Hitmakers

I recently watched the PBS special called Hitmakers. It’s an hour focused on the music industry and how it’s changed over the decades, particularly in reference to who controls the industry’s hits…

Chicago record store
(Do you know what those are?)

I find this very interesting because in a lot of ways, it’s the same as the book industry. Or at least, it used to be. There were people who specialised in going out and finding the musicians who had ‘it’. Records were made, and radio stations were told to play the same songs on and on until they became hits…or failed.

Things changed, though, with the advent of the internet. Radio stations have lost the control over what people hear, and thus what becomes a hit. Now it’s about YouTube and various streaming services. The listeners now chose what’s successful.

I see some parallels in the book industry.

1.) The YouTube thing is a bit like self-publishing in that anyone can make a music video now and slap it up there. Some are excellent. Some are not. Some go viral, but the majority accrue a few hundred views and then fade away. Self-publishing (which I’ve done) can be like that…and it’s difficult to pick which book will go viral and which will never be purchased. No gatekeepers other than the final listener.

(In the special, they talk to Melissa Etheridge who is releasing her new album not under a record label, but by herself to get a larger cut of the profit. Sound familiar?)

2.) They also talked about streaming, in that makers are paid very little for things that are streamed. The majority of music makers (not the big ones, of course) don’t make their money with their creations any longer. Instead, the artist they interviewed said that to make ends meet (she wasn’t talking about getting rich, but about being able to pay her musicians at the end of the night) they have to tour and sell t-shirts and other things.

That was a bit worrisome to me because if the writing industry continues along the path that the music industry has…what exactly would we sell? I can’t imagine touring would ever turn a profit for a writer unless they were Richard Castle popular. So do we sell t-shirts? Patches and stickers?

3.) One of important points that the special made was that the gatekeepers who picked out the hitmakers didn’t always get it right. There were a lot of one-hit wonders out there. Or no-hit wonders.

But for every big hit, the special said, the profit covered the losses on 9 groups that didn’t hit it big, allowing the music companies to try out new artists and take some time to build their careers.

I think that the traditional publishers are still doing this, picking up writers like me and giving us a chance because they have other writers who are bringing in enough money to cover those of us who aren’t a big deal. I really appreciate that, but fear the day that the industry–like the record industry–decides it can’t afford that any longer.

It will be both interesting and scary to watch over the next decade to see how far down this path the publishers follow the music industry…

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Office Space, Part Deux

(I am a terrible photographer, because none of these pictures do the artwork justice!)

Last week I finally got off my butt and got frames (or better frames) for some of my office art.
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This first one is a print by Kiri-Moth which really deserves a better frame (and a custom matte). It’s my favorite, and it’s strange that I took so long to get a frame on it, but it’s hung on one of my bulletin boards with story pics on it for a few years now….because it perfectly captures the main character of Devil in the Details, Kirien Sevireiya. Seriously…the train, the suitcase…it even has her pocket watch that she constantly forgets to wind.* Next time I sell something, I am definitely getting this one properly framed!

(I SO want to publish this book. SO VERY MUCH. This is the one series where I don’t want to change anything…and that’s saying a lot for me.)

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Because it’s in the corner behind my desk, I can’t get a good shot of this triptych, but it’s a collection of illustrations done, again by Kiri-Moth, based on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, one of my favorite childhood books. And I cannot seem to get the frame to hang straight!

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I liked the pop of red in this work (again, by Kiri-Moth) which goes well with the red and black on my desk.

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I really fell in love with the charm of Alice Tam’s “Birds in Hats” while in London and purchased several of her cards. I’ve actually got a fourth one framed, on the other side of the room.

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And I finally reframed this piece by Tabitha Jensen (blogger at Not Yet Read).

I’m kinda bland, because -everything- in here is framed in black, but it’s the ‘office theme’. Yes, I have a theme.

*If you want to see the old bulletin board, it’s in this post, here.

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And I have a first draft of Dreaming Death. It’s a bad first draft, but I’m sending it to my first reader (Matt Cheney, of course), and we’ll clean it up a bit before dumping it on agent and editor.

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Halloween?

I’m one of those weird people who really doesn’t get Halloween. At least, not Halloween the way it’s generally observed: costumes, parties, and randomly visiting strangers’ houses.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just not my kind of holiday.

I think the main problem is that I don’t ‘get’ the costuming aspect.

This week on Blackish (TV show), the father said something like “it’s the one day you don’t have to be you.”  That really struck me. Why would I not want to be me?  Why would I want to be a pirate? Why would I want to be a unicorn?  This has always been the greatest mystery of costuming for me.

But I also tend to think my costume should be perfect, and therefore, no costume is ever going to be good enough. I recall thinking in HS that my best friend who was in SCA should actually weave the fabric and hand-sew her costumes, because people in the middle ages wouldn’t be able to visit JoAnne Fabrics to purchase fabric…nor would they have a Singer at home.  (I even illustrated a couple of their newsletters for her, but didn’t go to meetings, because I felt weird about it. Go figure.)*

Yeah, my brain works that way. I’m worse than Sheldon.

On the other hand, I love seeing other people’s costumes. Some of you guys are really amazing. (Some people don’t make the same effort, though.) Keep at it, because I’m really impressed. (I also know how difficult it is to sew some of those things, so I am doubly impressed by some of those home-made costumes.)

 

But the other aspect of Halloween that baffles me is that it’s a party holiday. I don’t enjoy parties. Never have. (This is why you’ll rarely see me at a party at a con.) So the holiday doesn’t resonate with me in either way.

That’s OK. We’re not all required to like the same things.

 

 

You guys all have fun. Be polite to each other. Don’t scare any little kids, smash other people’s pumpkins, or egg anyone’s house. Be good.

 

 

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*FWIW, I’ve also never thought time-travel would be a good idea. At least, not more than a year or two.

 

 

 

Short Stories vs. Novels

A friend recently asked on FB whether one needed to write short stories before novels. It’s an interesting question, and one I’ll approach a bit differently.

medium_top_20_short_story_quotes

When I decided to write for publication (not just for fun) I sat down and wrote my first novel, The King’s Daughter.  It ran 153K and I was quite proud of myself for finishing it.

Then I went to a workshop. To get in, I had to whip out three short stories.  I tried, and basically ended up with a pair of novel starts and one short story that was actually a short story….but I didn’t like it.  That in itself was a wake-up call for me.  I realized that I didn’t know how to write a short story….which in turn made me question how well I did on that first novel.

Looking back at that first novel, I tackled way too much time in it.  The book covers two years, during the first of which, nothing happens.  The first year is ALL character development.  I didn’t realize that until I started trying to write short fiction.

So for me, writing short fiction was a lesson in understanding what makes a good plot. It taught me to cut out what wasn’t important.  And it taught me to start with the dead body.

So I wrote about 20 pieces of short fiction over the next couple of years, most of which have been published. One is sitting on my desktop, one on the back burners, and a couple have been trunked (including that first short story that I didn’t like.)

For me, short is rarely less than 9K. I still don’t have the knack of writing really short.  My brain just doesn’t do that well (as opposed to several of my friends who excel at that!)

All that said, I think that for me, trying to get short fiction pubbed first paid off.

 

However…

For a lot of writers, this is never an option. A lot of genres don’t have much in the way of  markets for short fiction.  So, for example, most of my RWA peeps have never even considered short fiction.  When I told my RWA group that I’d sold a short story for a thousand dollars*, many of them were shocked.  Not at the amount, but that the possibility existed. Their publication path far more often goes through contests…

And YA authors seem to start–on the whole–at novel length (yes, there are plenty of exceptions.)

So I don’t necessarily think that short fiction is necessary. Plenty of people get their novels published without short fiction.

 

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*this was actually $500 for the story and $500 for a prize for the story, but it was one check, so….

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A couple of links + an old post

Boring but accurate title.

 

1) The preorder page for The Shores of Spain has gone live over at Amazon, showing a release date of 7/7/2015.  Feel free to go over and preorder a copy (please!), or add it to your wish-list….or just read through the blurb (my editor, Danielle, writes great blurbs!)  I will update the rest of my webpage at some point…

2) I’m one of the guests today over at SF Signal’s Mind Meld, where we’re picking a book we’d love to be made into a film, and then casting it.  

Picking a book I’d love tosee as a film (or trilogy of films) wasn’t difficult. I’m a huge fan of Martha Well’s “The Fall of Ile-Rien” trilogy, and think they would make great movies full of visual detail.  The second part of the assignment…to cast those films?  UH….UH…

OK, I REALLY STINK AT THAT PART.

It turns out that my brain just doesn’t have a single movie-casting neuron. I put way too many hours into trying to figure out only four characters in the series.  I cannot imagine how a casting director looks at actors and matches them to teh gazillion parts in a movie.

 

FWIW, I don’t do this with MY books either.  I just don’t.  To get my mental picture of a character, I use a still photo. A person who moves and breathes isn’t the same for me.

Oddly, I always have a couple of actors in my pile of photos, but I’m not considering them as actors, but instead as a still photo caught in one second in time.  So, for example, for my character of the Brazilian, Inspector Anjos, I actually used a photograph of Matthew Fox, but one taken from a magazine. But it’s not Matthew Fox, the actor. In my mind,  it’s just a model in that specific picture…..

So If one were to ask me to cast one of my own stories, I would fail. Sad, but true.

 

To illustrate this, I’ve included below a post from my personal blog last year, which actually shows something of this process:

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Every writer has a different method… (from April 25, 2013)

Yesterday I sat down to pick out pictures for the book I’m working on. This is a part of my process that I gabbled about a lot last year. I have big boxes full of pics cut from magazines and catalogs over years. When I’m trying to get in my head what a character looks like, I find a pic that’s close to what I want and I use that while writing. Often I lay the photos next to the computer (the characters for the scene I’m working on) which helps me keep my ‘characterization’ straight.

Now, I don’t think these pics are ‘exact’. I had someone complain last year that the photo character’s clothes weren’t period, or they were too young for a character’s age or…well anything. That misses the point. These pics are a starting point, not the actual characters themselves.

So here’s the batch I’ve collected for this book:
total

(See the arrow? That’s pointing to a picture from a cover from Seventeen magazine from 1987. That gives you an idea how long I’ve been collecting photos.)

So these are my two main characters in this book: Joaquim Tavares and Marina Arenias
jo-marina
Joaquim’s an investigator for the police, turning 29.
Marina works in an office converting hand-written records over to typed records. Photo is actually picked for the combination of ‘delicate’ and ‘slightly timid’.

islands
I’ve got Duilio and Oriana up in the corner. I liked the expression on “Oriana’s” face and her large eyes, but she’s actually way too thin for the character (who is more of an Amazon). They’re on the islands of the sereia for a two-year term as temporary Ambassadors from Portugal (with Oriana as the actual Ambassador because the islands are female-led.)

The older woman in red is supposed to be Oriana’s grandmother, who is a made-of-steel politician. BTW, the actual woman in the photograph? Long time president of a university. Don’t let the kindly-grandmother-baking-cookies image fool you.

The other three are members of the Portuguese Embassy’s guard contingent. The older woman in pink is the captain (imagine her without a smile) in charge of the first female unit in the Portuguese Army, and so is in a situation where she feels she must not fail. When a couple of things go missing (including the blonde-haired lieutenant above), she is under a lot of pressure to find them, but in a situation where she can’t go looking (neither can Duilio or Oriana) which is where Joaquim comes in.

ambassadors
These are the ambassadors from other countries, the British Ambassador and his sickly wife, the wife of the Spanish Ambassador (he’s not shown because he’s so under her heel that he doesn’t matter), and the American Ambassadress (this pic is too young, but I liked the expression on her face.)

prison
So these are characters in Spain: a pair of little kids and their mother up top, in the bottom left corner the siren who tries to seduce Joaquim, and in the right corner, his great-grandmother, a cranky old Catalan noblewoman -without- a heart of gold. The woman with the wild hair? She’s the prison’s soothsayer, and tries to keep Joaquim out of trouble.

extras
Now there are a lot of extra photos left over. A couple might get switched out, too. I keep my mind open about changing character appearances and names at this point.

It’s a weird process, and I suspect a lot of people have similar-but-not-same ways of doing this.

 

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ETA: As an interesting aside, I did end up switching out a few pictures, most notable the mother and two children. But otherwise, they all stayed the same.

 

 

 

 

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Guest Post: Writing Blind @ SFSignal

I’m a guest today over at SF Signal, writing about writing with a blind POV character as part of the “Special Needs in Strange Worlds” column.

The primary POV character for the book I’m currently writing, Dreaming Death, is blind. (I’ve actually written with her before, in my short story “Touching the Dead”…which is available over on my “Free Fiction” page.) This article talks a bit about what it takes to get the blind POV character to ‘see’ things….

 

Professional Jealousy

Back at FenCon, an author friend and I were talking about Professional Jealousy.

I gave her a quote that I wrongly attributed to Oscar Wilde, but was actually said by Gore Vidal:

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.

The Wilde quote is very similar in meaning, although worded a bit differently:

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.

Both men were, if you don’t know, wildly successful authors in one way or another…so there was no reason for them to begrudge other people’s successes. And yet…they still said that. Why?

The truth is, this is a very common reaction in my industry. (Or in any artistic venture, I suppose. Or any venture at all.)  It’s human nature. It’s more or less normal for us to look at each other’s successes and wonder why X didn’t happen to us.

The other writer and I were, at the time, talking about reviews. Why do some writers get so many? Why do other writers not? Why are some so good? Why are others mixed? Why did I get hit by a troll? Why…why…why….????

FWIW, I have great reviews for my first two books. I just don’t have many. So I  glance at the Amazon pages of my friends and angstily wonder why I don’t have as many reviews as they do….at the same time consoling myself with ‘but my overall ratings are good!‘  In actuality, Amazon promotes books with more reviews more heavily, so that even a lackluster rating helps an author more if it came from a high number of reviews.  This turns out to be a problem for writers who get great reviews…but not many of them.

But this particular reaction stretches through all aspects of writing, not just reviews.

When I was trying to get an agent, I had that sort of reaction every time one of my friends landed an agent. Yay, you got an agent!  then slinking off to suck down too much Taco Bell because they’d gotten an agent and I hadn’t and that was probably the last agent in the world and there are never going to be any more agent contracts ever and my shot is gone now because my friend got my agent….

When I was working on a book contract, it was the same. Every book contract was followed by a celebration and then a private session of self-pity and angst over the fact that they’d gotten the last book contract in the world!

And it’s not just limited to that. Short story publications, award nominations, book options, auctions. Whenever one of our friends hits any mile-marker that we didn’t, we can seethe with jealousy–perfectly aware the whole while that thisisstupid.

Yes, we know it’s stupid to be jealous.

And, yes, we truly are happy for them.

It’s just the weltschmerz talking…

weltschmerz-other-wordly

 

Turns out the Germans do have a word for this (because they’re evidently a very comforting people.)

Writers are no less subject to this than anyone else. We think we should have gotten that promotion, not Dave. We think we should have gotten that group of students to teach instead of Louis. We think the world’s unfair when Jeff gets the nice car and we didn’t.

And we have to console ourselves with the fact that our successes are different in nature than theirs. We make lemonade out of our lemons (Or we don’t, and drive everyone else in the teacher’s lounge crazy.)

It’s normal and, (so long as we don’t let it consume us), we’re OK.

 

Here, as a parting shot, are some lyrics for what I consider my personal Theme Song:

“You Can’t Lose Them All” by Kim Richey  (abridged)

I got good luck in my pocket
and a good shine on my shoes
I got a silk shirt in my closet
that I’m not afraid to use
A little fortune cookie told me
help is on the way
the tables may be turning
it could happen any day.

I could go down in history
I could go up in smoke
could be the center of attention
or the butt of every joke
But every time I get shot down
I justify the risk
because I come a little closer
to a hit with every miss.

If I’m playing on the B-team
or I’m sitting on the bench
it ain’t for lack of trying
or a lack of confidence
When I reach my full potential
when somebody gets my drift
the stars are gonna line up
and the tides are gonna shift.

 

So artists have to remind themselves to get back out there and work harder. Because that’s the only way we can ever succeed. We try and try again. And even if our friends are doing better, that’s no good reason to sit around and complain about it. Yes, we’ll feel jealous for a bit (and then usually feel guilty for feeling jealous), but we can’t let that ruin any friendships or stop us from doing our own jobs….

As artists, we have to believe. We have to believe, every day, that the next time is our time…

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