I'm proud to say that my story, Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels.
Here's the blurb: Whatever happened to the Miller's Daughter, the one who spun gold into straw? This is the part the Brothers Grimm didn't tell us.
Selling a story to this anthology was a quick education in how to promote an Indie book. Some of the stuff they did: An illustration for every story, except these were for use on social media, not for the book. The hashtag, #IamAMosaic for everyone to use when they discussed their stories or the anthology. Lots of stuff on Twitter. Asking all the authors to try to get readers to post reviews on Amazon on Launch Day, and providing us free Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) that we could offer for the purpose. A Facebook launch party, with giveaways, including a Kindle Fire.
It went at a breathless pace that I wasn't quite prepared for (especially since it happened when I had other stuff going on) but built momentum.
I hope very hard that this antho succeeds. It's a very worthy cause, and Pavarti Tyler and Kim Wells have thrown themselves into promoting it.
One of the issues that came up in the discussion was whether non-US writers change the structures of the stories they write to conform to the expectations of editors/ publishers/ readers in the US. This is my take on it.
My question is, who are those writers writing for? This is a real choice for writers who have non-US experience and backgrounds. I wrote an essay on my Live Journal blog some years ago called "Why I write American."
The fact is, I write for a primarily US audience. This is where the markets are. Even when I write stories set elsewhere, most of the readers are going to be USan, as are the editors who I want buying my stories. (With exceptions. A couple of my most recent publications were from UK publishers: Unsung stories published "The Mother Goose Virus" and Flame Tree Press published "Genetic Changelings.")
So it's generally got to be a US story, even if it's set outside the US, even if the characters aren't American.
I think it's possible for very good writers to write a non-US story structure and sell it to an editor and then to a US audience. But I think it takes extra skill and vision. The bar is set higher.
There's also the danger, in that situation, of writing exotica. The story becomes interesting because it's so different, because it's alien. I'm not sure I should call it a danger. Exotica is an interesting genre; I've read books because they show me a culture that's very different from my own experience. But it is, in a way, sight-seeing.
And perhaps that's as it should be. Every culture has its social struggles, but they're not the same ones. We can observe others' battles, but they're not ours to fight.
Playing catch-up now, and so there'll be old posts coming through (fortunately, LJ lets me put the correct date on them). Many of them, I think, are still nice to have here.
With its central location at the Hyatt airport hotel in Burlingame, a lot of people came by either for the whole Con or for a visit. I got to meet writer buddies I hadn't seen for a while, both Conning and Bar-conning. Many were local or semi-local, others came from Southern California. It's so lovely hanging out with interesting people who are doing and writing intriguing things. We had the traditional Codex meetup (Codex being an online group of writers), always a pleasure.
Besides panels, there are some fun events that I don't see at the literary cons I more usually attend. I have to say a highlight was the podcast, Your book is why Daddy drinks. The panel discussed (or made fun of) "Tarnsman of Gor," while imbibing much booze, dressed in fur bikinis because they'd met their charity fundraising challenge goal. The Gor stories (for the generation that is blissfully unaware) are a series of 33 misogynist books that started in 1966 based on a fantasy world which was also, the panel told us, a rip-off of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This ran from 12 midnight to 2 a.m., and it was hilarious. Thanks, intrepid panelists!
PANELS, PANELS, PANELS!
The panels were unusually good. Last year, I enjoyed the panels too, but in most cases, only a few people went and they ran out of steam early. This Con I didn't feel that way at all. A decent number showed up for nearly every panel I attended - enough to keep it interesting, small enough that audience participation was easy. Here are the ones I went to. (For some panels, my notes got so long I linked them separately.)
How to get started as a voiceover actor. (Xander Jeanneret, Bonnie Gordon) This was an immensely useful intro panel, presented in an engaging way by Bonnie and Xander. Here are my Detailed Notes.
To be or not to be: Listening to critique. (Jennifer Carson, Marie Brennan, Bradford Lyau and Cliff Winnig) Again, a panel that delivered what it promised - a discussion of how to use critiques, best and worst examples, and what to do with strongly negative criticism. Marie described how someone critiqued one of her stories, and found the exact thing that wasn't working about it. Jennifer described one incident when a big-name author came in late, interrupted the session in progress because he was in a hurry, critiqued 2 sci-fi stories at considerable length, and used his last few minutes to be utterly dismissive of a fantasy story. Jennifer named no names. But I thought I'd met that author.
Kinky and geeky. (Dario Ciriello, Jaym Gates, Veronica Belmont , Lance Moore) This started out with a funny anecdote about how Dario found himself an inadvertent Dom on Second Life, but quickly got serious. What I came away with was a discussion of how difficult it can be to create safe spaces for kink especially in those parts of the US that are more conservative and not kink-friendly or sex-positive. There's a need to preserve anonymity, to enforce a very strict policy non-photography policy, and also to maintain physical safety. There were a couple of sad stories out there, including a young woman getting murdered because she wouldn't believe that she was at risk from someone who thought he was entitled to her because she danced near-naked. The SF Bay Area is, fortunately, relatively accepting.
Actual science in science fiction. (M Christian, Jay Hartlove, C. Sanford Lowe, Edward Pizzini Ph.D., Heidi Stauffer) Many of the panelists were scientists. The discussion centered on the balance between getting the science right, and changing it in the interests of not boring the audience you're writing for. Someone gave the example of CSI. In its first season, it was very accurate, but it appealed to a limited audience. In the second season, the producers went with flashiness over accuracy, and it grew in popularity. This popularity even unrealistically skewed expectations regarding the speed and accuracy of forensic science. But it's also inspired a lot of young people to become scientists by making it cool. This has always been an important role for science fiction. So in the end, it's a balance between: How much accuracy and research do I need to make me-the-author happy? What does my audience need to know (barring the experts, who'll probably be thrown out of the story anyway)? What's my responsibility to the public who will learn science from my stories (example: Michel Crichton's recent climate-change-is-fake book)? What's my responsibility to people who will be inspired to learn or to fund science? My only quarrel with this really good panel was that there was no time for questions.
Cover me, which was about book and comic covers. (Jennifer Carson, Maya Bohnhoff, Anna Warren Cebrian, Cliff Winnig) Again, a very practical panel. The tl:dr version: A cover advertises a book. Color palette and image often determine the genre, and the font must match. It's got to work as a thumbnail. The author name font should be as large as the book title font. Lots more detail including cost discussions in my panel report.
Mythologies: The world outside Olympus and Asgard. (Bret Sweet · Emily Jiang · Balogun Ojetade · Jason Malcolm Stewart.) This dealt with non-European mythologies, and to my delight focused mainly on African myth systems. There was a good discussion of the importance of the feminine in traditional myths in Africa (missed which tradition, may be Yoruba). They also talked of how African myths got transformed when slaves brought them to the U.S. - trickster stories became Brer Rabbit stories. They also considered Native American influences. (Someone suggested that Trickster meets Coyote would be a cool theme for a book!) I ended up buying several books recommended by Balogun on the spot. (Thanks, Amazon.) Emily accidentally missed the beginning, but contributed some interesting inputs about East Asian mythos, and written vs oral traditions. Jason talked about how a Western audience is trained to expect the three-act structure: Presentation/ conflict/ resolution. As a result, they may be quite unable to accept other ways of story-telling. For writers, there's a trade-off, in that if we want to sell our work, we do have to conform to reader expectations. I'm really there. I looked at this issue in "Why I write American" a blog-post later published in the electronic version of the Wiscon Chronicles.
Writing fight scenes that aren't wack. (Balogun Ojetade) This was a great panel for me. I have no martial arts training - unlike just about every writer I know, who all seem to have some exposure to aikido or karate or fencing or something. (The others are all linguists. Some are linguists who do martial arts.) But fight scenes are an essential part of every spec-fic writer's vocabulary, so off I went. Balogun is an expert in African fighting styles (and there are many of them). An interesting point he made: African "wrestling" (which includes fighting with weapons) incorporates "feminine" moves. "I'm 6' 3," he said, "and weigh 200 lbs. In a fight, I'll use my strength. But if a woman who's 5' 2 and weighs maybe 120 lbs has to fight, she'll develop effective techniques. That's what you need to know." He showed us, with actual demos, why staged fight scenes *have* to be choreographed to be completely different from real fights - and why we have to describe real fights. He cautioned against too much actual description of blood and guts except when writing horror, because reality is really very very gory. Weapons and fighting styles have to match, and are often determined not just by the level of technology but by culture. Zulu and Yoruba fight differently, as do medieval swordsmen and Chicago knife-fighters. The Zulu, for instance, fight using stealth tactics. The example he gave: "You're charging at a Zulu warrior with your broadsword, and he's only got a short spear. You'll kill him, easy. But when you run at him, you fall into a trench he's standing behind - and then he gets you with the spear." (It was only just now when I looked it up on the schedule that I realized this was a Master Class limited to 6 people and I was supposed to have pre-registered. Oops.)
[The short spear was called an "ikwa." I'd never heard of it before. And then, two days later, at a consignment store I found this:
The one that got away: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation? I didn't go because I'd heard this topic discussed elsewhere, notably Wiscon. But... the reports I got afterwards made me wish I'd attended. It ran for three hours of its allotted 75 minutes!
[caption id="attachment_821" align="alignright" width="298"] Library Bards and dancing robot[/caption]
Besides the crazy fur-bikini booze-fueled book critique podcast, I attended the Liars' Panel, which was also hilarious. It was a bunch of people dishonestly answering embarrassing questions.
The Diplomat's Ball was notable because of the Library Bards (Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon, who perform great sci-fi parodies of the Top 40 Hits) and a 5-foot-tall dancing robot. My writer friend A.E Marling showed up in his Dr Horrible costume, and joined them onstage for the appropriate section.
The Masquerade was a creative melange of 18 quite different entries. Disney Steampunk was a performance by a family of kids, reprising Aladdin in the steampunk genre (the magic lamp is reinvented as a ray-gun), with Princess Elsa of Frozen visiting too.
Roadside Warrior Shaman wore a costume that included a staff that was covered with interesting stuff, and rebooted the world with Control-Alt-Delete! Of course there were Mad Max: Fury Road tributes. And a huge white furry nine-tailed fox.
This was my second year at Con-volution (here's my report from 2014). It's an easy local Con for me. Staying at the hotel anyway lets me do the late night/ early morning stuff that just wouldn't happen if I were driving in. Like that "Your book is why Daddy Drinks" podcast!
WHAT I DIDN'T LOVE
The organizers got so much right that it seems churlish to mention the few things that didn't work so well, but I will for completeness.
They ran out of program books - printed way too few of them. I got there before the opening ceremonies, and they were already gone. This was in response to the previous year's surplus and the high cost of printing. So the only way to know the program was to stay in the hotel (so you had free wifi) and use your smartphone. Or to have printed the program out in advance (which, very luckily, is what I did). The downside to that was you couldn't print out any details like who the panelists were and what the panel was actually about ("Cover me"?) Again, fortunately, I had an iPad in my room, so I could look up details and then hand-write them on the printout I'd made. I felt like I had The Knowledge. (Except, not quite: see my Oops under the Fight scene panel.)
I suggested an easy fix would be a big bulletin board next to the Reg desk. They could post the Schedule. Honored Guest bios. The map of the hotel (it takes some getting used to, with events happening on two floors or more, on two sides of the quadrilateral of the hotel). The newsletter (they had one, but I never saw it.) Notices/ changes. Maybe even a members bulletin board if you want to contact someone (Wiscon has one of those, and it's useful.)
Some people mentioned programming clashes. I usually had at least 3 things I wanted to attend in each time-slot, but that's okay. I'm beginning to realize that's a sign of a good match between me and the Con I'm attending. And there apparently were a few sparse panels, but not the ones I attended.
The Dealer Room and Art Show were fun. I only got one thing this year: This picture. Daniel Cortopassi does these whimsical cartoons of cats. They were all amusing, but I really couldn't resist this one.
- Major markets can be split into: Commercial, industrial, games, anime. Usually commercial and industrial pay the best - and may require Union membership. They may also pay residuals i.e. like royalties every time the sound clip is used. (The relevant Union is SAG-AFTRA.) Anime, games, cartoons tend to pay a one-time fee and that's it.
- You need to be able to record and edit your own clips. They recommended Audacity and a good microphone that plugs into your laptop. They use a Snowball mic. (I've done Audacity once, and it wasn't easy - but I could see how it could become so with practice.)
- You don't need a home studio, you can improvise. A closet makes a good studio, because the clothes damp the sound and improve the acoustics. In an emergency (like recording in a hotel room), you can throw a blanket or towel over your head, the mic and the laptop. Audacity has a noise reduction option; if you give it a few minutes of silence before you start recording, that defines a background "noise" to get rid of.
- Sometimes, local studios are available for rental by the hour.
- You can do a lot of voices by changing speed, level, pitch, or adding a speech impediment. T.C. Helicon audio equipment can help change pitch.
- You absolutely need a "reel" - a demonstration MP3. Some voice actors include actual work they've done. People who are just starting out can invent their own - read some stuff out loud and show the voices you can do. (Tip: Do not do existing commercials! But you can make up your own commercial for a fictitious product.) Xander recommends putting your reel on Youtube with a headshot so it's easy to share.
- You can get projects on the internet. The three sites they mentioned were Voices.com (free), Voices123 (which charges a fee), and ACX.com which is an Amazon audio-book site.
- You can get voiceover agents, but Bonnie didn't feel it was very valuable for her. This was in part because she took on a lot of very small projects, mostly from Voices.com
- Bonnie recommended taking all the gigs you can get initially - even unpaid ones - to build your contacts. Sometimes, you can do voice work for someone as a favor, and they can give you some professional help.
- Union membership is a double-edged sword. Union jobs pay better, but there aren't that many of them - and especially people who are starting out need to do non-Union jobs to build their networks. If you're Union, you can do a non-Union job, though it's frowned on; but if you're not in the Union you aren't eligible for Union gigs.
- Screen actors are beginning to do voice-acting work and are in demand because of the name recognition. Not all of them are good voice actors, though!
- Voice acting usually requires exaggeration, not perfect realism. One of the best ways to learn is to listen. Watch the commercials, listen to how they do it.
- They recommended Dee Bradley Baker's blog, I want to be a Voice Actor as a good place for beginners.
The most important thing to bear in mind: The job of the cover is to sell the book. It has to attract attention, and give the right signals about its content. It doesn't have to perfectly reflect any scene in the book, or even be completely true to the book. But it shouldn't cheat the reader's expectations - that just ends in bad reviews.
If you're writing genre fiction, the cover should reflect the right genre. This means the right color palette, the right image, and the right font for that genre. For instance, science fiction uses blues, black, green, red, orange and modern-looking fonts. A space ship on the cover is a clear signifier. Romance uses pinks and reds. Urban fantasy uses darker colors and appropriate images. The best way to figure this out is to look at a hundred different covers in your genre, and see what they have in common.
- With online sales being large and growing, the image must work as a thumbnail. It should still tell the genre and the the title and author name should be clear.
- For print editions, the spines are extremely important - that's what the reader will see on a bookshop shelf. Plan to wrap the colors and carry the right information.
- If you're writing a series, the covers should indicate the series branding. The images and colors should be related, and a blurb should establish that it is a series, and which number book each one is. If it's a print edition, the spine should say which number book of the series it is.
- Generally, a cover should have no more than three fonts, preferably in the same font family.
- It also should have not more than three image elements, and they need to work together. More becomes cluttered and confusing.
- People on the cover (faces, figures, whatever) draw the eye more than just scenery or objects.
- The font of the author's name should be large, ideally as large as the title font. If it doesn't all fit, make the surname the largest for print editions, since that's what they're shelved by.
- If you're publishing the book in print, don't make it an awkward size. It'll get shelved separately and be harder to find.
GETTING A COVER MADE
There are two parts to a cover - finding the art, and then designing it into a cover. For the art, you can use stock art; commission artwork; use photographs made by you or your friend and family; or bypass the whole thing and use premade covers.
Stock art. If you're using stock art, it's important that all the elements work well together. For instance, the scale of the objects should be appropriate, relative to each other. The light falling on the object should be at the same angle, so it seems to come from the same light source. The level of hue and saturation should match. A good way to check saturation and hue is to look at the image in black and white. If an image is just stuck onto a single-color cover, it looks self-published. (A whole bunch of sites offer stock art for sale.)
Photographs taken by you, friends or family can be useful. One panelist found her son's photos from an Aquarium visit made great space photographs for science fiction covers.
Commissioning a cover. You can either commission a complete cover, or get the artwork made separately and then design it into a cover. With the internet, prices have plummeted because excellent artists from Asia and Eastern Europe are willing to work for relatively low prices and send a good digital file that can be converted to a cover. (Deviant Art is one source.) However, these artists are not necessarily book designers, and you may need to do that or hire someone to do it. Prices are vary between $250 and $2000, but a good professional cover is typically around $500-800. Artists who will work with existing art and design the cover typically charge around $50/ hour. Online sites (like this one) offer cover design for far less.
Premade covers. An increasing number of sites offer pre-made covers, where you scroll through until you find one that would work for your story. In some cases, they are one-offs and so you have an exclusive; others will offer the same cover for sale multiple times. It's worth doing an image search to see what else that cover is associated with. Sites mentioned at the panel: Safari Heat Book Tours and Author Services (offers exclusivity, and will tweak the covers for an extra charge); HowardDavidJohnson (not exclusive unless you pay extra); and one other I couldn't find. These looked a good bit cheaper than the prices discussed, but perhaps there are charges I didn't look at.
WHITE-WASHING AND OTHER PUBLISHERS' DECISIONS
There was discussion of the white-washing of Octavia Butler's first book covers. The original cover was pretty good at selling the book, but, as Cliff Winnig pointed out, it will live in infamy. The picture was of a white woman while the book's characters were dark-skinned. The marketing department decided that it would sell better than way. It may even have been true, for two reasons. First, readers' biases. Second, the book might get shelved with ethnic books (bookstores' biases), and not reach its science-fiction audience. However, this practice contributes to erasure and the impression that the reading audience is all white. Publishers are learning not to do it.
If your book is not self-published but going to a publisher, you may not get a say in the cover. They may make the decisions without any input from you at all. This too is gradually changing, as self-publishing and small indie presses change authors' perceptions of how much control they should have. Even the large presses are beginning to listen. If you hate the cover they've designed it may be worthwhile telling them; in some cases, they are willing to change it. Small presses are usually more accommodating than large ones.
"This fantasy tale of loyalty and sacrifice came ever so close to the top three positions. Bowes deserves appreciation for putting together a complete story, excellently paced and with some incredible magic."
When a nursery-rhyme virus threatens to take out the internet - and possibly its users too - a creative solution is needed to save the world as we know it. But what, and can the tech team pull it off?
The story is short and light-hearted. I wrote the first draft years ago, in the era when 5 1/4 inch floppies still existed. From time to time, as I do with all my stories, I'd pull it out, revise it and update it. (There is no such thing as a Trunk Story - only one that hasn't yet found its purpose.) The floppies in the story became 3 1/2 inches. Then they became thumb drives. The cast changed a bit. I still found it amusing, but had no idea where to send it.
Recently, on Codex, someone linked to Unsung Stories. Here's how they describe themselves:
Unsung Stories is a fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Publishing a London-based small press. Unsung Stories publishes genre fiction, most commonly described as science fiction, fantasy and horror. But as useful as those classifications are, we look beyond them, into the potential they contain. We love the fuzzy bits between genres: hard, soft, gooey and fuzzy sci-fi, high, low, top, middle and bottom fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, weird, dark, comedy, satire, bizarro and anything else that falls somewhere between any or all of those...
So I sent it off, and here it is. I'm delighted.
Deepali's a science writer whose latest book, "Genetic Changelings: The Slippery Slope from Normalcy" is a runaway hit. She's becoming the voice of the Normies in a world where it's becoming more and more acceptable to be Designer. But her own sister's about to sabotage that...
Science Fiction Short Stories
The Body Surfer by Edward Ahern
Behind the First Years by Stewart C. Baker
Genetic Changelings by Keyan Bowes
Overlap by Beth Cato
Rest in Peace by Sarah Hans
The Hives and the Hive-Nots by Rob Hartzell
The Vast Weight of Their Bleeding Hearts by Alexis A. Hunter
Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones
The Julius Directive by Jacob M. Lambert
Metsys by Adrian Ludens
Fishing Expedition by Mike Morgan
Red by Kate O’Connor
Nude Descending an Elevator Shaft by Conor Powers-Smith
Sweet Dreams, Glycerine by Zach Shephard
Jenny’s Sick by David Tallerman
Shortcuts by Brian Trent
A Life As Warm As Death by Patrick Tumblety
Butterfly Dreams by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1 by M. Darusha Wehm
Clockwork Evangeline by Nemma Wollenfang
"These new authors are surrounded by classic work from the following writers: Edwin A. Abbott, Ray Cummings, Arthur Conan Doyle, E.M. Forster, H. Rider Haggard, Henry Kuttner, Jack London, Edward Page Mitchell, Philip Francis Nowlan, H. Beam Piper, Arthur B. Reeve, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Edgar Wallace, Stanley G. Weinbaum."(I never ever thought my work would appear in the same book as some of the greats! )
This is going to be an awesome set of books. Look at this cover! (Which you shouldn't judge a book by, but - look at this cover! Including the alien baby amid the scrollwork.)
Here's the panel description, taken from the World Fantasy Convention 2014 website (and I love that it remains up after the Con is over!):
Fantasy writers who are also law-enforcement workers discuss how fantasy fiction portrays law enforcement, and compare those practices to real-world law enforcement. They will talk about where fiction differs from reality and discuss what works in stories and what really is fantasy. In discussing such works as The City and The City (China Mieville), Finch (Jeff VanderMeer), London Falling (Paul Cornell), and Servant of Empire (Raymond Feist), they will contrast the real and fantasy worlds of law enforcement.
I finally got round to compiling my notes on it - and posting here on LJ, copied over from my Wordpress site. (This may contain errors because this area is new to me - please feel free to correct mistakes):
- Don't dehumanize people wearing uniforms. They're still people.
- Writing about loads of boring paperwork without being boring - have the officers complain about it!
- When in doubt, denigrate upper management!
- FBI has something called Citizen's Academy which is an excellent way to learn about the FBI.
- Black humor is a common way to relieve the stress of dealing with crime and death.
(If anyone has anything to add or correct please leave a comment. Comments are moderated because of spam, but I should get to it within 24 hours.)