Author Archives: funny

Self-Publishing: The Tsunami

Y’know… I’ve self-published a number of my own (lesser…) efforts. I do not make any pretenses as to their superiority or lack thereof. And I think it’s delightful that an independent, unknown author can take her beloved magnum opus to its audience of two (if she’s lucky) and tell herself that she’s “published.”

But… My god, there should be a limit!

Problem No. 1 is the same problem we’ve always had with this route to the public: in the absence of a gatekeeper, any kind of schlock can go to print and distribution. And believe me, it does.

Problem No. 2: Amazon et alii have made the self-publishing process so easy that we now have an indiscriminate flood of schlock. It saturates the book market.

It saturates Amazon to the extent that you can’t tell whether you’re ordering a decent book or not. People put up their friends and hire hacks to post glowing reviews, and so if you sort an Amazon search by customer reviews, a slew of apparently stellar volumes will pop to the head of the list.

They’re stellar, all right. In the sense that a red dwarf star is stellar. Dull and glowing by the light of spent radiation.

An example of this struck the other day, here at The Copyeditor’s Desk. We would like to offer proposal writing services through our little business. As a faculty member at Arizona State University, I wrote a few proposals, and in an earlier incarnation, my little business picked up a number of jobs by answering federal RFPs. And I spent several terms — nigh unto a decade — on the Arizona Humanities Council’s board of directors. All we did there was read, assess, and decide whether to reject or approve proposals.

So I do know how a proposal works.

However, it’s been awhile. Given that times do change, I figured I’d better cobble together a DIY refresher course to bring my skills up to date before offering us up on the open market as proposal writers.

First off, I spotted a course offered through a national association of grant writers. It was pricey, but I could add people to it, so I subscribed for myself and my associate editor.

Result: middling. Apparently there’s not enough to say on the subject to fill several hours of video time — certainly not enough time to justify charging what that outfit charges — and so the instructor bloviates. On and on and eye-glazingly on. The content ranges from saccharine pep talk to entire segments dedicated to telling viewers what she’s going to say next.

I do not have time to waste like that (nor, truth to tell, did I have the money to waste on the thing…).

Insight: I need a book: a guide to proposal writing.

So I go to Amazon and see there’s really not much out there. Well: there is, but there isn’t. Most of the hits on searches for “grant writing” and “proposal writing” receive mediocre reviews. The ones that show near the top — one, for example, in the “Dummies” series — appear to have arrived there grâce à self-promotion of the most vigorous type.

I go back to the online course, waste some more time listening to hot air. Lose patience. Give up.

Drive down to the only surviving general bookstore in the city. They have exactly NOTHING on the subject, and the place is so over-run with Christmas shoppers I have to prize my way into a harassed clerk’s attention. She directs me to a) the business section (nooo…) and b) the wanna-be writer’s section (noooo to the power of ten).

Damn!  Back to Amazon. This time I filter the search in order of customer reviews. Several how-to books on grant writing appear, festooned with five-star decoration.

Order one that looks like it might be OK.

First warning sign: it takes for-freaking ever for the thing to be shipped: ten days or two weeks.

Now it finally arrives. I tear open the package to find this thing printed on the cheapest of all possible paper with one of those cheesy covers that curls up the first time you open the book and then stays curled for all eternity. Evidently self-published, despite bearing the name of a prominent East-Coast publisher.

Well, yes. Look closely at the copyright page and you learn that said venerable publisher has added self-publishing to its wares.

This outfit’s name on your copyright page looks grand, but evidently the author got no more publishing services than I would get running my copy through the PoD press I use. In fact, my guys produce a much better-looking book.

Oh well.

Now I start to read the thing.

First thing I come to is the advice that you must L-O-O-O-O-V-E your cause and your work to be a successful grant writer.

Oh.

Effing.

BARF!!!!!

I’ve just sat through hours of the same kind of bloviation, transparently intended to fill space in the expensive video for which customers are charged a L-O-O-O-O-V-E-ly pretty penny.

When you’re trying to learn a professional skill, you do not need a pep talk. You need a road map.

Where was this woman’s editor?

Absent, apparently, along with her common sense.

Herein lies the problem: It’s too easy to churn this stuff out. It’s too easy to get it published on Amazon. It’s too easy to hire a printer to make a fake book out of it. It’s w-a-a-a-y too easy to put people up to posting bushels of ecstatic reviews at Amazon.

The result is, we have an ocean of trash out there, much of it deceptively packaged. I would not have purchased this book if I had realized it was self-published blather. Which, my dears, is exactly what it is.

Therein lies the problem with self-publishing. The tripartite problem, really: it acts on authors and publishing houses as it acts on readers. Videlicet: in the absence of a discerning gatekeeper’s eye — without an editor, a marketer, and a publisher who knows what quality work looks like and who has a decent sense what will sell and what will not sell — we are all awash in a sea of mediocrity.

For authors: we don’t know whether what we’re emitting is worth the hot air we expend on it…or not. We always think our stuff is wonderful. So does our mother. Our friends…maybe not so much, but you can be sure that they want to stay our friends and so they tell us that yes, yes, we’re so right: our stuff is wonderful.

This will happen even if what our stuff deserves is a one-sentence form letter reading “This is something that we cannot publish.”

It’s damn hard to blossom when you’re standing in a field overgrown with weeds. And how do you compete with someone who hires people or puts friends and acquaintances and customers up to blitzing Amazon with five-star reviews? Most writers hang out in the garret writing because they prefer their own company. We’re not  marketers. We’re not social butterflies. We’re writers. And that would be why we need publishers (real ones, that is), complete with marketing apparatus.

For publishers: they can bust their buns to put out the best books imaginable by the most gifted writers in creation. Good luck bringing them to a public drowning in schlock. Who wants even to be bothered to look for a decent book, at this point? Why, when I can find what I want online? No, it’s not all in one place, and it’s not all in a convenient form that I can pull off the six-foot shelf when I need a reference. But hey: it’s free, and I do know that something from the National Institutes of Health or PBS is likely not to be schlock.

And as for the public? One word. Schlock.

Progress Being Made

As you’ll recall, if you visit here now and again, awhile back my creative schooner ran aground on the shoals of ennui. I decided to try a new tack: write the backstory for a character that kept pushing herself to the forefront of the imaginative stage.

This scheme is working well, to my surprise. So well, in fact, that I’m beginning to wonder if the story is really about Ella, second-in-command to the Kaïna Rysha’s overseer, and not at all about her highness, Rysha Delamona, described by said overseer in a moment of impatience as ruler of “This, That, and the Other, not to Exclude the Whole Fucking Universe.”

I had conceived of this tale as an “Upstairs” story, one that would follow the exploits of an imperial aristocracy challenged not only by its own divisive intrigues but by the appearance of a mysterious alien entity.

But maybe in fact it’s a “Downstairs” story, following the exploits of a hard-bitten interstellar working and criminal class struggling to survive in the context of an aggressive imperial culture. Maybe the interesting stuff has little to do with the privileged, the wealthy, and the hereditary elite.

So far, we have about 6800 words, five chapteroids of copy that consist largely of flashbacks occurring while Ella is having a spate of insomnia. The next scene is clear in its author’s mind and likely to roll right along.

If this keeps on, I’ll end up with a whole story about Ella, Dorin, and the “Downstairs” crew, probably with rather little characterization or story-telling about the elite. That’s why I think maybe it’s a whole different story than the one originally envisioned.

At this rate, she was never going to get to sleep. Leaving the light off – none was needed, after all, nor did she want to wake anyone – she slipped out from under the covers, pulled on a robe, and padded barefoot down the cool stone hallway to the side entry at the far end of the women’s quarters. The door was alarmed, but she had a key and a code, which she used to let herself outside.

Zaitaf [Varnis’s largest moon] cast her argentine glow across the landscape that spread out before Ella’s restless gaze. What a thing, she reflected. Who would have imagined she would ever see such a place, pastoral and only half-peopled, much less live in it? Monochromatic beneath the moon’s platinum mantle, the broad pastures, the sturdy manor house – conservative but large and commanding – the gardens, the domesticated woods, and off in the distance the low mountains from which Skyhill took its name glowed like a painting limned in ebony ink on silver. Lovely by daylight, this evening it took her breath away. It wanted to fill her with love for the place. But it also stole other things away from her: her self, her loves, her past.

She gazed up at Zaitaf and wondered which of those gray patches on its face was Ethra. Could a person see Ethra at all without a magnifying lens? And . . . how was it possible that she’d been here almost 30 years? That she’d spent almost ten on Zaitaf?

Djitti had died a couple years after Ella was brought to Skyhill, recruited as Dorin’s second in overseeing the estate’s staff. Her daughter, now the Kaïna, was ten at the time. Not quite twenty when her father was assassinated. Five years Kaïna now, Rysha was.

How did all that happen between yesterday and today?

Bhotil [overseer on Ethra, the colony on Zaitaf] would be in his 90s now, if he’d lived. He had been good to her, helped her work her way up from the resort’s laundry to dispatching and then to supervising staff. She missed him.

Every now and again she missed Bhotil. Now and again. But she missed Vighdi—her lover, her boss—every day.

Vighdi, shining bright in the sky. What was she doing now? Was she still on Zaitaf? Hell, was she even still living at all? Ella had no way of knowing, no way of finding out.

“Madame.”

She jumped, startled out of her reverie. At the door, watching her with a half-smile, stood Dorin [overseer for the Kaïna’s estate, and Ella’s immediate boss].

“It’s after curfew. What are you doing out here?”

“Not much,” she said. “Just having a hard time getting to sleep. You, too?”

“Well, no. But opening the door sets off an alarm on my desk.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I thought my key would open it without waking you.”

“Well – at least it doesn’t wake the dead an all their kindred.”

“Can’t win, hm?”

“Never.”

He stepped outside onto the landing with her and stood gazing at the silver-plated landscape.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” he remarked.

“Oh, my, yes.”

Dorin stood quietly, his attention taken by the glowing scene. The moonlight picked up the silver in his hair and, to Ella’s eye, made him part of the show.

“So,” he said after a moment or two, “what’s keeping you awake tonight, Ella? Something on your mind?”

Ah. The talk-to-me gambit. She’d had the same steward’s training: social work and counseling. Maybe it was unkind of her, though, to suspect a “gambit.” Overseer, he was, but he’d also been a good enough friend to her.

She shrugged. “I dunno. Different things, I guess.”

He was quiet for a moment. The wait-’em-out gambit. She gave in. “The Darl business, I suppose. It’s just…a little much.”

“Upset you to see him suffering like that?”

“I suppose, yeah.” He waited some more. “No,” she added. “It’s not anything we haven’t all been through.”

“Most of us,” he agreed.

“When you think about it…well, hell. Dorin. You and I worked like animals to get where we are. This guy comes along, this guy, and he just drops out of the cooker into the dormitory at Skyhill? I mean…how does that happen?”

A dubious glance. “When did you start expecting life to be fair?” He actually sounded a little surprised. And yes. It probably was…out of character. The man could spot bullshit a mile away.

“Not recently,” she admitted. He smiled distantly, gazing at the silvered landscape. At length she spoke into his silence. “It’s just that it annoys me. This is Bintje’s doing. If she hadn’t gotten herself knocked up, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with a new slave, and the paperwork and the damn blacksuits in our faces and the training and the headaches that go with someone fresh out of the cooker [a particularly excruciating type of punishment marking the transition between conviction for a crime and a lifetime of servitude].”

“Well. It’s not Bintje’s fault she got pregnant. She had the shot. You saw her get it. And you know the stuff doesn’t work a hundred percent of the time.”

“Okay, so Bintje brings home a belly, and the mistress decides…what? She’s going to buy a doctor for her? Why? The place is crawling with perfectly fine midwives.”

Why, indeed?

I have no idea. Who knows what mysteries lurk in the hearts of absolute rulers?

Creative Process: Becalmed

Been awhile since I posted here. That’s because it’s been awhile since I’ve written any creative work worth mentioning.

Lots of clients’ papers and books: good. Lots of socializing: fine. Lots of goofing off: hmmm…

So I’d gotten several chapters into the current novel — let’s call it the Varnis Book, after the name of the fanciful planet where it takes place — but suddenly…just came to a dead stop.

I’d turn on the computer, stare at the screen, and…could not write a word.

Open a notebook, pick up a luxurious fountain pen, stare at the paper, and…could not write a word.

Huh. I knew what the characters intended to do. I knew (at least vaguely) what awaits them. But NOTHING that I tried to do would make the words flow.

This led to quite a lot of idle time. And quite a lot of pointless self-distraction (which also did not work). And finally to a general sense of frustration.

At one point as I was daydreaming while driving through the city’s homicidal traffic (I distract myself from the pain and terror of driving by dreaming up plotlines), it occurred to me that the character who was occupying most of my attention — the one I seemed to be finding most attractive — was one who was not central to the main story. She was not a main character; she was not even a central character in her sub-plot.

But for some reason, she was more interesting than any of the characters I probably should have been working on.

After I had wasted (so I thought) more than enough time dreaming up this woman, Ella, and imagining her life story, a radical thought coalesced in the Magic 8-Ball that is my mind:

What if the story is really not Rysha’s story? What if the story is really Ella’s story?

Hm. Not to say whoa! What would happen if I tried to write the narrative from Ella’s point of view? Or…since I seem to find Ella so fascinating, what if I simply wrote Ella’s backstory, just to get that out of my system?

If I took the time to put the story of Ella’s life in little glowing letters on a computer screen, what would I have then?

Nothing?

A chapter or three for the novel?

A short story that might stand on its own?

A highly developed set of notes that could be used to inform the novel’s progress, if I could ever get the novel to progress again?

Well… “Nothing” was what I had at the moment. None of the other three options looked any worse than that.

So, thought I, let’s send Ella to the moon, and then let’s have her tell us what happened to her after that. Opened a new file, saved it as “Ella’s Backstory.docx,” and started typing.

And…

and…

and KEPT ON TYPING.

Amazingly, it worked.

Yes. Apparently I’m far more interested in the subplots than I am in the main plot of this proposed novel.

At 5,025 words, I’m ready to launch Ella into a new scene and from there to tell the reader a whole lot more about her.

Might the new scene be a new chapter? Or might we be looking at something that is NOT a novel? Could we be looking at a series of short stories or novelettes that occur around the ongoing action of a place and a period in the planet’s history?

Maybe this is not really any one character’s novel, but several stories of several characters?

Whatever…that remains to be seen.

So…?

Am I the only old bat on the planet who tires of listening to the Millenial and the Urban open a discussion with the word “So…”?

Turn on NPR and you’ll hear it almost any day. A reporter asks some ambitious and highly accomplished young expert on this, that, or the other to opine or to explain, and the interviewee will respond, “So, Apple is coming out with a new iPhone the day after tomorrow and yada yada yada…”

Does it never occur to either the interviewer or the interviewee that the word so implies that what comes next follows logically from what came before? It is a word that has meaning: therefore, thus, ergo.

But nothing has come before. So is simply offered as a kind of transitional place-holder, a way of moving from the question to the answer. There really is no “so” there.

Ugh. What can one say in the face of such an inane habit? Other, perhaps, than “We do hope this one will go away soon…”

Don’t do that, dear smart and admirable young experts. Just answer the damn question. Please.

Where Is the Grass Greener?

So, in the grass-is-greener department, here’s the question of the day: Can you earn more money cleaning house than you can editing copy?

Well, the lady who came to my house during the Year of the Surgery charged $80 a hit. But apparently she undercharged. Women I talk to at choir say they expect to pay $100. I had her come in every two weeks, but more affluent types will have them once a week. And one lady I talked to, who was working for a woman who farmed her out to others, discovered the woman was charging $120 for her services.

So let’s say you cleaned one house a day for the supposed going rate of $100 a hit: you’d be earning $500 a week. I’m not earning $500 a week.

My co-editor and I have never calculated how much per hour we’re getting paid to put together an issue of the journal we contract to. I spent most of the day on an article that looked like it had never been through the peer review process—but it’s hard to tell exactly how many hours I racked up, because I work on-again, off-again, with a lot of interruptions. But…22 pages of really difficult stuff? Let’s suppose you can get through a page in 10 minutes, on average: that’s 220 minutes, or 3.6 hours.

I’m sure I spent more than 3½ hours on that thing. But suppose each of us allowed it to absorb that much of our time: it’s an entire day of time wasted on producing a piece that in a rational world would never see print. Did we each earn $100 on that effort? Or even $50?

We get a thousand bucks per issue… Each issue has several full-length articles, some creative pieces, a long-winded editorial statement, and a set of self-aggrandizing authors’ bios. Many of the authors are ESL writers or people who grew up in homes where another language was spoken, and so the copy has language challenges as well as the usual academic ones. If we were to work on only that, full-time, we could probably turn it out in a week. Maybe less: but say five to seven days.

So let’s say you had five women, for whose services you charged $120 to clean five McMansions, each woman taking one house. You’d have to ride herd on them, but most of the time you wouldn’t be doing much cleaning yourself. So each of these women brings in $120/day; you pay them $60 (the lady who told me this story was being grossly underpaid), so you pocket $60 — less the amount you have to pay in your share of the FICA taxes, assuming you report the income. $60 x 5 is $300 per day for your crew. Now, $300 x 5 days a week is $1500 a week, or $6,000 a month. And you’d never have to read another plagiarized student paper or another polemical “research study” whose author insists on replacing every third letter with “x.”

You would have to hustle: marketing would be the key. And managing these women would be a challenge. You’d be riding herd constantly. To field a crew of five people five days a week, you’d need to have more than five on the string. You’d have to do a fair amount of training, too, since many cleaning ladies don’t know how to clean.

Check this out, bearing in mind that one of our mentors thinks we should be getting $60/hour for our time: http://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/cleaning-services/

We most certainly do not earn $1500 a week, either individually or between the two of us. Nor do we earn $120 x 5, $600 a week: the amount one of us could earn cleaning house five days a week.

On the other hand, we don’t work 8 hours a day (regularly) on editorial. My cohort teaches full-time at the University of Phoenix, which just now entails juggling twenty-eight sections of 35 students apiece. You could not get me to do that if the only other choice were starvation. I earn some cash blogging, and rather more reading math, business, and biosciences papers by Chinese scientists. Editing, like teaching, is not what you’d call handsomely paid.

if I’m teaching the largest number of sections the community colleges will farm out to adjuncts, I earn all of $1100 a month. On average. Some months, of course, I earn nothing.

When a profession that requires at least one advanced degree (preferably two) and substantial experience makes cleaning house look good…Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Editing Jamboree!

Finally got through two very difficult jobs, both math papers, both the products of erudite Chinese authors. One is a pretty interesting study of the ways air pollution flows around a highly urbanized area of China, shifting along the roads from city to city. The other: a very technical piece comparing four strategies for predicting the likelihood, by genetic analysis, of endometrial cancer.

It’s been a quiet summer of loafing, but now that September is y-cumin’ in, the academics are flocking back to their universities, and with them comes the imperative to publish or perish. So they’re sending new stuff my way.

The math stuff is particularly arcane, rife with Greek letters (often in subscript position) and the mathematicians’ own peculiar jargon. It’s hard to stay focused on it, because it really is, basically, a kind of mental exercise whose applicability to the real world is difficult to discern. Sometimes, one suspects, it has no more applicability to reality than do angels dancing on the head of a pin.

But I will say…it sure is better than reading freshman comp papers! 😀

Meanwhile, progress on creative work goes very, very slow. I find myself dreaming up scenes while driving or ironing or mopping floors, but when it comes down to…oh, you know…actually writing the stuff down? Well, not so much.

Plus lately I’ve had a social life, something I hardly know what to do with. Yesterday a group of friends coalesced over here, partying most of the day. We cooked up plans for a couple of girls’ day trips, which sounds like fun. Choir starts this Wednesday, and I see we have another potluck next weekend.

And a painter has been here, wrestling (in the ungodly heat!) with the job of repainting the Funny Farm’s exterior. As part of the job, he also agreed to lay on another coat of the gray I applied over an orange-colored interior wall, with surprisingly modest success. Mine, that is — not his. In under two hours, the guy had it looking gorgeous.

The inside of the house now looks very nice, and the outside is shaping up handsomely. So soon I will have to decide whether to stay here and brave the onslaught of derelict vagrants that have been transported into our neighborhood on the new light rail train, which goes up the main drag just to the west of us, or to sell for as much as I can extract and then take the money and run as far away from Bum Central as I can get.

My house is paid off, and you may be sure I do NOT want to take on another mortgage in my dotage. Because my pleasant little neighborhood serves as a buffer zone between a much fancier enclave to the east of us and a crime-ridden slum on the west of said main drag, prices here are depressed just enough that there’s no way in hell I could get a comparable home on a comparable lot in the area where I wish to live…not without putting myself in hock up to my schnozz.

That leaves, really, very few choices. One is Sun City: a ghetto for old folks. The other is Fountain Hills, a development on the far side of Scottsdale, pushing toward the road to Payson.

Both of them are very far away from my friends, my son, and all my social activities. And truth to tell I really don’t want to start my life all over again. So this situation has become something of a distraction.

Once the house tune-up is done, I’ll probably ask a friend who’s a Realtor if she thinks she can find me a place to live that I wouldn’t hate at a price that will not put me in hock.

But god…how I resent it!

{sigh}

Back on Varnis, the world with two moons and one empress of the known universe, our hero (one of them) is getting settled in his new position.

After three weeks on the job, Chad was looking forward to the day off he would earn after a double-moon of good service and acceptable behavior. It would be great fun, he imagined, to tell his mother and the Old Man all about life at a Great One’s estate. Particularly this great one: the Kai Suhuru himself. And his daughter. The daughter of the late Kaïna Djietti DelaMona, possibly the most exalted Kaïna in the entire ch’Molendi dynasty. He could still barely believe he’d landed in any such otherworldly service.

Things were going pretty well, so he thought.

Merren had kept Chad at his side during the first couple of weeks — for what felt like every living, breathing moment. They manned the Kai’s guard station together through cycles of swing shifts, stood guard together at the entrance gate, waited table together, and invariably worked out, practiced fighting, practiced shooting, and studied surveillance and intelligence reports together.

Eventually Merren had posted him at the station outside Rysha’s suite, where he could be watched from the far end of the third-floor hallway, and let him stand a few watches with other guys on the guard team. Pretty soon, he expected, he would get his own assignments, free of eyes over his shoulder.

Rysha — the Kaïna — seemed not to mind him so much, after all.

If she did, she had suppressed her ire.

Indeed.

Mysteries of the Creative Process

This week has been one long nightmare, what with my son’s dreadful experience on the road, way, way out in rural Arizona with his dog:

Day One
Update
Homeward Bound
Back in Town
Home at Last

While my poor son has been wrestling with what may yet have a sad outcome, I’ve been virtually catatonic with worry: unable to go up to help him in the small town where he’s been stuck, because two people could not drive two vehicles and nurse the desperately damaged and sick Charley all the way down the Mogollon Rim.

I’ve found myself unable to work. Fortunately no paying jobs were in house. But I had planned to scribble another chapter in the time-killing entertainment that is the current novel. Instead, every time I sat down to work on it, I found myself killing time, all right: on Internet games!

🙄

But nevertheless I also passed a fair amount of time — mostly while driving around — imagining what my characters were getting up to and how they would interact and react.

And once again these people — these wholly imaginary people (where do they come from?) — surprise me.

Our heroine Rysha and her friends, all young and restless aristocrats of an interplanetary empire far far away and (etc.), are planning some mischief. To pull it off, they have to weasel Rysha out of the control of the team of bodyguards whose job is to keep an eye on her every living, breathing moment. In specific, they must evade the attention of the redoubtable Merren, who did not get to be head of her father’s security team by putting up with any shenanigans.

She schemes:

Parked before the mirror while Dita arranged her hair in one of the less elaborate configurations that marked a high-born woman’s status, Rysha did a quiet calculation.

This evening Merren would be standing guard outside her father’s suite. The Snowman, as Treykhan had dubbed the Michaian creature, would be with him. So: two of them out of her face. Bis was assigned to the front gate, leaving Essio and Nehdo to watch her or to take a few hours off, at Merren’s pleasure. She had asked for Nehdo and, to her mild surprise, gotten her wish. Merren had his own ideas about what the guard would do, and about half the time he’d gainsay her.

Nehdo was a good choice for this evening’s get-together. Pliable and a shade on the lazy side, he was easy to deflect.

“Ouch! Dita!” Her scalp stung where Dita’s comb snagged on a braid.

“I’m sorry, my lady.”

“Be a little more careful, will you, please?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They would need to dispense with Nehdo for the evening if they were to lay plans for the Great Night on the Town. Of the five members of the Kai’s guard, Neddy would be the simplest to dispense with. If any part of the plan got back to Merren or—Goddesses forfend!—to Ella, she’d never hear the end of it. And if her father found out, none of the young lordlings and ladies would ever escape the dog house.

Ella, grandmother to the world. It had become a standing joke: almost nothing got past the woman.

A whisper of a smile crossed her face as she thought of Ella and watched the ebony hair sculpture take shape. It was good that Ella had been there after her mother passed. Though she surely was no aristocrat and had little understanding of the challenges Rysha would face in preparing to step in as kaïna, Ella had done a lot of mothering for her over the past few years. It wasn’t until recently that Rysha learned Ella, like Dorin, was trained in psychology and social work. That seemed obvious to her now, given their position as overseers. Even though it wasn’t advertised, she wondered why she’d not known it sooner.

Whatever. If it had helped her deal with a motherless girl, so much the better.

Dita applied a layer of shining lacquer to the last coil of braid and pinned it in place.

“That looks very good, dear,” Rysha said.

Dita glanced up at her in the mirror. “Thank you, madame.” She smiled modestly.

“You don’t need to wait up for me tonight. It’ll likely be late by the time we get back. And I’m sure I can get this down enough to sleep on.”

Dita looked pleased to be relieved of after-hours duty. “Yes, ma’am,” she replied. “There’s just three clips you need to undo.” She tapped each of the hidden snaps with a fingernail to show where they were. “I’ll take the braids apart and wash your hair in the morning, as you please.”

“Good,” Rysha replied with some finality. “If you’ll hand me my tunic, you can go for the rest of the evening. And tell Merren to have Nehdo meet me downstairs, if you will.”

“I will, madame.” She bowed her head briefly at the dismissal. “Have a good time tonight.”

“Thank you, sweet.” Tonight’s get-together would be routine enough. But the next time the friends met, she expected, would be fun.

§ next scene is really draftig §

PachiLu’s doorman showed Rysha into his lord’s sitting room, where a half-dozen friends were chatting and drinking. Those who weren’t already standing rose to their feet when the young kaïna entered.

Well, here’s our lady,” the young lord Pachi exclaimed. Emarr’, heiress-in-waiting to the title of Lady [name], embraced Rysha in a welcoming hug, and Lord Naretal’s son Treykhan offered her a favorite drink.

Cheerfully lit, between the ubiquitous glowalls and bright though redundant sconces perched between night-black windows, the clubbish room with its deep burgundy flooring and vast hide chairs and ottomans always seemed dark and heavy to Rysha. Some of the tables, she knew, had been built by one of her father’s people, the carpenter woman whose woodwork graced rooms at Skyhill, too. Others were pieces that had been in Pachi’s family for a time, some for a long time. It was hard to guess which were new, which were old, and which were older.

None of the company was old, though. The cherub-faced PachiLu; Treykhan, blocky as her father but barely a year older than Rysha; smokey-eyed [name], beautiful with a panache beyond her years. Here, too, was [name], a honey-haired thing rather too obviously intoxicated by a crush on Pachi. Ghemmeh and Tand, brother and sister handsome in the classic dark Varn manner, had in tow Eestom and Dade…were those two attached to the siblings or to each other? In her secret heart, Rysha wondered.

But she made no sign of it. She sipped the tart-sweet liquor and then raised the glass in greeting to her friends.

Nehdo discreetly took up a position by the door. Pachi’s valet passed a tray of finger foods and shortly retrieved from the dumbwaiter several bowls of snacks and sweets, which he placed on tables around the room. Then he took up a position next to Nehdo. [ADD music in the background!!]

“Thank you, [name].” Pachi didn’t make the man wait long. “You can go now. I’ll call you if we need you.”

[Name] bowed subtly and turned to leave.

“Nehdo, would you like to join him?” Pachi added.

Nehdo glanced hopefully at his mistress. Perfect: he hadn’t a clue. She shot a mildly surprised look at Pachi. “I think that would be all right,” she said, “as long as he doesn’t leave the house. Will you be in the kitchen or downstairs lounge?”

“My lady,” [name] nodded affirmatively.

“All right,” she said to Nehdo. “You’d better come back up here at curfew time.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Nehdo visibly tried not to look unduly enthusiastic.”

[more to come]

§

Getting rid of that one was pretty easy. Now to see what kind of trouble this bunch can cook up…

 

Duotrope?

So, here’s something interesting: a platform that helps you scope out something over 6100 markets for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photo essays. It’s called Duotrope.

The intriguing aspect of this resource is that it goes well beyond a simple Writer’s Markety listing of potential publishers for your golden words. It provides access to a database of statistics that can tell you, for example, the acceptance rate of given publications, markets most liked by Duotrope respondents, and search statistics showing what other people look for.

It also has a tool to help you keep track of submissions (you don’t have a calendar on your computer??), a collection of editor interviews (always useful for getting a sense of the readers targeted by a publication and how the editors try to reach them), and market listings showing what editors are looking for, acceptance rates, and pay rates.

Unfortunately, it has a paywall: a $5/month membership fee. But that’s not unreasonable: all you’d need is one paid article to more than cover that. In reviewing Duotrope over at Juggling Writer back in 2012, Bartleby Snopes founding editor Nathaniel Tower concludes that its statistics are reasonably accurate, and, if you intend to use the site seriously as a tool to locate markets for your literary maunderings, it’s worth the cost.

There are some free alternatives, BTW, but none seems to cover the number of publications listed by Duotrope.

New Pages Literary and alternative magazines
Ralan Speculative and humor
Every Writer Literary journals
Fiction Factor Wide range of genres; e-publishers & print

Me? I think I probably will subscribe to Duotrope, after taking advantage of their seven-day free trial. Funny about Money, my main blog, occasionally emits something that might interest a wider audience — this morning I found about a half-dozen posts that could be reworked and sent to various small journals. Why not?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Image: Depositphotos: © ginasanders

Hassle Central, reporting in…

It’s been awhile since I posted here, more out of laziness and general harassment than intent. “Upgrading” both my Macs to OS X El Capitan was a big mistake. It’s a buggy program and has almost disabled the little MacBook Pro — the machine I use most of the time because sitting at a desk makes the aged back hurt. A lot.

So bad is it that I’m seriously considering buying a PC to replace the laptop. Big step backward for me: I really, really don’t want to relearn Windows (ugh!), nor do I want to have to “upgrade” to Office 365 so as to work on a Windows machine.

Actually, though, getting a lightweight Windows laptop to use only for Word and Excel tasks would probably make sense. You can still buy a standalone copy of Office 2016, and it will run fairly trouble-free on Windows.

Not so much on a Mac. The reason I did not update to the latest operating system, Sierra (don’t those cutesy names aggravate you?), is that my version of Word will not run at all on Sierra. Neither will Office 2016, at least not without endless bugs.

And the reason I do not want to sign up for Office 365? How can I count the reasons?

Foremost are these three:

1. It’s a rip-off. Renting the damn program with a monthly payment will quickly cause the cost to add up — and up, and up, and up — to way more than the cost of a program resident in your own computer. I resent that more than I can say.

2. Much of the work I do is proprietary. I do not want to be working on my clients’ projects in the flickin’ CLOUD! Indeed, sometimes I have to sign an agreement that I will not allow anyone else to see the client’s research or to put it at risk of being seen by anyone else. Sticking some scientist’s paper on a Microsoft server could put me at risk of liability. Even if I wanted to do that. Which I don’t.

3. Functionality of documents created or edited in non-365 versions may be limited. So it’s questionable whether I’d even be able to work on a document using more than one of my computers, even if one were a Windows machine.

Truly, this is a mess. I don’t know which way to jump and am truly furious that Apple has turned my computers from “it just works” to “it just doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, in saner realms:

Delivered a presentation yesterday:Structure of Feature Articles.”

People in the audience wanted to buy the new book, The Complete Writer. It’s still in page proofs — I need to cut the back cover copy some and adjust the design accordingly, and need to check the second proofs AGAIN. But by the next meeting, I hope to have a carton of hard-copy paperbacks to tote out to the group.

Incoming paid work has…come in. Read about 17,000 words of academicese compiled by a pair of ESL co-authors.

These people hold me in awe. They’re required to publish in English-language journals. And they do it — with panache.

Can you imagine an American academic writing a dissertation or a scholarly paper in Chinese? Fat chance! It’s all we can manage just to stumble through a PhD program in English…and many US universities have quit requiring a second and third language for the PhD.

I could probably write a journal article in French and have it come out about on a par with what the Chinese authors produce in English. But folks…as an undergraduate I majored in French! Not in math, not in economics, not in communications, not in political science…. Criminey!

And as for the novel: ça va, lentement.

Weirdly, drafting scenes in ink with a real pen is one of the things that’s making me resent the computer hassles as passionately as I have come to do.

A pen and a piece of paper do not go offline. They do not crash and shut down everything you’re working on

Well, OK: the pen can run out of ink. But when it does, you do not lose any of the words you’ve just written. The two other documents you’re working on do not disappear into the ether. The spreadsheet you’ve been wrestling with does not lose an hours’ or a day’s worth of data.

You can carry a pen and a notebook around, and it will work anywhere you choose. You do not have to sign a pen and paper into a coffee house’s network, thereby rendering it and all your private information open to hackers.

Nobody is interested in stealing a pen and a notebook, so you do not have to lock up your draft behind a deadbolt or hide it under a pile of blankets when you put it in the back of the car.

You do not have to plug a pen and a notebook into anything. Their battery never runs out of juice.

They do not waste hour after hour of your time in techno-hassles.

And they never, ever, EVER need a new goddamn operating system!

So How’s That Pen & Ink Workin’ for Ya?

Very well, thank you!

As those of you who’ve been following my Facebook pages know, I’ve been wrestling with the start of a new magnum opus, yet another of those “other world” novels. Not the same world as Kaybrel and Tavio’s — quite a different one, indeed — but still, another time, another place, another culture.

“Wrestling” could be translated as “spinning my wheels.” The first few scenes will require some significant rewriting. However… 🙂 About eight scenes in, a new character entered, and she has taken over the whole enterprise.

Where the other figures have been tripping along like marionettes, Siji is dancing across the stage. And what a dancer she is! Athletic, we might say.

And I’ve come to really enjoy writing with a fountain pen and ink. You know those reminders of ideas that spring to mind as you’re writing? Since (thanks to a sampler set from  Iroshizuku) I have several colors at hand, I’ve started scribbling those with a different color from the draft narrative. So in the middle of a passage of dialogue, we have this:

What’s a construction manager called? Supervisor? Captain, chief, head? Look it up!

Just now the draft is in blue and the Notes to Self are in brown. All of this has reminded me of something I knew as a matter of course when I was a young thing and Steve Jobs was a twinkle in his dad’s eye:

About half the fun of writing is writing. The physical act of writing.

Now that my fingers have remembered how to write in longhand (it took awhile), I’m finding it really is fun to write this stuff in pen and ink. Since computers have been my work tool for more years than I can count, drafting on a keyboard is a great deal more like work than like fun.

Along the way, I discovered that the paper marketed for sketching is wonderful for writing with a fountain pen. You want to get a sketch book, not a drawing book or pad. Drawing paper, designed for use with pencils or charcoal, is too absorbent. With sketch paper, the pen fairly flies along, and the paper doesn’t soak up ink like some sort of flat white sponge. One load of ink in the pen seems to last, comparatively, forever when you use sketch paper. And the pen’s nib glides more smoothly and easily across the surface.

The brand called “Artist’s Loft” comes bound in a cool canvas cover that you can decorate with your own drawing (if you use colored pencils, as I do, you’ll want to spray with fixatif to keep it from wearing off during use). At Michael’s, a book of 110 sheets is relatively inexpensive; at Amazon, the same item’s price is exorbitant, so don’t buy it there. Look in artist supply stores for it.

So. If you’re writing your bookoids for fun and you would like not to feel like you’re slogging through a task or back on the job, try drafting them with a pen.