There might be something good in all the dreck

Yesterday on my personal blog, I wrote about resurrecting an old project and by old, I mean old. I think the last time I looked at this was about 10 years ago. I wrote it back at a time when I was reading a lot of fantasy, both epic and high fantasy. In the intervening time, my reading has changed and I don’t read nearly as much of those sub-genres as I once did. So, when I pulled this particular project out of the deep dark recesses that exist under my bed, I did so with a great deal of trepidation. Still, what could it hurt — other than my ego — to look at it and see if there was anything worth trying to save? After all, I was stuck when it came to my current projects. I needed to do something until I got Mac Santos’ voice back so I could finish Nocturnal Challenge.

Right?

What I am finding both scares and reassures me. But it also makes me want to kick myself. More on that in a bit.

What scares me about the project — currently being called Sword of Arelion — is how much work the piece actually needs. The story is there. Sure, it needs tweaking and tightening but there is a story there. But the craft part of it needs a lot of work. I don’t want my readers to feel like they are watching a ping pong match because I jumped heads so much and without warning. It is clear that I did try to work on curing the POV changes, however. So that is good — I think. But the problems are bad enough that I have to completely rewrite the book. A simple markup and input won’t do it. Fortunately, I figured that out by the end of the very first page.

Something else that scares me about the novel is that I am getting pulled into it. Maybe it is because I’ve been fighting to work on Challenge and it just hasn’t been happening. Maybe it is because this is so very different from what I’ve been writing and my creative batteries needed something completely different (cue the Monty Python theme, please) to get going again. I’m not sure what the answer is but I have the very sick feeling that this novel is going to morph, like so many of my other projects, into a multi-book arc and — yes, I’m going to whine here — I don’t want another series right now!

The project also reassures me. It is good to see that my craft has progressed over the years. That is especially so because when I was younger, I had tried going the traditional route. Looking back now and remembering what I tried peddling to agents and editors, I wasn’t anywhere near ready for prime time.  But, like so many others, I took the rejections to heart and, coupled with a few other factors I won’t go into here, decided that publishing wasn’t for me. I would write because I had to but it would be for my own entertainment and sanity. After all, once I was done with something and decided I no longer wanted to work on it, I could have a bonfire and I really, really like bonfires.   ;-)

Of course, Fate is a fickle bitch and she had other plans for me. She brought Sarah into my life and Sarah weaseled it out of me the I enjoyed writing. Well, Sarah being Sarah, she managed to convince me to send her something. Then she put on her pointy toed boots and applied them to my backside until I started taking my writing seriously. She still, on occasion, applies those metaphorical boots to remind me not to sit back and rest on my laurels, real or imagined.

And this is where I get to how looking at SoA and want to kick myself. As I said earlier, there is a story there. More, if I am honest with myself — and if I listen to Cedar and Sanford — what I have of SoA right now is as good, if not better, than much of what is published right now, both traditionally and indie. Yes, there are problems but they can be fixed. That’s not the issue. The issue is that I didn’t believe enough in myself to keep trying and I put my own growth as a writer on hold as a result. Would I have managed to actually find an agent or publisher back then? Probably not. But I would have kept working at my craft, something I really didn’t do until Sarah — and then Dave and a few others — came into my life and started giving me the encouragement and often the push I needed to get off my butt and actually start taking it seriously.

So here is my challenge to you. Go find one of your earlier works — don’t go looking at stuff you wrote in elementary or middle school. Believe me, you will get a laugh. I do. But most of us weren’t really “writers” back then. Pull it out and look at it with a critical and dispassionate eye. It is going to be easy for you to find the problems with the manuscript. But now look at it and find the good points. What did you do right, or almost right, even if it was more instinct or dumb luck that caused you to? Now think and think hard. Is this something you can resurrect into a new project? If not, why? Also, if you don’t think you can, what about the project can you file away for use in future works?

Believe it or not, there will be a gem in some of those older works. It might not be the entire piece that is salvageable but there will be something. The key is to first find it. Then you have to figure out why and how you can use it.

Now go forth and find those hidden gems and let us know about them. As for SoA, you can find the first snippet here. A second snippet will be going live later today — hopefully.

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Looking back, looking forward.

I had to look up something in Norse myth for the current WIP today, and it was actually easier to go to A MANKIND WITCH and look it up, than go grubbing in my primary sources. Yeah straight out lazy. And naturally seeing as I had got that far, I read the rest of the book. I enjoyed it… even if I could do it better. Yeah, the author needs to learn a few things. He assumes the audience knows too much Norse and Norse myth, and IMO rushed the denouement. I still enjoyed it, but really I can write better than that bloke.

Looking at your own work through the window of ten years is… interesting. Not altogether comfortable, to be honest! I’m older, more experienced, not necessarily a better writer, because to be blunt some of the fire is less… driven, by years and years ( I started trying to get published in ’92, succeeded in ’98) of kicking against the pricks (look at the original cover of AMW if you want some idea). A degree of stubborn endurance is visible in all authors who’ve been around for more than ten years. Even among the darlings, the chosen ones, there are signs of the stress load authors get tossed at them. Among the ordinary folk like me, if they there after 10 years… they’re exceptionally stubborn, and exceptionally tired. (I see signs of this in Sarah, and it worries me).

There is no doubt that, unless your publisher paid mega-bucks, and you have an editor with time, desire, serious power and influence actually able to drive ALL the parts of the system with whips that you –as an author WILL be disappointed. (Baen’s editorial is good, the marketing, and some of their admin, however I would drive with whips with broken glass studded in them. Pyr’s admin and communications are actually worse. Their marketing made a brief effort (yes, more than Baen. I have never ever had as much as an e-mail from anyone doing that. At least Pyr organized some interviews, and did touch base), and then vanished suddenly away. Lou was a good editor, and consulted me about the covers – which was kind but really not my field of expertise. ) I’m a fifteen year, twenty book veteran. No one will pay more attention and give more effort than you do to the process.

Guys, self-publishing at least means you are in control of everything that you can be in control of and you know that is your best shot – or at least it is all your fault if things go wrong. That said, it requires a LOT of skills and effort and most all time – because being a skilled story-teller does NOT make you good at social networking (and mediocre story-tellers who network and self-promote well, will outsell great story-tellers who suck at it, at least in the short term). There are rare instances of course of people who do both well, and can do great cover art and brilliant layout and have the promotional program all sussed… Well, it ain’t me. I’d love someone else to do that stuff really, really well, better than I could, let me get on with torturing characters. It’s not going to happen (not trad, and not, unless you have more disposable income than me, with Independent books. What I find I have to do is apportion my time, make lists, decide what I am going to spend, and work around that. I’m still trying for ¾ – ¼ split (writing and the rest), but I think I need to accept that needs to be 2/3 -1/3. Which brings me around to my starting point – time between writing and editing. Ten years is nice, but not realistic. I might get lynched, trying.

So what is realistic? What are your programs?

On another tack, I have been trying to put together database of the Hugo Novel winners (I’d love to do do the other categories, but it takes time and well, some things just aren’t available.) It’s going slowly because I’m working out how many years they’d been published, how many novels they’d done, their age, sex and – as this means I have to look up every single author, if there is any overt information on sexual orientation (with married to the opposite sex counting Hetero, unless specifically known otherwise), race, religion (if stated publicly) or political allegiance (I am keeping that to a simple L/R split). There are a lot of “U” (unknown), as well as the publishers.

What has been fascinating so far is the ages of authors I know and love, and the ages at which they wrote the books I know and love. There were certainly very few women in the early years, and some of the authors who were there I simply cannot imagine being on a modern Hugo list – few of the ‘literary’ type, and some just fun – Mark Phillips (Janifer and Garrett) spring to mind. Garrett’s behavior seems to guaranteed to lead straight to the modern PC fainting couch – and yet he seems to have been … um, popular enough with a lot of women despite it. It’s going to take a while, (and the data will be publicly available) and is a time-sink, but is fascinating. Things certainly appear to have been more demographically balanced in politics and religion back then, but not in sex or race. It’s interesting, and I’ll hold off on conclusions until I have a data set to work on.

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Holy Tectonic Plates, Batman — a blast from the past from ATH 10/10/08

So, you’re thinking, as you sit out there in the audience, chewing your gum – yes, I see you, did you bring enough to share with everyone? – and reading my blog so you can avoid getting any writing done,  you’re thinking “Once I get published, that’s it. I’ll know exactly what I’m doing, and everything will be perfect forever and ever amen.”

Of course, if you’re already published, you’re probably aware that no elf came by with a magic wand and endowed you with the ability to write effortlessly. (If one did I don’t want to hear it. Lalalalalalalala.)

The truth is not just that it never ends. The truth is that it never stops being weird and painful. I’ve published now – counts on fingers – one, two three, seven, ten (removes shoes) fourteen novels, if you count a couple that are absolutely secret (if I told you they wouldn’t be secret, now, would they? However, the first bright boy or girl to come to my house, do the litter boxes, dust, sweep and cook dinner for the next week gets told the names and author name) and I’ve always been aware that there were things I didn’t do right.

Oh, come on, admit it, those of you who are writers know this. There’s things you can do, and things you can’t. You start out and – if you’re honest with yourself – you see all these huge flaws. You look at published stories and you wonder how the hell they do it. You know your stuff is not just different quantitatively – it’s not just “he does more of this” – but qualitatively. It’s a different beast altogether. You gape in wonder at the grownups stuff and you go “Oh, wow, if only I could write a story like THAT I’d be happy.”

And you read and you study, you learn, you look for hints. And you collect your kicks in the… er… I mean rejections, advice letters and critiques. And you sit up in the cold, dark night and wonder if you’ll ever be a real writer and you know that when you get there, you’ll do everything perfectly and it will be EASY.

(Rubs nose doubtfully) To tell you the absolute truth, maybe there is a point at which you do that. I wouldn’t know. Maybe Heinlein just let the prose pour out. Doesn’t seem like that if you read Grumbles, but who am I to ask? There are others. Terrry Pratchett before his health issues. Maybe stuff just came out. Who knows? (Somehow I can hear him laughing if he ever reads this.) But those are geniuses. People so far above the mortals like us that it doesn’t truly matter what THEIR rules are. We’re still out here slogging through the mud.

Partly through taking art – the process is not that much different – I’ve identified phases to this slogging. First there’s the phase at which you’re so ignorant that you think you’re doing everything wonderfully. Now, unless you start writing or art as a toddler, this phase is usually when you’ve picked up some basic principles. So, you’re not drawing stick figures. And you’re not writing about Spot and his endless marathon. You’re doing creative, usually fatally flawed, stuff, that you’re pleased with, because it’s so much better than you could do untutored. And you have clue zero there’s anything wrong with it.

For most people this is the hobby phase. You’re doing this stuff for fun. You steal every minute you can to do it. You do it to please yourself, which means some bits of it might be QUITE good – intense and dark, or intense and light, full of the sort of things that produce and immediate reaction. These are the bits that interest you. The bits that don’t interest you look kind of like those clay ashtrays all of us made in kindergarten. (Except me. I got kicked out of kindergarten for talking back. BEFORE clay.)

Then you learn a little more. This part is disturbing, because you’re usually not TRYING to learn and it’s not like you think anything you do is wrong, right? You’re just playing with it a lot. (I’d appreciate it if the gentleman in the back stopped giggling) and you’re reading your normal stuff and despite your best intentions you start realizing your stuff is not even, it’s not RIGHT and it might not even be – gasp – any good.

The very first time you come to this fork in the road, you have a choice – it might be the last time you have it, so listen CAREFULLY – if you’re stuck at this point, and your writing is no longer as much fun as it used to be, but you have no idea how to improve it, walk away. Walk away fast. Remember Lot’s wife and do not under any circumstances look back.

Sigh, you’re not going to, are you? Okay, then. The bad news are that if you don’t’ walk away now, you’ve entered a possibly never ending process, one garanteed to drive you mad, if you are not so already. (It’s been my experience if you’re setting out to become a writer being mad doesn’t hurt and might help.)

If you’re lucky, you’re a rational writer and learn intellectually. The sad truth is very few of us are, at least from what I can gather from sodden-drunk sessions at con bars. Most of us learn through our toes, our fingers, our nostrils or somewhere other than our brain. This of course explains the MILES of how to books every pro I know owns, only about half of them ever fully read. (We’re hoping the knowledge makes it into the brain by osmosis.)

I’m not saying reading how to books doesn’t help. It does, or at least some of them do. (After years of trial and error I’ve developed “signs to look for” for what might help and what should be thrown from a height, preferably an airplane. If enough people ask, I might share that.) As does reading authors who are good at what you wish to do and re-reading it to study how they do it. Then you pulp it all and ingest it. (Not literally – metamucil is cheaper.) And you HOPE. At this point, at least for me, the worst I can do is to start looking at my own writing for signs of improvement. “Am I better at plotting now?”

Of course because this is the most stupid thing I can do, it is exactly what I do. And this is one of most horrendous “phases” of the writing process. You look at everything you ever wrote and you think it’s dreck and some of you – you know who you are. AMANDA, put the matches down RIGHT NOW. I’m not kidding, missy – will take all of your stuff out in the yard and burn it at this stage. This is stupid, counterproductive, vaguely masochistic and deranged. Congratulations, you’re probably a writer. No other species known to man or beast has that few self-preservation instincts.

At some point, if you’re like most of us, and you probably are – possibly after someone has called the fire department – you realize that you’re never going to be any good, but oh, holy f*ck, you have to keep writing. It’s not that you enjoy it, exactly. It’s more that it’s like a broken tooth to which your tongue returns over and over and over again. Like playing with scabs.

Like any other mental illness, this thing we call writing hauls you back, body and soul, and MAKES you do it. (Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. The devil made me do it.) And you slog through grey despair for a while. It can be hours, days, months, years.

And then things… shift. And in the way of the writing life – yes, I DID promise you a rose garden. The roses are carnivorous, the stems are covered in thorns and they secrete a poisonous substance. Look, I told you to run while you could, didn’t I? – it feels… worse.

I refer to this sensation as “being lost in someone else’s underwear” but it is also akin to wearing too tight clothes, or scratchy ones. You know your writing has changed, but you don’t think it’s gotten better, as such. It’s just gotten different. In some undefinable way it keeps escaping your control, doing things you never expected it to. And it feels like going insane. It’s like part of you is playing silly buggers with the rest of you. It’s like playing poker with yourself and you are cheating and you try to call yourself out and…

This is the time at which it is a very good idea to avoid all sharp objects, rope objects, gun objects and for the love of heaven water objects. Stay with me. It will only get worse. And you’ll like it. Because you’re one of the few, the truly screwed up, the writers. Wear it proudly. (Heaven knows, might be the only thing you wear. Clothing stores don’t take monopoly money. I’ve tried.)

And then you wake up one morning, and you read something you wrote while your mind seemed to be physically divided and you go “Holly tectonic plates, Batman! Something HAS shifted. I can now do x” (Whatever has been tormenting you.)

At this point half in jest and all seriously I MUST warn all beginner or not so beginner writers reading this that what you should do when everything is wrong is write. Write a lot. When I was only a small larval writer – on my way to being a small to medium larval writer. Yes, rather proud of myself, I am – wiser heads than mine (Hello Kris and Dean) though this might be damning with faint praise told me to “trust the process” and that in this field you “learn by doing.” The more you do, the more you learn. The first was of course a null program. I don’t trust anything. Born that way. I could be one of Heinlein’s True Witnesses. The second… Well, I gave it a spin and found they were right. (Hot d*mn.)

Does this mean that from then on you won’t struggle with this issue again? Uh… not EXACTLY. It means, you’ve climbed the mountain and now that path you came up? Yeah, it looks smooth and easy, but you can also see a bit further up through the clouds, and you realize it goes up and up an up. (Put down the rope object now! And the leather object! Oh, wait. That one wasn’t for… never mind. [blushes and closes door.])

Take me – PLEASE? Lord knows I don’t particularly want me most of the time – I came into this field with ONE clear gift (Just remember, pace Fernando Pessoa – and others – the gods sell all that they give. It was a gift, yes, but not exactly a blessing) I can create characters effortlessly. In other words, there are voices in my head, they come with personalities and histories. I don’t have to do anything for it. They’re not based on anyone I know (though I’ve been known to steal incidents, anecdotes and jokes from all of you. Sorry. It’s a writer thing.) They just… pour out.

To compensate, I came into this field, first with a complete lack of understanding of DESCRIPTION which took me a good… ten years to master and not just throw in massive lumps over the landscape. (No, sir, we are not interested in what we thought of our last book. Do you REALLY want to stay after class to clean chalk erasers? Right. [clears throat])

However, my bette noir, what has bedeviled me from the very beginning is… plot. How to make it credible – and of course, being blessed with a highly unusual mind doesn’t help. What seems logical to me often makes people go “uh?” (I said unusual. I’m sticking to unusual. At least until unusual takes a shower.) BEYOND that, there were other issues, mostly how to keep the plot moving. (I never had much issue with torturing my characters. Not sure what that means about me except that at the best of times, I have enough free-floating anger around to blast a small third world country into oblivion.)

I’ve struggled with plot. It’s been my mystic trial. Odin’s tree, where I hang suspended, blind and without a clue.

Does this mean I didn’t get better? Or I didn’t try?

Oh, neither. I started getting published when my plots were on the ragged edge of existing. (Don’t believe me? Go find Ill Met By Moonlight. You will.) My bookshelf, JUST the one facing me, has Twenty master Plots, plot, Plots Unlimited, how to plot your thriller, Beginnings, middles and ends, Poisons and antidotes (um… wait, that’s for when the others fail.) And a dozen others. I’ve diagramed my favorite books. I’ve thrown my least favorite books against the wall (Um, wait there. That’s just for fun.) I worried about it till my hair went white (again, that’s my story. Unless I’m talking to Robert, in which case it’s his fault since it happened when he was born. Really, white hair at 28? SERIOUSLY? Isn’t it bad enough I’m a writer? Why must I be further punished?)

And then, and then, you ask. I can see you on the edge of your seats. Did the clouds above part? Did choirs of heaven descend upon me and sing? No. (And this is probably fortunate. I have two angels as characters right now and trust me, while their descending upon me might have… er… certain… um… upsides [sir, if you don’t stop giggling, you’ll have to leave.] mostly it would be terrifying.) I’ve just endured a series of incremental “thunks” where I do not so much climb another step, as the step drops away and beneath me, leaving me for a while like the road roader suspended mid air. And then another step appears in front of me.

I’m going into this, because while I was writing both Heart and Soul and Gentleman Takes A Chance – which for reasons known only to my psychiatrist (if I had one. I mean, seriously, do you think I’d take THIS near anyone with power to have me committed?) insisted on coming out together, like some sort of literary siamese twins – I was going through the most painful of these phases. Lost in someone’s underwear. And it was weird underwear. It had six legs. (No, I truly don’t want to KNOW.) None of it made sense. I wandered in the dark without clue, and when I lit the light of clue the shape it showed made no sense. It was so like going insane, and my head felt so “divided” that I couldn’t finish the books without isolating myself completely in a hotel room for a few days and MAKING me do it. (Try holding your nose to the grindstone. JUST try it. It’s your nose and your hand, and you flinch back, instinctively.)

If I could, if I thought there was half a chance in hades I wouldn’t come back to writing, I would have given back the advances and walked away. But I know myself too well. Giving up writing is easy. I’ve done it DOZENS of times. Once it lasted two weeks. So I stuck to it, and I sent these books out still cringing. And then I started the next.

Choirs of angels? No. But all of a sudden I realized what I had been doing wrong. I’m not going to say all of a sudden my plots are the fastest thing this side of the Pecos River. (Zoom, there goes one!) I don’t know if they are. But all of a sudden, blindly, though I’m plotting the same way I always do (about thirty pages per novel, chapter by chapter) the pieces are clicking together RIGHT and the gears are moving as if oiled. And those two books I sent out cringing? Probably best I’ve written. So far. (Dipped, Stripped and Dead and DarkShip Thieves are turning out magnitudes better. Again.)

Only there is something wrong. Something is shifting underfoot. I don’t know what it is. Is it plot? Is it voice? – which lately has started worrying me? – something is moving. I’ll look at what I wrote and I don’t want to change it but it feels odd. Like being lost in someone’s underwear. And it’s weird underwear. I think it’s got tentacle-receptacles. (Sir, please, I thought I asked you to stop giggling?)

Holy Tectonic Plates, Batman! Here we go again. (Looks lovingly towards the poison and antidotes book, sighs and goes to hold nose against grindstone.)

 

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Selecting and Breeding Chickens for Colonists

This is a guest post from Kathleen Sanderson, who just happens to be my mother. Since she taught me to read, I’m pretty sure she’s responsible for a lot of my contributions here! But last week in comments, chickens came up. Mom’s been raising chickens, goats, and various other livestock for longer than I can remember, and has become an acknowledged expert in some areas. You can find articles by her at Backwoods Home Magazine, and I’ll remind her to check in here and answer any questions. 

chicken

One of Kathleen’s chickens.

So, you are heading out for Planet Four of Alpha Centauri.  It’s going to take a long time to get there, maybe more than one human generation (depending on your mode of transportation) but certainly several generations of any livestock you want to take with you.  You’ll need these animals for a decent protein source on the trip, as well as in your new home.  (In my opinion, colonists should be responsible for feeding themselves en route, else they, and possibly their descendants on a multi-generational ship, could lose not only the skills but the work ethic which will be necessary when they arrive.  And, I don’t think it’s wise for a few people to grow all the food for the rest of the group – specialization is for ants, as someone said.  Probably Heinlein, LOL!  But just consider what would happen to the colony if something happened to the specialists, and there was no corner grocery store.  Maybe each family or group would tithe a portion of their crop for the crew?)

I’m not going to get into what the colony ship needs in order for you to raise all your food and feed and livestock.  Let’s just think about the animals themselves.  And we’ll start with chickens, since they are small, portable, useful, and even the poorest colonists should be able to manage to have some.  The same considerations will apply to the larger stock that they could take, anyway.

You would probably know quite a bit about your destination before you even applied to go – I know if it was me, I’d research it to death!  So you should have some idea of what conditions you, and your animals, will be facing.  But there will always be things come up that are unexpected.  So take as wide a range of genetics as you can manage.  It’s unlikely that one family could keep and care for more than a few lines of chickens, so this responsibility should be spread out over the entire community of colonists.  But even so, I would make sure that my family had as much genetic variation in their own stock as possible.

Here on Earth, it’s okay to breed ‘purebred’ livestock, because if you get into trouble, you can bring some animals in from another line, or even from another breed.  That has had to be done several times recently to save rare breeds.  But our colonists had better stick with ‘landrace’ breeds or mixed flocks, which have much more genetic variation.  Might even throw in a few birds from wild stock, just to have that genetic material available.

Many breeds commonly available here in North America have been interbred in the past, or have common ancestors.  So it would be wise to choose from less-related foundation breeds.  Leghorns, Dorkings, Cornish, Silkies, Brahmas, Dominiques, Games, Fayoumis, Polish, Sumatras, Orloffs, Easter Eggers (not really a breed, but a landrace in their own right), would all be on my list.  I would also take some of the common dual-purpose breeds – Rocks, Wyandottes, Buckeyes, Orpingtons, Sussex, Faverolles, Rhode Island Reds.  I would probably add a few more bantams, too, such as the Nankin and Pyncheon, D’Uccles, and so on.  They are small, don’t eat a lot, can be fairly good layers, and many of them are excellent broody hens.  (This is important if you want to reproduce your flock, and can’t count on having incubators and brooders.)

While in transit, your object is going to be to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible in your flock.  You don’t want to get rid of anything, even if it doesn’t seem terribly desirable or important at the moment (unless it’s an actual genetic defect, such as low fertility or low hatch rates).  One way to do this is to have several pens of hens – at least four, but more would be better.  Keep a good rooster in each pen.  When you need new blood in a pen, take a rooster from each pen and put it in the next pen to the right.

Conditions on the colony ship are unlikely to duplicate the conditions on the planet (although that would be a good idea, to prepare the colonists as well as their crops and animals), so you don’t want to throw anything away right now.  Just keep that diversity, so whatever you need on the planet will be there!

Once on the planet, keep as much diversity as you can, but start culling the animals that aren’t thrifty, that don’t produce well, that don’t survive well, that have fertility issues.  If your large-combed chickens freeze their combs in the harsh winters, cull them (or send them to more southerly colonists) and concentrate on chickens with pea and rose combs.  If your big, heavy birds start keeling over with heatstroke, select for bloodlines from the Mediterranean breeds such as the Leghorns.  If you have serious predator problems, you can go two ways – breed for very docile chickens and keep them tightly confined, or breed for very wild chickens and plan on having an egg hunt every time you need eggs.  And the kids better get good with a sling-shot if you expect to have chicken soup for dinner!

Breed only the chickens that do the best.  That means you’ll need to have some way to tell them apart – breeders usually use numbered or colored leg bands, and sometimes also put tags in the web of the wing.  Even if your flock has a wild variety of colors and body types, you will still need a means of identifying birds – they move so much that it’s hard to track one.  And you need to know how to tell which birds are laying, and keep track of meat production from the birds that are butchered.  Keep track of breedings, fertility and hatch rates, and so on.  If you always breed from the birds that do the best, you will be selecting for adaptation to local conditions, and in a few generations, you should have a flock that is thriving in their new environment.

There’s a website I enjoy reading – if you are breeding for specific conditions, I think you may also find it interesting.  He breeds vegetables and fruits, but the principles apply across the board.  http://garden.lofthouse.com/

 

 

 

 

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Badthink; Wrongfun

In which Dave discovers that a vocal and entirely too influential minority of publishing are out to ruin his sales.

I don’t know what’s going on in the world anymore. I went away for most of a month. Mrs. Dave and I went to find winter in Colorado, and I ended up wearing short sleeves for most of our visit. There were Superstars (though I wonder whether that refers to those of us in the audience, or the well-selling folks up front) and then there was several hundred miles of road through gorgeous country, and a few dozen awesome people in a few too-short weeks.

Then I come home to find I’m now the wrong kind of fan, having the wrong kind of fun, writing the wrong kind of stories in the wrong way, and reading the wrong kinds and shapes and colors of authors.

Wait a sec. *reads that again*

Nope, same as when I left in January. The same people are freaking out over the same nothings. Larry’s still the bulwark of the Read and Write Fun Stories movement (a.k.a. the Evil League of Evil) and I still haven’t heard back on my junior membership application. (Though I’m nearly certain Wee Dave snuck one in ahead of me AND got it approved, given his recent behavior.) Her BBEvilness continues to skewer the pomposities of the Myrmidons for Cultural Domination (I’m terrified of their ill-fitting spandex and pink, pleather thongs whips. Absolutely horrified. Wait, which one was it, again?) as they stick their head above that selfsame bulwark. I just hope she doesn’t end up berserkrgang, as I have zero interest in cleaning up the mess. Brad continues to represent Sad Puppies to the world in his intelligent gentlemanly manner, and his enemies continue to heap filth and degradation on their own souls as they attempt to heap the same on his head.

In other news, it’s Lent (I hope you all celebrated Shrove Tuesday in the appropriate manner, and collected many beads) and I’ve given up social media. Being raised Presbyterian, I’m almost certainly doing it for the wrong reasons, but I’m hoping to improve my productivity in the time management and words written arenae, thereby increasing my ability to earn income via my chosen field. I’m certain St. Adam Smith would approve. A corollary is that I won’t be on the usual spaces to read the usual updates from the usual suspects. I’m highly susceptible to chat invitations and email, however. Be warned.

The bit of steaming … stuff that’s proving singularly irritating at the moment, is the tempest over the reading – or not, in this case – of specific stripes of author. A darling of the SJW set recently challenged all the readers everywhere to stop reading a specific kind of author. For a year. Now, this challenge wasn’t aimed at those adhering to a specific ideology, or those who write in one or another specific genre.

Nope: the author of the piece (which I’m not linking, as I have zero interest in driving further traffic, and I’m nearly certain everybody is already familiar with the basics. Instead, I’ll link to Larry’s masterful fisking of same.) challenges her readers – and by extension, all of us – to stop reading “white, straight, cis, male authors” for a year. (Now, as someone who can check all those boxes, I resent this. Refusing to read my writing – and pay this author – on the basis of accidents of birth is the rankest form of discrimination, and it’s wrong.)

One stated purpose of the challenge is to expand horizons, and that’s all well and good, but how are you expanding your reading horizons when you arbitrarily remove a subset of writing simply because the authors share a set of superficial characteristics? That would seem to me to be a narrowing of your horizons. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.

Implicit in this racist, sexist, misandrist challenge is the assertion that non-white, non-straight, non-male authors are getting little to no exposure. The line I particularly relish is, “if the majority of books being held up and pronounced Good and Worthy are by white, straight, cis men, it’s easy to slip into thinking that most good and worthy books are by authors that fit that description.” Except that’s just it: the vast majority of books pushed in media as Good and Worthy aren’t by people who are heterosexual, white male writers.

Beyond that, the notion that the only way for non-cis/straight/white male authors to gain readership is for people to chose their work preferentially over other writers (besides doing those same other writers (seriously, need a simple label for “everybody besides the one group Princess T hates enough to call for discrimination against.” seriously) a major disservice in giving them a hand-out instead of a hand up) is simply untrue. Those writers-who-don’t-resemble-me have exactly the same opportunity I do. Write a work, get it edited, put together a cover, and put it up on Amazon. Set up print-on-demand for those who want a hardcopy.

Publishing is at its most democratic ever. Literally anybody can publish today. You can write your opus on a Google document at a public library (the Bradbury method of Fahrenheit 451 fame, updated for the 21st century, and likely a good deal cheaper), find an editor online, find an artist via Deviant Art, pay them both through PayPal, have them upload the finished products to your DropBox, and upload your finished book to Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, and Nook, all without even owning a computer! The bar for entry to the market is so low as to be nonexistent (a different argument for another post, that).

Now, regarding push, pull and exposure (to hearken back to Kate’s post yesterday), again: I don’t care what you look like or who you want to do what with those are going to be subject to the usual array of market forces. And really, that’s what the aforementioned Myrmidons hate. They hate that certain authors who happen to be white, straight, manly males (some of whom aren’t any of those things) continue to earn comfortable livings writing science fiction, and all without their permission or approval. They hate that there are people having fun in unapproved ways, reading unapproved stories by unapproved writers, and generally going on about their unapproved lives, all the while ignoring the shrill screeches from certain quarters.

And somehow, in order to appease their wrath, we as readers are to ignore an entire segment of the market (and an opaque segment, at that. Between pen names and the lack of author photos, it’s impossible to know just what an author looks like, let alone who or what they prefer to sleep with) simply because of an arbitrary set of accidents? I don’t have time or energy for limiting my pool of potential reads, and judging by previous comments from you, gentle readers, neither do you.

Note: I’ll have some new cis, white, straight, kilted, bearded writer’s writin’ for y’all in the near future. Stay tuned for specifics to come.

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The Art of Enticing the Reader

So while I was discussing (read harassing my friends) what to write for today’s post, and the topic of push vs pull came up. My response was, “It’s pull all the way. Our books need to hawk themselves behind the loo block in their stiletto heels and showing way too much leg while saying in a breathy voice “Looking for a good time?””

Then I realized this was much more accurate than I’d originally thought. People tend to prefer to have a good time when they’re not involved with the things they have to do. We’re competing (and also cross-fertilizing – it’s best not to go too far with the extended metaphors and analogy pretzels there) with all the leisure things: futzing around on social media, watching TV, going to movies, playing games, cute cat videos, you name it.

Of course, what any given person considers a good time isn’t going to be quite the same as what the person standing next to them thinks is a good time (slight digression – this can be a handy means of telling whether you’re facing your best friend or their evil double, assuming said double has the smarts to remove the obligatory Evil Double Goatee. Ask them their definition of fun. The real one will give an answer that’s pretty close to what you’d expect your best friend to say – flaws and all. The evil double will either tell the truth and you know they’re the evil double, or they’ll say what they think the right thing to say would be, and you’ll still know they’re the evil double. Anyway…). We’re a remarkably diverse lot, for a species so incredibly genetically uniform that (if I remember right – the stainless steel lint trap of a mind isn’t the world’s most reliable instrument) any two random humans from any two parts of the world are likely to have less difference in their DNA than two kittens from the same litter would have difference in theirs.

This, I think, is the real origin of Rule 34. And the reason writers need to stop thinking push and start thinking pull (and not, unless you’re writing porn, the “push it in and pull it out and wipe it” type of push and pull).

You see, if our species is this diverse in preferences, then damn near anything can find an audience, and a big enough audience to keep the writer fed, clothed, and housed. But the way to find that audience isn’t to go pushing oneself at anyone who looks like they might be a potential reader. That way lies performance anxiety, as it were.

No, the way to find one’s audience is to entice the readers, to seduce them and convince them via a bit of tantalizing display of leg that there’s more goodies over this way, and they really, really want to come and look a little closer.

Now, there are a whole lot of other stories out there, showing their fishnet-encased legs and whispering sweet promises to potential readers, so it’s important that our stories are properly dressed. By which I do not mean corseted and whatnot (unless it’s that type of book, of course). I mean making sure the cover and title signal the type of book it is so the reader who’s looking for big fat fantasy with nancing elves and gruff dwarfs doesn’t chase your space opera and then get horribly disappointed.

Teasing helps, too. I’m sure the more discerning among our readers have noticed that if you conceal the right things it’s much more attractive and intriguing than if you show it all or hide it all. The tease, the little bit of leg seen through a slit skirt (metaphorically speaking), the suggestion of the greater delights to be found within… All of these help to convince a potential reader that your book is the one to open.

Then, of course, you have to hook them fast and keep them reading. Which is a topic for a different post.

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Be the Clapper

So I woke up this morning feeling tired.  Partly this is because I spent yesterday painting walls and waxing floors and things hurt.  Partly it is that I had a rousing battle with my bedclothes.  I don’t even know why.  I just now they were all tangled at my feet, and I had the feeling of having run miles in my sleep.

While I was getting the holy caffeine needed to even read let alone write blog posts, I found myself thinking about why I write.

There are reasons for this.

Recently I had an interview with the Baen podcast people.  It was about the anthology Time and Again As Time Goes By {I mangle titles, even my own or those my own work is in} in which I have a short story “So Little and So Light” which if Prometheus were given for short stories would definitely be in the running.

One of the questions, which I never answered, because the question about how I write sort of answered it, was “did I put a libertarian message in on purpose?”

Well, no, I didn’t.  I was halfway through the story when I realized what the message was.  I was pleased with it, but it hadn’t been my intention to make it libertarian.  It had been my intention to make it a time-travel romance which is what was requested.

This is because my writing is like being chained to a mad man who mutters things I try to translate into making sense.

The other reason is that we — Larry and I, particularly, over the Sad Puppies thing, have talked a lot about message fiction as opposed to fun fiction.

This might give someone the impression that I oppose messages in fiction.  For someone who is a massive Heinlein fan and who wrote A Few Good Men this would seem the height of hypocrisy.

What I oppose is thinking that the message justifies the book, and you need to do nothing else to make the book good.  I oppose the sort of lazy thinking that dictates that if the writer is on “the right side” and saying the “right things” he/she doesn’t need to bother with drawing the reader in or making the experience worthwhile for the reader.

That is a fine accomplishment for the writer of short political pamphlets, but novels and shorts require more.  They require …

They require that the writer be good enough to establish a sort of resonance between himself and the reader.

This can’t be achieved by shouting slogans at the reader, or even by creating people so cliched that the reader can see the wires moving them.  It can’t be achieved by being a good boy and/or girl and putting in what you were taught as “right” in school.

Which brings me to “why I write.”

Even when I was a clumsy writing sprog, when I sent stories out, I often got acceptances after rejections.  I.e. I’d get a rejection and then a week later or a month or once a year, I’d get a note from the editor saying “I thought your story was trite, but I keep thinking about it.  Can I have it?”

And that is why I write.  This effect, which I consciously struggle for, is to make my world so realistic, my characters so alive, that they stay with you as something you lived through, the emotions resonating in you, the thoughts coming back again and again.

It’s not as simple as sloganeering.  The feelings you get from the experience will often not be mine (judging by GOOD reviews that say things I wasn’t aware of putting in.)

But it is the only reason to write: for a moment, my mind becomes a bell that, in resonating, makes yours vibrate.  It’s the closest we people of flesh can come to being in someone else’s mind, in that lonely space behind the eyes.

And that’s why I write and what I struggle towards: to be the clapper on that bell that strikes a note so pure and so brilliant that other minds will pick it up and carry it on.

I’m nowhere near there, but that’s what I work towards — to be the clapper.

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