James Palmer here with another article cum rant about writing.
A couple of things conspired inside my head for today's article. First off, I was listening to Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing podcast, where she interviewed a guy named Matthew Wayne Selznick, who self-published his novel Brave Men Run at Lulu.com and did it as podiobook.
Secondly, I read an article in last week's DM News, which I keep up with because I'm a copywriter, about a new plan by Google to offer free online public domain books. Science fiction author Cory Doctorow is mentioned in the article, and explains how he offers free electronic downloads of all of his works, and it doesn't impact sales.
Now, on to my point. I'm still a bit leary over giving away your stuff for free and not going the traditional publishing route, and I think newby authors should be as well. Here's why.
Selznick was telling Mur about how many times his book has been downloaded and how people have left him money in Podiobooks' online tip jar. Doctorow talked about how over 750,000 copies of his books were downloaded, and that these free downloads didn't effect sales of the printed books, and so on and so forth.
But don't you think it's more likely that those 750,000 downloads are more a result of them being for free and easy to snag? Maybe not in Doctorow's case, as the man has a well-established track record for putting out entertaining fiction. But what about all these first-time podiobook authors? How many hundreds of thousands of free-loaders have to download their work before they find the few dozen honest individuals who will actually throw a couple of bucks their way?
Speaking only for myself, I downloaded Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom because I wanted to read it AND it was free. But I never got past chapter four. See, I have other things to do when I'm at the computer, like write my own gibberish. I don't have time to sit and read pages and pages of .pdf text. And there aren't any really good, inexpensive ebook readers yet. At least I listen to podcasts, but only because I have an audio jack in my car where I can listen on the way to the day job.
If there's a bright side to any of this alternative to traditional publishing stuff, it's in giving people other options. Selznick's book existing simultaneously as a printed book, an audio cd, and an .mp3 file will open it up to more than one audience. Even in science fiction, you've got people who will never adapt to .mp3's and the like, so for them, a print book is the only way they will ever know you exist.
Perhaps another bright side is the publishing industry's acceptance of this, allowing authors like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross to offer their books free of charge before they've even been published, under a Creative Commons license. After all, an industry with huge overhead caused by printing, storing, and distributing books that will go out of print inside a year, and a marketing machine that only promotes your work if you're already selling Stephen King level numbers, it's nice for them to recognize their shortcomings and look at a new way of doing business. Unlike the music industry, who is trying desperately to keep control of a system so vile and corrupt it's what made consumers and musicians look for other alternatives in the first place, the publishing industry is helping these early adopters try something new.
In the end, it's basic niche marketing. Unlike print publishing, which is mass marketing, niche marketing gets your stuff only to the people who are most likely to buy. This is very important, especially in the science fiction field.
But, for myself and any newbie authors wanting to make it, traditional publishing still seems to be the best way to go. I'm all for online books, which would drive the price down and authors would make up the difference in volume, but if we give everything away for free, our work will have no value. The occasional seven bucks from a Paypal tip jar won't allow anyone to keep creating stuff for people to try to rip off.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
James Palmer here with another article cum rant about writing.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Hi and welcome to my column. You'll be seeing me on the weekends when I can drop by and add some words to the general pool of wonderfully interesting stuff you're going to read here. During the week you can find me over at my blog, ArsGeek writing my predictions for the future of technology, interesting ways to use operating systems, posting keen links or talking a bit about new rodents that have been discovered. There, that's my first and last plug.
While I don't have much to offer in the way of speculative fiction on that blog, I do spend a lot of time writing for the site. When I'm not writing for that, I enjoy writing for it's own ends. I've been putting words to paper and fingers to keys for a lot of years now with some interesting, horrible and occasionally good things coming out of it.
What is it that makes some of us do this? Is it the same thing that motivates engineers to design computers that can't be opened and are guaranteed to scrape six inches of skin off your knuckles? God I hope not.
On thinking what motivates me to write and how I actually accomplish the writing process, I came to realize a simple truth about myself. For me writing is, most especially when it comes from the soul, a gut wrenching experience which can drain and exhilarate me at the same time. It is comparable to almost wrecking a car, only to pull out of it at the last possible moment while also rescuing a tree bound kitten and saving the neighborhood orphanage from bankruptcy. With some of my projects I never quite reach the kitten/orphanage stage. That is why I enjoy having written much more than I enjoy actually writing.
This is what I call the Freakin Process. The thing which brings me to the heart of writing, whether it's your fifteenth novel or an article on shell scripting. It's something of a universal truth that it takes about five thousand times more effort to write a sentence than it does to read one.
So why do I continue to write, even in my spare time when I could be watching television or doing something else to degrade my mind? The answer is that I really enjoy having written. So much so that in the end the unavoidable struggle with myself and occasionally my computer is all worth the sweat blood and ink I've poured into it. That in itself is inspiration enough to write but when I can create and add to a genre, be it scientific, poetic, non-fiction or fiction; when I can affect one person with my ideas or generate one new thought, that effort becomes a necessity. This is the closest I can come to creating something hitherto unseen on this earth.
That creation process, like sex or Jackson Pollock, can be very messy. Once in a while it can even be inspired.
What's it like for this geek to write? It goes something like this:
I sit at my computer and fire up OpenOffice. I minimize OpenOffice and cruise around Fark and BoingBoing a while. I Pop OpenOffice back up and type a few lines, which I then delete in a frenzy of keystrokes. I grab a coffee. I gaze longingly at my screen and work at convincing myself I'm a creative kind of guy. There's some head scratching going on here and I get a strong desire to call someone I haven't talked to in a while. I try and spell Jackson Pollock without resorting to Google. This is where the struggle begins. I force myself back to the keyboard and begin to type rapidly. Then I stop to make a few adjustments and as inevitably happens the computer does what I tell it to and not what I want it to. I become a very creative kind of guy and make up a whole new category of cursing, often involving sharks, aliens and their improbably love children. I type on, trying to wrest the thoughts from my mind into language that other people will understand. I click about for a good song on my media player. And so the process continues.All of this you see, is to write a 300 word story on the uses of some basic Linux command. The real creative stuff takes a real effort.
Every once in a while, something will grab my by the short hairs and suddenly after regain a sense of my surroundings I'll look back at three or four pages of really good stuff. My muse, what ever the hell that is, has struck again and I've written not as a struggle but as if that's what I was put here to do. That's the beauty in this whole thing. That's when I look back over my shoulder, cast my face towards the sky and say "where the hell were you two hours ago!"
It's really the past tense that I'm seeking. After all of this has been accomplished, when the smoke clears from my keyboard and my lap is cooling from where I've removed my laptop I can sit back and relax and reflect on having written once again.
Posted by ArsGeek at 6:56 PM
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I love The King. I have read almost all of his work, I am in the middle of Lisey’s Story right now, and I often quote from The Dark Tower books. However… Stephen King has a formula of style. It’s a formula I love, but it is a formula nonetheless, and I have been reading so much of The Master of the Macabre lately, that his stylistic approach has ingrained itself into my psyche, and if I’m not careful it will ingrain itself into my writing as well.
1: Whenever possible a new section should be started with lyrics from a slightly out of date, and/or slightly obscure Rock Musician or Band.
2:Part of the language of the work must be constructed within the confines of the story being told. In other words, invented words or modified regional colloquialisms must be created and referred to throughout the story in order for the reader to feel as though they are an Insider.
3: The invented words, if possible, should have a back-story of their own relating to one or more of the characters.
4: An internal dialogue must take place within the head of the narrator, protagonist, or antagonist, and the above mentioned created “private” language must be used in said dialogue. If the narrator, protagonist, or antagonist question whether inner dialogue is from a source outside of themselves, so much the better. The internal dialogue should be formatted in italics rather than quotes to avoid confusion.
5: All action should occur in
New England. If it does not occur in New England, the narrator, protagonist, or antagonist should at least be on their way to or from New England.
6: Paragraphs should be interrupted with abrupt parenthetical or italicized asides relating to previous action in the story. This gives the reader a feeling of thrilling uneasiness.
With all these elements in place then, my Stephen King style blog for this week should look something like this:
“She did a triple somersault and when she hit the ground, she winked at the audience and then she turned around.
She had a picture of a cowboy tattooed on her spine saying Phoenix, Arizona, nineteen forty-nine.”
- The Coasters, Little Egypt
The last few days have been ball-busters here at
You got that right, mom.
You got that right.
Besides the cold though, things have been good, just busy.
I just hope the cold let’s up.
Cold enough to freeze a witch’s tits.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I am writing my blog this time around a little late, because until this morning I was held in a correctional facility outside
I was on my way to
I prepared the night before the flight by fasting and meditation, and preparing a wonderful set-list, which began with my rather well known ballad “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Me?” The following morning I donned my costume and lit off for the airport, excited at the prospect of getting my filk on as it were. I was dressed as my favorite Argentine super hero – Supervolador. (I have always preferred to fly in costume as the spandex is wonderfully comfortable, and it’s a great conversation starter.) I arrived at the airport and was a few minutes early for my flight, so I loosened up with a few drinks at the local sports bar. (I’m not a big sports fan, but I met a delightful fellow who said the Dodgers and the Rams may possibly meet one another at Wimbledon this year or something, but only if Tyson or someone gets to play goalie. So if you’re a “Sporty” you may want to keep your eyes peeled for that game.) I heard my flight being announced over the P.A, so I headed at a breakneck pace down the terminal announcing (probably rather rudely) that I had a plane to catch. I made my way to the security checkpoint and was told I would have to remove my mask and take off my shoes. I told the security guard, a rather large angry looking woman, that I would be happy to remove the mask (as long as she didn’t reveal my identity, I joked), but I could not remove my shoes without taking off my pants, as the boots were integrated into the spandex leggings. She demanded I did so, and began waving a metal wand in my “quiet areas”. I asked her to stop, and becoming rather annoyed I said, “Listen mama! Do you think I have a bomb there?” She must have been very offended by my rather (admittedly) sexist referencing of her as “Mama”, because no sooner had the words escaped my mouth, than twelve large fellows escorted me to a distant office. When I noticed they were man-handling my harp, I became rather agitated again, and that did not seem to help matters much.
I have to return to court on the 23 of Feb.
Needless to say, I missed my filking show.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I may return to writing. I bet I will. But I won't say for sure, because it is the mystery that lingers, and not the suspense.
Today, we talk about....American Idol. AND Writing! HAH!
No, come back, seriously, listen to me for a minute. I'll buy you a drink afterward.
These past couple of years, I've been watching American Idol with something like fanatical obsession, something which I don't admit in public very often and am slightly ashamed of. (Probably the only person more publicly ashamed is He Who Watches American Idol in Women's Clothing.)
The start of this season (yesterday) was hotly anticipated here in the Tzinski household, probably in particular by the male member of the Tzinski family, who is typing this blog entry right now. So we settle in, we wait for the DVR cable box to get up to speed, which took less than an hour tonight! and we watch the Minneapolis auditions.
First, I apologize. Out of 10,000 people, we Minnesotans produced seventeen. The rest were abysmal. In my defense, I'm not from Minnesota and in times like this, I don't claim it. (Although after watching Seattle's auditions, I don't even claim Seattle as part of the United States.)
As I watched in enjoyment and occasional horror, though, the one thought that bubbled up in my mind and wouldn't go away was...My God....those who are getting rejected are just like inexperienced writers!
It was horrifying beyond the bad singing. I refer to a specific sort of young (generally) and inexperienced (sometimes) writer, who may or may not be sane. Usually has not had their recommended dosage of perspective for that day, too.
They're the writers, the equivalent of those Angst-Ridden crying kids who come out of American Idol crying about how MEAN everyone is, how much everyone HATES them, how much no one GETS them. They're writers like that.
There are loads of them. They are the writers that treat rejection letters like personal attacks against themselves, their families, their camels, their fertility, and their generations to come. They are the writers who assume that, just because Bantam Books has not thus far beaten down their door to buy up their freshly finished manuscript before the blood dries, the publishing industry therefore HATES them and wants them never to get published.
The reason the publishing industry doesn't want them to get published is, generally, a deep conspiracy on all levels to insure that this person, this gifted individual and their ART, their ART man, does not reach the people.
Me and Simon Cowell would like to point out that it's not a conspiracy. Here's the thing. Sometimes, you get a rejection letter because you aimed at a target and missed a little. The market doesn't need exactly what you're offering. Maybe it's not bad. It's like being a rocker who goes on American Idol. With scant few exceptions (where we could argue about how well applied the term rocker was) rocker vocals do not work on American Idol. Likewise, perhaps your slipstream romantic comedy story set in space dystopia does not quite match Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Sometimes, both in singing and writing....what it does mean isn't that it's a conspiracy, it means you can't sing. You can't write. Not everyone can do either. I think that everyone can learn to communicate literately in written form, which is not the same thing as telling a story. I'm not saying you should walk away from either one, not if it's your passion. I'm just saying you can expect rejection, and you shouldn't rant and rave against it.
So how do you know if you're good or bad? Well, you don't really. You never fully do. Look how much angst James Joyce managed on an average of writing...whatever it was that he wrote. (James Joyce: As many made up words as Dr. Suess, or your money back!). Some people write for years and years and are never satisfied with what they finish. Likewise, some people can sing magnificantly and are somehow inherently convinced that they're just, you know, okay, they guess.
I guess I tend to use money as a gauge. If someone pays me for something, then either it's pretty good, or they're pretty drunk, and either way the check cashes, so THAT'S all right.
But mostly, what you do is use perspective. This is for singing and writing (a surprising number of people do both; and I mean prose, not lyrics or poetry). Use your head. Assume for a moment that it is entirely possible you are not the big cheese and the camera's not on you, baby! Even if you are the big cheese and the camera is on you, it's important to think that it's not. Humility is not a bad thing, not even a little bit.
Neither are manners. I remember those. I know they exist, 'cause I done got me loads of 'em when I was growing up, and I still use them today. I hold the door open for people, though it may be inconvenient. I'm polite in my capacity as a writer, because at the same time I'm also in my capacity as a human being. If you're a writer, if you're a musician, a singer, you should be polite. Be nice. So little is gained by being brusque and rude with people.
Perspective is the key to all of it, though. It's where you take a step back and say "Okay, wait, hang on....what AM I doing?"
Remember that all these terrifying people on American Idol during the horrifying auditions, fresh from their runs with the circus and now going to perform...all of them laughed at the creepy guests in previous seasons and said "God, I'm glad I'm not like THEM!"
Perspective is where you entertain the possibility that you're exactly like them, and then try your damn hardest to make yourself better. If you're like them, maybe you will make yourself better. If you were already better, maybe you'll learn something a little new. Doesn't hurt either way.
Too many of the singers on things like American Idol talk about being a star. I think that's a pretty piss-poor attitude to go in there with. I think it's also a worrying thing with some young writers.
The singers want to be a star! They want to be divas! They want to shine, they're the star, baby, twinkle twinkle, you're like a musical goddess! Omigod! The writers are the next Dan Brown, the next Stephen King, the next J.K. Rowling, no seriously, they are, if you would just buy their stuff, you don't understand, they're literary gods...!
It's the desire to be topp, without putting in the work to GET topp. It's the desire to be the LEGEND of Johnny Lee Hooker, without the bit where you play in the street and rundown gin joints and teach yourself to read.
It's the part where you're Stephen King, bestselling author-god, not the part where you're a young man sitting in a laundry room with a typewriter on your knees, hoping you can finish this book, scared that you're going to be trying to finish this book and telling people "I'm a writer," in fifty years when everything will feel like it's over.
The work is just as important as the result. For writers: When you make your office, make it simple. That's important, and Steve King said so too.
My office right now is the closet, just inside my front door, where you would otherwise have hung up your coats. I have some action figures on a shelf, I have some blue electric lighting rope around a hanger rack. I have two TV dinner tables as my desk, and a folding chair to sit in. I put my iPod next to me wiht headphones, I put the laptop on the TV dinner table, I shut the door, and I write until I run out of air. Then I take a ten minute break.
This is the work. This is the most important part.
Fortunately, you have perspective, so you already knew that.
Okay, final plea to the contestants of American Idol: Please. No more angst. Okay? I can't take it. It's like being locked in a room full of hormonal teenagers who are writing sad poems about how much their dads hate them and why only Kurt Cobaine understood them, except for the bit where he died the year before they were born. No more angst. Have a good attitude, be nice, do your best. If you had problems...you had problems. We all had problems.
YOu want to talk about problems, you go into the blues, baby.
Give John Lee Hooker my best, please.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Next time you take a sick day, watch Office space and Fight Club (both 1999) back to back like I just did, and you'll see that they are kinda the same movie. In both films, the protagonists are close to cracking beneath the pressure of their god-awful jobs (Edward Norton probably has it a bit better as his soul-deadening insurance company work gets him out of the office at least).
In Fight Club, our hero (Edward Norton) deals with these pressures by forming a splinter personality (Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden) and together they launch some kind of vague proto-terrorist-merry-prankster-bare-knuckle boxing outfit that destroys half of the city. In Office Space, the central character (Ron Livingston as Peter Gibbons) suffers a breakdown that falls a bit short of the barbaric yalp what we see in Fight Club but is a breakdown just the same.
The main difference is that in Office Space, we get a happy ending for Peter, who changes his life and moves on. And the thing that spares ol’ Pete (and us) from prison or the kind of meandering, abstract, ‘you figure it out’ ending we see in Fight Club? Advice from his girlfriend, who, in a brilliant moment of Gordian knot-unwinding logic, tells him he doesn’t need to work at his soul-crushing job. He can quit! He can go do something else! Not always easy, true, but then neither is wiring explosives to a dozen skyscrapers. If only Cornelius had heard these words in time, Meatloaf might still be alive.
The girlfriend? Played by Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt’s real-life wife at the time!
See? These people who are intimately connected in real life were representing opposite sides of the same subconscious urge, one prompting regression to violence, the other ascendancy to reason, one urging self-destruction, the other self-actualization through self-determination, and they were married!
Okay, so it’s not that big of an insight into the movies. I apologize.
But still, if David Fincher had directed Mike Judge’s script for Office Space, Brad Pitt would have played Milton and they would have had the budget to make the fire that destroys Initech at the end look believable.
Friday, January 05, 2007
The past few weeks have been a little busy around BBT Central. The new issue is behind schedule, many of our artists seem to view deadlines as arbitrary suggestions put forth by the editors, and the editorial staff itself is seemingly falling apart.
For example, as evidenced in the previous posting Kennedy Smith (co-creator and one of our editors) he has been too busy slaying Diaper Dwelling Deficreatures and whinging about how “busy” he is to be useful for anything except writing hilariously funny blogs. Earl has not been heard from in more than a month (and frankly I’m a little worried. He was supposed to be on tour with his production of “Kiss Me Kate” done entirely in Aramaic, but he has not returned my calls, and I have not been able to find even one tour date listed on the net.) and Pete Tzinski keeps blathering on about his need to be with his wife, attend to his duties at work, etc, and claims that his hands are so full with helping web design, slushpile reading, editorial writing, interviewing, forum wrangling, and ad sales for BBT, and that he couldn’t possibly get to changing the oil in my car before spring. (It’s truly difficult to get good help these days.)
As most great leaders do when the going gets rough and trying times and deadlines start pilling up, I chose to subvert the problem and redirected my energies.
I went on vacation.
That’s right – Earl I hope your still alive, Kennedy, you know I love you and your wife and the little shit machine, PeeDee, I think the world of you and the spring should be fine for the car, Gentle Readers, the winter issue is forthcoming and it looks to be a stunner, but fuck it – I needed a vacation.
Here are 10 things I learned in
1: My ability to inebriate myself, and the severity of the toxic after effects of said inebriation are in direct relationship to the temperature, level of humidity, and my proximity to the water - In other words, I would get drunker sooner and feel worse afterward in
than I would in Isabela, Johnsburg, Illinois Puerto Rico.
2: There are no poisonous snakes in
Puerto Rico, but my wife could give a shit. She still doesn’t like it when they leap out at her and will tell you in no uncertain terms.
3: Drinking and driving in the western side of
Puerto Ricois considered a competitive sport. When not engaged in the actual sport , the Cervathletes will gather at the local gas staion/bar and discuss the days games while building beer can pyramids, and chatting up the ladies.
4: Driving in
Puerto Ricois terrifying.
5: There is no bad food in
6: There are only two unpleasant people in the western side of
Puerto Rico, and they are from . Everyone else is delightful. Marietta, Georgia
7: There are many beautiful women in
Puerto Rico, but similar to ’s Run, they are thrown into a fiery macerator on their 30th birthday, and replaced with wide, hairy, flatulent versions of themselves. Logan
8: My wife could give a shit. She still doesn’t like it when they leap out at me, and will tell me in no uncertain terms.
9: 81 degrees and 100 ft visibility is perfect for just about every type of water sport.
10: There are some very, very, strange things that come out on the beaches at night - even the Tiano Indans back in 1200 AD knew about them.
As for the next issue, it is in the late stages of layout and the art is still trickling in (what is it with artists?), but it will be worth the wait.
After this issue, it’s on to our new exciting format, our three comics that are currently under production, Pete’s exciting line of serial chapbooks, and Lucien and Christoffer Saar’s line of BBTshirts.
So… Everyone back to work!