The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shots Fired–The First Casualties

The war has begun.

Cathamel and Unsupportive Girlfriend are now in open hostilities. Each has marshaled forces to their side, participated in an arms race, and been vocally supportive of the other while surreptitiously undermining the others' efforts.

For a while there it looked like an uneasy truce might hold, give me some time to make some adjustments, and some peaceful intervention might still be possible between their demands.

That hope is now gone.

Last week Unsupportive Girlfriend's out of the way patrol came upon one of her troops--a dedicated lieutenant named Pastaparty. The Lieutenant's squad lay in shambles and she was half dead. She said that she was ambushed by a "gang of Cathamel's thugs."

"If you hadn't planned this patrol," the Lieutenant said, "I would have been a goner."

"Can you make it?" Unsupportive Girlfriend asked. "Maybe just like half?"

"Barely," Pastaparty said. "But I suppose so."

Retaliation was...inevitable in the volatile climate. U.G.'s forces launched sixteen G-T-140 rockets (Guided Unerring Incendiary Lightheartedness Terminator–To Reduce Indulgence Positivity [or G.U.I.L.T.–T.R.I.P. for short]). They tore up Cathamel's forward base of operations and forced her to deploy full defensive countermeasures from deep within her subterranean lair where her defenses are impregnable. She hadn't expected to have to wage a defensive campaign and wasn't prepared for the overwhelming fury of the retaliatory strike.

Tired of being held under Cathamel's boot, U.G.'s forces are filled with fresh rage and entitlement. It's always "no time" this and "too busy" that. The latest temporal downsizing was just too much. They want more time–and if it must come from Cathamel's loss, so be it.

No series of escalating skirmishes this war will be. Both sides have dropped to Defcon 1 and are preparing for their next major encounter. The skies are heavy with dark clouds and thunder grumbles across the landscape. A storm is brewing.

The Brain has been wringing her hands over the whole affair. She's tried to sue for a separate peace with both sides, knowing that The Contrairan's day care is responsible for shaking up the regional stability. With the extra 20 hours, both sides could maintain a tenuous peace along the Maginot line of my time management.

I tried to warn her that this would happen, but now, as the engines of war roar to life around me, and the skies blister with fire, "I told you so," tastes like ash in my mouth. Now one of them must be capitulate to the other–my creative life or the last vestigial semblance of a social life. The worst part is that when one of them loses (and one of them must) they will turn their defeat into the rallying cry to strike towards me. With kids in the mix, there can be no balance. Someone must prevail.

And no matter who wins, I lose.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

W.A.W. on Tumblr

Writing About Writing is now on Tumblr! I'll be updating my Follow W.A.W. tab to include it in a week or two, but my existing readers get the first crack at feedback and knob adjustment. (Hur hur....knob adjustment.) Plus, I've never been on Tumblr before so it may take me a bit of time to get adjusted to the ebb and flow and site Netiquette.

So...on my Facebook page most people will not actually see most posts. A given post is shown to 20-30 of the page's nearly 14,000 followers. Or roughly 1/4 of one percent of those people who WANT to see. (Does that seem right to you?) My die hard fans might set the page to notify them when it updates or stop by periodically, but most people actually won't see my posts anymore. Post engagement (likes, shares, comments) seem to only add five or six more views each. And when I saw what had become of my Facebook generated blog hits, a single tear rolled down my face. But it was a manly Aragorn-just-watched-Boromir-get-triple-penetrated-by-orc-shaft kind of tear.

That is FB's new way to try and get page administrators to pay money to be seen by more people. It did not have the effect that Longshanks profit grubbers intended. What it actually did was make me take my money somewhere else and then look for a new place to put the content that I provide that makes them so popular.

Seriously, I want to lead a Facebook rebellion. I want Facebook to become a desolate wasteland of promoted posts and your friends' weird right-wing, Fox news rants. I want to overthrow their oppressive rule, yell "freedom" when they black out the posts I want to see, and throw a sword.

I really want to throw a sword.

                                                        You have fled from Myspace. Now flee with me!

Hence Tumblr.

Most of the content between Tumblr and Facebook will be identical, so if you're on both, you may find yourself looking at a lot of redundancies; however, I'm not putting quite as many of the images to Tumblr. Facebook has throttled their content to the point where most people don't see most posts, and Tumblr doesn't do that at ALL to my knowledge, so I'm focusing on quality over quantity on Tumblr.

And did I mention GIFs?

And this is one of my GOOD sessions.
I do, however, give you one word of warning. 

Facebook does have one sort of "advantage" over Tumblr. I can split myself into facets without having entirely separate accounts. I have my Writing About Writing Page, and I have my personal FB account, and I can just switch between them. People who are there to get their grammar memes and "your" vs "you're" snark don't have to put up with my thoughts on anything but writing. Unfortunately, Tumblr just has one long stream.

Here at Writing About Writing, I try focus on the writing. And on my W.A.W. FB page that's true too. Now anybody who's been paying attention surely knows exactly where I lean on certain issues--based on anything from the fact that I still won't see Ender's Game, to the subject matter of some of my fiction, to the type of polls I'm always running, to the books I review, to the other blogs I write for, to my actions on public transit that are the subject of my most popular post.

But I'm following people like Wil Wheaton and Veruca Assault (among others) on Tumblr, and you can expect that I may reblog some of their posts from time to time. While I'll try to keep things clear of partisan rancor (which is really bad here in the U.S.), outright political rhetoric and uber esoteric geek fandoms, if you don't want to be more directly exposed to my progressive social values, social justice causes like "that uppity feminism crap I'm always on about" (thanks Anon--hateyousobad!) as well as my various geek fandoms, you may want to steer clear of Tumblr. Turns out when I'm not blogging about writing, I'm kind of a feminist geek.

If you're okay seeing the occasional post that guys should be capable of not raping women no matter how short the women's skirts are, bigotry isn't something awesome that people should be allowed to feel as long as they aren't burning crosses on people's lawns, and ten year old can't-let-it-go Firefly jokes, you should follow me right away.

Monday, April 21, 2014

One Fantabulous Potpourri of images.

And mom said 8am was too early to drink!
This jazz hands potpourri episode has been brought to you by my working on some fiction (next part of Demon's Rubicon), continuing aggravation in trying to deal with the new schedule and the baby (Wednesday I'll be telling you all about how "first blood" has been spilt in "The Scheduling Wars"), and the fact that I've been handed a baby grenade.

I wish "baby grenade" was a cute euphemism for how The Contrarian "burst" into tears after Mom handed him to me, but unfortunately the truth of the matter is that a mere five seconds after the pass off, the little guy went off in what I can only assume is the next generation of military grade weaponry. An ear piercing sonic blast shattered my ear drums as I was caught in the wake of a double ended projectile bioweapons "event" that eviscerated my will to live via the nasal passages.

For those of you who know the horrors of a blowout, think triple layer compromised. Baby's clothes. My clothes. Even the carrier is in the washing machine. For those who don't know what a blowout is, think of this scene from Frozen and enjoy the sweet innocence of your ignorance.

Ima Lister promises that the conclusion of his article about how to be (and stay) miserable will be posted next week.

Obviously Disney copyright. (Will remove upon request.)
Frozen 2013

Little fuckers can move!

I could stand to hear a little more.

Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

The irony is, I've been able to tell people were falling in love before they knew.
I've known from across the room someone was interested in a friend. And at least once that they weren't.
I'm GOOD at reading people and noticing little things............as long as it's not me.
When it comes to me, I have had people sitting in my lap, and not realized they were interested
So...yeah, this would actually probably be useful...and possibly necessary.

                                                               Worth the 20 minutes if you have it.

[Do you want to be featured in potpourri along with a few words from me about how awesome you are? Do you know a great writing link that I should share? Please send it to me at chris.brecheen@gmail.com, and I will post it along with a shout out singing your praises (unless, of course, you don't want one). There are four caveats to this. Please read them before you send me stuff. If I've posted anything that you feel is "yours" (or "your client's" --eeep!) please just ask and I will take it down if you wish or preferably give you credit and a link back to its source. Most everything here is some kind of meme, so it would be quite difficult for me to do proper attribution.]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Tall, Cool, Frothing Glass of Haterade

By_XxDaimonxX on Deviant Art
(listed as creative commons with attribution)
For some reason, people like watching a train wreck of hate. The online world provides the voyeur the perfect vantage to watch people who like to go to Hater Joes and buy Hater-tots in their old "Hate or Die" t-shirts while listening to "Hater Than Us All" on their iPods, but hurrying home because they want to see the Hate of the Union address.

More than any of the other topics I cover in "The Best of the Mailbox," the hate mail I receive--and my response to it--can be counted on to generate almost shocking numbers (for such a small blog). It's almost as if people find the drama of conflict compelling or something--yes, I'm certain I've read that somewhere.  As hate mail has become "THE BEST of The Best of The Mailbox," I thought it deserved its very own menu. And the more readers I get, the more common hate mail seems to become, so I don't think it's going away any time soon.

Hate Mail (Or LOVE Mail?) My hate mail cherry gets popped. I have arrived!
You're a NoWriMo H8er!
This Unseemly Money Stuff
You're a Mean One...Mr. Chris
Why Don't You Become a "Real Writer?"
You Don't HAVE to Write Every Day! (they insist)
How Could You Pick E-Pub? How COULD You?
You Evil Self Promoter!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mailbox: You Evil Self Promoter!

I know you pay to promote your Facebook posts!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I even reply to world famous detectives.]     

Anonymous (of course) writes:

I am disappoint, Chris...if that is even your real name. Back when I was growing up, my parents (both professional writers, in case you were wondering) drilled an idea into my head: "money should flow TOWARD the writer." They said anyone could publish a book if they spent enough money, but a real writer would make money. But you, you're a faker! A sham! A fraud! 

I deduced that you promote your posts on Facebook, falling into that age old of traps for people to pay to be famous. My first clue was how many Egyptians like your Facebook page. Clue number two was how fast your page grew. Then I noticed that I always saw the links to your blog even if I rarely saw one of your image macros. From there it didn't take me long to investigate how well certain blog posts did. I compared the number of likes over the last few weeks on YOUR posts with comics and other linked post. Clearly there can be no doubt. You promote your posts. Don't bother trying to deny it.

That makes you a fake artist, my friend. How dare you give advice to people about how to make it when you can't even make it yourself without paying to have your posts promoted. 

Good day, sir.

My reply:

Are you fucking for real?

Okay Hercule Poirot, you totally found out about that thing that I was making no effort to hide. While you were doing all this "expert" detective work, did you also notice that promoted posts say "sponsored" right in the post? Cause that would have been my first clue. I totally wrote to Mark Zuckerberg (call him Em'ly Z-man cause we're that close) to see if he would keep that shit on the "DL," but thanks to you meddling kids and your dog, now everybody knows.

Yes, I have promoted some of my posts, and let me give you the reasons for that:

1- It's a brave new world.
2- I take my own advice.
3- I love my family.

1- It's a brave new world. I don't know exactly when "back when [you] were growing up" was, but I'm going to guess that it was before the rise of social media since you would otherwise be about twelve. And while your being twelve might explain...uh....a few things about your e-mail, you're probably older.

If I go with this assumption, that means you grew up and were given this advice from your parents before the most recent upheaval to the publishing industry and before computers changed...well....everything. Because this was also the prevailing advice for writers when I was growing up and doing a lot of WANTING to be a writer (and a lot less writing) back in the 80s and 90s.

I'm also going to assume you grew up after Cabbage Patch Kids because no one over thirty would use "I am disappoint" non-ironically in an e-mail they expected to be taken seriously....by anyone.....ever.

Back "then," self publishing only meant vanity press, and there were a lot of scams. Not a few dollars to see if you could advertise something, it was more like $20,000 to publish your book and then you still had to buy individual copies. (Though if you're keeping score, John Grisham, published through vanity press and sold his own books out of his trunk at the start of his career.) These days, that advice is as outdated as playing your boom box outside a girls house after she's broken up with you.

Today, they call this "stalking."
What's this world coming to?
Oh all those scams still exist (and there are even a few new ones in the form of "promotional packages" when you do self publishing), but there are plenty of legitimate opportunities as well that have been brought about by computers and the extremely low cost of new printing technology. Self publication isn't the demon it once was, and e-publication has completely changed everything. Self pub is a REAL thing now. Your book gets an ISBN number and everything.

If I've taught you nothing it is that this One True Way™, "holy grail," canon advice path to success through the brambles of traditional publishing will only lead you to Bullshit Mountain. It's one way. It is not the only way. Not any more. That advice is from a time before you could push a button and make fifty copies of something and from back when printing costs meant you needed a 2000-book run to even have a chance to recoup expenses (10k-15k if you're a big six with a bloated legal budget). Today you do a print run of ONE book, sell it for ten bucks, and have enough profit to buy a value meal.

Print-on-demand makes many arguments invalid.

Much like this shark.
Writers who fetishize the validation of a book deal or their big six contract might be fixated on traditional publishing as the "right way," but anyone willing to flip the bird to that "real writer" crap, can make money, be published (in every way that matters), and have groupie threesomes right along with the "real" writers. If you want to join them Poirot, in turning on each other like starving hyenas and competing for fewer opportunities in a retracting and myopic industry that is renowned for its anachronism, elitism, and whitewashed, sexist gatekeepers, be my fucking guest.

Me, I'm okay with ignoring a twenty-years outdated sense of elitist propriety if it means I get to be a writer for a living.

Of course, this brave new world may involve learning some new skills for building up an audience, and those skills might include knowing a little about Search Engine Optimization, self promotion, social media, and how it works. But it's a valuable skill for a modern writer, and anyone still picturing themselves as above that "petty ass promotion shit" probably has a very unrealistic sense of what the business of writing is all about anyway.

No writer just sits and writes all day and has their agent whisk their manuscripts off to be published. No working writer's skill set is limited to writing and picking up checks from the mailbox. Not even old guard or megastar writers who everyone wants to be in their wet dreams get to do that, and certainly not anyone starting their career in 2014.

To put this into perspective, your stigma went out with jelly shoes and slap bracelets.

This is how stupid you look right now.  (topshop.com)

2- I take my own advice. I advise writers to live within their means if they want to be working writers. Time is your most valuable asset and having the time to write might mean working less. There's no way to turn down a promotion, scale back to part time, or cut down on hours when living from paycheck to paycheck. Some people don't have a choice in this of course, and I don't want to belittle their situations, but a lot of people spend money in a way that pushes them right up against their means. If they get more money, they quickly spend it on higher car payments, higher rent, higher food bills and more. Then they're right back to paycheck to paycheck.

I can't even FATHOM how I could possibly afford to work fewer hours in order to make time for writing.
take my own advice.

I'm a househusband and a (very) part time instructor and I write. I don't make much cash money from any of these jobs, but I also don't spend much. When it comes to my life, I am not beholden to a consumer lifestyle obsession. I spend almost no money from month to month beyond my needs (except on books and the occasional video game).

I clean the Hall of Rectitude for the Superpeeps. In theory I make $15 an hour, but we have long since abandoned our system of saving receipts and tracking hours because we are family. I won't bore you with the details, but as long as I'm not out using the house Amex card on the really high quality hookers and blow, it's assumed that my expenditures basically even out with the rent and the burritos and the ironic t-shirts, so we don't sweat the small stuff.

Dropping The Contrarian a few months back into this equation means that I'm working even more hours a week at least on househusband/childcare stuff.  So I kind of got a raise. Theoretically. No one writes me a paycheck because we're family, but there is a general awareness that I could spend quite a bit of money before anyone would have cause to complain. And all I do with extra money is save it anyway since I don't have a "real" job with a real retirement account.

I have this opportunity with all this extra money that I don't use because I take my own advice. I live well within my means, so when the babysitting thing started, I didn't immediately look for a way to spend all that extra money.

Now it's possible that I wouldn't have ever spent so much through Facebook if someone had handed me a fat wad of cash for my househusband hours and then forced me to physically relinquish that money. But when it's kind of invisible piles of hypothetical money that would have just gone into savings anyway, it's pretty easy to click a button and wonder "what does this do?" "Hey, let's find out."


3- I love my family. Okay, Poirot, here's where you have to pay extra attention so that you can "cleverly deduce" how well your One True Way™ bullshit holds up when you really look at it.

Every writer has to promote themselves.

Let me say that again.

Every writer has to promote themselves.

It's part of the cost of doing business. In order to find the readers who love your style and subject matter, you have to pique their interest. You want to sit around, writing your stories all day, and never taint yourself with self-promotion? Fine. You will make a dedicated hobbyist. You may write quite well. You may even publish. But without learning the business of writing, you will never pay the bills with your fiction. If you want to do that, you will have to promote yourself. Fact.

Every writer does it. We all have dirt under our fingernails. Cope.

Actually, that's not entirely true. A number of writers never needed to sully themselves with such a thing because they were already independently wealthy (or married money). But for those without the luxury to sneer at writers who dare to tarnish the purity of the craft with their plebeian need to eat and have heat, spending some time promoting oneself is a vital part of being a working writer. These working rich have dominated the culture of writing with their disdain for money for far too long.

Even in your perfect 1980's, traditional publishing world (which these days resembles Alderaan after its encounter with The Death Star), a writer would still have to promote themselves. They would go around to book signings, and do readings and generate interest in their work. Stephen King still does cross-country book-signing tours even though he could write his name over and over on eucalyptus leaves and have a best seller. I've personally watched NY bestseller authors sign books until their hands blistered--usually for fans who want to point out some continuity flaw in something they wrote a decade earlier. It's a part of being a working writer. Most writers hate it, but their publishers and agents haggle out certain promotional obligations.

Small press? You'll have to self-promote even more! There are more books (even in a small run) than the retailers the publisher contracts with. A writer has to run around and get other bookstores to carry their book on consignment and do readings and hit up everyone they ever knew to buy a copy. If anything an author in small press will be more involved in their own promotions than with a big six.

Heck, a book's launch party is just an excuse to try to sell a few hundred copies to friends and family.

Every writer has to self-promote. A five to ten hour week is a pretty reasonable clip for a serious writer with something to sell. I mean Stephen King might do 10 hours once a week at a full day event with a line of fans out the door (all wanting to tell him why The Stand was his last really good book). Reader McWordy might do four hours, twice a week going to a couple of literary events (one to read at and one to watch because it is considered gauche to only go to literary events when you're reading [and will get you un-invited]), and Oldy Oldschoolson might be walking up and down the city going into every local book store to see if they'll sell books on consignment or host a "Meet the Author." But let's pretend that everyone who is serious is going to be spending the same ten hours or so a week doing something that isn't writing for the express purpose of promoting themselves.

And in case it hadn't occurred to you, a writer is probably likely to spend money during these other promotional efforts doing things like buying lunch (or having a couple of drinks if they go to a literary event), so how does that factor into your flowing money equation, Poirot?

I'm totally promoting my latest urban steampunk vampire novel!
Right now.
It's called networking. Shmoozing. Making contacts?
I'm a writer goddamn it!

Many writers in our brave new world use social media to self promote. Actually it's pretty awesome. They have Tumblrs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and they share lots of fun things to get followers and then promote their work periodically once they've gathered all the eyeballs near by. George Takei has a massive following on Facebook and uses it to pimp out his books a couple of times a week. Social media promotion is incredibly effective--even more so than the physical versions of yesteryear--because it can target people who are actually interested in the work an artist is doing.

Social networking is actually time energy friendly compared to many of its physical counterparts as it can be done in a few minutes and leave the writer free to do more writing.

So yes I'm curious about which social media work best and which are sucking my efforts like lampreys. I watch my analytics closely and I know which media are very useful (Stumbleupon) and which are not worth the amazing amounts of effort they require (Reddit/Facebook). I was curious about how a paid promotion might affect my numbers and so I put a modest budget into Facebook to see how it would work. (Turned out, it was great for finding new Facebook followers but took more money than I wanted to spend to affect my blog numbers.)

I gave up on Facebook (ironically after their most recent attempt to get more pages to pay) and now I'm trying my "advertising" budget through Stumbleupon. Again, it's a modest budget of "imaginary" money that I'm kind of entitled to by virtue of all the babysitting I'm doing, but if it jump starts my numbers and helps me gain visibility (which is absolutely the obstacle in the beginning) then it could be money well spent.

You tell me Poirot:

What is the difference between going out and spending five to ten hours a week of self-promoting in the "traditional ways" that are considered to "count" where no money ever "flows away" from the "real writer" and clicking a button that costs me half that time (and gets results that are far better because they are targeted to people's interests)? I'd rather spend the money (earned by being with my family) that then frees me up to spend more time with my family.

Or write or read or watch FFM porn.

Seriously, Poirot, is there any reason other than some anachronistic principle (championed by those with nothing to lose if they were poor in their lifetime) to cling to that outdated advice? Pragmatically, is there some fundamental difference to a writer between the hours spent networking physically and the hours spent watching a baby so that I can network via computers? These aren't $20k scams, conning people desperate to see their name in print; they are measured promotions of a few dollars that may or may not help a writer jump start their career (and can be stopped if they don't work). Is there actually, logistically any appreciable difference between these paths?

And just for the record Poirot, I haven't spent as much money as I've made yet, so money still is flowing towards me. I just happen to reinvest it since, like most writers, I have to have a day job to make ends meet.

The problem with this One True Way™bullshit made a little bit of sense back before the Internet. It was true back when there actually was only one true way. Twenty years ago if you were paying to be published, you really were being taken for a ride. But it's just not true anymore.

Now, that's just a lot of bad advice, straightjacketing talented people into thinking there's some "real" way to go about pursuing their passions and nothing else counts.  I hope we writers, as a collective, get the hell over the publishing industry's stranglehold on our own cultural legitimacy. Because it leads to complete sanctimonious cretins like you.

Good day to you, sir.