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Arr! Google Update Ahoy!

“The proposed settlement gives Google rights to scan and provide online access to millions of books, many of which are out-of-print or otherwise not commercially available.”  (Note that out-of-print =/= public domain.)

“The Settlement Agreement uses the term Commercially Available, which generally means that a Book is in-print. If a Book is not Commercially Available, that means, in general, that it is Out-of-Print. Google is authorized to make Display Uses and Non-Display Uses of each Book that is not Commercially Available for the term of the U.S. copyright for that Book UNLESS the Rightsholder directs Google not to do so or directs Google to remove the Book.”

The latest twist: “Google’s book project has scanned and digitised millions of out-of-print books and made them searchable online as digital files. Now, it’s enabling web users to make old-fashioned, bound hard copies of these hard-to-find books using a new high-speed, on-demand printer called the Espresso.”

ETA: “And On Demand Books, the Espresso’s maker, potentially could get access to even more hard-to-find books if Google wins court approval of a class-action settlement giving it the right to sell out-of-print books.”

What?  Isn’t this Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Enough of that. Off with ye, me hearties, and go enjoy the pirate ditty Talk Like a Pirate Day (MP3) by Tom Smith!

Bechdel Testing

Hey, guess what showed up in a big ol’ Fed Ex box yesterday.  I’ll give you a hint–it wasn’t The Tick 🙂

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Because it came up in the comments yesterday Tuesday, I thought I’d talk a little about the Bechdel Test.  For those of you unfamiliar with the test, check out the Wikipedia link.  In brief, a story has to meet the following three requirements to pass the test:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man.

The Angry Black Woman posted a modified version regarding race:

  1. It has to have at least two people of color in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a white person.

The first time I saw these, my first reaction was of course to apply them to my own books.  The goblin trilogy is iffy on the first test.  Book one fails, but then we get Grell, Golaka, Kralk, Billa, and we start to fare a little better.  The female characters are definitely in the minority though, and I’d have to go back and check to see how much they talk to one another as opposed to being all about the men.

In terms of race?  Not a clue how to apply it to the goblins, since few of my characters in this series are human.  On the other hand, the actual humans, dwarves, and elves were all white.  Why?  There’s no deliberate reason; I just defaulted to white when I wrote the books.

The princess series fares better, passing the original test with flying colors.  When it comes to race though, that’s a little different.  Of the three heroines, Talia is the only non-white character.  It’s not until book three that the books pass the racial test.

I’m not aware of anyone saying every story has to pass the tests.  We’re not talking about quotas, and I swear to Cthulhu I’ll loose the goblins on the first one to raise that strawman.

The point, at least for me, is how few stories actually pass these tests.  Because we default to what’s easy or familiar, or what we’re used to reading and writing.  Why did Darnak the dwarf have to be white and male?  Why is Talia the only non-white servant I’ve described working in the palace?  Did I think about the politics and racial atmosphere in Lorindar and make a conscious decision to minimize non-white characters, or was I just lazy?

Most of the time, I don’t think it’s a conscious choice.  I know I don’t always see the trends in my own writing until I deliberately stop and look back at my work.  The Bechdel tests are one way to do that.

Remember IDIC from Star Trek?  (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, for those of you whose geek-fu is not as strong.)  It’s not about quotas or satisfying the PC police.  It’s about telling better stories.  Because defaulting our stories to a single narrow slice of reality, limiting what we write and read to tales of Straight White Men, is simply illogical.

Diabetes Details 3: $$$

SciFiChick is giving away a copy of The Mermaid’s Madness. Deadline to enter is 10/16.

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work. I absolutely love this piece.

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So apparently this is the week to talk about invisible diseases/conditions.  I don’t know how invisible my diabetes is … the insulin pump is kind of obvious, and I don’t try to hide when I’m checking my blood sugar.  On the other hand, it’s not like my pancreas has fallen out in the middle of a convention panel or anything like that.

I’ve chatted about the disease a bit already here and here.  With a doctor’s appointment set up for this afternoon, I got to thinking about the cost of the damn disease.

I’m very fortunate to have good health insurance, which means most of that cost is actually invisible to me.  The insurance is one of the reasons I took my day job, and it’s the biggest reason I’ll likely never be able to quit and write full time.  But recent events got me thinking about how much diabetes would cost if I were ever to get laid off or lose those benefits.

  • Blood sugar test strips (testing 6-7 times/day) : $200/month
  • Lancets for blood tests: $63/month
  • Insulin pump infusion set:  $116/20-day supply
  • Insulin pump reservoirs: $33/20-day supply
  • Insulin (this one is a guess): $100/month

That’s $586.50 per month, and that’s before we get into doctor visits (every 3-4 months), bloodwork (also every 3-4 months), and occasional costs like replacing the insulin pump if it breaks ($1000?) or, if things go really badly, a trip to the hospital.

If I were covering the costs myself, there are changes I could make to save money.  I could test my blood less frequently, switch from the pump back to multiple daily injections, not see my doctor quite as often, reuse lancets and syringes, and so on.

Of course, the more I skimp on the daily care, the more likely I am to end up in the hospital due to complications…

It’s not something I think about very often, but it scares me a bit, and I very much resent that it takes away my option to try to go full-time as a writer.

Three Weeks to Mermaid!

• I don’t link to many reviews of my work, but I’m going to make an exception for this one.  sigelphoenix has posted one of the most thoughtful reviews of The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] that I’ve come across.  Some spoilers, but worth reading: http://sigelphoenix.insanejournal.com/168038.html

• Balancing this out, Andrew Wheeler glanced at a copy of Mermaid and warns readers to “Expect a lot of singing Motown into shampoo bottles, or whatever the fantasy-novel equivalent of the ‘girls bonding montage’ is, when The Mermaid’s Madness hits stores.”  Hmph.  I’ll have you know my book contains absolutely no shampoo, minimal singing, and only a few bondage scenes.

• Hey reviewers!  The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] has gone to press, which means physical copies of the book exist, even if they aren’t showing up in stores quite yet.  If you would like a review copy of the book, please contact me, and I’ll try to hook you up with my publicist.

Finally, I wanted to present some SHOCKING REVELATIONS FROM THE MERMAID’S MADNESS!*

  1. Snow White becomes a Sparkly Vampire®.  (She is awfully pale…)
  2. Meet Queen Beatrice’s newest agent: Dragonslayer.  Jig Dragonslayer.  007, License to Cower.
  3. Magical power is revealed to come from tiny magichlorians in the blood.
  4. Snow White gropes Neil Gaiman.
  5. Danielle, Talia, Snow White, and the Little Mermaid transform and merge into SuperMegaPrincessZoid.
  6. Prince Armand comes back in time, blows up Lorindar, and reboots the whole series using mysterious “Puce Matter.”
  7. Montage of all three princesses singing Motown into shampoo bottles.
  8. Fairy Tale Princesses vs. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus!
  9. In a shameless attempt to build Internet buzz, Talia tapes bacon to a mermaid.

Feel free to suggest your own 🙂


*It’s possible that some or all of these shocking revelations might have been cut from the final manuscript…

PublishAmerica’s Twittery

If you’re bored by publishing talk, go learn how to build TRON lightcycles out of LEGO instead.

PublishAmerica has been around for a while.  You might remember them as the publisher who offered to buy Atlanta Nights, an educationally awful book designed to demonstrate that Publish America would accept just about anything.  Nor does PA pay much attention to things like cover art, as you can see in one of my old LOL books.

PA claims to be a traditional publisher (a term with no actual meaning).  They emphasize that they’re not a vanity press; they pay an advance (generally $1.00), and they urge writers to avoid self-publishing.  From their FAQs:

PublishAmerica adheres to the traditional publishing concept … we earn our income by selling books.

So who do you think they’re selling those books to?  You’ll find few if any PA titles in bookstores.  They’re listed on Amazon like everything else, but an Amazon listing by itself doesn’t sell books.  As far as I can tell, PA appears to make most of their income by selling books to their authors.

PA recently joined Twitter as @publishamerica.  They’ve already protected their feed.  For those of you who don’t want to follow PA, let me sum up.

There’s a note about a 66% discount for online orders, which is cool.  I’d love to be able to sell my books at 2/3 off.  (But my publisher doesn’t sell horribly overpriced books, so that kind of discount is difficult to pull off.)

Reading on, I see a few tweets about individual authors … and a ton of tweets talking about how great PA is.  Canadian libraries stocked seven of our books!  Our authors have booksignings in 50+ bookstores this weekend!  A bookstore in NY just ordered some PA titles!

This isn’t advertising intended to sell books to readers; it’s aimed at selling PublishAmerica to new authors.

Compare this to @dawbooks, my own publisher’s Twitter feed.  DAW also uses Twitter for marketing, but almost every post includes an author’s name and/or a book title.  The goal is to sell books to readers.

From the PA stream:

one cool element of PA’s success is that it drives the opposition nuts. they keep writing about us, fortunately spelling our name right.

Opposition?  That implies that PA has any impact whatsoever on serious publishers.  But they’re right about one thing.  PA does drive me nuts.  It pisses me off when people take advantage of new writers.  I spent years trying to break in.  I remember that feeling of desperation, of wanting someone, somewhere to validate my work.  Of wanting to finally be a published author.

If all you want is to be published, PA might be the right choice.  You’ve got almost zero chance of rejection, and they’ll create a book with your name on the cover.  You’ll probably even get that $1.00 check as a bonus.

If, on the other hand, you want to be read–if you want people to seek out your book, to read and enjoy it–well, there’s a simple test.  PA claims to have 35,000 authors, orders of magnitude more than any commercial publisher I’m aware of.  How many PA books do you own?  How many PA writers have you read?

So how does PA stay in business?  I’ll toss out one final tweet to answer that one:

one twitterer just purchased 200 books, using his ‘twitter’ coupon. his savings: over $3000.

Why worry about selling books to readers when you’ve got authors willing to shell out thousands of dollars for copies of their own books?

There are no shortcuts.  Frustrating as this road can be, I’m very happy to have waited until I could sign with a publisher who would get my work out to readers and fans.

Thursday has a Prize Inside

• Holy crap!  Some time this week, I hit the 1000 friends mark on LJ.  This calls for a book giveaway!  I used random.org to pick a winner: #676.  I then realized that counting through the list to figure out who #676 was would be a major headache, but fortunately, plugging ’em into Excel proved to be quicker.  Congratulations, patesden!  Would you please e-mail me at jim -at- jimchines.com to let me know which of my books you’d like and where to sent it?

dragovianknight made two LJ icons, and gave me permission to share them here.  ::Happy dance::

 

• Last night was my daughter’s first day of soccer practice, so I was out entertaining the boy at the park while she practiced, which means I didn’t have time to think up anything for today’s post.  So instead, check out this LEGO Demonic Castle by einsteinonthebeach.  Click the link or the picture for details.  This thing is mind-blowing and seriously twisted.  Minifigs bathing in LEGO blood falls?  Evil genius.

Twilight, Part II

So I finished reading Twilight [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  It was a better book than I expected, though I certainly wasn’t blown away.

In brief, Twilight is the story of Bella Swan, a high school girl who falls in love with a vampire.  Then about 80% of the way through the book, some other stuff happens.

That structure was odd.  For 400 pages, this is a fairly typical teenage romance, except the boy happens to be a vampire.  Suddenly we have evil vampires chasing Bella and everyone’s fleeing and scheming and hunting and fighting.  It didn’t throw me out of the story, but I think the book could have been more effective had we seen how dangerous vampires could be a lot sooner.  Edward spends a lot of time trying to persuade Bella that he’s dangerous and she’s better off without him, but like Bella, I never really believed him. 

I mentioned in Twilight, Part I that it was a fast-paced read.  Don’t want to rehash that, except to say it holds true for the rest of the book.  Whatever strengths and weaknesses the book has, I kept turning the pages, and I finished it within a few days.

I was intrigued by what Meyer did with vampires, eliminating many of the traditional weaknesses.  Holy symbols?  Edward’s dad keeps a 300-year-old cross on the wall.  Sunlight?  Yay, sparklies!  Edward explains that the only real way to destroy a vampire is to rip it apart and burn the pieces.

Think about that.  Buffy would be out of luck in this world.  There’s no way a human being is going to be able to fight a vampire; the only one who can is another vampire.  (Or another equally powerful supernatural creature.)  Humans?  Helpless as insects.  The implications are powerful, but I didn’t feel like there was any follow through.  Maybe it gets brought up in later books.  But heck, if vampires are this indestructible, why  bother to hide at all?

As for Bella and Edward … yeah.  This is the part you’ve been waiting for me to rant about, right?  But I’m having a hard time judging Edward’s behavior the way I would a normal abuser.  Controlling?  Absolutely.  Creepy?  Oh hell yes.  Breaking into a teenage girl’s room every night to listen to her talking in her sleep?  The dude puts stalkers to shame.

But he’s not human.  He is, as the book stresses again and again, better and beyond human in so many ways.  He’s a century old, powerful and beautiful and unstoppable.  Why should he treat a human with any more respect than you or I treat a pet cat?  I like my cats, but I don’t consider it abusive to toss one off the counter.

This isn’t where Meyer was going with the book.  Edward’s behavior is glossed over as part of our whirlwind teen romance.  He’s treated as a normal human teenager, except when he’s not.  As a normal human, he’s an abusive, controlling creep.

Having been young myself, I can certainly understand Bella’s infatuation and obsession.  Been there, done that (though I cringe to think about it now).  I just wish Meyer had been more conscious of the dynamics she was writing.

There’s so much going on here, and the book seems blissfully unaware of it.  It ignores the implications of Meyer’s changes to vampire lore.  It glosses over the unbalanced nature of Bella’s relationship with Edward until the very end, when Bella decides she wants to be a vampire too.  (And why not?  There’s no downside!)  It shows us a jealous, controlling stalker and treats the whole thing as dreamy and romantic.  This is where I think the book fails.

Don’t know if I’ll read book two or not.  But in the meantime, please feel free to jump in with your thoughts and comments.

Why Linkbacks are Better than Reposting

• 4 weeks until the release of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]!  Early reviews are starting to pop up.  Romantic Times called it quick-paced, engaging, and a great read.  Rhonda Parrish, who won the NCADV auction for an ARC of the book, posted a nice review here.  ::Happy dance::

• I’ve said before that it’s okay to write crap in a first draft.  For me, this helps me get to the point where I can figure out the story and rewrite to actually make the thing work.  Dean Wesley Smith offers an alternate approach.

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Welcome to everyone who showed up after yesterday’s Neil Gaiman Facts post!  Lesson to self: if you want more blog traffic, joke about Gaiman groping Ellison.  Huge thanks for the linkbacks, the comments, and the extra Gaiman facts.  (The comments include some very funny suggestions.)  Y’all gave me a serious case of the warm fuzzies 🙂

No love, however, to the very small minority who simply copied and reposted the whole thing without asking.  Way to harsh my warm fuzzies, people.

I was torn about whether I should even say anything.  I’m not planning to go all DMCA on anyone’s ass over this, but it bothers me.  Maybe I’m oversensitive after dealing with the whole Google Settlement mess, I don’t know.  But here’s the deal: reposting someone’s work without permission is rude.  It’s also illegal, but in this case I’m more annoyed by the rudeness.

The primary reasons I post stuff like the Gaiman list are because it’s fun and because I love entertaining people.  It makes my week to get comments from folks telling me they laughed so hard their significant other came in from the other room to find out what was going on.  It’s a high like nothing else, and I love it.

There’s a secondary reason, though: the crass, greedy, totally commercial reason.  When I write and post this sort of thing, it brings new traffic to my sites.  New people who might remember my name, who might decide to stick around on the blog, who might even decide some day to go out and buy one of my books.

If you repost the whole list, you’re taking away some of those new visitors.  Is it a terrible, crippling blow to my success as a writer?  Not at all.  But it is rude.  So don’t do it, ‘kay?

Enough on that.  I love 99.44% of you, and I’m not going to let the other .56% spoil things.  So as a reward for reading this far, here are a few more Gaiman facts.  Enjoy!

  1. Neil Gaiman writes faster than Harriet Klausner reads.
  2. Neil Gaiman solved the Rubix Cube in 7 minutes. One-handed.
  3. Chuck Norris could roundhouse kick Neil Gaiman in the head. But Neil Gaiman could write Chuck Norris out of existence.

Twilight, Part I

One nice thing about surgeries — they give you lots of time to read.  I finished up The Soldier King on Thursday and started in on Twilight, as promised.

I started by checking the front matter.  This book is in its 47th printing in paperback (19th in hardcover).  Dang.  And I thought I was doing well when Goblin Quest went back for a 4th printing….

I’m about 25% through Twilight, and so far, the book is surprisingly readable.  It’s not great, but I haven’t tried to gouge out my eyes with a spork yet either.

It reminds me of Harry Potter: it’s a quick, easy read; our young protagonist leaves one life and enters another, more magical one where they’re amazingly popular; it has lots and lots of pages…

Several people commented that Bella Swan is very much a Mary Sue, and I can see that.  She complains about how she’s so unpopular, and in the meantime she’s go no less than four–maybe five by now?–boys sniffing after her.  There’s a wish fulfillment feel to the story, which I imagine is a lot of the appeal–just like in Harry Potter.

We’re only beginning to get into the Edward revelations, but I can already see where the dynamics of Edward/Bella are troubling, to say the least.  So far, we’ve already seen some radical mood swings from Edward, as well as seriously controlling behavior (physically dragging Bella into his car being the most blatant so far).  Pulling her away from her friends to sit alone with him at lunch isn’t by itself a pattern of isolating behavior, but I’ll be curious how many more warning signs we’ll see from Edward.

Mostly, Twilight does what a lot of successful SF/F books seem to be doing these days: it makes the fantastic more accessible.  Like Harry Potter, it starts in our own world and grounds the reader before bringing in the fantastic elements.  It reaches beyond the hardcore SF/F readers, to whom the first 125 pages will be not only familiar but even a bit boring.  Yes, we get that he’s a vampire, and we’ve read this “discovery” process a hundred times before.  We’ve read it, but folks unfamiliar to the genre haven’t, which might explain why this is the book reaching a larger audience.

One final thought: this book looks like it was designed to be a quick read.  Larger typeface, big pages with larger margins, more spacing between the lines … physically, these pages were laid out in such a way that it makes you turn the pages faster.  I find that interesting.

375 pages to go.  More thoughts later I’m sure.  For now, have a Harry Potter pic, ’cause it amused me.

Jim C. Hines