Category Archives: CEDAR SANDERSON

Cedar Sanderson.

But it’s Been Done

I came across a discussion on social media recently, where a friend and promising young author was talking about a story idea he was working on. In the conversation, another person came along and said “oh, that’s been done already.” My friend was deflated and discouraged, but immediately fired back up, angry for this human raincloud having come along to drip on his parade. Which was good, because Joseph Capdepon is a name you’ll see on book covers soon and they will be worth reading (I have had the privilege of beta reading some of his work).

Here’s what Joe said about it (the man has a gift with words):

 trying his best to push someone away from writing a story because someone already used the tropes I will be using.

Reading his comment still pisses me off, especially coming from him.

You want to piss off, or at times, seriously crush the will of a writer? Tell them someone else wrote what they are writing. Because when I am brain storming an idea, what I really want to hear is how another author has already written my story, thus inferring that I shouldn’t write it.

Well, you can go fuck yourself, because I’m still writing it.

But my comment on the thread, and then the genesis of this post, was:

Write it. Write it better. 

It doesn’t matter if ‘it’s been done’ because there is nothing new under the sun, and that isn’t intended to be a depressing blanket statement of ‘why should I try, anyway?’ Every author brings their own voice to a story, weaves their own elements in that make that story new and unique and good to read. Yes, even if it has been done before. If you ever take part in a conversation like that and are seized with the impulse to say something like ‘it’s been done’ bite your tongue! Young writers need encouragement, not to be discouraged from writing out the stories in their heads. My daughters talk to me sometimes about fanfiction, and that’s sort of the epitome of ‘it’s been done’ but still I don’t tell them to stop reading it, or the one that attempts to write it – heck, I encourage her to write. She’s got fans of her bits of tale, and it’s not nice to leave fans hanging for the next chapter forever.

I digress. I see this a lot in reviews – or just in casual comments about my books (and others, but my own carry that personal little sting) that ‘oh, this is just like…’ and you’re sitting there thinking ‘but I’ve never even read/watched/played that!’ And that happens because there are common tropes and themes to any fiction that parallel human character and history and other influences. But the reviewers and discussions are not (usually) meant to disparage the book, it’s just that being human, they look for patterns and points of comparison. Humans aren’t always the fans of originality they say they are. The readers like (I know I do!) what they like, and they enjoy seeing certain themes in books. Like the bad guys losing, and the hero getting the girl, and… you catch my drift.

While I was looking up something for the Arthur Clarke article I wrote yesterday, I ran across an WH Auden quote that suited this topic beautifully. I memed (meemed? Memify’d? mememememe…. ok. enough of that) it so it could be shared. Because this is something I want all writers to keep in mind.

In short (and it is short, sorry. I’m dealing with something that feels like the flu, although hopefully isn’t. It’s just annoying) write what you want to write. Infuse it with your own voice, bring it to life, and remember – plots are like empty suits of clothing. They may delineate the form, but it’s what’s inside that brings the full thing into the world.

Or maybe that’s just the fever talking. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Your authorial voice is yours, and you shouldn’t change it for anyone. If you want to tell a story, write it. Make it your own. It will be better for that.




Science Fiction in our Genes

I wrote earlier this week about science fiction, adaptation, and the human species over on my blog. in a nutshell, I’d written earlier about genes and how animals raised in captivity adapt to being in close quarters so quickly that it’s not really a viable option to raise an endangered population up to replace wild populations that are in danger of extinction. So what does this have to do with humans? Well, the conversation went something like ‘people who like to live in cities are weird’ (I’m shortening and paraphrasing) during a discussion about the coasts of the US, and how they have a tendency to vote a certain way. But, if you think about it, and I do, urbaniztion of a population does indeed do things to it. Similar things, I think, to the effects felt on a captive population of, say, butterflies. The butterflies get smaller wings, heavier bodies, and the ability to lay more eggs. So in effect they are going to do well in a cage where they can’t fly far, and would be easy prey for predators if they were put out of their nice safe cage.

Scientists are studying the effect that urban areas (generally defined as >300,000 people) have on plant and animal species. It’s no real stretch to imagine that living in a metroplex would affect humans as well, especially the poorer, less mobile parts of the population. And this is without even moving into the realm of science fiction. These studies have seen the effects of adaptation in as little as two generations – in my original article I was working off the premise that large effects of  captivity were seen in Drosophila in eight generations: in human terms, 150 years. But two? A mere 30-40 years? (yes, thirty. Look at average primapara age for the inner-city populations).

All this is native to our design for adaptation and evolution of the genome, the in-built system to keep a species thriving in changing environments. If you don’t adapt quickly, you die – which was a larger part of what led to the passenger pigeon extinction than human predation on that species. Now, how about human tinkering with our own genes? We can do it – we’ve known that for a while, gentle readers. But a new paper on Crispr tells the tale of genes switched on inside an adult allowing that model organism (a mouse, in this case) to express genes they had been unable to do before, which led to the self-treatment of diabetes, kidney disease, and muscular dystrophy. This is exciting on so many levels, one of which is that this was done without having to completely break the DNA (a double-strand break) which means that the inadvertent introduction of mutations is not a concern.

Now, leap off this mudball and into the realm of science fiction. We see that if we do not maintain genetic diversity and gene flow between populations, we risk extinction. The ability to quickly adapt and overcome has long been a human realm. But what, as our populations grow larger and our urban areas soak up the majority of the humans on this planet, will happen to that diversity? What if we became like the passenger pigeon, and when sudden catastrophe came (a pandemic, an alien invasion, what-have-you) we were unable to adapt? The answer lies in the stars. But to get there, we’re going to have to adapt again and again, and our populations, like the urban rats of New York, will evolve and differentiate. Not enough to become separate species, unless we really start tinkering with Crispr… although as writers and speculators, we know that’s going to happen, don’t we? Humans will experiment, and they will experiment on themselves. I mean, it’s only a matter of a few years since the theorist about Heliobacter pylori decided to prove his hypothesis by drinking a beaker of that pathogen and giving himself ulcers. And another one ingested internal parasites on purpose to prove that they would put his autoimmune disease into remission. We’re crazy, we humans.

Which means that to write science fiction we have to think crazy, like a fox. To imagine the weirdest thing we can, and then take it a step weirder. There’s a whole field of stories that suddenly seems prophetic as we begin to truly understand the tools we have now, and the reality of epigenetics. Lamarck, who proposed the giraffe’s neck had become so long because it was necessary to reach the higher leaves (the ones out of reach of the eland and the gnu, which makes me think of Kipling’s stories), was laughed out of science when Darwin’s theory was all the rage, but in the long run it turns out that he was more right – and our genes more complex – than scientists at the time could possibly have imagined. Now, keep in mind that although we are now able to manipulate our own genome, and we have begun to grasp that natural selection is not always the random pattern once theorized with the epigenetic understanding that we are shaped by our ancestral diet and environment, we still do not fully understand what genes do.  there are a few genes we can point out and say x does y. However, the vast number of them interact in complex and mysterious ways. We can’t just say, snip that gene out and cure cancer! because that’s not how it works.

Which means that in terms of story and speculation, we have worlds of room to draw conclusions and create plots that could be possible, or utterly wrong, but it’s so much fun to take the bleeding edge of science and play it out into what might be. What’s next?



Success Breeds Success

It seems like a trite observation, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of truth to it, as there is with so many sayings we dismiss as ‘trite’ or ‘overused’ or ‘cliche.’ Think about it both in terms of storytelling as a writer, and in terms of business as a writer.

Remember Dumbo’s magic feather? There are a lot of things you can say about Disney, but one thing you can’t say negative – the man knew how to tell a story. That ‘magic’ feather gave the baby elephant the first successful flight, but once he had that success firmly grasped, he discovered he could succeed over and over without the ‘magical’ assistance. I know I’ve seen this same trope used in other stories, and we accept it to some extent, and why?

Because we know it works. Look, I used to get myself motivated on days when I didn’t just have a to-do list, I had a list of my lists. That gets daunting, fast, especially when some of those action items are small, wriggly, and fuss when they don’t get fed (and oh, by the way, feeding station is attached to me). Challenging, and there were days I felt like I just. Couldn’t. Even. So I’d play a game with myself. I’d pick something to lead off the list that I knew I could do. Even on the worst of days, I could do this one thing. Because I knew that if I did that one thing, I could do another, and another, and I wouldn’t go to bed at night feeling like I’d gotten absolutely nothing done that day. I knew from painful experience that waking up feeling like I was worthless and useless would only send me further and further down the rabbit-hole.

Reality is that we’re not always going to succeed. However, if we can succeed in a little thing, we can persist and build that into a big success. If we’re writing a space opera, the kid that succeeds in scraping a job on the spaceship, even as a cabin boy, can build that success to becoming captain, and then admiral, and then Master of the Universe!!! Muahahah… ahem.

You see how you can use a small success to build a story. It’s sort of the opposite of the try-fail sequence. Someone who is so low and broken, they can’t even afford a lime slurpee, how are they going to become the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess (sorry, Sarah, I couldn’t resist)? By succeeding in something. Maybe that first one is rehabilitating the Grand Dark Duke’s orphaned kitten with the broken leg. It takes a lot of work to hand-feed a kitten, I’ll have you know, and keeping one still with a broken leg? Wow… might seem silly, but you can play that for laughs and show the character’s determination and ability to persevere in the face of the near-impossible.

How about you as a writer? I know a lot of people who want to be a writer, and they have reams and reams of half-finished stories. So for them, that first success is going to look like finishing something. Even a piece of flash fiction. I started out thinking I couldn’t possibly write more than 5K words. Just couldn’t do it. Now? I know I can do that, and I can wrap up a 300K+ word trilogy with fans asking more, more? That’s a boost to my authorial ego, and it’s one I can use to build into another successful book finished. I started that out by finishing just one story. Getting just one story (a tiny one, only about 600 words long) published. Finding out I could succeed as an Indie author/publisher.

So how do you start succeeding? As an author, you can start writing every day – or at least on a schedule. Right now, with my full-time job taking a lot of my time and energy, I’ve been surprised to discover I can fit in writing time on the weekdays, but the weekend? Forgetaboutit. That’s family time and I just can’t pry loose the time and mental energy to put words on the screen (at least, not fiction). So pick what works with your schedule, if that’s every day, 5 days a week, 3 days… I wouldn’t go with less than three days. Treat it like exercise. Schedule it, and do it. Set small goals at first. If you fail, you’ll find it that much harder to succeed: but be persistent. Just like your hero has to face-plant a few times before you let him win, you’re going to go through the same cycle.

Once you have gotten that daily writing habit, work on finishing something. A story, then a novel – it’s a snowball that will eventually get out of your control, and then you start on other snowballs. Like publishing, and marketing, and so on and so forth. In time, if we follow that snowball’s trail, we’re finding you the Queen of Ice Fort reigning supreme over your snowy castle. Which is a successful independent publishing house, with residual income from backlist, and side-income of associate ads, and other stuff. Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t expect this to make me into a millionaire. I do expect it to be a profitable hobby until I’m ready to retire (again) and make it even more successful. Trust me, if I can do this, you can, too. I think I don’t need to get into my background again, but I will if I have to *waves fist* don’t say you can’t! I know better. You can. And if you can do the little thing, you can step up on it and do the bigger things.




Watching Anime: A Study in Story

This holiday I managed to find myself with one kid at home. Two of my daughters are up at college – one in her dorm, the other visiting – one is with her grandmothers, and my son is at home. He’s blissfully pretending that he’s an only kid for four days, and for the baby, that’s a big deal. One of the things he asked me to do with him was binge-watch a movie series, which we eventually bargained down to an anime series, because I refuse to admit there are more than three Star Wars movies, and he prefers the newer ones to the one I know and love. So he went through the various anime that are on Netflix, asking me what genre I like, and when I pointed out I will not watch a chick-flick (his words, not mine!) and he’s not allowed to watch an MA rated one, we wound up settling on one that is sort of fantasy but the situation is precipitated in a science fiction way.

Silica, Kirito, Asuna, and Liz

I’ve been finding it… interesting. I’m very aware that the story is targeted more at my 12-yo son than it is at the 40-yo me, much less the me that is also a professional teller of tales. I’m still trying to convince my son that he doesn’t need to pause the show every so often and explain the plotline to me. I don’t know if he thinks I can’t follow it because anime, or if he just wants to show off that he knows it. The storytelling is very broad, which makes sense. You have a whole over-arching story plot, but in each twenty-minute episode there’s a sub-plot. I’m very much not a film geek, so I’m finding it a good exercise in study. The tropes are certainly tropey, and even though it is ostensibly a Japanese anime that has been redubbed in English, there are a lot of American or at very least Western tropes, like Santa Claus appearing in one episode (called Nicholas the Renegade, which amused me a lot and I liked the concept of that). The dubbing is amusing- you have a variety of options, to turn on the audio in Japanese, or English, to turn on closed captions in either of those languages, and most of yesterday we had it on in English with English subtitles running, and I noted that often the dialogue in print was not the same dialogue spoken. Curiously, this actually makes a difference. For instance, there’s a scene where the female character tells the male ‘I think I’m falling in love with you’ out loud in English, but the subtitle reads ‘I like you.’ Translation is tricky, culture is more so, the English dialogue is often much more detailed than the direct translation, like they think we need a bit more words to get the message without the tone of the spoken words in Japanese.

I’m going to bet a bit spoilery, but I don’t think any of my readers will mind. However, if you plan to watch Sword Art Online and haven’t yet you might want to stop reading now. The pilot opens with a long intro bit about this super-popular MMO game that is a virtual reality, and we see a montage of people waiting in line to buy it, and one guy (kid? hard to tell with anime art how old) who was a beta tester alreay going into the game. The game is, as the name implies, centered around the art of the sword. But once these new excited players are in the game, they figure out there is no way to log out, and then the player characters are all told that the game designer booby-trapped the VR helmets so they can’t leave the game, if someone takes off the headset it will microwave their brain and kill them. If they die in the game the headset will microwave their brain and kill them. The only way out is to clear the game.

I have so many questions at this point: how do they know this guy is on the level? If a player leaves the game, there’s no way to know if he’s dead or alive IRL, it could just all be a mindgame. And how is the player’s body being kept alive IRL? How are they going to cope if, after months (yes, the shows I’ve seen so far imply months if not years passing) of becoming a super-swordsman they win the game and come back to a body that has no muscle mass and must re-learn how to walk? Anyway…. this is what suspension of disbelief is for, right? I’ve hung mine pretty high and occasionally hit it with a cudgel to keep it quiet so my son can enjoy watching TV with mom, a rare treat for him.

And the show has it’s moments, don’t get me wrong. The mini-romances are handled sweetly and very lightly, as befitting a juvenile show. The scene I referenced earlier led to a lot of blushing but nothing more. The violence, such as it is, is very computer-graphics and looks like something out of a computer game. There was one scene my son felt he needed to warn me about where a character is shown in bra and panties – you know the bikini sets from about 1950? yeah, they looked a bit like that. It was cute. The whole thing is cute. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to use for my writing, but it’s an interesting study in building a character in thumbnail sketches. The main character starts out a shy loner, and sort of stays that way, but along the path to beat the game we see him do things like diverting the building anger against beta players who the new players are trying to blame for the disaster, by telling a big group that he knew more than the betas, and they should hate him, instead. They stop frothing up a riot against the betas and turn their anger on him, which was his point, taking away the division.

I can’t say I recommend it, exactly. But I do think that there are things we can learn and pull from the visual that can add to the textual of writing, especially if you are writing for a younger crowd that is used to things like anime. 



Women are not Men

When I was in highschool, and mind you this was a very small school, or what I say next would never have been possible, I narrowly missed winning the Presidential medal for fitness. Because I could not for the life of me do three pull-ups. I could do one, and did meet all the other requirements for what I dimly recall after this passage of time, but my upper body strength was inadequate to a test regime designed mostly for guys. Do I want to go back and redesign the test to give myself the kudos I wanted then? Heck no. It’s just that even then I knew if it meant using my arms alone, I’d never make it. A year later while learning rock climbing I knew not to try to hang or pull myself up by arms alone. But give me a toeholds to employ the leg muscles, and…

That was a long intro to something else. In a group I’m part of, someone asked for help in finding books with strong women characters, because a woman had dismissed all SFF as having women who had to be rescued or just wanted to get married. I got tagged into the conversation because they wanted a list of books like that, and I’m known for making lists. Two days and several hundred comments later, the list was taking shape, and it was pointed out that perhaps it would be shorter to make a list of ‘weak’ females in SFF. This is not a genre where the women are commonly wimps. In fact, you’re more likely to find, as someone vulgarly put it, ‘men with boobs on’ in a book. Because women are different from men, an undeniable biological fact, if you choose to write a woman who can do pull-ups all day long and fight off gangs barehand and so forth, you need to hang a lantern on *why* she isn’t normal. In SF this is simple enough – genetic engineering makes great handwavium. But you also need to keep in mind that if similarly engineered, her male peers will be stronger than she. I’m not saying there are no exceptions. I’m saying that for them to be exceptional, we have to populate our books with averages as well.

I put the call out for self-rescuing space princesses, damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed, and boy, did I get nominations! But it also got me thinking. What’s wrong with needing rescue once in a while? If I wrote a male character, cast into Durance vile, who had to be rescued by the woman in his life, that plot would get all sorts of happy responses, yes? But if I flip the role I’m a misogynistic sexist.

I like in fiction, as in life, a complementary pair. She has weaknesses, but so does he, and their weaknesses aren’t in the same place, so together they are stronger than alone. Which is much like real life. What I don’t like to see is a strong female character surrounded by milksops she needs to constantly belittle and drag out of truffle-flavored (damn you autocorrect! I meant trouble, but I have to admit that’s funny) so the author can show how smart and awesome she is. People like that are not fun to hang around with, and as characters they make me stop reading. Instead of writing the five-foot nothing waif who can toss grown men around the room (side-note: this can actually be done, but the girl has to be very high on PCP and it will wreck her body later. Source: my dad, the paramedic) all day long, why not do some research into bad ass women of history and see how they did what they did?

Women like Virginia Hall, who spied on the Germans from occupied France for years. Not so big a deal? She was also missing a leg from a hunting accident, and hiked through waist-deep snow in her wooden leg to escape capture at one point. She was definitely an amazing woman. Women have held down the fort for time immemorial while the men were out to war, or hunting, or just gallivanting. That doesn’t make them weak, because it wasn’t always an easy job. Women have also been portrayed as mere pawns, historically, but the simple truth is that far from always needing to be rescued, including seeing marriage as a form of ‘rescue’ from uncertain fate, women have been a force to be reckoned with. It’s just that they are different from men, so other than the rare exception who took up a sword (usually under great duress) a woman’s way was more subtle and hidden. She might not have the strength of arms, but she did have ways to influence those who were doing the hacking and bashing.

So write strong females into your stories. But keep in mind that ‘strong’ isn’t always about the muscles in your arms. Sometimes it’s the bit between the ears.



Professionalism and Passion

Picking up a bit from Peter’s post yesterday, but also from something that has been weighing on my mind recently, I wanted to explore what I feel is my responsibility as a businesswoman to be professional. For one thing, when I interact with fans, I am acutely aware that they are where the money comes from. I write for my work to be appreciated, but the mark of appreciation is cold, hard cash. My customer is the reader, not a publisher or an editor or an agent, and after reading Peter’s and Kris’s posts on the topic, I think there are writers out there who have forgotten that the fans pay them, ultimately, not the middlemen who leech off the writer’s works.

We’ve discussed many times here on the blog the value in responding professionally to critical reviews. A professional approach to fans, whether in person, or on the internet, is crucial to developing a long-lasting fan base. You will erode that support when you act like a jerk, even if it makes you look cool to your peers when you do it. Your peers don’t buy enough of your books to pay the bills, I can almost guarantee, so as a sales ploy it’s bollocks unless you’re trying to be recruited by the Right People, and even then it’s more likely to backfire.

If you’re putting it on the internet it is public, and it is permanent. I was reminded of a poorly known example of this today when Tom Kratman asked if anyone had a copy of a certain infamous author’s ragequit letter from Baen’s Bar, an incident which took place some fifteen years ago. I vividly remember it, but didn’t think at the time to screenshot it… However, he got offers immediately of folks who had saved it. They, like me, had been so taken aback by the unprofessionalism that in the last fifteen years they haven’t bought anything with that name on it. It’s out there, and it’s still doing damage. Think before you hit send.

Remember to be professional in your interactions with vendors, as well. One of the things that Indie Authors can be bad about is thinking about their profession as a business. Heck, small presses can be included in this as well. I’m thinking of some examples I’ve seen over the years of conversations that went something like “That’s a nice cover, great art.” “Yeah, I found it online.” “Um, who’s the artist? You can’t just use an image without knowing what the copyright is!” “Oh, I have no idea, I couldn’t find that…” Five minutes later I had it and sent it to them. No idea if they changed the art or reached out to the artist for licensing. On a more personal note, I once had a publisher who had commissioned cover work from me reject the art. I’ve had that happen before, and it wasn’t a problem – my style isn’t going to work for every book. But this time, instead of a polite and professional ‘this art isn’t working for us.’ I got a cruel assessment of my work as ‘unrealistic and cartoonish’ which I took as personally as it had been given, and nearly stopped creating art altogether.

Because the personal passion of our creation is very close to the surface, professionalism gives us a way to build a shield between that hurt of being rejected with hurtful words and the knowledge that it just business, nothing personal. We’ve all gotten nasty reviews on our books. With the professional barrier up, we can analyze those as more reflective of the reviewer than of our work – Dorothy wrote an excellent article on how to read reviews professionally recently. Taken as a whole, the poo-flinging monkeys compared to the rave fan recommendations of our work balance into obscurity, as they should. Thoughtful critique does not look or smell like the review a monkey would fling.

Passionate support of a cause sometimes impinges on the professional, and it’s a very fine line. I’m not going to say that if you come out publicly in support of one thing, it will cut you off from 50% of your readers because I don’t think it’s true. I do think that if the message leaks into your books, that’s one thing. If the leak becomes a flood and your books become a vehicle to convey your passion for, say, the social good of patting penguins in the park, then you are going to start turning off fans who would rather not pat fishy penguins, and prefer to sass squirrels by the swings, instead. I’ve been guilty of supporting causes on my blog – no, guilty isn’t the right word. Passionately provoking the status quo, which when I got publicity due to my involvement in Sad Puppies, got picked up and I still see to this day ‘that Sanderson, she’s the Worst’ because I supported something that the speaker didn’t understand and didn’t like. Was I unprofessional in my passion? No, I don’t think so. I tried to be balanced and polite in my rants, and largely succeeded. Because for me it was about supporting friends and shining a light on the things scuttering and hiding in the shadows. Which it did, and now I’m back to shining the light on my blog with writing about sciency stuff, which is more my style and speed.

But I digress. One of the reasons this had been weighing on my mind was that I am tossed on the horns of a moral dilemma. A writer who is also a friend has a book out, and I would really love to promote it. I am a small voice, not influential at all, but I’m always pleased to be able to use the platforms I’ve built to promote friends and colleagues, not just myself. Other than buying and reviewing books, it’s one of the things I can do to give back to the generous writing community that has welcomed me in over the years. So. The problem is that the publisher is the one and same who nearly shattered my artistic confidence. If friends hadn’t poked and prodded me back into it, I’d have given it up entirely. I still have moments where I look at my work and go yeah, that’s…

I want to support the author, but not the publisher. Sigh. Isn’t that a familiar mantra? So what do I do? Forgive and forget how I was treated unprofessionally? Or take a pass, saying that my support isn’t likely to be huge anyway?

A low-res version of the rejected artwork. Giant mecha and ruined city for the win! (Mecha is by Innovari)



Back it Up. Way Up.

So I was noodling around this week looking for topics to write about, and came across a video, of all things.

Shared by a friend, taking place very near where I used to live, it may at first seem to have nothing to do with writing. However, as I was watching that and contemplating what that homeowner has just lost, I was reminded that I have not yet talked about the backup systems I put in place earlier this year.

You should, of course, have some kind of backup drive on your computer. I have a nifty little one that isn’t much bigger than a deck of cards, but packs two terabytes of memory. The one that goes with my laptop I even got a carry case for, so it could travel with me and I wouldn’t risk losing a word. I’ve been talking with friends about building a second hard drive into my laptop that is essentially a replicate of the one I run, so in case of failure I could simply switch over. Given that the First Reader’s desktop is currently in the shop with what we thought was a dead motherboard or CPU, but which replacing those two things didn’t revive it… and that computer is only two years old. These things happen.

To round out the physical backups I also have a 4TB home cloud – a storage tower which can be wirelessly networked to the home computers and allows everyone access to commonly used files. I also use it for backup for my photography and art files, since they can get very bulky in terms of digital memory size. It’s a cool thing, a little time-consuming to set up, but with kids and my husband all able to access photos or music at will (we don’t own a lot of movies, but that’s supposed to be a big feature if you do that kind of thing) it’s far more convenient than me having to email stuff whenever they want it.

However, all of that is vulnerable if something happens at the house. Like being washed off the foundations… or a house fire, or a burglary, or whatever disaster can befall. So while these are the first line of my backups, I have two more, for a three-deep defense against loss of files and data. If you only ever write long-hand in notebooks, they are gone when the house is.

I took some time in considering how I would set up off-site backups. I use Dropbox for transferring files to clients – very large print-ready PDF files do not fit through email servers! – but after looking at what it would cost annually to use it as a backup for most of my files I opted to go in another direction. There is a cost with using cloud storage, unless your backup is small, and mine is not, but that’s just part of doing business and I’m happy to pay for a reliable service I don’t need to worry about suddenly disappearing and losing access to my stuff. I wound up going with two different things: Google for backing up documents, and Amazon Prime for backing up photos since they offer unlimited space for images. Google backup works fairly seamlessly: You set up the Backup and Sync app on your desktop, and tell it which folders it should back up. For $1.99 a month (and I think there’s a yearly rate, if you prefer to pay that way) you get 100 GB which is what I’m using since this isn’t a full backup for me, just my documents folder.

However, this is great if you want to be able to access your files when you are traveling, which I do. Being able to grab whatever manuscript I want (or, as I have needed to do, legal documents) when I was not at home is so very nice. If I didn’t remember to grab a file and put it on my laptop, as long as I have internet, I have that file. It’s so cool to live in the science fiction present!

My final line of defense is a full system image backup in the cloud. I’m using Backblaze, which is $50 a year, and should my hard drive fail, I’d just have to set up a new machine, and suck down the disk image from the web and voila! Back to the old set-up and all my data intact. Now, mind you, this protects one computer, and I suspect it would take ages to do that download. However, given how much data I have on this computer it’s essential to have it backed up: documents, images, artwork, client artwork and files, and so on and on.

But what if you don’t hit save? you might be asking. Actually, that is a concern, although I have myself fairly well trained to save anytime I look away from a file. However, I’m also doing most if not all of my rough drafts in Google Docs, because I can access them from anywhere, they save automatically, and I can share with my first readers (I do have more than one) and get real-time help on sticky spots. I then take the text into Word and format it the way I want it when it’s all said and done. Over the last year this has become a necessity as I’m rarely writing at home – lots of lunch time composition and so forth.

Three lines of defense. Because if you don’t have a plan for failure, you’re planning to fail, and there’s no point in setting up a defense unless it’s a defense in depth.