Friday, June 27, 2014

On Genre Inbreeding and the Lineage of Bertbert

All right, y'all, bear with me.  This is a post about the dangers and temptations of wearing ruts in your favorite section of the bookstore, but it is also a five-star extended analogy (plus an excuse to wax nostalgic about one of my favorite things ever.)

There is a game called The Neverhood, released far back in the mists of time (1996, to be exact.)  It's a claymation point-and-click adventure, in which our hero, Klaymen, wakes up alone in an empty world, and must solve puzzles to discover the truth of this abandoned paradise.  It is simply fabulous.

Anyway, one building in the Neverhood contains the Hall of Records.  Its walls tell the story of Quater, a supreme being, who fashioned seven sons, and gave each the power of creation.

The second of Quater's seven sons was Bertbert.
Empowered by Quater to create, Bertbert, believing that he himself was Quater, begat another Bertbert.

This second Bertbert begat Bredbad, a weak attempt at a Bertbert; but with a speech impediment.


Bredbad, having no point of reference but himself, begat Bridabrack the Literal.

Who begat Bickback. Bickback was thin for his age and his peers mocked him for the purple and green skin splotches that covered his body. Once a large crowd of descendants of Bertbert had formed, poor Bickback was made to sit in the back.


Bickback lived a happy life; he wed Phyllis, a demure little lady, also from the back of the crowd.

He begat Mak Mok which means "low is high."

Mak Mok begat Mak Mak.

Who begat Mak Mak.

Who begat Mak Mak.

Who begat Mak Mak, who fashioned a two-sided being which included both genders, male and female, one on either side. It was a colossal being named Mammur who was very proud indeed.

The begetting continues unabated.

Klee, having become ruler of all the land of Fep, was compelled by his people to change his name to Fay Nee, which means, "Most of which still do not agree."

Fay Nee begat Fay Nee.

Who begat Wah Nee.

Who begat Acker, who looked nothing like his father, Wah Nee, but nonetheless, managed to create Ehp.


Ehp's own creation came out looking like a pile of something badly burned, so he named it, "Uh Uh."

Uh Uh was not alive, so it could not beget anything.
Thus ends the lineage of Bertbert.
(Bust photo from The Neverhood Wiki)
So maybe you can already tell where I'm going with this.  About how (for example) The Lord of the Rings begets Dungeons & Dragons, which begets the Dragonlance Chronicles and Forgotten Realms, which begets R.A. Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy, which feeds in to fantasy MMOs like EverQuest and Neverwinter Nights, and before you know it, everybody's in on the action

And then, of course, there's the glut.  Millions of people grow up reading about / watching / playing as elves and dwarves and short plucky people, so hundreds of thousands of people write about them, and thousands of people with really pretty good stories end up getting rejected over and over again because Legendary Swords Are So Done, and Sorry, We're Full Up on Chosen Ones, and NO ELVES EVER.

It's not that NOBODY can spin that yarn anymore - but like tyrannosaurs stomping through the jungle eating over-ambitious tiny mammals, the big-name established apex predators of the genre are now dominating it so thoroughly that it becomes really hard for any new voice to grow to comparable size.  Effectively, the genre conventions become an albatross around your neck: you may succeed, but if you do, it will be IN SPITE OF your graceful Aryan elves and axe-wielding beardtacular dwarves, and not because of them.

Because if we learned anything from Dragon's Crown,
it's that you really can have too much of a good thing.
(Photo from IGN)

And that is a shame.  Because it means that we are probably missing out on a lot of pretty kickass stories.

I'm not totally sure how we get around that.  But my eye is still drawn to that phrase from gen-three Bertbert up above: having no point of reference but himself.  If all we ever read is fantasy, how can we bring anything new to the fantasy genre?  If all we ever read is romance, or lit-fic, or thrillers, how can we contribute anything but more taut abs, dysfunctional Appalachian childhoods, and troubled badasses running from checkered pasts, respectively?

Anyway, I don't mean to sit here and act like I've got it all figured out or anything.  But when we sit down to write fiction, I do think it's worth considering where the book will fall in your chosen genre's genealogy - you know, what its "begats" are, and how many distinct ancestors it really has.  Because having a diverse gene pool is probably at least as important for a thriving literary culture as it is for Tasmanian Devils not going extinct from contagious face-cancer.  And for fictional clay dynasties, natch.

Companions are chosen for you by the Management.  You will normally meet them for the first time at the outset of the Tour.  They are picked from among the following: BARD, FEMALE MERCENARY, GAY MAGE, IMPERIOUS FEMALE, LARGE MAN, SERIOUS SOLDIER, SLENDER YOUTH, SMALL MAN,  TALENTED GIRL, TEENAGE BOY, UNPLEASANT STRANGER, and WISE OLD STRANGER.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Some Book-Related Realness, and a Request

All right, guys.  As of yesterday, we are at T-1 month to book launch.  And it's kinda hard to write this, because like... although some of you have read some parts of Sixes at some point along the way, the reality is that if your eyeballs are scanning these words, it's almost certainly because we've gotten to know each other somehow - you know, because our relationship started as human-to-human, not author-to-reader.  And it feels weird to take advantage of that personal relationship to ask you to help me push a product (even a product as awesome as this one.)

But I do need your help.  Like really.  I'll explain in a sec, but here in the meantime is a real quick "state of the launch" rundown:

1.  We have not one, but two fantastic final covers!  Is this some sweet action or what?

The US cover is on the left, and the UK one is on the right.  Delicious, no?  (Click either one to embiggen.)

2.  The US edition will be released on July 22nd (a week early!), while the UK edition will be out on July 31st.  Both will be available as paperbacks and in e-book form.

3.  Publisher's Weekly has posted a generous review, and e-ARCs are now available on NetGalley.  Huzzah!

4.  We have the launch party booked!  It will be at the Barnes and Noble in Hurst on August 2nd, at 3:00PM (and you can click for specific directions to the store.)  Huge major thanks to my good buddies Pam and Veena, and Rebellion's killer PR posse for making this happen, and to Kyle for this candid action shot!

It is on, in a manner not dissimilar to Donkey Kong.

As some of y'all already know, it's pre-orders plus the first few weeks' sales that have the biggest impact on a book's success, and the most influence on a bookstore's decision about whether to continue stocking it.  So between July 22nd and August 2nd, I plan to have what I'm going to call The Twelve Days of Launchmas - otherwise known as the biggest, baddest, most relentless promo blitz I can muster.

Did I say 'I'?  I meant 'we'.  Cuz boy, if y'all thought I leaned on you a lot while writing this dang thing, you ain't seen nothing yet.

"I pre-ordered!  I'm ready!  What do I do?"

Awesome sauce!  And thanks so much!  No need to carpet-bomb your social media feed just yet, but here are three things you can do in the short term that would really help me out:

--Let the book-people in your world know that you are ready for SixesThat could mean adding it to your Goodreads list, requesting it from your local library, or asking about it at your favorite bookstore.  The amazing truth is that you can do a lot to create demand, without ever spending a dime.

--If you have connections with any kind of book-friendly media (blog, podcast, radio show, etc.) please let me know!  I've got some cool stuff already lined up, but would love to do more, and be glad to help brainstorm a topic that would interest your crowd.

--If you have access to high-traffic horizontal space - be it at your desk, the swag table at your local convention, or the pamphlet rack at the Android's Dungeon - holler at me, and I'll get you some postcards to put out.  (Hell, get my stuff on a table at DragonCon or SDCC and I'LL put out.)

Whew.  That's all for now, but I'm sure there'll be more soon. And if I haven't said it yet, please ping me if you have any other propositions.  Y'all have been so awesome already, all Facebooking your Amazons and the whole nine yards, and I'm going to owe you even more than I already do.

My name is Elder Price
And I would like to share with you the most amazing book

Friday, June 20, 2014

GrammatiCats: The Royal Order of Adjectives

"The what?  The royal what?  Don't be coming 'round here with all your highnesses and majesties and HMS Jolly Longbottoms.  This is AMERICA, dammit, and we speak democracy!"

YES WE DO.  And that means we have the right to life, liberty, and a full, complete understanding of where all those dang commas go between the adjectives - including the reason why we have one in "full, complete understanding" but not in "all those dang commas".

Good!  Now slow your roll and doff your cap, cuz it's gonna get monarchical in here.

Pinkie Rating: 3

So here is a question for all you native English speakers out there.  Have you ever wondered why he's "Clifford the Big Red Dog" and not "Clifford the Red Big Dog"?  Or why "Pretty Little Liars" would never be "Little Pretty Liars"?  I mean, it's not like the meaning would change if we swapped the words around, right?

"No," you may thoughtfully reply, "but it just wouldn't sound right."

That's the thing, isn't it?  There is some thing, some invisible Anglophone force, which urges us not to say things like "a yellow crusty sock" or "a Swedish antique pube-trimmer" - and not just because they don't make for polite dinner conversation. So what is this mysterious force?

No midichlorians needed, friends: this is called the royal order of adjectives.  And here's how it works:

from the Capital Community College Foundation's excellent article
See those labels along the top?  Those are the categories that dictate the sequence of our adjectives.  We native speakers of English naturally tend to follow this pattern, while speakers of other languages often have a dickens of a time learning it.  (Hot tip, dialecticians: if you're writing a character who's not fully fluent in English, messing with this order is one subtle way you can show that.)

So let's sort our previous examples for practice:

Pretty (observation) Little (size) Liars
The (determiner) Big (size) Red (Color) Dog
a (determiner) crusty (observation) yellow (color) sock
an (determiner) antique (age) Swedish (origin) pube-(qualifier) trimmer

"That's great and all," you may say, "But how does this help me with commas?"

Let's talk about that!

Pop quiz, part 1: how would you describe this cat?

Maybe you thought of adjectives like:
  • tiny
  • angry
  • tortie/tortoiseshell
  • little
  • cute
  • green-eyed
  • multicolored
  • contemptuous
  • hateful
So let's put them to use!  Pop quiz, part 2: which of these phrases need a comma?

1. A cute little tortie cat
2. An angry contemptuous stare
3. The hateful green-eyed monster

Got your answers ready?  Here's the scoop:

1.  We generally wouldn't add commas here, even though there are four adjectives (a, cute, little, and tortie).  Why?  Because each adjective is from a different category - in this case, determiner, observation, size, colorThese are called cumulative adjectives, and they don't usually have commas between them.

By the way, if for some bizarre reason you don't want to print that chart out, laminate it, and sensually lick it as you memorize every one of those categories, here is a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn't use a conjunction like "and" or "but" between the adjectives, they are probably cumulative.  For example, "cute and little cat" doesn't sound good to most of us.  Same with "little and tortie".  No conjunction, no comma!

2.  Definitely need a comma here.  "Angry" and "contemptuous" are both observations (we see the naked spite seeping from Shedding-Cat's eyes), which means that these are adjectives from the same category - otherwise known as coordinate adjectives.  You might also notice that it passes the sniff-test mentioned above:  it wouldn't sound weird to say "an angry and contemptuous stare", so we do need to use a comma in the phrase "an angry, contemptuous stare."

(And if you would like an illustrated example of this same idea, look no further than Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: four adjectives of observation, three commas, and one rotten day.)

3.  Technically, we shouldn't use a comma here. "Hateful" is an observation, and "green-eyed" is a kind of physical description, which means that these two adjectives don't share a category, and so shouldn't have a comma.

"Technically?  Generally?  Usually?  What's with all this weaseling?"

Well, here is the thing, esteemed literarians: you know that "this is America, and we brake for nobody" sentiment we touched on in the beginning?  That same feeling seems to pervade our whole dang language, no matter where you live or which kind of English you speak - and these rules are meant to clarify and organize our speech, not to limit it.

For example, that little chart says that we should put observations before physical descriptions.  But I kind of like the phrase tiny, angry kitty - don't you?  We have a two-two-two syllable count, and each word begins with a stressed syllable and ends with the same Y-sound.  So maybe I want to put things out of order.  And maybe that means we need a comma there, so that we have time to linger and appreciate the symmetry of the words.

Here's another example from my book (she said, ever so shamelessly):

“Oh no, it was a smashing success, textbook really, just brilliant,” Sil hissed up at him, “until YOU stuck your bloody big nose into it! God damn you Elim, what hellborn foolish idiot notion possessed you –”

See that last phrase there?  "Hellborn foolish idiot notion" is DEFINITELY supposed to have commas in there, since every one of those adjectives is from the same "you're an unbelievable dumbass" category (less-colorfully known as the observation category).  But you can see from context that our boy Sil is tearing into Elim with two hands and both barrels: he's swearing at a mile a minute, and I don't want the reader's eyeballs to move any slower than Sil's mouth.  In this case, grammatical correctness has taken a big back seat to the faithful rendering of livid, spit-flecked outrage.

So with adjective order, as with grammar as a whole, what we really have is a two-step process:

1.  Figure out what you're supposed to do (coordinate adjectives, commas, etc.)

2.  Decide whether you want to do that.

"All right, sure.  But if it's all a bunch of hippy-dippy 'do what feels good' granola, why learn the rules at all?"

Why, because if your rule-following successfully communicates to your reader (or wise, benevolent editor) that yes, you really do know what you're doing, he or she is much more likely to let you get away with breaking said rules when it serves your purpose.  Which is why that blistering bastard train-wreck of a sentence above escaped the red pen and went to print last month - and why I would love for you to enjoy the same kind of flexibility and freedom in your own writing!

And since I know I haven't done one of these posts in awhile, a fresh reminder: please send me cats and questions!  Check out the updated photo submissions guidelines (bottom of the post), and hit me up with grammar questions by email or in the comments.  I wanna know what you wanna know!

Further reading:
Adjectival Magnets - a fun adjective-ordering quiz (requires Java)
Commas Between Coordinate Adjectives - also with handy test-yourself quiz at the end
Coordinate Adjectives Versus Cumulative Adjectives

Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!

1. Bandi, courtesy of Frank the Magnificent
2. Mystery kitten, courtesy of Jarret O.
3. Riki Tiki Tavi, courtesy of M.E. Kinkade (a cracking good author and freelance editor you totally need to know!)
4. Our own free-lovin' Peaches

Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Announcements

All right, full confession: if I smell like I've had a ripping big weekend, it's because I absolutely did (Also because it's June in Texas, where going out to get the mail leaves you looking like a Gatorade commercial.)  But here while I'm still fun and funky-fresh are all the highlights!

1.  My class at is now live and available for signup!

"Class?" you say?  "What class?  I wasn't informed of a class!"

Oh, shoot - we didn't actually talk about this, did we?

Well, the short story is this: "Punching Up Your Prose" was such a smashing success at DFWcon this year that I've had the enormous fortune of being invited to build and teach its bigger, better brother!  "Perfecting Your Prose" is a six-week online course that covers some of the same topics, but with much more interactivity and in far better detail.  Each week for six weeks, you'll have a fresh set of activities waiting for you - and you can log on anytime during that week to do them.  The class is offered by the amazing folks at the Loft Literary Center, and although it doesn't start until September 15th, they are offering a $15 discount until August 22nd.  So if that sounds even slightly enticing, please do check it out and save your seat!

2.  I did a radio interview and didn't completely embarrass myself!

For real!  Michelle Cornwell-Jordan of IndieReview Behind the Scenes was kind enough to have me on her show on Saturday, even in spite of my indie-challenged credentials - and I didn't cry or barf in my shoes or say even one cuss word!  It was amazing!

New Entertainment Podcasts with IndieReviews Behind The Scenes on BlogTalkRadio

Seriously though - I had a terrific time, and I absolutely love the format of her show.  If you want to help support independent writers and artists, or just want to hear me helplessly bloviating about One Night in Sixes, The Phantom Tollbooth, and my stalker-crush on Julie Murphy, definitely check it out.  Pretty sure the phrase "literary diuretic" worked its way in there too.

(Don't miss Michelle herself, by the way - because where else are you going to get your Thunderkin fix?)

3.  There are even more people who will let me in the door!

And I'm still waiting for details on some of them, but everything so far is up on the Schedule page over there.  Will spotlight them better as they get close, but for now, let me just say that I am like, grievously excited to have been invited to speak to the North Texas RWA.  If you missed "Dialect to Die For" at DFWcon this year or have been meaning to check out RWA in general, please come out with me on September 20th: I've heard tremendously good things about these folks, and just now found out that you can go to two meetings as a guest for free.  For free!  I know, right?!  And here we were told free love was dead!

Okay, that's enough self-aggrandizing for one day.  And seriously, you guys - thanks ALL y'all for helping me get my ball rolling over here.  I feel like I don't say that often or personally enough, but the truth is, I am a lucky, squishy, casually disgusting she-hobbit who has yet to make good on her first 420-page promise, and literally nothing on this whole above list would be happening if you-all hadn't tried me out, talked me up, and cheered me on.  I have no idea how to even begin returning that favor, but God Almighty, I will try.

There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Artificial Barriers to Entry, Part III: Astroturf and Rocket Ships

(Very-belatedly continued from Part I and Part II!)

All right, sports-fans - here is a fun fact.

Between 1928 and 1972, India won 7 out of 10 Olympic gold medals in field hockey.
Between 1976 to 2012, India won 1 out of 10.

Quickly, Robin - to the history books!  What caused this abrupt decades-long crash from a country that dominated this sport for half a century?  War?  Military coup?  Michael Phelps?

No, as The Atlantic reports. 1976, the Olympics switched from natural turf to synthetic, which is far more expensive. All the Indian players who practiced on fields and grass patches were learning skills no longer suited to international competition, and only the communities with the money and will to build a synthetic field could train viable contenders. India has won only a single field hockey medal in the 40 years since it last competed on natural turf, priced out of a sport that had once brought it so much Olympic glory.
Not in the budget for the Hyderabad YMCA.
This story is unquestionably about money, which we talked a lot about in Part II.  But I also think it makes a good bridge to what I'd like to look at today: namely, how similar practices in the publishing industry end up likewise passively excluding entire groups of people.

So let's say you've trained up to the top of your authorial game.  You put in the 10 years of practice, wrote your million words of crap.  What you have in your hands is a gold-star manuscript: fresh, gripping, original, and immaculately edited.  With a spring in your step and a flutter in your heart, you decide to start querying agents.  What happens next?

Well, if you're like my one friend, you get a pile of effusive, glowing rejections, gushing about how much they love the story but "have no idea where they'd send it" because the one publisher they'd normally submit to "already bought their lesbian novel for the year."  (Which is a hell of a thing, considering your story is a straight-up thriller.)

If you're like my other friend, you shelve your dreams of a Mesoamerican fantasy that celebrates your origins, because Big Publishing is only interested if your book is loaded with gold and skin and feathers and the blood of human sacrifices.

If you're like my third friend, you sit quietly with your fresh fiction and your budding blog, and wonder whether you should even show your face on the Internet at all.

And actually, I'd like to stop and showcase her for a moment, because hers is a voice I don't think we hear very often. With her gracious permission, please say hello (again!) to my good buddy Shay E. Dee:

I hugely encourage you to watch her whole video, because she's warm and fun and real (and braver than I am, with her fearless vlogging self!), but also because her message is much bigger and broader than this little snippet I've transcribed here:
Even if you're looking just for an agent – you do tend to go around, and you will find, generally speaking, that there are a lot of fair [i.e. white] people in the publishing industry.  I don't know if it means anything, but you do sit down and question what that even means, and because of that, you then question whether you even fit in there – if you should even be doing that.
I'm sure agents out there don't really care, that they just want a book to represent and sell and make billions. I'm sure color doesn't really come into it. But then, if it doesn't, then... why is it like that?
And I just can't even tell you guys how hard I think we need to be listening, here.  Shay isn't Daniel José Older or N.K. Jemisin or Junot Diaz or any one of the hundreds of lesser-known writers who have hit the Straight White Wall of the literary world face-first and made it their mission to help break it down.  Shay is just starting out.  So when she speaks, what you're hearing is the voice of a writer who's brand-new - so new she hasn't even seriously started querying yet - and already wondering if she's not supposed to be here.

And that is a damned shame.  (She's not wrong, either - if you haven't been to a writers conference lately, scope out the AAR directory.  It won't take you long to see the pattern.)

So why IS it like that?  Why is it that decades after the Civil Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots, the ADA act, Cesar Chavez, Oprah Winfrey, and Captain Planet, that the traditional publishing industry is still so very... traditional?  Didn't we get the memo from Sesame Street and the Super Friends?  Shouldn't we have our demographic crap straight by now?

Well, here is a thought.  (Which will be illustrated through the sci-fi/fantasy facet of the publishing industry, since that's the one I know best.  Relevant fact: the Hugos are the SFF equivalent of the Oscars, given every year to a broad swath of authors, artists, editors, and other spec-fic publishing pros.  The statue is a suggestively-shaped rocket ship instead of a naked golden ubermensch, because that's how we roll.)

Observation I:  traditional publishing is something of a closed loop.  Authors are also agents.  Editors are also authors.  From what I've seen of the business so far, it's fairly rare to find someone who only wears a single hat - and rarer still to find someone who's never worked outside their current role.

WorldCon 1956 - New York.  Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and others in attendance.
Segregation is the law of the land.
Photo from

Observation II:  this closed loop is also a relatively small one.  Go to half a dozen conferences and conventions in your state, and I guarantee you will see the same people over and over and over again.  And this effect can only be a million times more potent in New York, still the Dyson Sphere of the American publishing industry.

WorldCon 1978 - Phoenix.  George R.R. Martin's first novel nominated for a Hugo.
Segregation over; indoor smoking still the norm.
Photo from
Observation III:  this small, closed loop also makes it very, very easy to "hire from within."  Whether that's editors taking a preferential look at a short story submission they received from an author they met at a room party or an agent taking on an intern who was recommended to them over lunch with colleagues, there are a huge number of job openings and opportunities that never leave this tiny, enormously social world.

WorldCon 1992 - Orlando.  Bill Clinton newly elected; ADA act is two years old.
Isaac Asimov died earlier in the year, but won a Hugo anyway.
Photo from
Observation IV:  it's human nature to want to work with people who "get you".  Editors buy stories that agree with their vision of what good fiction looks like - which are more likely to be written by authors who share their vision of what the world looks like - who are more likely to have cultural and political kinship with the agents and editors who ultimately pick them up.  This is not necessarily a product of active, hateful prejudice.  This is an ingrained tendency that flourishes in an enormously subjective industry - with hugely discriminatory results.

(And I wish like hell that I could use this spot to post a clip of Hank Hill hiring a fellow white guy who comments on his Dallas Cowboys calendar over a Hispanic woman who couldn't pick Troy Aikman out of a lineup.  Go take 20 minutes to watch the "Junkie Business" episode of King of the Hill - it's a classic.)

Worldcon 2013 - San Antonio.  Women are well-represented at the Hugos this year:
Seanan McGuire, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, and others are honored.
Photo from

And so we end up here: with a WorldCon 2013 group photo that's almost as monochromatic as its 1956 counterpart.

But the other thing I want to emphasize with all these pictures is how little torch-passing has actually happened in these 57 years.  See that 1956 picture up top?  Robert Silverberg won a Hugo that year for Most Promising New Author.  Wanna know who did stand-up at WorldCon 2013?  Yes indeedily

And the young lady smoking in the 1978 photo is Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who's now a consulting editor at Tor Books (a Big Publisher for us spec-fic folks.)  Did you know that she was excommunicated from her church for supporting the 1980 Equal Rights Amendment for women?  I didn't until I sat down to write this post, and yet her story and her photo up there illustrate these two points perfectly:

1.  If it feels like the face of publishing hasn't changed since the Mad Men days, it's because in many cases we are still literally looking at the same faces.

2.  Older faces don't necessarily mean older ideas - but it's worth remembering that they did grow up in a world with different social norms and expectations, and that can still be reflected in the stories they choose to write, the books they choose to publish, and the people they choose to work with.

"Good job, Tex," you may here reply. "It's taken you 640 words to define 'good ol' boys club.'"

I know, right?!  I thought that was pretty damned efficient of me!  (Trust me: if brevity is the soul of wit, then we epic fantasy writers are its ever-churning lower intestine.)

But here's the thing, guys: this thing, this glacially slow passing of the industry baton?  This is not just a temporary inconvenience.  This is not just Tiger Woods feeling conspicuous at the country club.  This really has, is having, and will continue to have a huge impact on whose voices we hear, and how loudly they have to scream to be heard.  I'd like to look at that next time - because the more people know about these professional herd instincts of ours and their consequences, the better-equipped we all are to help move things in a better direction.  (Optimism, Annie - I promise it's coming!)

If you could eat at Luly's with one of the following, would it be A) Jesus, B) Muhammad, or C) Golda Meir?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

One Reason Why Your Blog Doesn't Actually Suck

Hey guys - thanks so much for all the comment love on my last post!  I'm a little worried about the enthusiasm and sincerity of some of the responses, though, so just to clarify:

The reason I posted that with so much tongue-in-cheek hyperbole is because I don't actually agree with that advice - or better to say, I don't agree with treating that advice as Absolute Commandments.  Yes, blogging is a medium, and it's good to know how to shape your ideas to make them maximally attractive in said medium.  But how you ever noticed how often people try to sell us "magic formulas" to fix whatever problem we're having?

"On page 3, introduce the Mentor, who will prompt the Refusal of the Call to Action."

"Step 2: make eye contact with the girl and approach her - don't let her make the first move."  

"Then, after dinner, eat ten grapes and drink another 8 oz glass of water."

This stuff pops up over and over again, because our brains find it so damned attractive.  "Don't worry; it's really not complicated," the sirens sing.  "You only need to do these six simple things, exactly and to the letter, and all will be well."

And even though we intellectually know that if it really were that easy, everyone else would have already done it, our ego makes us believe that we are special snowflakes in a sea of weak-minded schmucks - that WE have this special secret advice now, this wonderful magic feather, and all we have to do is jump off the balcony and fly.

The siren song is a hell of a lot more attractive than the reality.  Nobody wants to listen to the frumpy old mermaid who says things like, "Actually, it's really goddamn hard," and "Successful people can't really help you, because they don't know anything but what worked for them personally," and "If anybody actually had this shit universally figured out, they wouldn't still be shilling for people to buy their advice."

So if you really do want to think about what makes for a kick-ass blog, here is an exercise you can do.  First, peruse these posts here, and read whichever one(s) catch your eye.

Amazon, Hachette, and Giant Stompy Corporations.

All the Love in the World is Useless.  [TW: cancer, death.]

Writing Strong Women, Part I: How it All Goes Wrong

Games of Yesteryear: Final Fantasy III, or How Four Onion Kids Fostered an Obsession

Silent Technical Privilege

But but but - WHY Does Magic Have to Make Sense?

Then compare that to some of YOUR favorite posts (ones you've read, or ones you've written.)

Some of the ones I posted are from huge mega-successful blogs and authors, while others are small.  Some are funny, some are ranty, some are thoughtful, and one is heartbreakingly sad.  Each of them breaks some or all of the 'rules' I posted last week.  But I will bet you a dollar that they all have at least one thing in common with your favorites: in each case, the author was writing about something that mattered to them, and did a really good job of putting their passion on the virtual page

And that, reader o' mine, is why I strongly suspect that your blog doesn't suck.  Even if you haven't gotten part 2 down yet - even if you're not sure how best to present your passion in this particular medium - if you are writing about something you care about, you are already halfway to greatness.

That is what I think, and that is what I am saying here.

5.  Pry claws from back legs out of your arm. Go get the cat, pick up half-dissolved pill from floor and drop it into garbage can.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"10 Reasons Why Your Blog Sucks"

"Tex," people occasionally tell me, "I know I'm supposed to blog, but I'm scared to try.  How do you do it?"

Well, here is a sordid confession: I don't actually know what I'm doing.  At all.  Or DIDN'T - until this weekend, when I sat down and read about eighteen dozen "blogging for clueless goobers" articles.  Now I am an expert!  My blog will be eighteen times better going forward - and yours can be too!  Here is what you need to do:

1.  Your post title needs to be keyword-rich for the Google, but witty and provocative enough to attract live human eyeballs and their coveted clicks.  (See what I did up there?)

2.  Your post should have - I won't say the T-word here - a single, clear main idea.  No aimless rambling!

3.  You've got to have a picture, of course.  Who's going to have the attention span to get through your relentless odyssey of text without a pictorial rest-stop along the way?  (And no stealing from Google Image Search, you mannerless Visigoth!)

Here are some poorly-photographed nachos we once ate in Stirling, Scotland. 
Note the strangely reasonable portion sizes and extra-elegant double plate.

4.  On a similar note, make sure you bold the especially interesting bits, so people who aren't really reading can follow along.  You know that game you played when you were a kid, where the living room floor was hot lava, and the throw pillows were stepping stones?  This is that, but for your reader's fickle gaze.

5.  You'll have the decency to update at least twice a week, of course, because otherwise you're just wasting your time. 

6.  You'll promote each post at least twice on three different social media accounts, because see above.  (But don't be obvious or obnoxious about this.  You can't be all Cat in the Hat with your "look at me, look at me, look at me now!"  You have to balance the cake and the boat and the fish and the ball with more of an "I don't know if you know this, but I'm actually kind of a big deal" disinterested swagger.)

7.  Time your post wisely.  Have your local haruspex perform the appropriate reading of entrails to find the most auspicious day and time.  We recommend chicken for Blogger, and the liver of a young male sheep for Wordpress.

8.  And for heaven's sake, keep it snappy, Tolstoy!  Yeah, you can have posts longer than 500 words - if your audience are convicted felons doing time in solitary.

The nachos were accompanied by the obligatory bilingual moisti-nap.
Because finger foods, like menstruation, are marks of Original Sin,
and best endured with dignity, resilience, and a robust array of sanitary products.
9.  Oh, and tagging!  Tag RELENTLESSLY.  Tag like Banksy on a bath-salts bender.  Just take 75% of the nouns in your post and reproduce them as tags, so that the invisible SEO spiders of the Internet can bring you even more coveted clicks.  Basically, if your tag list doesn't look like the Finnegans Wake episode of "Will it Blend?", you're doing it wrong.

10.  And whatever you do, don't forget to ask a question at the end of your post!  It doesn't matter how forced or awkward it is, as long as it's there.  Because how else will your readers know that they're allowed to leave comments?  God, why does it always have to be about YOU?!

So there you have it, people: everything you need to know about blogging.  Fame and fortune will soon be yours!  What about you?  Do you like fame and fortune?

I mean, we’re already talkin’ 27 hits, here. And that’s from this computer alone!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Favorite Hives of Scum and Villainy

Well, look, people.  I'll be the first to admit it: even as wild as this past year has been, I'm still very much fresh off the moisture farm.  But life's gotten kind of crazy, and I've been palling around with this weird old man lately, and let me tell you - if you guys want to know where rogue literarians go to slam back Gamorrean hooch and dazzle you with their books, minds, and the occasional margarita recipe, I now officially have the hookup.  If you want to know where the cool writers hang, look no further.

Okay, this first one almost made me reconsider the post title, because it is not a hive at all - much less a villainous one.  Rather, it's a brand-new startup, and one that I'm excruciatingly excited about - because The Author Visits is a true one-of-a-kind gem.  No, it's not the first place on the Internet where authors can go to guest-blog about their latest work - but it's gotta be the first one where the host (the dauntless Veena Kashyap!) gives each author a review and an interview - and treats readers to a whole week of celebratory book-tacular activities, including a giveaway every Friday.  Trad-published?  Self-published?  It don't matter none, son!  From thrillers to poetry to paranormal contemporary urban portal vampire YA (or whatever the kids are calling it these days!), Veena and TAV are game to host and entertain every kind of book and book-lover out there - and I am REALLY looking forward to seeing who-all walks through her newly-open door.  Pro tip: make sure that includes you!

"Tex," I hear you ask, "why is that dinosaur clutching a book?"

Why, because Novelocity is a website for voracious readers, of course - and there is no reader more voracious than the fearsome novelociraptor!  More than that, it's a nest of professional and neo-pro sci-fi and fantasy authors, who run a collective "topic of the week" blog on every writing subject imaginable.  (I say "who", but really it's the indefatigable Beth Cato of Clockwork Dagger fame who herds all us cats.  And I say "us" because I'm one of the eleven writers there, albeit the spottiest and least-reliable of the bunch.  Working on that!)

What I really like about Novelocity, though (apart from the mascot), is that it's more than just book stuff - and more than just OUR book stuff.  Whether getting revved about upcoming SFF releases, waxing nerdy about Ferengi and Flight of the Navigator, or diagramming office setups with screaming Lego figures, it's always a good time over there - and we are always game for a chat!

 "...the what."

Well, the Holy Taco Church is a literary-gastronomical ministry, with fifteen ordained authors carrying out the work of the church under its spiritual father Kevin Hearne, formally known as the Tacopope, and -

"...the WHAT."

All right, think of it like this: in addition to being notorious iconoclasts, most spec-fic authors are also chair-based life-forms.  This is known.  And although we subsist mostly on Cheetos and Mountain Dew during our larval stages, post-pupal SFF writers very often acquire a hobbit-like appreciation for the finer things in life: good food, good drink, good books, and friends to help enjoy all of the aforementioned.  These particular friends have just started a new website for trading recipes and book recommendations - so if that sounds like a good combination to you, anoint yourself with with the Holy Guacamole and head on down!

(Plus, come on - they have Wendig.  Who doesn't love Wendig?  Yeah, exactly: productive, well-adjusted members of society and gormless flinching beardophobes.  NOT HERE, BUDDY.)

You know what - this was really fun to write, and long overdue.  Maybe I should do one for local DFW stuff too.  We'll call it "Plano Shot First."  Stay tuned!

Sorry about the mess.