Monday, January 31, 2011

Proposal for Indie Authors

(self-published and small press)

What if you could promote your book at conventions, but not have to go yourself?

Here are my thoughts on why such a thing might benefit authors. For one, I've seen authors at conventions selling their books. Yet, I've also heard that most self-published authors' sales are very modest. I know from my experience selling jewelry at conventions that it can be touch-and-go as far as breaking even for the cost of the convention and a hotel. And that's with a popular, successful artisan. I can't help but wonder how many of the authors I see are actually losing money to promote their work. What if they didn't have to?

Additionally, I've learned from artisans that success often requires convention hopping. That means going to different states, to many different conventions, throughout the year. Similarly, many authors tour book stores in a flurry of promotion around the book's release date. These things require being able to travel - perhaps, not having a day job, or not having toddlers to look after. Touring represents significant expenses that might not be justified by actual sales.

Assuming that other authors have run into these problems, I think there might be a solution that we can work together on. I'd like to spearhead a non-profit organization that goes to conventions and sells several indie author's books, without each author having to go each time. Kind of like a mobile indie book store. If you live near DragonCon, you could run a table for us there, while other members run tables at other conventions you don't want to or can't go to.

Money wise, authors would provide the books. When those books sell, that author gets their overhead back plus some profit. Overhead might include having to ship the books between conventions, which could be a disadvantage of having multiple sellers. Also, personally, if I were running a table, I'd like to be compensated for either my badge or my time. Compensation would greatly expand what conventions I could go to for the group. But, that money would have to come out of the profits from the books, so we might have to start with that work being volunteer work. Once we've done several conventions and built up a reputation as an organization, hopefully we would have a more stable business model and be able to compensate our sellers, too. That way members don't have to worry about who is doing more, going to more conventions, and who is doing less.

Alternatively, sellers could buy books from the authors at a low price and keep any profit. I could see that working for sellers who plan to go to a couple of conventions every year and can hold on to unsold books between conventions. Or, the organization could represent the sellers by buying the books and organizing seller compensation and transfer of books between sellers.

Possibly, there could be a yearly membership fee that is waved for members who run tables that year. We would also ask for donations, of course.

These are all just ideas right now. What I need to hear from you, my fellow authors, is if you would be interested in participating, and what you think such an organization should look like.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Question for Writers: What Makes a Surprise too Big?

Let me lay out a scenario for you, one that you may have seen before. The heroes are flying their spaceship through enemy forces, far out numbered, dodging strikes left and right. With luck and the skill of their awesome pilot, they make it through and crash land on the planet below. It's near the end of the movie so you're sitting on the edge of your seat wondering if they're all going to make it through the crash - and they do, coming to a complete stop. But before they and you can finish cheering, the pilot is interrupted mid-sentence by a flying projectile. He's killed on impact, and he's one of the main characters.

Poor Wash. The Serenity crew didn't even realize that they were still in super immediate danger, and neither did I. In that moment I felt bewildered, perhaps a little betrayed, but I couldn't say that it wasn't realistic. It was a surprise, but was it too much?

What makes a surprise too big? Is it when it happens, who it happens to, how it effects the story, or a lack of forewarning? What's the biggest gotcha you'd be willing to pull on your readers, and what would you do to prepare or console them? Would you risk being the writer that the reader hates to love?

Feel free to answer/ramble in the comments. If the question inspires a Flash Friday or something similar, feel free to link to your story in the comments and please link back to here on the applicable webpage.

Ready. Set. GO.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flash Friday #3: Hanging Pictures

Gertrude sliced the tape open with the letter opener she had specifically not packed in any of the neatly labeled boxes. It had rode in her pocket along with a sharpie and an extra roll of packing tape, all to find its purpose in this moment. That's why she first opened the box that held assorted counter-top objects, like the pen holder and the letter opener stand. Those were set up quickly, then the books, and her clothes - all the easy stuff. Nearly last were the purely decorative items that had to be arranged around the furniture and other things of every-day use.

For instance, the knick-knacks she'd gotten over so many Christmases and birthdays. The translucent elephant her grandmother gave her over a decade ago, the year before her death. The bright orange miniature vase that her little brother had given her when she moved out. The dancing fairy Richard had given her just two years ago, before he'd left her for someone thinner and cheerier. The glass tulip Shayne had given her just a month ago, for her birthday. These she had to chose from the plethora of gifts she considered sentimental. One from each person, and each had equal standing on the shelf above the couch.

The last box had been double-tapped and her lungs froze as she slit it open. She could never throw them away, not photographs, and once a photograph made it into a frame, it was forever sacred, and it had to go up on the wall. Gertrude pulled out the easy ones first, those of her immediate family, most of which she set aside to go up in the hall. The rest went above the TV across from the couch. Old classmates, pictures of herself alone, and a few co-workers. There almost wasn't any room for Shayne. She had to stretch and lean to put ones of him up to the left of the rest. To the right, above the vase of flowers Shayne had just had delivered to her, there was only room for one large picture or two smaller pictures of Richard.

Gertrude frowned down at the three in her hand. There was the largest, the both of them smiling with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop. Their honeymoon. Two smaller ones might also fit side by side - Ricard holding her hand at the zoo, the both of them at her sister's wedding. Those she might be able to look at every day. She held them both up against the space available, stretching on the tips of her toes to hold them level. Technically they fit, but the gap looked to be less than the minimum one inch she allowed. She tried holding them slightly further apart, but then the one that came up against the other pictures overlapped the shelf below it by at least 1/8th of an inch. Carefully, she set those two down and picked up the larger picture.

His smile was so... genuine. She wanted to find something in it that might predict his betrayal, but there was no crookedness of the eyebrows, no evil glint in his eyes, and no tenseness around the corners of that wide grin. He looked happy. They had both been happy. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad remembering a time when she had been happy. She lifted the picture up and centered it above the shelf with the knick-knacks along with the pencil she would mark the wall with. She could already see that it was a perfect fit for the space, even if she'd rather leave the space empty. But this would balance her life. It would show the whole truth of it. It would hold nothing back. She had been married before, and divorced, and Shayne accepted that.

The wall, it seemed, did not accept that. Maybe it was because beside Shayne's pictures there was a gap about the same size as the one she was about to fill, making the whole collection off-center. Maybe it was because the chair had uneven legs and the living room had hard-wood floors and not the more traditional carpet. Maybe it was because in that moment Shayne turned the lock in the door, arriving home from work.

Gertrude slipped off the side of the chair and fell against the knick-knacks with her cheekbone, against the bookcase with her diaphram, and finally against the floor with her back and the back of her head. There was the loud clattering of her, and of the knick-knacks, and the picture, the pencil, and even of a few books. Then there was the loud stomping of Shayne's shoes arriving next to her head. He knelt over her, fussed over her, and helped her sit up. "What were you doing?" he started to ask as the panic of her well-being wore off. Then he saw the frame that had fallen and shattered its glass around them, and his tone grew harsh. "You were putting Richard on our wall?"

Gertrude put a hand to her forehead where she was sure there was an imprint of fairy wings. Her eyes darted over the glass, over the bent pages, and over the broken glass tuplip at her feet. "I'm sorry," she whispered as her vision blurred with tears. "Forgive me." She didn't know if she meant it for the tulip, or for the picture, or for so many little things that she hadn't yet told him.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TNG Ep 5: The Last Outpost

The mysterious Ferengi steal a T-9 energy converter From the Federation. The Enterprise follows in pursuit, but they'd like to avoid starting a war. Both ships are then caught in a power drain above planet Gamma Tauri IV, and at first both believe that the other is draining their ship. Both send landing parties to investigate, and the landing parties battle each other until Portal appears to stop all that nonsense. Riker convinces Portal the humans aren't all bad, and not to kill the Ferengi even though they're not all that great. He also catches Portal up on the fact that the Tkon Empire were wiped out by a supernova forever ago. Portal offhandedly releases the ships just before life support gives out, the Ferengi return their stolen property, and everyone goes their separate ways.

Ok, I have a problem with the ancient advanced civilization being killed by a supernova. Supernovas are when giant G stars explode, and yes they do wipe out a huge area, but they're a surprise like a jack in the box is a surprise. You get to the end of the song and Pop! You'd think the ? Would have started some colonies out of the reach of good ole jack. The home base of their empire would still be wiped out and it would be tremendously difficult to evacuate everyone from there, but for goodness sakes, there would be some descendants who might retain some of their knowledge and technology. And yes, a lot of time has passed, and maybe those descendants would dwindle and die off anyway... But the episode makes it sound like the supernova took care of it all, like everyone decided that if they couldn't be the biggest and the best any more, they'd just let themselves be killed. Maybe that fits Portal's attitude after all.

Anyway, the episode was mostly about the Ferengi. They're mentioned in the first episode, and in case you didn't guess it then, captain Picard clarifies that hardly anything is known about them. Seriously, the Federation knew more about those Code of Honor dudes. Even seeing a Ferengi is a big deal, and boy are they ugly. They also think that we're barbarians for making our women wear clothes. Heh heh.

The Ferengi are kinda jumpy and believe strongly in "buyer beware," which is why the encounter doesn't go very well. Luckily they're not very good at lying to Portal. They don't seem like very promising acquaintances, but they at least don't manage to kill anyone. I'm sure we'll see more of them in later episodes, seeing as how prominently they've been mentioned.

What I hope we don't see is much more of the politics expressed in this episode. If you're thinking of captain Picard's unexplainable obsession with the French, you're close, but not quite. I'm talking about all the boo-hooing about capitalism in the form of the admittedly dastardly Ferengi. Buyer beware? In a truly free market, with the kind of cheap mass communication we have today, "buyer beware" companies tend to get blacklisted by consumers. Some dishonesty will always manage to thrive, but only just as it does in any market, either because the dishonesty is low level and mostly harmless, or because it takes time to get caught. A free market isn't necessarily free of morals as this episode strongly implies. It would be true, though, that a free market likely would not share a value such as the prime directive.

I've never thought of the Federation as an exemplar of Libertarianism, but it was annoying to have limited market values shoved in my face as an oh-so-advanced civilization. He Ferengi are so bad that they're almost a parody of themselves, for goodness sake. Our one ray of hope for them, where we can see a glimpse of Deep Space Nine Ferengi, is Captain Picard's exchange with their captain.

"all civilized societies agree..."
"are you calling us uncivilized?"

Way to go, Ferengi. Even if humans are advanced in many ways, that's no reason to let them belittle you without at least calling them out. Also? Captain Picard totally lied to you because he was too chicken to be honest from the get-go. They're not perfect, either.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why I Love My Toddler... In His Crib.

On my new years post, I mentioned my toddler, C, I and warned you that you would at least see pictures of him. Here it is, not even February yet, and you're seeing an entire post about him.

The other night I came home late from writers group, just in time for my husband to leave for nightshift. I don't usually come home late from anything because of the whole waking up at dawn thing my toddler does, but hey, there are friends there that I rarely get to see in any other capacity and I wrote a long scene that you might see as a #flashfriday post soon.

Anyway, when I walked in I saw that C had woken up and somehow, magically, ended up sleeping in our bed. For those of you who don't know, many families sleep with all the young children in the same bed as the parents. It's called a family bed, and I'm all for that because babies love to be near you and I've read some research that says it can help kids develop better sleeping patterns. We were happy to have a family bed until sometime after 12 months, when C had learned not only how to walk, but how to run, climb, and poke us in the face until we woke up in the middle of the night. In comparison, C now asks to get in his crib at bed time, falls asleep with nary a peep, and usually if he wakes up and doesn't actually need anything, he'll play with his stuffed animals until either he falls back asleep or the sun and I wake up.

I like sleeping, so when I saw the baby sleeping in the bed, I decided I would move him back once my husband went to work. The only problem with that plan was that my husband's alarm wasn't scheduled to go off for another 15 minutes, and I was tired. I lay down. I cuddled my baby and smiled to myself to hold him in my arms. Then C tried to turn 90 degrees and kicked me in the stomach.

That was ok. I would absolutely, positively move him back to the crib after my husband was done waking up and making noise getting ready for work. In the meantime, I rolled unto my stomach to protect my vital organs. After that, I remember my husband's alarm and all the bustle that accompanies it, but by then I was so comfortable, and C was so comfortable, and I hadn't been kicked recently.

Much later, I woke up to a poke. C was sitting up, poking my ribs and grinning widely. I told him to go to sleep, which is what I always do if he's playing in his crib. Poke. I try cuddling him again, but like a flopping fish figting for its life, he elbows me in the chest and sits up again. Poke. This time he giggles maniacly. I see that it's dark outside, but I think to myself that maybe it's close to his allowed wake-up time. After all, he didn't sleep well, or else he'd still be in his crib, right? So he should be tired. He should sleep in.

I check the time. Two hours before dawn. Poke. I might have grumbled some words that toddlers aren't supposed to hear as I got up out of bed and carried him to his crib. I pat his head, put a blanket around his shoulders, and showed him that his favorite stuffed toy was in there with him. He whined a little, but two hours is two hours, and I went back to sleep.

Half an hour before dawn. I think he slept, but now he is really whining because he is awake and knows it's almost time to get up. I tell him to play with his toys, and I formulate a plan to grill my husband on exactly what crisis led to C leaving the crib in the first place. At this point it is not just me being a stickler for the wake-up time rule. I feel morning sickness threatening to rear its head if I even move, and I know that if I can sleep until my regular wake up time, it might reduce itself to a minor grumbling.

Half an hour later the morning sickness is gone and we get up for our regular eating routine, at which point my husband calls, and I'm trying really hard to be mad at him because I can't be mad at C and the only thing I did wrong was wait until 5am to put C back in his crib. But then my husband, perhaps sensing my annoyance, sings to me the ballad of how our wittle baby boy was crying, which in all fairness is different than whining, and his mommy wasn't here to comfort him so he clung to daddy and suckered him into being taken to the family bed. Daaaaaaw.

But still, no family bed for C! Maybe the next baby will wait longer before he or she starts poking us in the face. Like, 18 months. (Yeah, right.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Question for Writers: Mother Nature is What?

Say your protagonist has a resource issue. Maybe there isn't enough food, or transportation, or medicine for that dying relative. Would you rather write a protagonist who views nature and the universe as helpful or competitive? Would their views be reflected in their society, or go against the common paradigm? In the end, would your protagonist be correct or incorrect? Would the tastey deer appear just in time for the hunter, or would the train he can finally afford a ticket on break down?

Would an unhelpful universe necessarily mean a sad ending? Would providence necessarily equal a happy ending?

Feel free to answer/ramble in the comments. If the question inspires a Flash Friday or something similar, feel free to link to your story in the comments and please link back to here on the applicable webpage.

Ready. Set. GO.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

TNG Ep 4: Code of Honor

The Enterprise arrives at Ligon II To negotiate delivery of a vaccine. The natives have had trouble with foreign relations in the past because of their strict ritualistic society, but of course that does not deter the Enterprise crew. Everything seems to be going well until leader Lutan kidnaps Tasha, then claims her as his bride. Lutan's first wife is pretty pissed about this and challenges her to a duel, which is exactly what Lutan wants. He's hoping Tasha will kill his wife, making his wife's land his. Tasha does win, at which point both women are transported to the Enterprise and Lutan's wife is revived. Lutan's wife divorces him for another man, the Enterprise gets the vaccine, and everyone lives happily ever after.

In case you couldn't tell from the summary, this episode is all about Tasha, and that's cool because I didn't like her very much in the previous episodes. She's perhaps a bit too eager to please, and definitely too eager to shoot at peaceful aliens. To be fair, even Worf almost shot the viewer when Q appeared there. But there was something about her eagerness that felt naive, and since she had to deal with rape gangs from the age of five to the age of thirteen, naive equals stupid.

Now, thankfully, she gets to kick ass. First she gets to show up the natives in a neutral setting, and then she gets to fight to the death - and win. I seem to remember times when certain male captains did not manage to win fights to the death (ep ?). At the same time she shows some common sense, seeming to know instinctively how to treat the natives. Though, that's also what gets her kidnapped. Still. Fight to the death.

(This is the part where you can forgive her for being drop-dead gorgeous.)

And while we're talking about pretty women, I loved the snippet of dialogue between Picard and Beverly. Good doctors never do become completely numb to things like millions of people dying in an epidemic. Oh, and having the vaccine not be replicable? Sure, that was a convenient plot device, but it's nice to see some limitations to the Awesome Future Science.

On the other hand, I'm waiting for an episode with a plot a bit less recycled. Or one with Q.

And what's with leaving at warp 3.5 when millions of people are dying, waiting for the vaccine? Just saying.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Question for Writers: Illusionist or Shapeshifter?

Say you've got a character who has some stealth work to do. Maybe they've gotta break in to Big Brother, or you need them to overhear that they're adopted. Would you rather have concealment via illusion, or via shapeshifting? Illusions can sometimes be seen through, while shapeshifting will have the limitations of the chosen form. Both would have energy limitations and depend on the stupidity or obliviousness of those being spied on or snuck past.

So, would you rather go all Animorphs with a fly on the wall, or all Dr. Who with the psychic ID card? How would your character pull it off, and would you let them get away with it?

Feel free to answer/ramble in the comments. If the question inspires a Flash Friday or something similar, feel free to link to your story in the comments and please link back to here on the applicable webpage.

Ready. Set. GO.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

TNG Ep 3: The Naked Now

At the end of the last episode, Riker asks Picard if all of their adventures are going to be like Farpoint. No, Picard answers, hopefully they'll be more interesting. Episode two might just be the kind of thing he meant. It's one thing to have everyone's life threatened by a sentient being like Q, and quite another to have it threatened by a mindless disease... thing.

The enterprise meets up with a research vessel orbiting a collapsing star, when suddenly the vessel's crew blow the escape hatches, killing everyone aboard. Everyone who wasn't already dead, that is. Data describes the scene as a wild party, but it's more like a wild party where half of the attendees froze to death because everyone lost their minds and started playing with no-touch things like environmental controls and escape hatches. Picard, smart cookie that he is, is worried about the madness disease getting onto the enterprise, which it does despite decontamination measures. If this is reminding you of episode ? Of the original series, you're spot on. Riker soon remembers reading about the incident, and Beverly gets the antidote from the records. Except, oops, it doesn't work, and by then half the ship has it thanks in part to Beverly letting patient zero (La Forge) wander out of sick bay. That's ok, though, because Beverly gets it too when Riker brings her an infected troy. Then she gives it to Picard and... The upshot of it all is that Wesley gets to take over the ship in his half-mad state and we learn that Data is "fully" functional. Fully. Beverly manages to tweak the antidote so that it works, and the crew is then able to save the enterprise from the exploding star. Just in time, of course.

We spent the last episode proving that humanity can be awesome, so this one is spent showing how foolish people can be if they show up drunk to work. It's interesting that the writers would chose to rehash a situation directly from the original series, but maybe that's because it touches on one of our biggest fears - and hopes - for the future. We fear insanity because we understand it so little, because people's thoughts aren't directly observable and nearly impossible to quantify. We hope, or we wish, that science could rip open that black box of the mind and solve Insanity with an antidote. Bonus points if the antidote works instantly and is administered by a hot doctor like Beverly.

We want to be able to prevent random murder-suicides, like being sucked into the vacuum of space, thoughtless sexual encounters, and senseless destruction of property. And if you think it's scary for one person to go insane or insanely intoxicated, try a whole ship! Usually insanity can't be prevented so easily, and that sucks.

Since we're not Star Trek, I guess we'll just have to do what we can with lithium pills, moral support, and all that fun stuff.

And for your part? Don't show up to work drunk and start pulling out all the control chips. Thanks.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Question for Writers: Prime Directive or Free Market?

My question here is which viewpoint you would find most interesting for your protagonist to hold in your story. Say you have an arms race situation, or maybe a conflict between two civilizations that are horribly unequal in resources or technology, and your protagonist is a third party. What would be more interesting for you to write about? A protagonist that has a prime directive thing going on ala star trek, or direct aid or trade that changes the balance of power? What could be the far reaching consequences of either?

And finally, can you keep your own politics out of the story - or would you even want to?

Feel free to answer/ramble in the comments. If the question inspires a Flash Friday or something similar, feel free to link to your story in the comments and please link back to here on the applicable webpage.

Ready. Set. GO.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

TNG Ep 1&2: Encounter at Farpoint

Depending on where you see this episode, it's either one long episode or two, Pt1 and Pt2. I saw it as one.


A superbeing named Q puts the Enterprise on trial for all the sins of humanity. After some clever back-and-forth with Captain Picard, Q agrees to test the Enterprise crew as the representative of humanity's current state rather than its past sins. The Enterprise passes the first test when they save an alien from enslavement at Farpoint Station.

This episode sets the tone of the whole series by asking if the mythical Star Trek future represents a better humanity. As Q points out, humans may be at peace with themselves, but they still get into deadly conflicts with other races. The Ferengi are specifically mentioned by the Farpoint leader as a competing alliance that the Federation isn't on good terms with. The problem with an alliance like the Federation is that it can't possibly fix everything about humanity. Humans will still be human, which means that there will always be evil people out there, as well as people who make egregious mistakes that produce negative outcomes regardless of good intent. The real question, then, is whether or not this is enough to condemn all of humanity, or if being good enough is good enough. Naturally, this question isn't really answered in the episode. Q complains that the Farpoint challenge was too easy, and practically promises that he'll be back in later episodes. There is hope, though, seeing as Q was ready to immediately condemn humanity at the beginning of the episode, and by the end he's backed off considerably.

One of the interesting things about the theme of the Next Generation is how well it separates the series from the Original Series, and right from the get-go. The Federation has always been presented as a politically complex entity, but this time there is the promise that this will impact every episode, and that Klingons aren't the only enemy worth counting. This complexity extends to the characters with their involved introductions and pre-existing relationships, from the romance of Troy and Riker to the more awkward I-knew-your-father-before-he-died that Picard has with Wesley. If the original series was all action with a hit-you-over-the-head morality, The Next Generation promises to keep the big questions and the action, but to diffuse them with realistic complexities.

Fans of the original series still have a lot to like in The Next Generation. There are plenty of signs in this first episode that say 'we're still Star Trek!'. The biggest nod to the original series, and the one that got a fan girl squeal from me, is the appearance of Deforest Kelley as a 137yr old Dr. McCoy. He appears on the Enterprise because - well, just because, actually. The plot barely justifies him being there except to help set the time frame for when the Next Gen occurs. His other purpose is to compare Data to Vulcans (favorably, of course) so that viewers who have reservations about seeing an android on the show can get over it. Dr. McCoy says it's ok and that 'makes it so'. No, really!

Then for people who are less of a rabid fan girl than me, there are smaller nods to the original series. For instance, Q showing up in Shakespearean clothes. Outrageously advanced aliens are always getting things like that wrong, although Q seems to do it on purpose. And the 21st century court that Q takes them to? Star Trek loves to use the formula [real history] + [real history] + [made up history] = the future. Finally, Farpoint is yet another take on the too-perfect-to-be-true settlement. If it's not run by aliens who want to trap humans, it's powered by an alien that's been trapped by humans.

Such tropes are comforting, but in the end it's not them, nor the theme, that has me geared up for the next episode. It's the characters. Picard is a strong-willed captain who's afraid he'll make an ass of himself in front of children. Wesley's a kid who wants to see the bridge just because it's the bridge, dammit. La Forge would rather see with pain than not see at all, and Riker is our go-to dude for the dangeresque. I think I can even put up with Troi...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Year of The Blog

My New Years Resolution is this blog.

What is this blog? Right now there’s not much I can say to describe what this blog has been. I started writing it with the vague idea that writers should write something, but I wasn’t sure what that something should be for me. Since then, I’ve gained a lot of experience, refined my motivations, and discovered various exciting media. It’s about time my blog benefited.

What will this blog be now? I want this blog to be entertaining for both of us. It will be a portal, a landing page for me to share my love of the written word with you. This blog is my mostly-platonic courtship of you, my reader. I promise to ply you with flash fiction, pseudo-philosophical rambling, and cute pictures of my toddler. He makes the writing lifestyle interesting, and if I ever complain about that fact, the photos will show just how much I actually don’t mind. Also, pictures make bullet lists less intimidating!

My Commitment: (the chocolate and roses!)

*To begin with, I’ll be posting Questions for Writers, prompts that you can use for your #flashfriday or even just writerly discussion.
*Secondly, I’ll be watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and posting my thoughts on each episode.

Once those two things get going, we’ll see if I have the energy to post other things, like #FlashFriday and updates on my writing.