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Moon Rabbit Breaks Dry Spell

When I read the article today, I could not believe I missed this. I could also not believe the lack of media coverage in general. We’re back on the Moon!

On the 14th December China’s Chang’e 3 lander touched down on the surface of the Moon. This is the first soft landing there since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976 – a 37 year dry spell that followed a previously intense period of space exploration. The recent touchdown follows the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiter missions in 2007 and 2010.

The unmanned Chang’s 3  lander hovered 100m above the surface as it analysed the local features searching for a safe landing spot. Once it was satisfied in its choice of landing pad it throttled down its engine and free-fell to land on its springy legs.

The robotic lander was controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Of course, these days no visit to a celestial neighbour is complete without a robotic rover. A few hours after landing, the Chang’e – named after the Chinese goddess – released its Yutu moon rover. Yutu is named after the pet rabbit the goddess carries with her on her travels. The rover’s wheels were unlocked by the firing of explosive devices, after which the rover unfurled its solar wings and deployed its instrument mast. Twin ramps then inched down to the lunar surface, allowing the rover to roll down them onto the dust.

Yutu is a six-wheeled robot that weighs around 140 kg and has a 10km range. It’s outfitted with navigation and both panoramic cameras and hazard-avoidance cameras fitted to its lower front portion. No reversing cameras though – parking is generally no problem on the Moon.

The solar-powered rover will hibernate through the bitter chill of the Moon’s 14 day night. Once it wakes up it will deploy its nifty Proton X-ray spectrometer, which will be used to examine lunar material, particularly ejecta that will give clues about what lies beneath the lunar surface. The data will also help researchers develop better impact-cratering models.

Yutu is also equipped with ground penetrating radar, which is useful to carrying surveys of the sub-surface up to 100m depth. Variation in the radar wavelength can allow more detailed mapping of the shallower surface areas. Exploration of the deeper areas will be at the trade-off of lower resolution.

I for one am glad the dry spell is over. This is really exciting news.

Was anyone out there following the Chang’e 3 landing?

 PS: Don’t forget to enter The Calvanni Book Giveaway.

The SFWA Biologist’s Lament

I guess I should warn folks here (although it’s probably too late by now) that innocence is a bit like virginity. Once lost, you never get it back.

The same can be said for those who have never experienced the warped delights of filking – putting fannish lyrics to existing tunes. Once you’ve started it, you’re never the same again. I alas, have succumbed to the evil muse and submit – with sincere and abject apologies to Voltaire – the SFWA Biologist’s Lament…

If, as a SFWA writer,
Biology’s your thing
Take a tip from a former fellow
And keep it in your wing.
For as one soul discovered
There’s nothing they like less

Than being fully functional and anatomically correct
Yes, fully functional and anatomically correct.

The presence of a penis must make a man be vile,
Unless he’s got more guilt backed up than a hooker’s had with style.
The women must be stronger than any man could get,
and the characters can’t ever know that their biology don’t fit

So if you’re a SFWA writer, your characters can’t get
to be fully functional and anatomically correct.
Never fully functional and anatomically correct.

Writing Fast While Writing Well

There is a book of that title, written by the person who founded NANOWRIMO.  I read it many years ago, and retain a vague memory it was helpful, tongue in cheek, but not particularly well proofed or edited, which might be one of those things.

I don’t remember the book, though, and it only agreed with my own rules on writing fast and as well as you can on two or three points.  (Taking a lot of showers wasn’t one of them, but I adopted it from them, because, weirdly, it helps.)

Now, when going full tilt I’ve been known to hit 40k words, edited in a day.  I’m not going to suggest people still in full possession of their faculties (or even half their faculties) attempt this.  Look, some of us are less than all there, and our one charming virtue is that we know it.  And at any rate, I couldn’t do it, myself, when I started out.

And that’s where we’re going to go – when I started out, I wrote at the speed most people write.  One short story could take me an entire month, writing and polishing, for a paltry 6k words, sometimes less.

And heck, honestly, Thirst took me almost three months to release into the wild, and while pregnant with second son, the ENTIRE TIME I wrote a single short story (I THINK it was High Stakes.)

Then I took the Oregon Writer’s workshop, and I came back and decided I’d write a short story a weekend.  This in addition to my first novel, which I’d just sold, and which was being written during the week.

Now, you’re going to make some sort of bleating noise (of the sort youngest cat makes when we say we’re going to make him into chat-mein if he doesn’t stop peeing in the front hall) about how, surely, those stories I wrote in months were better than those insane things pounded on a weekend.

Bah.  Thirst was the first (IMHO) publishable short story I wrote, several light years ahead of everything else I had written to date.  I actually typed it in in a crazed 8 hour jag (yes, I type faster than that, but I had just been released from the hospital after giving birth and having a near-lethal uterine infection, and I was high as a kite on morphine.  It’s amazing I hit the keys.)  The problem is I then SPOILED it for over three months, polishing it until it was boiled oatmeal with no taste left to it.  What Kris Rusch calls a Recital piece.  Thank heavens, after the 80th rejection, I took the story out and read it, then read the original.  Then said, “Bah,” (loudly) fixed the typos in the original and sent it out.  It sold.  Unfortunately the magazine was confiscated by the Australian morality police (whatever they call it) though it still got me a year’s best honorable mention in Best Fantasy and Horror.  I sold it eight times after that – the eighth the magazine (Dreams of Decadence) and editor failed to die and it was published.

High Stakes was also publishable, but in the middle of a run of other stories that weren’t.  In fact, since I’ve decided to go indie, I’ve been going over my old cr—oh, pardon me – efforts, and I was a very hit or miss writer (we all have variable quality.  It’s just that at the time, I had 10 REALLY BAD stories for one publishable one) throughout all that “write slow” period and into about six months of one short story a week, when the quality started to pick up, and eventually – eventually – it sort of flipped, so I had ten good stories for one that sucked eggs.  I’d like to say I’m still stuck there, but I’m not.  I’m probably at 7 to 3 because I’m out of practice on short stories.

Anyway, my rate of sales, and my rate of fan letters too, got much better on the fast written stories.  Since then I’ve found, too, that a lot of writers I loved – Rex Stout – wrote that fast or faster.

However, note what I said above – practice might have more to do with quality than how fast you write the story (in fact it does, I know that.)  And writing fast allows you to practice more. — AND you train up to the faster speeds.

 

I’m forever puzzled when I come across my colleagues who write 1k words a month.  Mind you, this last year I’ve been slower, but that’s because so much of it was sick as a dog and too ill to write.  (I seem to be moving away from that, between cutting down some on my blogging obligations and this herbal anti-stress thing I found (No, not pot, even if it’s legal in CO.  I’m deathly allergic to pot, as I found in college-age parties.  My airways close and I either collapse or get the heck out of dodge.)  I could go downstairs and read the composition, but I’m too lazy, but it’s the normal herbal blather, including mint.  I didn’t think it would work, but it seems to.  I FEEL healthy, which is new.  I hope so, because at this point I’m like five novels behind if you count ideas shouting at me.)

 

The difference seems to be that they think it isn’t “proper” to write faster, and if you analyze their work flow, they are spending a lot of time playing computer games, or other distractions.  (Right now a big distraction for me is getting books ready for Create Space. Eh.)

 

So, in no particular order, here is (I hope) how to break out of the turtle pace and write like a hare (or like the tazmanian devil, which is what my husband calls me.)

 

–          Take all games out of your writing computer.  No, I don’t care how disciplined you are.  Take all of them out.  If you can take out internet access too.  At the writing computer, write.  Have other machines for other stuff.  (Your writing computer can be a slow, old thing you got off craigslist, thing.  You’re not going to do anything fancy on it, just treat it as a glorified typewriter.

–          Improve your typing speed if you can – there are games that teach you to type faster.  Try that.  (Just not on the writing computer.)  Part of the reason I write fast is that I type fast.  Also, the faster you type, the less opportunity there is for your conscious to insert itself and start editing.  The less aware you are of what your fingers are doing on the keyboard, the better you can immerse yourself in the dream of this story you’re telling yourself.  In fact, if you can’t figure out how to type fast, or until you can, give Dragon Naturally Speaking a try.

–          Of the various things that make a story good or bad, the least important is the language – yes, you heard me. — In fact, — trust me, I’ve been there – if you’re relying on language for your emotional or story effects, it’s possible that you have nothing else.  Stop that.  Most of the people I know who write agonizingly slow are agonizing in fact over every-precious-word.  Give it up.  Unless you’re a poet, there’s room for error, and at any rate, what you’re doing is writing a story, not composing a prose poem to recite after a heroic dinner.  Look, yeah, sometimes when you’re just typing things in, trying to follow the story in your head, you’re going to make awful word mistakes.  Not just leave for live, which might be my peculiar bête noir, but really bad word choices that break story flow, or pop you out.  BUT the thing is sitting there agonizing about the word isn’t writing – it’s editing.  Suffice onto the day the trouble of the day.  Today you write.  Tomorrow you can come in with your editor’s hat on and polish every word till it shines like a star.

–          While you’re at it, for the love of Bob (Heinlein) do NOT let go of your writing to go and look up exactly what kind of gruel 13th century villagers ate.  Put in some sign you don’t use for anything else, or curly brackets or whatever and {whatever in heck they ate for breakfast} and continue writing.  At the end of the day, when your mind plays out, there’s time enough to go and look up what the heck it was, after you do a search of curly brackets.

–          Minimize your hours of staring at the screen.  I tend to only do it for long periods of time when I’m really tired or sick, but I know people for whom it is an habit.  Don’t do that. If you’ve stared at the screen for an hour, either start up another story (not abandoning the first, but with intention to clear the mind.  Usually the interloper story should be short. I will sometimes take a day and do a short in the middle of a stuck novel.  That allows my subconscious to pass out of the block, and write again.) or go for a walk, or do 100 pushups, or something.  The thing is that your “distraction” activity must be either hard/unpleasant (and when block strikes, cleaning toilets suddenly seems pleasant, so this is a hard thing), or exercise – and limit yourself to an hour in the middle of your writing period – though this does help, particularly if you’re by nature a depressive, or it must be writing of a different kind.

–          This brings us to the next rule: the most important relationship in writing is between you and your keyboard.  Give it some quality time.  Set yourself hard and fast time.  This is your job, treat it as such.  Three hours or four hours or ten hours, whatever it is, respect those boundaries.  (I wrote two novels a year in the days I could only devote two hours a day to writing.)

–          Start slow, but give yourself permission to write as fast as you can.  Rid yourself of the notion that slower is better, and just write.

–          Stop second guessing yourself “should they go to the ship?  Perhaps they should go to the market instead.”  Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, the best kind of writing is one in which you write in a semi-dream in which the story is real.  If it’s real to you it will live for others.  Keep writing. My first three novels, I wrote 1/3 more than ever saw the light of publication.  That was logical, because I didn’t have  a very clear idea of structure.

–          It’s easier to cut/polish/reword once you have the whole thing in front of you.  Trust me.

–          Also, if you’re reasonably “young” in writing, your raw writing – fast enough the editing part of your mind can’t catch you – might be better than the edited one.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, the stuff you do instinctively will be better.  Again, trust me on this.

Oh, and the showers… they do work, as do brisk walks.  I can’t guess why, unless it is because it refreshes you.

Mostly, mostly, the most important thing about writing fast, more important even than increasing your typing speed (I wrote Musketeer’s Apprentice by hand, because I had an infected splinter in my left hand that made typing impossible) is giving yourself permission to write fast.  Do that.  And lock your internal editor in the dungeon of oblivion, promising to let him out when the novel/story/article is done.  Everything else will come.

Inspiration

Yesterday I was in a private chat with Cedar and the evil woman infected me with a plot bunny that won’t go away. This isn’t one of your soft, cuddly little bunnies. Oh no, this one resembles the Killer Bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Worse, it has a very warped sense of humor and has threatened to invade my current works-in-progress if I don’t give it some of my time. I’ve tried talking reasonably with it and all it does is laugh at me. I’ve tried threatening to never let it come to life as a story and it chuckled — a very evil chuckle, mind you. I even threatened to give it to another writer and I swear it rubbed its little plot hands together gleefully. That is when I realized I’d chosen the correct word when I told Cedar she’d “infected” me with the plot. It was an infection, one that writers tend to spread between one another without ever getting relief.

This is the life of a writer. Inspiration hits whenever and wherever it wants. You can be sitting in your car at a red light and see something happening in the car next to you. What is the woman in the rather dowdy clothing and stern hairstyle listening to that has her really jamming in her car? Could she be a closet fan of heavy metal music? Why did the corporate type leave his coffee mug and briefcase on the roof of his car when he pulled out of the driveway and what sort of corporate or personal secrets will be revealed when the briefcase falls off and someone finds it? Is that woman with all those kids in the van with her really a soccer mom or is there something more sinister than a trip to the local ball field happening?

Or maybe I’m the only one who looks at folks and wonders who they are and what they might do in any given situation.

Places also set off the plot monster in my brain. I still have the “novel” I wrote longhand years ago when I visited the then Soviet Union. Part fanfic and part social observation, I was too young to realize that what I was writing could have been taken wrong by our handlers there (I was in college back then and a group of us went with one of our professors on a trip that lasted five weeks, the vast majority of which was spent behind the Iron Curtain). I’ve drawn on what I saw during that trip to help with an alternate history/fantasy novel I’ve been working on for a couple of years.

But I have stored away even more from that trip, memories and observations that will be used for other projects. I’ll never forget the feeling I had one night in Prague when it became clear the Czechs felt betrayed by the US for the events at the end of World War II. Hearing from those who had been there that they could see the American troops camped near one of the towns outside of the capital but having to wait to see who their “liberators” would be sent chills down my back because I knew who would be marching through their cities and towns despite not being the ones to get there first. Without turning this into a political discussion, what happened at Yalta between Roosevelt and the other world leaders has given me a great deal of social, political and personal fodder for my writing.

Walking along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, looking at the palaces and churches and learning to recognize when they were built by their coloring and architecture — and then contrasting that with the sterile, drab and blah of Soviet architecture — I knew there are things that society can do in an attempt to break down the individual. It can be overt and covert, active and passive. But, as I had seen in Prague and Budapest, it doesn’t always work. There was always a group of people who fought back in their own subtle — and not too subtle — ways. Those were the people who interested me. They had a story to tell, one that transcends language and history and cultural background. They can become characters in a mystery or romance or fantasy or science fiction plot.

It was the same when I went to Ireland. Climbing the steps to the Blarney Stone, I wasn’t thinking about the legend behind the stone and why folks try to kiss it. My mind was thinking about how the Irish castles had been built for protection. I remembered the ruins we’d seen in the middle of fields, ruins that may have been hundreds of years old. Walking along the strand, seeing where James Joyce wrote and drew inspiration, hearing the song of the Irish accent and feeling the magic in the air, my imagination went wild. One day I am going to have to go back and “fix” the books I wrote after that trip.

But I don’t have to travel to be hit with ideas, be they plot bunnies or characters or simply plot devices. Last week, we were iced in with one of the worst ice storms we’ve had in a long time. Watching the kids — and their parents — trying to sled down our street brought a smile to my face. But it was seeing the folks who broke out their ice skates and cross-country skis that had my imagination flying. Human ingenuity won out and those folks were able to get to places using implements most of us don’t think about even owning in Texas when they couldn’t use their cars. Seeing the video of mile after mile of semi-trucks stranded on the highways because they couldn’t navigate the icy roads brought home how easy it would be for a metropolitan area to be cut off.

In that scenario, I know the current “big thing” is to go dystopian. That’s been the rage for several years now. But that’s not how my mind works. Yes, things would get grim but just seeing how folks adapted so quickly gave me hope. The story that formed in my mind that day was one of how the human spirit may be bent by circumstances but that it prevailed. Sure there’d be casualties. That’s life. But there would be triumphs too.

Of course, this being Texas, part of that triumph comes from the fact that we’re an ornery group of folks. Independent, gun-loving and not real trusting of the powers-that-be, no matter who they might be. My characters tend to reflect that mindset. Given a set of difficult circumstances, they roll up their sleeves and figure out how to deal with it. If sacrifice is necessary, it is made but there are ramifications even if only on the emotional level. The good guys aren’t completely good and the bad guys, unless they are sociopaths, aren’t all bad. And no matter how carefully you plan for something, there is always the possibility of that cosmic 2 X 4 smacking you in the head to send you down another path.

And the latest 2 X 4 sent at my head was Cedar. I swear, all I’ve been able to think about since our chat yesterday has been the evil plot bunny of death. The only redeeming grace about it is that there is humor in it. There has to be. How else could you write anything about a vegetarian zombie who also happens to need a nice kosher diet? Do you know how hard it is for a self-respecting zombie to find brains that meet the requirements of a vegetarian diet? And then there’s finding a rabbi to certify that the “meal” is kosher.

Help me, I’m being attacked by killer plot bunnies and I can’t escape.

To Draw Out Leviathan

“You should have seen the one that got away.”
I suppose there is an element of this in every writer that is trying to sell his books. The dream of that big one, so big that it will all be worth while. So big you’ll never have to struggle again. And the truth is the way things have been, and the way they probably will be, (at the moment there is a bit of a break-down in the hierarchy, all good IMO) there’s a very asymmetrical distribution of sales. At the bottom, there tens, if not hundreds of thousands sell a few hundred copies (and there are traditionally published authors and proud SFWA members who are as much part of this group as the brave folk venturing onto KDP) and there on up the higher you get the fewer people there are. It’s worse than fishing where 10% of the skippers catch 90% of the fish. 0.1% of the writers catch Leviathan. the rest get by on an anchovy or maybe three. And of course it bears little relationship to the tastes of readers but it did make a lot of sense to to traditional publishing industry, whose costs were both per unit AND fixed per project/book (so if book A sold 1000 copies, and the cost per unit was 1 dollar, and the fixed cost per project -editing, cover, office cost etc 10 000, book A cost 11000 dollars or 11 dollars a copy, And book B sold 100 000 copies, cost per unit $1, fixed cost per project still $10 000 – the cost per copy was a $1.10. So book B was more profitable. And to make it worse, fixed costs such as the interest on the advances paid to book B and the office/staff/promo costs – all of which benefited book B disproportionately – you can see why they would focus on B – were shared equally). So the whole system was geared to produce a few leviathans and very little in the middle.

Of course, because this was not really geared at pleasing readers, and they got increasing to think readers didn’t matter much, marketing was all important, and those stupid proles could read what their publishing lords said was good for them, leviathan, as a proportion of the public who should be able to read and enjoy it kept shrinking. Even the out-and-out leviathans are pretty tiny compared to the population out there.

Now that has, at the moment, been severely disrupted by e-books and Indy. The very very top 0.01% haven’t really been much affected, but the upper echelon of publishing have had their share sliced – even if the new minnows are only taking 10 copies each off them, there are a lot of minnows. It means more books for more tastes, which grows the reader numbers. Of course, a lot of it is pretty badly edited and badly written – but that is not really easy to tell by source. Traditional publishing was all about marketing and the ideological network of right-think, so editing had become hind teat, and entertainment hinder teat, if there at all.

I am of the belief that it’ll shake down somewhat in the next 10 years or so, with many authors giving it a go and finding that the rewards are miniscule, and the work hard, and, really, it’s not quite as easy as it looks. Yes they write as well as traditionally published former bestseller Polly T Korrek, but she’s also unemployed now, her publisher bust, and she’s also writing Indy which she sneered at, and not selling much. More ways of finding authors will come up – there has to be something better than Goodreads for grouping reader tastes and matching them to writers (which is the big flaw right now. For instance an Urban cubicle IT person is quite common, and will probably like an author/type. There a lot of these folk so they give a weight to that type of book. It has little appeal to me, but while people of my background and taste are still common enough – plenty to support a writer, we do not aggregate in large numbers, communicate with each other, and we have no idea what the others are reading.). And authors with strong online presence and loud personalities (not me) will flourish too.

So – interesting times ahead. What do you see as the trends going forward, and how best to make yourself able to hook the big one?

This Writer is Full of Iniquity

She’s also full up on stuff to do that can’t be put off this morning (no, trust me, truly. It’s family stuff.) And after that she’ll be writing like a demon on Through Fire which MUST be done by Wednesday, rain, shine or small sharknadoes.  Which means I don’t have a mind to give to our noir elf epic.  sorry!  It will resume in a week or two, when these novels are finished.

To amuse you, though, here is a “a blast from the past” writing post from my own blog According To Hoyt, this one published on April 14th 2011.  G-d only knows (well, I don’t) why I gave it the title I did.

It’s Fatal But Not Serious

So, I keep telling you guys you need to get someone other than your mom, your boyfriend (particularly you straight guys, who would have to get a boyfriend, and think how inconvenient that would be) or your cat to give you an opinion on your writing.

The reason for this is obvious – chances are not only that the people close to you won’t want to hurt you (unless they’re mean mommies like me, who fling their eleven year-old’s attempt at a story in the kid’s face and say “That’s not a story. Stop fooling around unless you mean to write a story. Here are some books you should read.”) but also that even if they wanted to give you honest critique they wouldn’t be able to. Part of it is that you’ve probably talked the ear of the people close to you off about the novel. (Yeah, I always tell the kid not to talk it, too. But everyone does.) This means they’re reading into it things that are only in your head, and now in theirs. And part of it is that they’re not writers themselves and have no idea of the type of critique you need.

Heck, a lot of you out there, I would bet, have no clue what kind of critique you need. This is part of the reason a writers group is better than just an assemblage of first line readers because you can’t help but stumble towards the right type of critique. On the other hand, I’m the first to know for a fact a writers group (which if you want me to I’ll talk about more/again in next post) is not always possible and if possible it’s not always the writers group you need. It’s hard to find that many loon– er… writers in your area who are as dedicated as you are and with whom you can work in some sort of harmony. This before you bring in the mismatched levels the writers might be at. And long distance groups don’t seem to have the same chemistry. They just don’t.

So, sooner or later – even if later, in my case – you need to round up and train first readers. (Note “train” not “shoot” though you might be tempted to to begin with.)

This is a trick in itself, though once you’re published people will volunteer to first read at astonishing rates, and then you can afford to toss out those who don’t work out right. Or to save them for the type of stories they do well with.

Most first readers start by giving you the type of critiques that are fatal but not serious. Fatal because if you’re beat enough with them you might doubt your basic competence and toss something that could be very easily “fixed” into a brilliant masterpiece.

What do I mean by this. Well… take the friend who once told me that a book was horrible, terrible, sucked and then when I asked him in what way started giving me a list of missed commas and typos. (And we’re talking maybe one per chapter, okay, not one per line.) Fortunately I was far enough along as a writer to laugh at this. But then this made him upset… He meant well, he really thought that was what he was supposed to be doing.

In fact this is what 99% of people think when they first read something for you. They think they’re supposed to typo-hunt. Slightly more sophisticated ones will try to grammar-hunt, or might tell you where you changed the character’s eye color on page 35.

Is this useless? Well, no. It can be fatal – there’s another friend who once told me that all my verbs were weak and cost me six months of writing. Why? Because there were no examples, and he didn’t have anything concrete to point to. So every time I was about to write a verb, I flinched – and it’s not serious, but it’s not useless, either. (It turned out he was generalizing impressions, which is something else that beginning beta-readers do. I did have a few weak verbs in the story, but not nearly al of them. But I had to get to the point of seeing which verbs were weak and analyzing the text myself before I could write again.) Yeah, if you’re published and under contract, you’re going to get a proof reader/copy editor, but trust me, they don’t catch everything.

HOWEVER, this is not why you need first readers. If this were the main point then English teachers would have lucrative side businesses reading hopeful writers’ books.

What you want from your first readers – what will make a difference in your getting accepted and where – is something totally different.

Here are some questions you can use when you send a book out to them, so they get their heads in the right place:

1 – Is there any place where you lost interest and almost put the book down? Are there other places where you’d have put it down if you weren’t doing this for me?

2 – If this were a book by someone you never heard of, where would you have stopped reading?

3- Was there any scene/action/plot point that threw you out?

4 – What is your general impression of the book?

5- If you have any typos/grammar/inconsistencies, would you mark them. I’ll just find them in the text. (This avoids people concentrating on them so they start reading you a list and think “it’s full of typos.)

After the critique comes in, there are some other questions you should ask:

6 – How do you feel about character A? X? Y? (This is to test they come across as you want them to, of course.)

7 – Did scene X? Y? Z? Scare you/make you laugh/make you wonder…

8- Did you see the plot twist coming. If so, how far back? (And don’t get necessarily discouraged by this? I always see these coming way back. Some readers do.)

Oh, and when you have the answers, run them through what I call a reality check. Some people ALWAYS think a book is funny. Some of them are going to tell you it’s scary because you mentioned the word zombie, once, even if it was just “when he woke up in the morning he acted like a zombie till he had coffee.” Some people are going to think any book without explicit sex is boring, and some people will like any book that has gore in it. So, be aware your readers are people, not interchangeable robots, and take who they are in account in what they say.

And now, go forth and hunt opinions.

Not For Mixed Company

‘Not fit for mixed company’, my friend commented, and then stopped and thought about what he had just said to me. For one thing, he knows full well I have heard it all, and for another, what does that mean, anymore? In our modern, fast culture, where kids are both held back and over-coddled, they are also pushed hard to grow up too fast, with adults saying things around them that would have a Victorian Matron at least pretending to blush. It got us thinking about the language, and how sayings that once meant something are now either wholly different, or have meanings lost in the mists of time.

I’m shacking up with him, he pointed out, which would make me his shack job, a pejorative I had never heard before, and which I don’t care for now that I have. He laughed and said, “come here and give me some sugar.” That led to a discussion about other phrases for affection, like smooching, which has been replaced in the younger set by the Harry Potter inspired snogging, which just evokes runny noses to me. The old word necking confused me as a younger girl, as it seemed like an awkward way to do things, but adults were weird, anyway! And as I read old-fashioned books like my parent’s Western novels, then grew into reading more modern ones, I was startled to find that making love meant far different things as time went on.

When did it change? I’m not really sure… but I do know that in the 1822 New Monthly Magazine, making love was not a reference to sex. “He understands the art and mystery of his own profession, which is book-making: what right has anyone to expect or require him to do more – to make a bow gracefully on entering or leaving a room, to make love charmingly, or to make a fortune at all?” Looking at the Google Ngram, the use of the word is sparing until just following 1950, when it shoots up along with the rise of sexuality as the advent of the birth control pill changed everything.

There are a plethora of expressions that made it into our vernacular, like ‘Here be dragons,’ ‘the cut of his jib,’ ‘three sheets to the wind,’ some of which you will still see used, even though very few people know what they mean any longer. The day when any travel involved sails, rope, wind and water has passed, but remains with us in the times we say the words. ‘Here be dragons’ was a phrase coined by a novelist, almost certainly, possibly Dorothy Sayers, one of my favorite liars writers, who has a character see “hic dracones’ on the edge of a map.

‘Hoist on his own petard,’ which I erroneously thought was a reference to pirate ships, when I thought about it at all, is actually a reference to blowing oneself up with a weapon you intended for another, using the phrase finder, “ A petard is, or rather was, as they have long since fallen out of use, a small engine of war used to blow breaches in gates or walls.” How many of our favorite sayings are fictional, really? ‘Sword of Damocles’ is a phrase invented possibly by Cicero, although he attributed it to an earlier writer, Timaeus (contributed by Bethany MacLean).

When I asked around for other phrases, Mike Kabongo contributed ‘don’t touch that dial’ which I instantly heard in a 1950s radio announcer voice, but I am odd enough to have enjoyed listening to those old shows on tape. Which is another thing our youth might have trouble remembering, if not now, certainly in another ten years. I know 8-tracks are already faded from the world.

Dating: when it was just exploration and innocence… when was that? Well, running a whole string of related words and phrases through the google ngram tool yielded some interesting results. Words used: involved with, dating, engagement, going steady, going out, courting, pitching woo, bundling, take out. While the word and essence has remained the same, the point of dating moved at some point from ‘getting to know you’ to ‘getting in your pants’ and that could be said of either sex.

One phrase that has adapted to changing times is “Don’t get your knickers in a twist,’ which seems refreshingly old-fashioned when compared to the modern, and bluntly graphic, ‘don’t get your panties in a bunch.’ This article had a very funny take on the term, plus chocolate bars…

Returning to outmoded forms of travel (thank you Susie Laurent Pierce) we find ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,’ the first seems obvious, but today’s cultured people might not know that to guess (very accurately, if you know what you are doing) a horse’s age and thereby, it’s value, you must take a look in his mouth. If the teeth are all worn down, he is very old, worthless, and you shouldn’t pay too much. If someone is giving you one… well, keep in mind you’ll need a backhoe and the proverbial 40 acres to dispose of the body! ‘The horse you rode in on’ (hat tip to Morgen Kirby) which is usually prefaced by a vulgarity, seems to have originated in the 1950s, according to this.

Back at the beginning of this rambling essay, I was begging the question from you, asking you to accept what I was saying.. that our language shifts. Confused? Lars Walker pointed out that we use ‘begging the question’ in the opposite of it’s original intent most of the time. Princeton University points out, “More specifically, petitio principii refers to arguing for a conclusion that has already been assumed in the premise, in effect “begging” the listener to accept the “question” (proposition) before the labor of logic is undertaken.” And now I will beg another indulgence from you all, in spite of the rambling nature of this post… would you like to see more? I have been supplied through the efforts of friends and acquaintances with far more phrases than I could put into this post, and I am now thinking I could do a series, perhaps one a month or so, featuring outdated, misunderstood, or just plain funny idioms.

Have Yourself A Mad Little Christmas…

Have Yourself A Mad Little Christmas!

Have Yourself A Mad Little Christmas!

Have you considered buying mad for the holidays?  Now, we don’t mean spending mad money – I mean who has that these days? – but if you have enjoyed this blog, and the tips and mini workshops, you might wish to reward the mad ones by putting a little money in our pockets.  I mean, we writers are insubstantial creatures of thought and imagination and… no, wait, we’re not, and we need to eat.  Also, you wouldn’t believe the wear and tear on the straight jackets, around here.

We don’t have a tip jar up, but we make our living from writing — and if you want to make us happy, you’ll throw a few shekels our way.  We are d*mn good value in entertainment too.  So, below, there’s a list of books you might want to buy.

Say your fancy lightly turns to light fantasy.  Okay, I lie, my (Sarah’s) first books are about as light as that fruitcake that your aunt Minnie used to make, all soaked in rum and stuff.  Yeah, that one.  With that, Jerry Pournelle once said they were the most charming of the Hoyt body of work, so who knows, it might be up your alley.


Ill Met By Moonlight

When Will Shakespeare comes over to find his new wife and his just-born daughter missing, little does he know that it will plunge him into an adventure involving the Byzantine intrigues of the descendants of Titania and Oberon or that it will change his life forever.

“Will stopped at the entrance to the garden, his hand on the rickety wooden gate.  A feeling of doom came over him like the presage of some evil thing. ”

On the other hand, let’s say that what you want is … more… Noir Fantasy.  You could do worse than

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down… Pixie Noir
Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…
“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”
Okay, still not right?  you want something FUNNY?  Well, you can’t go wrong with Kate Paulk’s Con series, the first one being ConVent (because it is a vent about cons.)
A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any conventional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.
ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.
You prefer something more… solid?  Well, you can try Amanda Green’s fantasy/police procedural:
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again. Still not happy?  How about Kate Paulk’s POINTED historical fantasy?

Impaler by Kate Paulk revisits the tale of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. This is the tale of historical fact mixed with fiction and a touch of fantasy. But this is most definitely not the tired tale of vampires skulking in the night, lying in wait for innocent victims. Impaler tells the tale of a man devoted to family and country, cursed and looking for redemption.
December, 1476. The only man feared by the all-conquering Ottoman Sultan battles to reclaim his throne. If he falls all of Europe lies open to the Ottoman armies. If he succeeds…
His army is outnumbered and outclassed, his country is tiny, and he is haunted by a terrible curse. But Vlad Draculea will risk everything on one almost impossible chance to free his people from the hated Ottoman Empire.
Or how about a bit of mystery, a bit of humor, an urban fantasy as it should be done:
A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.
Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: in this case tracing the Vampire bride’s absconded or kidnapped groom.
The groom should have been a troll by the name of Billy Gruff, the manager and owner of the Ricketty-Racketty Club – a topless bar and nightclub. Bolg finds himself, and his client embroiled in murder, extortion and a Celtic wizard. The latter is supposedly helping him, but wizard’s help is not always what it you think it will be.
No?  Science Fiction, then?
Across the one human colony world, a place technologically regressed to near medieval, possibly the last place humans still survive, a desperate search continues. Scattered across the deserts, tangled jungles, and alien fortresses, lie the core sections of the matter transmitter.
These sections hold the key to vast wealth, power, or… the fulfilment of the colony’s purpose: to help humankind survive the rabidly xenophobic alien Morkth who will tolerate no other intelligent species. The Morkth managed to follow the colony ship, and, despite their mothership being shot down and their queen being killed, they continue their relentless struggle to destroy humankind… and to reconstruct that incredibly valuable matter transmitter. If they succeed, they’ll be able to return to the hive with the location of the colony of vile humans, and have a new world to occupy. If they fail, they’ll destroy the planet.
The search has gone on for centuries, and it is all reaching an end point. The future hangs in the balance.
The Morkth have lasers, aircraft, nukes. Those who want the core sections for their own ends… have vast armies. Against them are three unlikely reluctant heroes: A street child thief, a dispossessed spoiled brat of a princess, and a confused, amoral Morkth-raised human, armed only with 14th century weapons and their own wits.
It’s a lost cause, a forlorn hope.
But it’s all humans have.
But say your taste runs more to… more conventional Urban Fantasy.  You might want to give Ellie Ferguson’s (Mad Friend) Hunted just a try.
Hunted
When Meg Finley’s parents died, the authorities classified it as a double suicide. Alone, hurting and suddenly the object of the clan’s alpha’s desire, her life was a nightmare. He didn’t care that she was grieving any more than he cared that she was only fifteen. So she’d run and she’d been running ever since. But now, years later, her luck’s run out. The alpha’s trackers have found her and they’re under orders to bring her back, no matter what.

Without warning, Meg finds herself in a game of cat and mouse with the trackers in a downtown Dallas parking garage. She’s learned a lot over the years but, without help, it might not be enough to escape a fate she knows will be worse than death. What she didn’t expect was that help would come from the local clan leader. But would he turn out to be her savior or something else, something much more dangerous?

“They were there.  I knew it as soon as I stepped outside.  Despite all the precautions I’d taken, despite all the times I’d moved and left no forwarding address, they’d found me– again.”
Oh, you’re not into fantastical literature?  (As opposed to fantastic literature)
Then perhaps you want to consider Sarah Hoyt’s Musketeer Mysteries, now being reprinted/re-released by Goldport Press, with the promise that the Sixth book will FINALLY be written and released?
Death of A Musketeer
When Athos, Porthos, Aramis and their new friend D’Artagnan find the body of a woman who looks exactly like the Queen of France, they can hardly ignore it.  But solving the murder will plunge them into a maelstrom of intrigue that will rock the crowns of two countries, and bring very personal danger into their lives.
And finally, if you’re looking for something YA, it might be time to consider Cedar’s
12-year-old Linnea Vulkane is looking forward to a long, lazy summer on Grandpa Heph’s farm, watching newborn kittens grow up and helping out with chores. That all goes out the window the night Mars, god of war, demands her grandfather abandon her and return to Olympus for the brewing war.
Now Old Vulcan is racing around the world and across higher planes with Sehkmet to gather allies, leaving Linn and an old immortal friend to protect the farm and the very special litter. But even the best wards won’t last forever, and when the farm goes up in flames, she is on the run with a daypack, a strange horse, a sword, and an armful of kittens. Linn needs to grow up fast and master her powers, before the war finds the unlikely refugees…

Alien Abduction

Hi, everyone. I’ve been abducted by those pesky aliens again. I have to sign off this old computer terminal before they come back to the holding area.

In the mean time – please feel free post to the open floor.

apologies – I should be back on Earth next week:)

 

PS: Don’t forget to enter the Calvanni giveaway.

The Not-So-Anti-Rape Feminist Glittery Hoo-Haas

So I’m looking for something to rant about this week, and what should I find on Facebook? Why, nothing other than a call for all conventions to have harassment policies.

Now, I’ll freely admit that if I want to harass someone, I don’t need a policy to do it. Nor will an anti-harassment policy stop me. Leaving that aside, the evidence being used by the special snowflake making the call was this incident (http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/12/07/aki-con-cosplayer-assaulted/).

By the time I’d finished the article I was ready to rant at nuclear levels.

Let’s start with the first and most obvious failure here. Drugging someone and raping them is not harassment. It is assault, deprivation of liberty, a boatload of other crimes depending on just how pissy the local police department gets, and first and foremost, it is rape.

Thank you so much Ms Special Snowflake for your ever-so-sexist conflation of rape and harassment and your backhanded dismissal of the suffering of every rape survivor ever. This kind of bullshit is part of why people resent the anti-harassment campaigns and make jokes about it.

Sensible humans – even madwomen like me – recognize that there is a difference between harassment, “he looked at me funny”, and rape. The three fall into completely different categories and the attempts to make harassment seem worse by conflating it with rape only make things worse for rape survivors – and easier for rapists. Way to go, Feminist Glittery Hoo Haas. Somehow I don’t think making it easier for rapists was part of your game plan, but guess what? You don’t show enough intelligence to realize your insane campaigns do this.

Which, of course, is why I see links to stories about the assault and rape being used to support the needs for conventions to have a harassment policy.

No. In this case what the convention needed was someone with a few functioning brain cells. I can accept hiring a convicted sex offender if there was evidence that person had reformed or the offense was one of those stupid “They call that a sexual offense?” things (like peeing in public – I’ve been caught badly short in places where there weren’t any public toilets to be found. It’s hell. I don’t blame a guy in that situation for pointing it at a wall and letting fly. Any jurisdiction that labels this as a “sexual crime” needs to be mocked without mercy – and I know there are some that do), or there was reasonable cause to doubt the offense was an actual offense (one of those “he said, she said” things, in other words).

In this case, there was no evidence of any of those three conditions. Rather the contrary in fact – so if the con committee wasn’t prepared to un-hire the person, they certainly should have made sure he had a minder for the duration of the convention. It’s not that unusual to do that for a special guest anyway, just not to keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t do anything out of line.

Having received the complaint, the con committee should have acted on it. Would they have ignored a complaint of someone being assaulted and having the stuffing beaten out of them? Likely not. A complaint of someone stealing? Likely not. That makes this a multi-level fail on the part of the committee members – all of whom are likely congratulating themselves for their highly sensitive handling of the issue by quietly round-filing it. Because groupthink and the desire not to make trouble will totally do that.

All of that aside, there is absolutely zero excuse to use this incident to call for harassment policies. If anything that’s an even bigger fail than the con committee’s actions enabling and assisting the rapist because it effectively downgrades the rape to “harassment”. I know what harassment looks like. Rape ain’t it.

Harassment policies would not have stopped a damn thing here. There was no harassment. There was a young woman (or girl, depending on where you want to draw the woman/girl line) partying and having fun until she passed out and woke up in the rapist’s hotel room. There was a man who was making passes at young women, but not to the level of harassment if the article is to be believed.

Hell, there weren’t even any complaints of “he looked at me funny”, which for a con is bloody unbelievable (although it’s possible those complaints never got to the committee, given its stellar performance at this convention).

Let’s get this right, people. If it’s a spade, call it a spade. If it’s a fucking shovel, call it a fucking shovel. But don’t call your garden trowel a fucking shovel and your spade a fucking shovel. Not only do you cheapen the language, you make it impossible for anyone to recognize the fucking shovel when they need to.