. I figured that I would have to have a source image to modify by painting in a pixel editor. I don’t draw well enough to satisfy my perfectionism and don’t-have-slash-can’t-work-with a model. So I did the stock search described in the previous post.

And came up with something somewhat different. But close enough. I think I can modify this image in Photoshop (perhaps with an assist from a 3D app — modo or Poser — to get the eyeballs themselves JUST right, but we’ll see). But the really interesting part is the torn paper frame and the silver paper background. It intrigues and offers new directions. I may abandon both, but I will proceed in a fashion that permits me to do either ad lib and only once I have seen both images and chosen between them.

It is experience and practice which allows me to A) do this, 2) see that it can be done and 3) how to do it so as to preserve my options to the end and D) — perhaps most importantly, that it’s desirable to do so. I’ll refer back to this a lot. I’ll call this concept preserving my options.

So there are two basic options — work with a very high-key image on white (I’ll show you what that means in a bit) — or with the background, either as it exists, or with an entirely different look. No, that’s not three. That’s One and Two, with a possible Two-B. The reason to think of the either-or should become clear down the road.

The first thing to do, then, is to save under a new name, which I’ve done. Then the next is to prepare the image to be worked over. In order to do that, I’m going to establish my frame and pull the thing apart into layers.

Experience teaches me that, if you don’t start out establishing two factors at the very beginning, they will devour you in the end. The first, as we say at the Patch Factory, the most important specification, is the deadline: when do you need it.

Weren’t expecting that, were you?

I’m not surprised. Even experienced, sophisticated, and knowledgeable people come acropper of this problem. But time is a key factor in any creative project. How much time there is to do the job determines each choice made in a binary fashion — yes or no, do it or not — and most fundamentally at every step of the way.

In this case, the goal is to have an ebook on sale in the KDP Select program by September First. Now, there are a lot of stumbling blocks, not least of which is that the text may not be ready. BUT… if it is ready and the cover is not, then the cover is holding up the release, whereas if the opposite is true, well, nothing to do but push the deadline back, but that decision is being taken for the right reason — that the product itself is not ready, and not that the packaging needs work. Remember that; it’s key. The book is the thing. The cover is packaging and of secondary importance UNTIL it becomes the deciding factor in a sale. In any case, the cover cannot be permitted to drive or drag on the on-sale date.

(Aside: A friend who is trad-pubbed did just that — she and her agent forced her publisher to change the cover. The publisher pushed her book back a whole year. Not in retaliation, mind. It’s just that that was the first available slot.)

Now, the way to establish deadlines and schedule is to find a delivery date and work your way backwards until you get to now, at the start of the job. It is (as I write this) the Second of August, so I have twenty-nine days. I need to lead my on-sale date by an as-yet-unknown period. Dean Smith asserts he can have a book up in minutes. (Fifteen, if memory serves.) That assumes, I imagine, that you already have your account set up at Amazon and know what you’re doing in clicking the “Publish” button. But it doesn’t seem as though the lead time should be more than a day or two at most. I know that I can do the work necessary to producing this cover art in under two weeks. My editor claims that he can have the MS back to me with notes and edits in two weeks. That seems to indicate a timeline that has the final prep of the work happening between the Fifteenth and Thirtieth of the month. Shouldn’t be stressful.

So the deadline (checks the calendar) is the Sixteenth. Mark it on the calendar and set a reminder five days prior. We probably won’t need the reminder, since this project will be pretty much our sole focus this month, but you should never rely on that kind of stuff. Always be disciplined and organized about your work and you’ll avoid that overwhelmed, too-much-to-do feeling.

OK. That’s the deadline. But you’ll remember, I said there were two factors. The other may be more obvious, but, again, you’d be surprised by how many putative pros get this wrong.

In — scorn quotes — “fine” art, you can wing it. You can frame your image or object ad hoc as you go along, as the mood moves you. The canvas can be any size, and the image wherever and whatever size you plunk it down. In commercial art, however, what you’re doing, first and foremost, has to serve a purpose. And, in most cases, it also has to be made — usually by someone else. The image has to be producible in a medium that costs thousands of dollars to throw the on switch on. And, all the digital cheerleaders notwithstanding (I kid you not) digital costs the same to operate whether you’re printing something or not. Digital printing costs pennies per copy. The cost per widget only adds up when you have multiple copies per widget. The prep cost, far from being two thirds of the cost of a printed project old-school, is ninety-to-ninety-five percent of the cost new school.

This means you have to get it right, and you have to get it right the first time. Your trim size has to be right, as do the bleeds and margins, and the creep allowed for in folding signatures, and… and … Or the job comes out — in technical terms — fucked up.

Now, here again, we’re having to push against some unknown factors. Of course, there is no size for an ebook. Every ereader and ebook format assumes a different screen size. So what size is the cover? I’m going to side-step that for the moment and assume I’m going to eventually do a paper edition and will want to use this image for the cover of that. And, at CreateSpace (and from other sources) I see that the most common advice seems to be to think in terms of a 6″ x 9″ layout. No problem. I can deal with that. So my trim size is putatively 6″ wide and 9″ high. That makes my bleed size 6.25″ wide and 9.25″ high.

(A bleed, for the uninitiated, being 1/8″ of an inch margin OUTSIDE the trim. And, if one side bleeds, then a bleed image — even if it’s just blank white — must be provided and accounted for on all four sides in the engineering of any job.)

But my image is square. Ish. That means I need to either crop it or add image to make it taller. But before I do that, I realize that, because I have (at this stage, pretending we haven’t already played with the type) no idea how much space the type will take up, I need the ability to “float” the image in the frame, I need to separate the image from the background and make it a layer. In Photoshop, I do this by finding the layers palette and double-clicking on the layer. I get an option to rename the former Background Layer as Layer 0, which I accept. The layer the image is on (the only one in the file so far) thus becomes Layer 0, a floatable layer, which I can work on independently of the other layers in the document (as they come into being). It can also be blended with other areas, depending on the relative modes selected. For now, it is in Normal mode, which makes it the effective background.

OK, now. If you’re following along at home, or have a really good grasp of what’s going on, you may have noticed that, once we get the image settled in with right and left bleeds indicated, that the margin to the corners of the model’s eyes is only a quarter of an inch. Which is acceptable, but it worries me. I don’t know HOW much time I’ve wasted over the years faking in image to meet an acceptable margin and/or bleed because the important image was JUST that much too big for the live area, had to be shrunk to fit, and left insufficient, as I say, margin or bleed. Now, what I could do would be to fake in bleed left and right now, at the outset. But instead, I’m going to cheat.

Well, I’ve already cheated.

Remember that I told you I’d bought three images? Ever wonder why? Well, it’s because THIS one is not the original This has been modified by the photographer with the addition of the torn paper frame. It indicates what his vision was in making the original photo, but it’s not the thing itself.

That is an image of the model’s face, full width, from about the bridge of her nose to just below her hairline (which is how I could tell fersher she’s a redhead), with her hands held up flat either side of her face like she’s shading her eyes against oblique light.

This is valuable because there is more image in the width, but also in the height, either of which can prove useful in my repurposing of the image. Also, even though it probably won’t change my crop, that there is additional image to the sides can potentially save me a lot of trouble.

What I want to do is use the original, but treat it in some ways like the modified image. In order to do that, I need to drop the original down on the modded pic and match the two of them pixel-for-pixel in size and position. Since I really want to work with the original — always work with the original if you can — I drop the mod onto it. And realize that, in pixel dimensions, the mod is smaller than the original. This is good, because it means I’ll be able to work at an even higher resolution than I had originally thought, and at this stage of the game, I’m hoarding resolution like a gamer hoarding strength points. The final piece will be resolved more coarsely, but for the moment, it’s like speed or gasoline: it is life itself.

I slide the transparency of the mod to 50% and stretch it to match the original. (I use the corners of the eyes as guides.) As I do so, I discover that the mod was stretched anamorphically (differently in x and y axes). The delta is slight — perhaps three or four pixels over several thousand, but noticeable when overlaying as I am. I finally get the two to match and resize the final piece to fit the frame (greedily retaining the extra bleed just in case).

At this point, I can de-couple the process from the modified image and work exclusively on the original, saving the mod only for reference. Next time, we inspect the image even more closely.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.

Dolly’s Eyes

Dollys_Eyes_Source_1WELL, THE TEXT OF THE book is in the hands of my editor. I expect it will come back to me in shreds and I’ll have to sew it back together. But for the moment, I’m content to leave it there and move on to the cover.

I’m still in the experimental phase, searching and testing imagery and type, but I am getting closer. I’ve come back to focus on the erotic component of the plot and the relationship between the two lead characters. As such, I’ve hit on a narrow-focus shot of Dolly’s eyes at the moment the docking probes engage, so to speak.

I chose Dreamstime as my source, more to narrow the selection down than for any other reason. However, since I have an account there already, it is simplicity itself to find something. I searched on the phrase eyes wide and found within the first page of results a satisfactory image. It also has the bonus of providing — already built-in — a dramatic presentation in the torn paper edges. This has a dual advantage in, One, as I say, a dramatic presentation, and B, limiting the amount of image I have to work on.

And work I must. It’s fortunate that the model is a redhead, with the requisite freckles, and light-colored irises. But that’s about the limit. You’ll see as I go along where my vision is going to take me and why I don’t want to have to work on a full-face or full-body image.

There will be other elements, but this image is the starting point.

I checked the license on offer and it is appropriate. The rights owner provides a royalty free license, to use on books (up to 500,000 copies — with higher quantities negotiable), permits modification, does not ask credit, but I intend to provide it. If the artist is worthy of his hire, he’s worthy of the fame for it. That’s my take and I see no reason not to hold to it. On the other side, there’s no claim to modifications, so what I intend to do becomes mine to use so long as I adhere to the terms of the original license. All agreeable. I picked a resolution that permits me nine inches of width at 300 pixels per inch. (I intend to pad the height, so the width is the relevant factor.)

As for tools: I am working this image in Photoshop (CS6). No apologies. As I’ve said here and elsewhere, if you want pro results, you have to use pro tools and skills. It’s possible to do this stuff in free or cheaper aps, and Grid knows, there’s tons of them, but I’ve been using Photoshop almost since the beginning (version 2.5, actually, in the early ’90s) and I not only have a high skill level myself, but I also have access to experts who can direct me toward tutelage on particular skills I may lack. In another app, I’d have to climb that learning curve all over again.

I understand that some people starting out or struggling due to expenses in other areas might not be able or willing to make the investment, but I do strongly advise everyone to give hard consideration to the realities. Remember that you are competing for eyeball space with pros who use these tools for their daily bread. Neither they nor the book buyer will cut you slack because you chose not to invest in the right tools.

Now, Photoshop is a bitmap editor, primarily. It can handle vectors — most especially and valuably, type — but it’s primary utility is in handling photos, paintings, soft blend effects, and suchlike. For straight vector art and simple one-up illustration, I use CorelDRAW. This is a matter of preference. I first learned vector drawing in CorelDRAW and find Illustrator, for example, to have a deeply opaque interface and metaphor which I, as a wax-and-exacto-trained layout artist, find very alien.

You may find Illustrator more to your liking. That’s fine. The concepts translate, albeit clunkily. Inkscape is another possibility, but, frankly, I don’t have the time to climb yet another learning curve, so I’ve only looked at it briefly and messed around with it. It appears to support most tasks, but I haven’t delved into it enough to say much more than that about it.

As for alternatives to Photoshop, there are, as I say, multitudes. Primarily, I’d say, your choices boil down to GIMP or Corel PhotoPaint. I have a problem with PhotoPaint similar to the one I have with Illustrator — I don’t grok the interface or the task metaphors. So I can’t speak much about it. However, several of my colleagues in the Corel community swear by it and prefer it to Photoshop OR PhotoStyler — which is an old and, now, abandoned app that actually preceeded Photoshop on the Wintel platform, and which should tell you how far back some of this goes — both my work in the field and my association with other experts.

In addition to these apps, there is the realm of the third dimension. 3D apps, such as 3D Studio Max, Maya, Poser, Bryce, and a long list of others, allow artists to model real objects and render them to photo-realistic images. If I had the chops, I’d be doing this whole image in a 3d app, and may do future, similar projects in one. But I have to take myself to school first, before I can commit commercial art in one.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I have done paying work — sold it in five figures, as a matter of fact — in 3DS Max. But the license I have is getting long in the teeth and unlikely — for myriad reasons not relevant here — to be updated. So I am learning a new app — modo. And, if you (or I) think the differences in interface between Draw and Illustrator are stark, you ought to try between 3D apps across a ten-year delta in development age.

But I degrease.

In a Heinlein hagiography — Requiem, I believe — Spider Robinson avers that he is writing an essay debunking a bunch of BS about Heinlein to save himself time — so that, when confronted with loud nits making bogus assertions at cons, he can just hand them a copy of the essay to shut them up and go back to having fun — rather than engaging in a long, verbal flame war. So I hereby take that as my text for this bit of bloggage. I’ve ranted enough about what I see as the foolishness of cheaping out on tools. I don’t want to do it again. From now on, if the subject comes up, I’m linking here and moving on.

If I can remember to do it.

This post is part of a series of posts on the subject of books covers, directly primarily at self-published and independently-published authors seeking to design their own covers. It is in the category “Covers” and can be seen with all of the other posts in that category by clicking on the link in the right sidebar. The sophistication of that display page will improve as time goes on. The next post in the series will appear here within a couple of days.

Major Milestone – First Novel Edition

thumb_dolly_eyes_source_1I’VE WRITTEN SEVERAL MILLION words in my lifetime. And in all those words, I’ve never really finished — finish finished — a novel. Until now.

I sent the send draft of The High-T Affair to editor Jeff Hill today. In advance of actually seeing the thing, Jeff thought there would be a good chance that I’ll be able to have the thing up on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing on or before September 1.

I have also picked a cover image. This will be extensively modified to suit my vision, but this is the starting point. And, by the way, people should know, I have purchased the rights to the image (and two others). Just frex as to what’s the right thing to do.

Update: I meant to write “second” draft, but perhaps my typo — “send” — is more accurate. Actually, the first draft was the original Apocrypha story, written back in ’99 and trunked. The second draft was the one I started for NaNoWriMo last year. This is something like the third-and-a-half draft. Except none of them are exactly complete drafts, so you have to use dot-release indicators like they do for software. Which gets to be too much of a bother. Bother!

Coals to Newcastle or

STEEL TO DAMASCUS, but it’s the least I can do… ::grin::. Our Curmudgeon has started a club you might want to join — if you’re a writer. The idea is to offer an imprimatur of quality in fiction. It might even be a — all puns intended — novel approach. I can’t lay claim to dispositive or authoratative knowledge on the subject. Read All About It. Decide for yourself.

Seems as though this thing would have a greater chance of success the more people got involved.

At Work on the Novel

SPENT MOST OF THE WEEKEND shoring up the structure of The High T Affair. Since y’all will never see the earlier state of the story, you’ll have no basis for comparison, but — trust me — it’s a major improvement. And, if it’s a change (not sure whether it is), the word count now stands at 85,000 and change.

Also spent some time daydreaming imagery for the cover. Nothing terribly concrete at this stage: just notions.


SYFY CHANNEL is running a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon Sunday and … ? Monday?

One of the episodes played was “Becoming” Part II, the finale of Season Two. Heartwrenching. The last few minutes feature a Sarah McLachlan song, Full of Grace, which never fails to jerk a tear.

And this is a writing post, because I find myself wondering if you could take the beats from the two parts of “Becoming” and make a novel from them, or if they depend too much for the exposition and story arc of the rest of the series to that point.

What do you think, writers?

This is a fan-edited take on, not just that episode, but a collection of heartbreaking beats from the entire series. You know there’s a reason Joss Whedon is so popluar.

Just My Type

cvr high-t 1 0713THIS POST IS ABOUT my process. Your mileage may vary. Hell, my mileage varies. This is not the entirety of my process; it’s not even the only approach I take to a given project. I may take a half-dozen approaches or more. And your process will reflect your character, your desires, your state of mind and emotion, and your blood levels of a caffeine. At least, it does in my case.

Creative projects often change directions like a drunken sailboat skipper sailing against the wind, looking for his keys — tack after tangent after reversal. No Less this one, the cover for my first-published novel, The High-T Affair, Book One of the Dolly Apocrypha arc of the Baby Troll Chronicles.

I have a welter of ideas running around in my head, like a bunch of bratty characters, each one trying to grab the wheel, all shouting at the tops of their lungs for my undivided attention so they can pitch their notion.

Makes it hard to pick just one. In fact, I’m toying with the notion (only one-sixteenth seriously) of doing them ALL and publishing them ALL and seeing which one sells best. Yes, the reasons not to do that are myriad and obvious, but nobody ever accused me of not wanting to have it all.

So, here is the first result. This is the pretty, so-I-can-show it off version. Click on the image here to see it larger. Click on the image that pops up to see it full size. I strongly advise you do both. You will be able to see just how clean the image is. This is very important. To quote everybody’s favorite goth lab geek, Abby Sciuto, there’s no substitute for quality source imagery. This image is as sharp and clean as it can be made. And, yet, I’ll wager that the resampled rendering by your web browser makes it look fuzzy and pixelated at some magnifications. Imagine what can be done with an image that starts OUT fuzzy and pixelated.

Why is this important? Well, I’ll tell ya. A lot of what pros learn to do with graphic imagery in product packaging and suchlike is subliminal. Not in the hidden messages kind of subliminal, but in the details that are important, but that nine out of ten people wouldn’t be able to pick out of an image. Despite that latter fact, those same nine will be able to say that something is off — though whether it’s a color mismatch, a bad mask, an out-of-focus image, a mix of high and low resolution in the same image (denoting bad compositing) — or whatever they may not be able to say exactly.

cvr high-t 1 thumbs 0713And these are the actual-size thumbnails that would show at Amazon — 300 pixels for the display on the book’s own listing page, 160 pixels for the results page of a search — however it is found — and 135px for the “suggestions” or “also-boughts.” There are smaller renderings, but these are enough to see how the thing “reads” at postage-stamp sizes.

For the reference of those following along at home, the original layout is 6×9, done in CorelDRAW (x6). The fonts are from DaFont — Motion Picture, and from my collection of licensed fonts from over the years — Onyx (a Monotype font) and Copperplate Gothic bold (this particular instance a URW font). (Most of my licenses have come with copies of CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator, but many have been purpose-bought for some project or another — or, just because I liked the face.)

The version of the Motion Picture script is licensed as free for personal use. Once I’ve settled on it for actual use, I will buy a commercial license from the foundry. At $60, it might seem a bit pricey, but, as I see it, an individualist libertarian has two moral choices — buy the thing at the price offered or don’t use it. Support your local (and global) type designers.

And, on that tack, let’s discuss fonts for a moment. Typeface designs are NOT copyrightable. Font programs are. That is, the shape of letters (glyphs), or a set of letters, are not protected by copyright law. In computer use, however, what is protected is the program code used to instruct the operating system’s rendering engine (including a printer’s marking engine) how to draw a glyph or a block of text on the screen or a marking drum for transfer to paper: the font file(s). What this means in technical terms is you can use a legally-licensed “font” program to set type, convert the type to curves, and none the wiser, the type is yours.

Where you may get into legal trouble is when you exceed the terms of the license. Typically, you may permanently install the font file on a set number of computer systems (desktop/workstation) and a single printer on a single site. Adobe’s licenses (with notable exceptions, see their EULA pages) permit a number of seats (5, 10, 20, et al), with a work-home allowance and ONE printer with a permanent download. (If you convert to curves on printing or only download on a per-job basis, there is no printer installation.) Note: YOU and ONLY you are responsible for ensuring that your practices are in compliance with the software licenses granted you. Read and understand the EULAs which accompany all software. If you install on more than the permitted number of systems, or egregiously pass font files hand-to-hand, you’re liable to be prosecuted for piracy and the penalties can get severe.

What this means in moral terms is something else altogether. A lot of type designers will license a font free for personal use. But this is manifestly a commercial situation, and this foundry has a requirement to buy a commercial license for such use. Not only that, but, like writers, type designers need to eat. Not only that, but their work benefits the world all out of proportion to the effort they put into it and they deserve to be compensated for this outsized contribution to the common weal. Also, we as individualist proponents of free markets and human commerce owe it to ourselves to behave in a manner consistent with our beliefs. It is the socialist who steals the property of another for the sake of convenience or need. We don’t do that. If you NEED something that belongs to another (and it is for sale), for God’s sake, PAY FOR IT! (Even if there’s not a price tag on it, donate to the designer. It can come back to you in myriad strange ways.)

And, in reality, fonts are cheap. Even the Motion Picture script used in the above examples, at $60 for a single font is dirt cheap. And, considering all the notionally free fonts we get bundled with our application software, tossing a Benjamin in the pot every once in awhile doesn’t seem too great a burden. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re all poor and counting pennies to eat. Boo-hoo. Pay the five bucks, as the saying goes. It’ll do your karma good. In fact, even though I’m probably not going to use it (see below), I’m probably going to buy the Motion Picture font because it does look like a very useful script — good color, well-made, pleasing letterforms. And I just hate to have trial versions of software lying around because I never know when I might pick something up in the throes of creativity and forget I haven’t paid for it. Don’t want to risk that, so I — as a colleague says — cope ahead.

End of lecture on software licenses and karma.

The notion behind the design is a nod in the general direction of a current retro fad in design which harks back to deco-ish trademarks and print ads from the ’20s and ’30s. You can see lots of examples at sites like Emigre. Having taken it this far/fur, I may develop it farther/further, adding elements and rearranging what’s here to better suit the style. But my original notion (and this illustrates how the graphic design analogs of plot bunnies pop up) was to just get some idea of possible type arrangements so I could get a feel for how to make illustrations to fit. Those who’ve been following along may recall that I had some other notions earlier (and may still use some of them) — a silhouette of Dolly at the peak of being pleasured by Drummond; a model of a testosterone molecule (which is relevant for reasons exposited in the story); icons of Mexican Washingtonia palms, (also relevant for reasons to be found in the text); a 3D rendering of an “escape” ring, which plays a part in the plot. Choosing among them, arranging them in a coherent and unified design, and placing type (which itself must meet certain criteria of readability) over or around the images while still permitting them to “read” at some size (albeit probably not at thumbnail sizes) are all part of the design process, but it struck me as a possible first step that I could play with the type. And thus this tangent.

Or tack.

cvr high-t 3a 0713And, just to throw a little more confusion in the pot, we, as the customer, are going to reject the first draft design. First off, the use of three type faces violates a cardinal rule of design. This particular aesthetic fashion usually only permits two faces — a script and either a serif face or a sans-serif headline face. IF you want to get silly, of course, you can make your design look like a ransom note, with a different typeface for each character. But we’re serious, here, and — remember the bit above about details the layman may not spot, but will notice? — well, here’s one. So we want to regularize our type choices. Not only that, but the Motion Picture script is not really suited to the overall design aesthetic of the line, so the customer politely asks the designer to PLEASE use the designated script — Floridian Script — in the three-piece pattern established on our Web site (q.v.).

So, back under the designer hat, we bin the Copperplate and the Onyx, and we browse through our collection of type until we come across a well-designed headline face with several variants — Bodoni. And we set the title and other items in Bodoni variants and resubmit to the customer.

And then we step back and look at the piece. It’s been a long week and we’ve been pressed by multiple tight deadlines and we haven’t really had a lot of time to think. It’s just bang-bang-bang, one job after another. So a long session of just catching our breath and basking in the design seems called for.

And we realize we missed it entirely. This doesn’t say anything about the book. What it is is a cover announcing a book for rabid readers who are already looking for it. If it were trad-pubbed, there would be an inside second cover with a rich illustration on it. But we’re indy, this is a first novel by an unknown, and we need to put our best sell on the outside. If you didn’t know the series, this cover says more that this is a political non-fiction book, not an erotic science fantasy thriller. So, although we’ve got some clear notions about type, it’s going to be back to the drawing board on Monday.

And we sigh and shut down our work station in preparation for going home for the weekend.

Our next step is going to be playing with pictures — those images mentioned above, which provide symbols and hints as to our story and which should excite the prospective reader’s imagination and make him or her want to explore further.

But at least we have some notion of what the type might be. We may abandon it altogether. We may warp it beyond all recognition. Or we may layer and meld it together with the pictorial imagery.

But what we no longer have is a blank screen. Before today, we’ve had inchoate notions and stray fantasy images. Today, we’ve made an start on our design.

My intent is to work next on imagery. But I have this tendency to … squirrel! … so we’ll see. And you know what that means.


WELL… Stage Two is finished. I have completed all edits assigned or suggested by my first reader on The High-T Affair. I will make one quick run through before passing the novel on to my editor.

This batch of edits expanded the novel from 60,000 to 83,000 words.

Broke 80

IN THE PROCESS OF editing the novel, and adding Alpha Reader-mandated necessities to the story, I’ve let the word count creep up over 80,000 Saturday at midnight. No idea why, but it feel like a milestone of some kind.

Math Error

THERE’S BEEN A CONTROVERSY a-goin’ on in the world of “professional” science fiction and fantasy writing — the SFWA. Used to be one of Those Things. You WOULD join SFWA when you grew up and got to be a real writer. But now, along with the rest of “traditional” business of literature manufactur, the SFWA seems to have gone over a cliff of sorts. And, no. I’m not talking about politically korrekt, high-tech lynchings — at least not about those alone.

But we’re not gathered here today to talk about that. You can read all about it at writer Andrew Fox’s blog.

Not having read the magazine articles in question, I don’t have a dog in that fight — at least, not directly. So, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. You can form your own opinions for yourselves with no help from me. I’ll reserve that… um … help for matters that, um … matter to me.

No, my point is rather larger.

Near the end of his article (or in one of the comments, I do not remember which right now and, frankly, don’t care enough to go check), Fox writes that he tries to persuade writers against showing their political asses in public (by which, you know right there he’s a leftist, albeit a possibly closeted or in-denial one). After all, he goes on, why alienate half your potential audience.

Well, there’s your problem!

Andrew — or anybody who’s listening — the right/left split in the audience isn’t anywhere near fifty-fifty. If only leftists — including the current gatekeepers — were directing only half of the industry’s output at the Left, if only half of the alienation rays bathed the audience from stage left, the world would be a noticeably brighter place, because there would be a boom time in the media arts. One signal reason that the industry is in such dire straits is the perception on the part of the overwhelming majority (80-90%) of the audience that it is being ill-served by the present players in the biz, that what’s being put out is crap, and politically correct crap at that, …and why the hell should I waste my hard-earned money — what’s left after the damned liberals in the government have gotten through stealing from me — on crap that insults my intelligence and tries to persuade me that the country and way of life I love are evil and deserving of death?

No. The part of the audience you would alienate for calling out the Knotted Knickers Brigade and giving them a good bitch slapping is the one — the tiny minority — that so richly deserves said alienation, calling, and slapping.

No. It’s not so much 50/50 as it is 80/20 — at best.

More, please.

Story Starter

BACK SHORTLY AFTER 9/11, Bruce Schneier wrote a column that appeared in Info World. At least, that’s how I remember it. At the time, I didn’t have a blog, and by the time I did, I’d lost all of my copies of the article. Now, I can get lots of returns in Bing-ing various keywords relating to Schneier and security, but I can’t find this particular article. (If somebody knows where I can, I’d love to hear about it.)

The article was about airliner security and contained a proposal for a simple security system that would have several unique attributes:

  • It could be put together from off-the-shelf parts available at the time.
  • It permitted total anonymity.
  • It allowed the building of a Federal security database of trust signifiers that would be, as I say, totally anonymous.
  • It was virtually unbreakable.
  • It seemed (to me) to be totally transparent. I did not see any opportunity for abuse, either by government or the general public.
  • It accomplished the twin goals of securing airliners against infiltration and attack by radicalized Islamist terrorists (or any other type of militant) and of permitting the free flow of traffic over the air routes.

And, in retrospect, it did not require a massive, unionized, intrusive, importunate Federal apparatus to accomplish its goals. Correction: it could accomplish its goals whereas the current TSA farrago cannot and will never accomplish its goals.

The system was founded on two bases. First, the recognition of the core fact that the state (or any protective agency) does not need to know the identities of those accessing an object, a vehicle, or a facility. All that needs to be known is whether or not the person(s) gaining that access are worthy of the trust that they would do no harm having gained the access. Second, there must be no way that the system can be gamed by any participants — either the government or the people earning the trust of the system.

The system consisted of three objects — a trust token, say an ID card; a verification method, say a retina or iris scan; and a database that would connect the unique yet anonymous identifier on the card with the verification method — for the most part, a biometric. If you’re familiar with a QR code, that would be your identifier. It would be on a card that the person wishing access would carry. That code would pass to the system a resource locator that would link to a database record containing ONLY the results of a series of tests the bearer of the card has passed and the degree of trust to which these passages would grant the bearer. The same card would be born by an electrical engineering student from Saudi Arabia who has overstayed his student visa and an 80-year-old granny from Vero Beach and a Federal Air Marshall.

The tests, as I recall Schneier proposed, would consist of what Schneier called (and were misidentified as) Farwell Brain Scans. These are specialized EEGs taken while the subject is watching a prepared video or slide show of particular objects. Supposedly, since the responses to the stimuli offered are totally involuntary, there’s no way to beat this. The types of images shown would isolate a person’s experience. It would not necessarily by itself grant or deny access, but might indicate probable cause for further investigation.I tell you that to tell you this:

Monday, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law which expanded on the Federal law regarding the requirements for voting. Arizona wanted to require photo IDs, but the Federal law only requires a signature affirming an assertion of citizenship (under penalty of perjury). It seems clear that the Federal specifications are far less intrusive into the privacy of the individual. Of course, it requires that the prospective voter be honest. The Arizona method permits the state to — sort of — keep the voter honest. But, in a sense, that’s not the state’s business. It’s the citizen’s business to keep the government honest, not the other way around.

I tell you THAT to tell you THIS:

Apparently, it’s becoming clear that police agencies are abusing state driver’s license photo databases, degrading personal privacy and anonymity.

So, here’s the story challenge. Imagine a regime or protocol which can tie these three things together and find a story in it.

As before, the first writer to publication (ebook on Amazon will do) wins a No-Prize.

Esprit de l’Escalier

SO SARAH HOYT PUT ON a Cover and Blurb Clinic. I went and partied like a guy who hadn’t been out in … ever. I may need to send some apology notes and mend fences. We’ll see if anybody starts acting hurt or something.

And it went on for a large part of two days, so it’s kind of like every discussion thread on the Internet and it’s time to kill it. (I really miss the threading ability in CompuServe forums. That was da bomb. Everything the Internet has thrown up in that line of country is second best AT best.)

But I have some afterthoughts that I want to get down somewhere where I and others can find them. Otherwise, they’ll be lost. (And God knows, they’re so damned valuable! </sarc>)

First: enough with the modesty, people! Who are the artists we respect the most? They’re the ones who stood tall and proud, delivered themselves of their art boldly and without apology. If I hear somebody offer another apology or belittlement of their work before the public, I’m gonna scream.

As an artist, it is your responsibility to Make Your Work the Best You Can Possibly Do. I don’t recall anything in that commandment about convenience or the ease of use of the tools or how long it might take to find the exact right image. What I do remember is “Best”. To me, if the best I can do isn’t perfect, I will keep at it until it is. I’m not going to accept second best cover art for a short story, and I’m not going to apologize for flaws in the work with that as an excuse.

Here’s why.

Your name is on the cover.

Ultimately, that’s your brand. Trad-pubbed authors don’t have that level of control over their covers (Although, my friend and first reader, Jamie Moyer, and her agent fought for a better cover and got it for the first novel in her forthcoming trilogy. And we should be vicariously proud of her for it.)

But one of the things we keep saying is primo about indy pubbing is the control over covers. OK. So now you’ve got it. And you’re going to put crap out there with your name on it because doing it right is hard? I’m sorry, I think I missed something. You may not be able to afford the best source image. OK. It’s like a house. Some you can buy in move-in ready condition. Some are fixer-uppers and you have to exert some sweat equity. But the fixers are cheaper. You can buy in at a lower cash price, but the ultimate cost is about as broad as it is long.

So the quality of your project — of your writing — is first and foremost represented to your readership by the cover image. “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover,” you say. Bitch, please. The cover is something that the reader will have in his environment LONG after he’s disconnected from Amazon. In his mind, it will become an icon representing that product — your product. Under YOUR brand. It’ll be on his nightstand for a week, his bookshelf and/or his Kindle (one hopes) far longer. And whether it’s a short story or a novel, it is out there under your brand, and you damage the brand if the packaging on your product is less than perfect.

I didn’t mean for that to sound as harsh as it does. But now that it’s out there, I think it’s right. Not for the harshness — that’s just texture — but for the bold-facedness of it. You NEED to insist on the best. And you owe it to yourself and the business you’re building to be strident about it — and most especially with yourself. Demand it. As close to perfection as you can get. I hope putting it out there at this distance will permit some perspective and honest reflection without the emotion and immediacy of a personal critique.

If you want to learn about type by osmosis — by exposure to good typography, check out this book. It’s called Type Matters and is a neat instance of funky artistic book design, as well as being informative on the subject of type.

Back in the day before soft fonts became widely available, there was a shop in Washington DC (They’re still around.) called Phil’s. They were a general digital service bureau (and, before that, a type house). And they had a catalog published, Homage to the Alphabet: A Typeface Sourcebookphils_fonts_book I got my copy almost by accident at the North Light book sale that F&W Publishing holds every year. The neat thing about the Phil’s catalog is that it’s organized by type style. Serif, Sans Serif, Script, and then the subcategories. It’s an incredible immersive tool and can teach you a lot about typefaces in the course of a simple font match search. And Phil’s taxonomy is the one we use at Otto and I use to organize my personal font collection. It’s that strong.

That is all.

That’s enough! Sheesh!





Say, “Goodnight,” Gracie.

Good night, Gracie.

A Charming Turn of Phrase


…[C]hallenging writers to simply cunt up and write.

Not ordinarily a choice of words I’d ratify — or even make for myself. But somehow, in the context, it has an odd, rough charm to it. As a male writer who writes a lot of female characters (dunno why, that’s just how they appear to me), I appreciate it lots when a real grrl steps off the pedestal. It helps me make my own ladies more breathable. Or however you’d put that.

And, yes, I recognize the male antecedent of Lily’s phrase. No need to state the obvious in comments.

I Should Say This About Myself:

I AM IN LARGE PART, as a pro-grade fiction writer, a product of the Online Writer’s Workshop, which boasts, among other graduates, Jim Butcher and Elizabeth Bear. As such, I have heard chapter and verse of The Way, The Truth, and The Light to getting published. And have seen examples in the career successes and disappointments of my friends and compatriots — and distant strangers — from that era in my life.

I really wish all my friends who are working their fingers to the bone to try to make it in that world would read Escaping Stockholm by Judith Tarr.

I love you all and I wish you every success. But I fear for you if you don’t wake up to these realities. Please. At least consider what Judy is saying.

A Story Starter

Sort of like a sourdough starter.

The Cleanup Man

The Cleanup Man is someone in your life who is tasked, should something untoward happen to you — such as death — to go through your effects and remove all evidence of wrongdoing or moral turpitude. Usually, it’s “Log onto my computer and delete my porn stash,” or “Burn my diaries.” But it could also be, “Break Aunt Sophie out of the chimney where I bricked her up and bury her somewhere in a swamp where she’ll never be found.”

Or worse.

It’s customary, when enlisting someone to play the role of cleanup man in your life to, at the very least, give them some advance notice, even if you don’t exactly get their agreement to perform these delicate tasks on your behalf. After all, you’re dead. Why should you care? But it’s not exactly something you spring on a friend. Especially not a friend you would trust to actually carry through with these risky and possibly illegal tasks.

Mitchell Drummond was not at all aware that anyone in his life thought enough of him to nominate him as a cleanup man and yet so little of him as to not give him any warning. Nevertheless, when the manila #11 clasp envelope landed on his desk in the inter-office mail that Tuesday morning, it happened.

Those of you who have pretensions of being writers, let it be a challenge to you. You can’t use my characters or the exact wording above, but otherwise, have at it. The first one to publish wins a No Prize.

The Part I Don’t Like About

THIS NEW CATEGORY regime at Amazon is that you can’t roll your own. And they don’t have a Human Wave category.

Should we start a mail-writing campaign?