Wednesday, November 7, 2012

IWSG: Writing books is hard to do.

I am finally back for the Insecure Writers' Support Group. And I've got a heck of an insecurity to write about today.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year because I needed a real kick in the pants to get back into the writing groove again after months of writer's block. I think on some level I thought of "writer's block", even when it's caused by stressful life issues, as something that would eventually just go away and then I would be back to normal. I'm beginning to realize that it's not that simple. It seems writer's block is not necessarily like a cold, where all you have to do is weather it for a few days with the help of some sudafed and then it goes away by its self and you get on with your life again. My experience of trying to break free of writer's block is more like... Well, something that is the opposite of the above cold analogy. I said I've had writer's block, ok?

The truth is that since the beginning of November I put in almost 2000 words on one story, then decided I couldn't possibly speed write that story so I decided to start a completely different story. On story number two I have put down a little over 1000 words but now I'm beginning to think that I can't write this story because when I think about the story there is no story in my mind. So maybe I should look for a different story to write. And here's the thing... Every single one of those 3000+ words I've had to sweat and struggle over. I'm beginning to wonder what I was thinking when I signed up for NaNo. It must have been a moment of insanity because there's no way I can write 50,000 words in one month like this.

Yesterday I sat back and tried to mentally deal with the fact that at the moment, writing anything is extremely difficult for me. The words just don't come the way they used to. The stories that used to fill my mind are no longer detailed and alive. Every word I write feels like dead weight. And I feel so jealous of all the writers out there blogging about their latest writing accomplishments, of all the manuscripts they've completed and all the amazing ideas they have. I want writing to be easier again.

But it's not going to be. I know that I'm going to have to fight to get that back again. Writer's block isn't just going to go away and leave me where it found me. It's going to be a battle of wills every single day just to get some words set down, just to make some progress. I can't give in, no matter how much a part of me wants to just throw my hands up and declare that this was all a mistake and I just can't do it, can't be a writer. Because, as my wonderful husband assured me yesterday, my stories are something worth fighting for. They are important. And victory will come with dedication and perseverance and a ton of effort. Someday I'll feel like a writer again.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yet Another NaNo Post

This is going to be a quick one (though not nearly as quick as last time) to proclaim:

Woah, I am doing NaNoWriMo this year.

This will be my first time. (Be gentle with me, NaNo.) I have to admit that I always thought NaNo was kind of gimmicky and viewed that as a bad thing. But as I grow older and wiser I begin to realize that a gimmick isn't necessarily bad. Our brains are curious machines and sometimes we need to trick them into giving us the results we want. For me, I've had such a long bout of writer's block due to life issues that I finally decided I needed a gimmick to try and get myself back on track. I need to trick my brain into remembering that I'm a writer. NaNo seems like a great opportunity to try that.

So I've spent some time the past few weeks trying to get ready. I worked on getting most of my resource notes into a single notebook for ease of use. Then my son spilled chocolate milk all over that notebook so I'm currently working on another notebook that will be better protected. I've been working out what my overall story arc will be as I write this month and I think I'm satisfied with what I've decided to go for. Unfortunately, I realized this morning that there's a crucial area of research that I totally forgot to complete. I'll probably just have to play catch up with that while I progress through the month.

Il Sigh.

Anyway, wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thoughts on Lovecraftian Horror

Recently, in honor of the month of October and its upcoming spooky holiday, I decided that in my quest to become more well read in the genre of fantasy I would delve into the infamously creepy writings of H.P. Lovecraft. He of the Cthulhu Mythos fame. So I purchased a volume of his complete writings and decided to read through them chronologically.

Now, in general I'm a person who just doesn't do horror. For one, I get too easily frightened. (The Sixth Sense scared me. Seriously.) Also, I tend to dislike any art form that emphasizes darkness and ugliness over light and beauty. So I avoid horror like the plague, but I decided to make an exception for Lovecraft.

Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s and 30s, mostly short stories with a few novellas for variety. He was not, it seems, a very popular writer during his lifetime and was never really able to rise above poverty on his writing. But Lovecraft was hugely influential to other writers of "weird" fiction and fantasy and his legacy has lived on to the point that his most famous creation, the monster/deity Cthulhu, is now well know in popular culture. For this reason alone a person wanting to become well versed in the traditions and history of modern fantasy, as I do, must read Lovecraft.

Sketch of Cthulhu by Lovecraft

 (However, a word of warning, if you are like me in your feelings toward horror, DON'T try to read Lovecraft's entire works straight through, as I did. Take it in bits and pieces.)

My overwhelming impression of Lovecraft's writings is that they are works of incredible imagination. They are strange, wild and weird; constructing an unfathomably old universe of creatures and deities beyond the conception of human thought. But it is a dark and tainted universe where the truth does not set you free, it drives you mad and reduces you to a quivering wreck of former humanity. There is no hope or redemption in Lovecraft's world. There is only insanity and degradation.

Juxtaposed with these harsh realities, made manifest through the Cthulhu Mythos and other various stories that highlight the horror of the human condition, there is the Dream Cycle, a series of stories where the protagonists are able to make their way into the world of Dream which is full of just as many wonders of exquisite beauty as it is shadowed with ugliness. At first descriptions of "the marvelous city of Celephais" and other wonders seem like a breath of fresh air. At last! There is beauty in the world after all! But then in stories such as "The Silver Key" it becomes clear that the world dreams exists because there are those who are aware that the world of men is undermined with implacable horror and these need a place that they can flee from reality to. The man called Kuranes forsakes his earthly existence, dying in the real world, so that he can become the king of Celephais in the land of dreams.

I cannot help being awed by "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath", a novella about a man who takes an epic journey through the lands of dream to find the beautiful sunset city that he once dreamed of in the past but has lately been forbidden visions of. Partly I am blown away by this work because it is entirely "told" (rather than "shown") by an omniscient narrator. There is no dialogue, external or internal, until a final long speech from the deity Nyarlathotep near the climax of the tale. It is precisely the way in which we are warned these days NEVER to write. And yet, I was utterly hooked by the sheer wonder and imagination of what Lovecraft conjured in the land of dreams. I think it is a clear example that if you, as a writer, have a vision to convey in story, there is simply no way that it can't be told.

I am glad that I delved into the worlds of Lovecraft, but I know now that I should have taken it slower and in stages, reading other works in between. Because by the time I had gotten through to the point where began really exploring the Cthulhu Mythos, I was sick in my soul from the unceasing darkness and ugliness and hopelessness of the majority of his stories. I had to stop reading them and turn to something much lighter to break through the melancholy mood into which I had sunk.

I admire Lovecraft's powers of imagination, but I wish that he had tempered his horrors by providing some room for hope and dignity. I can't help wondering if he was a very unhappy man.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Vast and Lofty Fabric

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.

 ~Saint Augustine

When you're a writer, everything you see and everything you read tends to have significance to your writing. Take the above quote from Saint Augustine. On the surface, it's a quote about humility. But to someone whose days are filled with ponderings about imaginary worlds, it suddenly struck me as brilliant advice about worldbuilding.

You see,  I do desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric. I want to create the kind of stories that will be remembered in a hundred years or more. I want to create whole worlds to tell those stories in. And the above quote reminds me is that every great thing, every lofty construction must begin with a deep and solid foundation.

But what exactly does that mean when you apply it to imaginary worlds? To put it simply, it means you need to think about your world's basic nature. Worldbuilding isn't just saying "this place is here and that place is there and this is what the societies in those places are like". Worldbuilding is also establishing how and why your world exists and what are the natural rules that govern it. In our world we have the laws of physics, but an imaginary world could operate on entirely different principles.

Don't settle for just explaining things away by saying "it's magic". Know the reasons that your imaginary world operates differently from our world. Don't get caught up in the thinking that science and magic don't mix. Science is just another word for knowledge and magic is really just an application of knowledge. (Albeit usually specialized or arcane knowledge that can only be used by some.)

So when doing your worldbuilding learn to think like a philosopher. Get metaphysical with your creation. It will make your imaginary world feel all the more real and genuine to your readers.

Friday, September 28, 2012

When Life Takes a Sledgehammer and Slams you in the Gut...

There's not much you can do but roll over and try to protect your innards from another swing. No lemonade involved.

I have a 5 year-old son. He's always been a sort of difficult child. Very quick to learn in some areas, very slow to learn in others. Give him a lever and he could totally move mountains, but for some reason he has spent most of his life talking in quotes from movies. Communication is not his forte. Nor is being told "no" about anything he'd set his mind on. But for a long time my husband and I just thought he was slower, but not abnormally so.We assumed that at some point he would get better on his own, that he just needed time.

Perhaps we were foolish. But we were still young parents and we didn't know any better.

Earlier this year our pediatrician told us that he believes our son has Asperger's Syndrome and ADHD. (The two often go hand in hand in young children.) We had him evaluated by our local Handicapped Children's Association and their assessment was that it is highly likely he places on the Autism spectrum (Asperger's is at the high functioning end of the spectrum). We haven't had a chance to see a specialist who can give a proper diagnosis yet, they are hard to get in with it seems. But because of the HCA assessment our school system placed our son in a special needs class when he started school this year.

So we have had to come to term with the fact that we have a child with special needs, not a child who is just going through a difficult phase or who is slow in some areas. And we have to accept that he will always have special needs. You can't treat Asperger's away. You can learn to cope with it, often with therapy, you can get certain drugs to help with some aspects of it, but you can't make it go away. It's a part of you. It's a part of our son.

We've learned a lot about how to relate to him better in the past several months. We've learned that touch, such as stroking the sides of his face, can help calm him down when he gets overwrought. He is extremely sensitive to touch and so, conversely, to him a simple smack on the hand is agony. We've learned to be more careful. We've learned that routine is really important and that public places where there are lots of people he doesn't know around are difficult for him to handle. We've learned how better to communicate with him on his own terms, often using what seems like his own personal code.

But as much as we've learned most days are still filled with strife. Everything tends to be a battle with him. We have to struggle with him to get him up in the morning for school, struggle with him to get dressed, struggle with him to get on the bus without flipping out because it's a small bus and not a big bus. Then several hours later we have to struggle with him to get off the bus and come home, we have to struggle with him to settle down and stop asking for impossible things about every five minutes (those are the tough ones, when he asks for something that I literally cannot give him), struggle with him to eat dinner, struggle with him to go to bed. And then it begins over again the next day.

It's taken a lot of adjustment. Not just for myself and my husband, but also from his two sisters. In one sense nothing has really changed. Our son has always had these special needs, we just never realized it. He's the same boy he's always been. In another sense everything has changed. Or at least it feels that way. It feels like we're leading an entirely different life than we were at the beginning of the year. I feel like a different person.

And that's why I've been gone from the blog for so long. To be honest, I've felt incapable of writing anything for months now. Words just don't seem to flow together in my head the way they used to. But I've had enough. I'm going to break out of this rut. I'm not going to let my daily stress levels decide whether or not I can write anymore. You should be seeing me around here more often, but not too often. I have so much fiction writing to catch up on.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What are Stories for?

I've been giving some serious thought lately to the question of what stories are truly for. Stories have been a part of human culture since the very beginning. From Gilgamesh to the Iliad, from King Arthur to The Lord of the Rings, we've always told each other stories. And the stories we tell can survive centuries and even millennia. The Trojan Horse, the Knights of the Round Table, these things, passed on in story, have become part of humanity's shared cultural consciousness. They mean more to us than science or history. Much more than entertainment.

There is no doubt that reading stories has a positive effect on our brains. It increases our vocabulary and makes us smarter in many ways. Reading stories also provides an important diversion for our intellect. It's essentially R & R for our brains. And yet, I doubt that these are the reasons that stories have resonated so strongly with the human experience for thousands of years. Probably that stuff is just the icing on the cake, a positive side effect. After all, stories aren't the only way to relax your brain and reading isn't the only way we learn. No, something tells me that the real reason we love stories goes deeper than that.

But there is one thing that stories can help us do like nothing else can. They exercise our imagination. Stories can take us out of ourselves. They let us forget who we are and where we are, just for a while, so that we can experience places and situations that we never could in real life. They let us take risks without being at risk. But most importantly they let us experience what it's like to walk in the shoes of another person, to see things from his or her point of view, to think and feel like another person.
The ability to imagine and thus to empathize is a very important aspect of human nature. But most people seem to underestimate the crucial role that the imagination plays in the act of empathy.

Because it isn't easy to look at the world from someone else's shoes. It's far easier to look at someone's situation from our own shoes and condemn them for not doing what we would have done or not thinking the way we do. Imagination can help us to empathize because a healthy imagination really can see things from another point of view. And stories let us practice this.

This is, I believe, why stories are so integral to the human experience. They are a key part of the process that allows humans to relate to each other in a constructive way and they help us to recognize that there is more to this world than ourselves. They get us out of our own heads in a healthy and risk free way.

That's why it's so important for us to continue always to tell stories and why it's a very noble calling to be a storyteller.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Getting Back into this Blog thing with a Fest!

And so I return from the void for another blogfest. Today is Alex J. Cavanaugh's First Loves Blogfest which asks us to reveal four of our first loves. So here goes...

First Movie

Is it getting hot in here?

To be honest, I've never been much of a movie person. I like movies. I watch movies. But they've never been something that I loved. Thinking back over the years, it's hard to find one that really stands out in my memory as a love. Still, it was through movies that my love of faraway places and ancient things was first awakened. In particular, it was the Indiana Jones movies that inspired me thus. It was Raiders of the Lost Ark that made me snatch up every book on Ancient Egypt I could find in the library and The Last Crusade that convinced me for several years that I wanted to be an archeologist. And Indy was my first (and longest lasting) character crush. I wrote Indiana Jones fanfiction (featuring a very MarySue-esque female version of Indiana Jones) and I even enjoyed the new Indiana Jones movie, because who can resist Indiana Jones? Not I. Not I. So thank you, Indiana Jones, for inadvertently setting me on the path that I still walk today, writing fantasy fiction strong influenced by the ancient world.

First Band

It was 8th grade and nearly summer. I was in Chorus, but we had already performed our last concert of the year so our teacher just gave us a movie to watch. That movie was Help! and it introduced me to the genius of The Beatles. I spent the next year being obsessed with Help! and soon had the album memorized. But it wasn't the sort of music that my friends or family listened to and no one else understood my new found love. I didn't even know about all the other Beatles music out there and no one I knew could tell me about it. My obsession faded away and I forgot about The Beatles for some years until I met my future husband. He was a huge Beatles fan and bought me a copy of Let it Be. Wow. Could there be two more different albums than Help! and Let it Be? It was the first time I realized the amazing range and versatility of The Beatles' genius. My obsession came back full force and this time I was able to indulge myself and listen to all their music. The Beatles are still my favorite band and now I'm passing on my love to my daughter.

First Book

Can there be any question? I've always loved books and reading. But The Lord of the Rings was the book that transformed my life. And that's not an exaggeration. It was the book the really opened up my horizons, showing me all that was possible in the realm of fantasy, revealing to me the depth and breadth that a story can reach. Not only that, it led me eventually to meet my husband, another huge Tolkien fan, and thus to our family of little Elves. It's also the book that made me want to write fantasy.

First Person

My husband. There's no getting around it. My husband has always been the one and only love of my life. We've been married for nearly 10 years, but I can barely remember what life was like without him. He just belongs in my life. And without him I couldn't do any of this. I depend on his feedback, his probing questions and ideas and his editing skills. I couldn't be a writer without him. And hopefully with his help I'll be published soon!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Things You Need to Know about Publishing

I am a big fan of author Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog. Her articles on business and the publishing industry have educated me more than any other source. And she has the experience to back up her words. She's worked as an award winning editor, best selling author and small publisher in the business for decades. I look forward to her Thursday posts on the business of writing every week.

This week I was fortunate enough to have read her Thursday post early in the day... before her site was attacked my malware. (Which is why I'm not linking to it at the moment.) Her main author website and a secondary blog where she reposted her article both became unavailable. But Ms. Rusch believes that the information in her post this week is vital to all authors and would be authors and so she has given her permission for her article to be reposted by other bloggers.

I agree with her. If you're thinking of jumping into the publishing world as an author, there is stuff here you need to know. You need to be educated and aware of how the industry works and how hard it works to take advantage of authors who don't manage to hit it big. You need to know how to defend your interests in the face of all the middle men who want to take a piece out of you. So here's Ms. Rusch's article in full. Read it, take it to heart, use it to your advantage. (I'll link back to her site once the issues are cleared up.)

The Business Rusch: Royalty Statement Update 2012
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the fact that my e-book royalties from a couple of my traditional publishers looked wrong. Significantly wrong. After I posted that blog, dozens of writers contacted me with similar information. More disturbingly, some of these writers had evidence that their paper book royalties were also significantly wrong.
Writers contacted their writers’ organizations. Agents got the news. Everyone in the industry, it seemed, read those blogs, and many of the writers/agents/organizations vowed to do something. And some of them did.
I hoped to do an update within a few weeks after the initial post. I thought my update would come no later than summer of 2011.
I had no idea the update would take a year, and what I can tell you is—
Bupkis. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.
That doesn’t mean that nothing happened. I personally spoke to the heads of two different writers’ organizations who promised to look into this. I spoke to half a dozen attorneys active in the publishing field who were, as I mentioned in those posts, unsurprised. I spoke to a lot of agents, via e-mail and in person, and I spoke to even more writers.
The writers have kept me informed. It seems, from the information I’m still getting, that nothing has changed. The publishers that last year used a formula to calculate e-book royalties (rather than report actual sales) still use the formula to calculate e-book royalties this year.
I just got one such royalty statement in April from one of those companies and my e-book sales from them for six months were a laughable ten per novel. My worst selling e-books, with awful covers, have sold more than that. Significantly more.
To this day, writers continue to notify their writers’ organizations, and if those organizations are doing anything, no one has bothered to tell me. Not that they have to. I’m only a member of one writers’ organizations, and I know for fact that one is doing nothing.
But the heads of the organizations I spoke to haven’t kept me apprised. I see nothing in the industry news about writers’ organizations approaching/auditing/dealing with the problems with royalty statements. Sometimes these things take place behind the scenes, and I understand that. So, if your organization is taking action, please do let me know so that I can update the folks here.
The attorneys I spoke to are handling cases, but most of those cases are individual cases. An attorney represents a single writer with a complaint about royalties. Several of those cases got settled out of court. Others are still pending or are “in review.” I keep hearing noises about class actions, but so far, I haven’t seen any of them, nor has anyone notified me.
The agents disappointed me the most. Dean personally called an agent friend of ours whose agency handles two of the biggest stars in the writing firmament. That agent (having previously read my blog) promised the agency was aware of the problem and was “handling it.”
Two weeks later, I got an e-mail from a writer with that agency asking me if I knew about the new e-book addendum to all of her contracts that the agency had sent out. The agency had sent the addendum with a “sign immediately” letter. I hadn’t heard any of this. I asked to see the letter and the addendum.
This writer was disturbed that the addendum was generic. It had arrived on her desk—get this—without her name or the name of the book typed in. She was supposed to fill out the contract number, the book’s title, her name, and all that pertinent information.
I had her send me her original contracts, which she did. The addendum destroyed her excellent e-book rights in that contract, substituting better terms for the publisher. Said publisher handled both of that agency’s bright writing stars.
So I contacted other friends with that agency. They had all received the addendum. Most had just signed the addendum without comparing it to the original contract, trusting their agent who was (after all) supposed to protect them.
Wrong-o. The agency, it turned out, had made a deal with the publisher. The publisher would correct the royalties for the big names if agency sent out the addendum to every contract it had negotiated with that contract. The publisher and the agency both knew that not all writers would sign the addendum, but the publisher (and probably the agency) also knew that a good percentage of the writers would sign without reading it.
In other words, the publisher took the money it was originally paying to small fish and paid it to the big fish—with the small fish’s permission.
Yes, I’m furious about this, but not at the publisher. I’m mad at the authors who signed, but mostly, I’m mad at the agency that made this deal. This agency had a chance to make a good decision for all of its clients. Instead, it opted to make a good deal for only its big names.
Do I know for a fact that this is what happened? Yeah, I do. Can I prove it? No. Which is why I won’t tell you the name of the agency, nor the name of the bestsellers involved. (Who, I’m sure, have no idea what was done in their names.)
On a business level what the agency did makes sense. The agency pocketed millions in future commissions without costing itself a dime on the other side, since most of the writers who signed the addendum probably hadn’t earned out their advances, and probably never would.
On an ethical level it pisses me off. You’ll note that my language about agents has gotten harsher over the past year, and this single incident had something to do with it. Other incidents later added fuel to the fire, but they’re not relevant here. I’ll deal with them in a future post.
Yes, there are good agents in the world. Some work for unethical agencies. Some work for themselves. I still work with an agent who is also a lawyer, and is probably more ethical than I am.
But there are yahoos in the agenting business who make the slimy used car salesmen from 1970s films look like action heroes. But, as I said, that’s a future post.
I have a lot of information from writers, most of which is in private correspondence, none of which I can share, that leads me to believe that this particular agency isn’t the only one that used my blog on royalty statements to benefit their bestsellers and hurt their midlist writers. But again, I can’t prove it.
So I’m sad to report that nothing has changed from last year on the royalty statement front.
The reason I was so excited about the Department of Justice lawsuit against the five publishers wasn’t because of the anti-trust issues (which do exist on a variety of levels in publishing, in my opinion), but because the DOJ accountants will dig, and dig, and dig into the records of these traditional publishers, particularly one company named in the suit that’s got truly egregious business practices.
Those practices will change, if only because the DOJ’s forensic accountants will request information that the current accounting systems in most publishing houses do not track. The accounting system in all five of these houses will get overhauled, and brought into the 21st century, and that will benefit writers. It will be an accidental benefit, but it will occur.
The audits alone will unearth a lot of problems. I know that some writers were skeptical that the auditors would look for problems in the royalty statements, but all that shows is a lack of understanding of how forensic accounting works. In the weeks since the DOJ suit, I’ve contacted several accountants, including two forensic accountants, and they all agree that every pebble, every grain of sand, will be inspected because the best way to hide funds in an accounting audit is to move them to a part of the accounting system not being audited.
So when an organization like the DOJ audits, they get a blanket warrant to look at all of the accounting, not just the files in question. Yes, that’s a massive task. Yes, it will take years. But the change is gonna come.
From the outside.
Those of you in Europe might be seeing some of that change as well, since similar lawsuits are going on in Europe.
I do know that several writers from European countries, New Zealand, and Australia have written to me about similar problems in their royalty statements. The unifying factor in those statements is the companies involved. Again, you’d recognize the names because they’ve been in the news lately…dealing with lawsuits.
Ironically for me, those two blog posts benefitted me greatly. I had been struggling to get my rights back from one publisher (who is the biggest problem publisher), and the week I posted the blog, I got contacted by my former editor there, who told me that my rights would come back to me ASAP. Because, the former editor told me (as a friend), things had changed since Thursday (the day I post my blog), and I would get everything I needed.
In other words, let’s get the troublemaker out of the house now. Fine with me.
Later, I discovered some problems with a former agency. I pointed out the problems in a letter, and those problems got solved immediately. I have several friends who’ve been dealing with similar things from that agency, and they can’t even get a return e-mail. I know that the quick response I got is because of this blog.
I also know that many writers used the blog posts from last year to negotiate more accountability from their publishers for future royalties. That’s a real plus. Whether or not it happens is another matter because I noted something else in this round of royalty statements.
Actually, that’s not fair. My agent caught it first. I need to give credit where credit is due, and since so many folks believe I bash agents, let me say again that my current agent is quite good, quite sharp, and quite ethical.
My agent noticed that the royalty statements from one of my publishers were basket accounted on the statement itself. Which is odd, considering there is no clause in any of the contracts I have with that company that allows for basket accounting.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with basket accounting, this is what it means:
A writer signs a contract with Publisher A for three books. The contract is a three-book contract. One contract, three books. Got that?
Okay, a contract with a basket-accounting clause allows the publisher to put all three books in the same accounting “basket” as if the books are one entity. So let’s say that book one does poorly, book two does better, and book three blows out of the water.
If book three earns royalties, those royalties go toward paying off the advances on books one and two.
Like this:
Advance for book one: $10,000
Advance for book two: $10,000
Advance for book three: $10,000
Book one only earned back $5,000 toward its advance. Book two only earned $6,000 toward its advance.
Book three earned $12,000—paying off its advance, with a $2,000 profit.
In a standard contract without basket accounting, the writer would have received the $2,000 as a royalty payment.
But with basket accounting, the writer receives nothing. That accounting looks like this:
Advance on contract 1: $30,000
Earnings on contract 1: $23,000
Amount still owed before the advance earns out: $7,000
Instead of getting $2,000, the writer looks at the contract and realizes she still has $7,000 before earning out.
Without basket accounting, she would have to earn $5,000 to earn out Book 1, and $4,000 to earn out Book 2, but Book 3 would be paying her cold hard cash.
Got the difference?
Now, let’s go back to my royalty statement. It covered three books. All three books had three different one-book contracts, signed years apart. You can’t have basket accounting without a basket (or more than one book), but I checked to see if sneaky lawyers had inserted a clause that I missed which allowed the publisher to basket account any books with that publisher that the publisher chose.
I got a royalty statement with all of my advances basket accounted because…well, because. The royalty statement doesn’t follow the contract(s) at all.
Accounting error? No. These books had be added separately. Accounting program error (meaning once my name was added, did the program automatically basket account)?
But I’ve suspected for nearly three years now that this company (not one of the big traditional publishers, but a smaller [still large] company) has been having serious financial problems. The company has played all kinds of games with my checks, with payments, with fulfilling promises that cost money.
This is just another one of those problems.
My agent caught it because he reads royalty statements. He mentioned it when he forwarded the statements. I would have caught it as well because I read royalty statements. Every single one. And I compare them to the previous statement. And often, I compare them to the contract.
Is this “error” a function of the modern publishing environment? No, not like e-book royalties, which we’ll get back to in a moment. I’m sure publishers have played this kind of trick since time immemorial. Royalty statements are fascinating for what they don’t say rather than for what they say.
For example, on this particular (messed up) royalty statement, e-books are listed as one item, without any identification. The e-books should be listed separately (according to ISBN) because Amazon has its own edition, as does Apple, as does B&N. Just like publishers must track the hardcover, trade paper, and mass market editions under different ISBNs, they should track e-books the same way.
The publisher that made the “error” with my books had no identifying number, and only one line for e-books. Does that mean that this figure included all e-books, from the Amazon edition to the B&N edition to the Apple edition? Or is this publisher, which has trouble getting its books on various sites (go figure), is only tracking Amazon? From the numbers, it would seem so. Because the numbers are somewhat lower than books in the same series that I have on Amazon, but nowhere near the numbers of the books in the same series if you add in Apple and B&N.
I can’t track this because the royalty statement has given me no way to track it. I would have to run an audit on the company. I’m not sure I want to do that because it would take my time, and I’m moving forward.
That’s the dilemma for writers. Do we take on our publishers individually?
Because—for the most part—our agents aren’t doing it. The big agencies, the ones who actually have the clout and the numbers to defend their clients, are doing what they can for their big clients and leaving the rest in the dust.
Writers’ organizations seem to be silent on this. And honestly, it’s tough for an organization to take on a massive audit. It’s tough financially and it’s tough politically. I know one writer who headed a writer’s organization a few decades ago. She spearheaded an audit of major publishers, and it cost her her writing career. Not many heads of organizations have the stomach for that.
As for intellectual property attorneys (or any attorney for that matter), very few handle class actions. Most handle cases individually for individual clients. I know of several writers who’ve gone to attorneys and have gotten settlements from publishers. The problem here is that these settlements only benefit one writer, who often must sign a confidentiality agreement so he can’t even talk about what benefit he got from that agreement.
One company that I know of has revamped its royalty statements. They appear to be clearer. The original novel that I have with that company isn’t selling real well as an e-book, and that makes complete sense since the e-book costs damn near $20. (Ridiculous.) The other books that I have with that company, collaborations and tie-ins, seem to be accurately reported, although I have no way to know. I do appreciate that this company has now separated out every single e-book venue into its own category (B&N, Amazon, Apple) via ISBN, and I can actually see the sales breakdown.
So that’s a positive (I think). Some of the smaller companies have accurate statements as well—or at least, statements that match or improve upon the sales figures I’m seeing on indie projects.
This is all a long answer to a very simple question: What’s happened on the royalty statement front in the past year?
A lot less than I had hoped.
So here’s what you traditionally published writers can do. Track your royalty statements. Compare them to your contracts. Make sure the companies are reporting what they should be reporting.
If you’re combining indie and traditional, like I am, make sure the numbers are in the same ballpark. Make sure your traditional Amazon numbers are around the same numbers you get for your indie titles. If they aren’t, look at one thing first: Price. I expect sales to be much lower on that ridiculous $20 e-book. If your e-books through your traditional publisher are $15 or more, then sales will be down. If the e-books from your traditional publisher are priced around $10 or less, then they should be somewhat close in sales to your indie titles. (Or, if traditional publishers are doing the promotion they claim to do, the sales should be better.)
What to do if they’re not close at all? I have no idea. I still think there’s a benefit to contacting your writers’ organizations. Maybe if the organization keeps getting reports of badly done royalty statements, someone will take action.
If you want to hire an attorney or an auditor, remember doing that will cost both time and money. If you’re a bestseller, you might want to consider it. If you’re a midlist writer, it’s probably not worth the time and effort you’ll put in.
But do yourself a favor. Read those royalty statements. If you think they’re bad, then don’t sign a new contract with that publisher. Go somewhere else with your next book.
I wish I could give you better advice. I wish the big agencies actually tried to use their clout for good instead of their own personal profits. I wish the writers’ organizations had done something.
As usual, it’s up to individual writers.
Don’t let anyone screw you. You might not be able to fight the bad accounting on past books, but make sure you don’t allow it to happen on future books.
That means that you negotiate good contracts, you make sure your royalty statements match those contracts, and you don’t sign with a company that puts out royalty statements that don’t reflect your book deal.
I’m quite happy that I walked away from the publisher I mentioned above years ago. I did so because I didn’t like the treatment I got from the financial and production side. The editor was—as editors often are—great. Everything else at the company sucked.
The royalty statement was just confirmation of a good decision for me.
I hope you make good decisions going forward.
Remember: read your royalty statements.
Good luck.

“The Business Rusch: “Royalty Statement Update 2012,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Apology and an Observation

First, an apology.

I've come to the conclusion that I just can't continue with the A to Z challenge this year. Too much unpleasant stuff in my life is making blogging at all extremely difficult. Blogging nearly every day and by theme has become impossible. I hate to admit defeat. You've no idea how much I hate it. But I've decided my sanity must come first. So, alas, as far as the Challenge is concerned I'm finished, over. Finished with. Over. Finished and done with.It's over. Completely finished.

On the other hand,  I do love the theme I chose for this year and the subjects I've explored and I know a lot of you have enjoyed it as well. I've appreciated your positive feedback so much because it's shown me without a shadow of a doubt that what publishers have been saying for years is wrong. Fantasy is still alive and well in the hearts of readers. We haven't lost our love of all things wide and wonderful, but it certainly does seem to me that the fare being offered to us in the Fantasy genre in recent years has been less than inspiring.

The Fantasy genre needs better ideas and fresh voices. It needs to break the fetters that have been placed upon it by the elite in New York and find its own way again. I am more determined than ever to be one of Fantasy's new voices.

So I intend to continue to write posts over the coming year that explore the ideas I chose for the A to Z. After all, there were so many good ones I never got to. I will be writing them at my own pace and doing a more in depth discussion than I meant to with the A to Z. So look forward to that in the future. In the meantime, I'm going to devote a little time to trying to get back into a writing schedule.

Good luck to everyone else still wrapped up in the A to Z! I'll be trying my best to follow along with your posts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What's Fantasy without the Fantastic?

My apologies for getting so very far behind. It was a really busy weekend. Hopefully I can get caught up this week, but I'm still going to be very busy for a while so all I can promise is that I will try.

F is for all things Fantastic.

The clearest sign that you are in a fantasy story is the presence of the fantastic. Whether it's mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons, mythical races like Elves and Dwarves, the existence of elements with properties that would be impossible in our world, or characters who possess magical powers, fantastical features are the one requirement of the genre.

What I love about fantasy is that there are so many varied ways to use magic and the fantastic. Every author finds new and different ways to color the worlds they create with the supernatural. There's a huge range of possibilities from low magic settings to high magic settings and everything in between.

Did you know that Middle-earth, the quintessential fantasy world, is a low magic setting? There is actually very little magic in Middle-earth. In fact, Tolkien disliked using the word magic. As Galadriel says to Sam in The Fellowship of the Ring:

"For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word for the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?"

Tolkien didn't really consider what the Elves were capable of "magic" in the way we understand the word. Rather, it was more akin to "art" or "craft", something that came as naturally to them as our more mundane activities come to us. The most fantastical aspect of Middle-earth was simply the natural presence of such beings as Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and of course the Powers of the world.

In contrast, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a very high magic setting. Nearly everyone that we meet is a magic wielder or a magical creature, magical tools and devices are everywhere, and magical spells are used for everything. Both types of settings can be highly enjoyable in the right hands. All we readers ask is that you give us an opportunity to feast on the fantastic.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Euphoric Eucatastrophe

E is for Eucatastrophe.

Today I am going to talk about another wonderful word invention of J.R.R. Tolkien, the philologist. Eucatastrophe is a storytelling device that he identified as a fundamental part of the Fairy Story and thus also as part of Fantasy as its successor. It is essentially a joyous catastrophe, a major reversal at the climax of the story which leads to a happy ending rather than a tragedy. It gives to the reader a euphoric feeling of release and relief and, again, joy. The Eucatastrophe is all about joy.

Far more powerful and poignant is the effect in a serious tale of Faerie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

The fantasy genre, as the literary heir to the Fairy Story, is, I think, the best place to find such sudden joy. Life rarely offers this to us, and most other genres are meant to be more true to life than fantasy. Because in fantasy it is possible to raise the stakes far higher than any other genre, the resulting reversal and happy ending can be all the more powerful.

Think of the reversal in The Lord of the Rings, when the ragged armies of Rohan and Gondor stand outside the gates of Mordor prepared to give their lives to protect the Free People of Middle-earth... and then the sudden reversal. The thing we have been waiting for has come to pass. The Ring has been destroyed and the tower of Barad Dur is toppled. The armies of Sauron flee in fear, for the Men of Rohan and Gondor have gained renewed strength from this Eucatastrophe.

Think of Harry Potter. (Spoilers ahead if you haven't read it.) Hogwarts is under seige, all of Harry's friends and loved ones about to be destroyed by an army of Death Eaters. All he has to do to save them is surrender his life. Harry dies at the Dark Lord's hand. But then... the joyous reversal. Harry's sacrifice not only allows him to return, but gives protection to everyone he is fighting for. Voldemort, who fled from death, can no longer stand against him who was willing to die for love.

The Eucatastrophe lends tremendous emotional power to stories that employ it. It gives joy in the face of destruction and hope in the face of tragedy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Delights of Discovery

My post for the letter "C", regretfully delayed, is below this one.

Today, D is for Discovery.

One of my favorite things about the fantasy genre is the wonderful opportunity for discovery. Living in this modern age, it sometimes feels like there's no mystery left to the world. Nothing new, nothing left to discover. Space is apparently the final frontier, but it's so full of vast spaces of nothing that I find it difficult to be interested.

But transport me to a fantasy world or show me how this world is really full of magic and mystery that modern man is unaware of and I'm hooked. Allow me to explore your imaginary world, to learn as many of its secrets as I can, make me feel like I'm in a real magical place and I can't resist.

A riveting plot, complex characters and thought provoking themes are great, but any genre can give me those. The real reason I read fantasy, in particular epic fantasy, is for the worlds to be discovered.

The Courage to Create

Apologies for not getting this entry up in time yesterday. Which means I'll be double posting today for C and D so let's get right to it.

C is for Creation.

The heart of man is not compound of lies,

but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,

and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,

man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.

Disgraced he may be, yet is not dethroned,

and keeps the rags of lordship one he owned,

his world-dominion by creative act:

not his to worship the great Artefact,

man, sub-creator, the refracted light

through whom is splintered from a single White

to many hues, and endlessly combined

in living shapes that move from mind to mind.

Though all the crannies of the world we filled

with elves and goblins, though we dared to build

gods and their houses out of dark and light,

and sow the seed of dragons, 'twas our right

(used or misused). The right has not decayed.

We make still by the law in which we're made.
                                      ~J.R.R. Tolkien

You might guess from the name of my blog that creation through storytelling, or sub-creation as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, is a subject close to my heart. Perhaps above all others it is the real reason why I write: I am compelled to create.

Tolkien coined the term "sub-creation" to express the idea that we mere mortals have an intrinsic desire to create through our arts because we were made in the image of our creator. Like him, we want to bring things into being. Unlike him, it is only from our imaginations that we can do this. So we are not creators, since we have nothing to work with that was not created by God, but we are sub-creators.

Tolkien also saw fantasy as the best medium for sub-creation. Another term he developed was mythopoesis, by which he meant the creative act of inventing imaginary worlds with detailed mythologies. This is the closest, perhaps, that man can come to mimicking God's creative act. For though the things that we invent have no physical substance in the world, one only needs to look at the lasting impact that Middle-earth has had on millions of fans of Tolkien's stories (including me) to see that Tolkien's creations have achieved reality in the souls of those who love them.

This humble blogger hopes to one day become a true sub-creator and mythopoet in the same tradition that Tolkien began.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Belief without Bounds

Day two of the A to Z Challenge and if you don't know what that is you may need to spend more time blogging. Here's the incredibly daunting list. I'll be working my way through it, slowly, over the course of the month, but say hello down below and I'll find you sooner!

Today B is for Belief.

"Tell me one last thing," said Harry. "Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" ~J.K. Rowling

 One of the things that I love about fantasy is that it opens up realms of belief that are no longer acceptable to modern society. As a rule, modern man has developed the idea that if you can't see it or touch it, it doesn't exist, though even sight is often doubted as smell, hearing and taste are. We demand that something has physical presence in order to exist.

This is the view that the inexperienced Harry Potter represents in the quote above. He wants to know if he is really, physically in the place where he speaks with Dumbledore at the end of Deathly Hallows or if he's only imagining it. (I won't say more about it in case any of you haven't read it.) But Dumbledore, wise in years, knows better. He knows that there is much that exists beyond what we can scientifically prove. The character Thomas Covenant from (wait for it) the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has a much worse case of doubt than Harry. Thomas is a leper who gets into an accident and wakes up in the world of the Land where people have magic powers and there's an evil dark lord that they believe only Thomas can defeat. Thomas' education as a leper (a condition that makes it impossible to trust even your senses if you want to survive) convinces him that this is all a dream. It can't possibly be real. He fights against what the people of the Land want him to do, never truly accepting his destiny to be their hero. (It's for this reason that I don't like the character much.) The books chronicle a constant struggle between Thomas and the people of the Land. Them to convince him to become what he is meant to become and save them from destruction. Him to fight with every ounce of his being against what he sees as a mortally tempting descent into hallucination.

But most fantasy accepts that there is more to the world than meets the eye or brushes the hand. From the reality of gods of all shapes and sizes, to strange mythical creatures, to the ability of humanity to wield forces unimaginable with no more than our wills. Fantasy is all about exploring that which is beyond our human knowledge and our mortal strength. It reminds us that reality is more than what we can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. Fantasy allows us to believe, even if only for the span of a book, in fairies and monsters and gods and demons. Fantasy lets us be more than we could ever dream to be in this "real" world.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ahoy, Adventure Approaches!

And.... go!

This year I've chosen to explore 26 aspects of the fantasy genre that make me a devoted reader and writer of it. Without further ado, our first topic is A for Adventure.

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. you step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Adventure is defined as an undertaking that involves danger and unknown risks.

Think of poor Bilbo Baggins who was a simple Shire Hobbit until a strange old man showed up at his door with 13 Dwarves and an ancient map. Who would have predicted such a fellow would soon be dealing with a fire breathing dragon and not one, not two, but five armies all after the treasure of the mountain? Or little Lucy Pevensie who hid in a Wardrobe and found herself in an enchanted forest full fauns and talking animals... and a wicked queen who wanted her dead.

There is no better genre than fantasy for throwing us head first into the most wild, unpredictable, and gloriously fun adventures. We get to sit at ease in our homes all the while experiencing the desperate search of a unicorn for the rest of her people, or an orphan boy's noble sacrifice to rid the world of the most powerful Dark Lord, or an assistant pig-keeper's attempts to become a strong warrior like his hero Gwydion, or the fight between brothers and sisters for the vacant throne in the greatest city in the world. There's no where you can't go and nothing you can't do through the pages of a fantasy book.

Fantasy: the Greatest Adventure.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tripping the A to Z Fantastic

Well, I'm back.

(1000 points to anyone who gets the reference. Not that they're worth anything.)

Taking a break from blogging can be a great thing to do. I love blogging, but there's no getting around the fact that it's a constant demand and drain on your mental resources. Breaks are necessary for me. (After all, I'm a serious introvert.) The trick is to stay away just long enough for the feeling of relief and refreshment to turn into renewed inspiration and eagerness to get back into it.

I think that's where I am now, which is good because the A to Z Challenge begins tomorrow!

Last year I jumped into the A to Z after having blogged for only a month and a half and immediately after having a baby. (Little Corwin just turned 1 year-old yesterday.) I constantly failed to get posts up in time for each of the 26 days, but still I had a blast. So I couldn't resist diving back into the chaos again. I chose a theme last year which I really enjoyed writing about: aspects of worldbuilding and how I was implementing them in my WIP.

This year I've chosen to write about 26 aspects of the fantasy genre that make me a devoted reader and writer of fantasy. Here's what I've got planned:

April 1: A is for Adventure
April 2: B is for Belief
April 3: C is for Creation
April 4: D is for Discovery
April 5: E is for Eucatastrope
April 6: F is for the Fantastic
April 7: G is for Good vs. Evil
April 9: H is for Heroism
April 10: I is for Immersion
April 11: J is for Journeys
April 12: K is for Kingship
April 13: L is for Loss
April 14:  M is for Myth
April 16: N is for Nature
April 17: O is for Origin
April 18: P is for Perseverance
April 19: Q is for Quest
April 20: R is for  Resonance
April 21: S is for Soul
April 23: T is for Transcendence
April 24: U is for Unlimited
April 25: V is for Virtue
April 26: W is for Wonder
April 27: X is for Xenia
April 28: Y is for Yearning
April 30: Z is for Zeal

I'll have a link on my side bar under Topics of Interest (where you can also find a link to a page will all of last year's A to Z posts) for anyone who wants to easily keep up to date on my theme this year.

I hope you'll enjoy this exploration of all that is wonderful about fantasy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting Ready for April...

Hello, all my wonderful friends and readers.

I have been blogging now for a bit over a year and what a year its been. I went into this knowing that blogging isn't easy and assuming that I would be talking into the void with no audience other than my husband for some time. Boy, did you guys prove me wrong.

In one year of blogging I've gain 259 followers and published 121 posts which have garnered 1415 comments. And I've been having a blast the whole time.

All of this was possible because of you, dear readers, and I cannot thank you enough. You continually give me the support and encouragement to continue this crazy journey toward publishing my work. I doubt I would have had the momentum to keep going this long if it hadn't been for this blog and the feedback I get here.

So, once again, thank you.

But now, I'm going to take a little break. I've signed up for the huge and awesome A to Z blogging challenge coming in April. It's going to be a mad month of nearly daily posts and a signup list that will almost surely be over the 1000 mark to go through. So I'm going to take these weeks leading up to the challenge off from blogging. I'm going to prepare some posts in advance and finish the short story I'm working on. Then, hopefully, I'll be ready to dive right into the insanity without loosing mine. I don't want to end up burned out afterward like last year. (Though admittedly, last year I went into it as a brand new blogger with a brand new baby. I was NOT prepared.)

So, TTFN. Ci vediamo. See you soon. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Boycotting Barnes and Noble

Earlier this week I spent the last money I will ever give to Barnes and Noble.

In a way, this is somewhat painful. I have so many good memories of Barnes and Noble. For a long time my little area of Upstate New York had only small bookstores. A Walden's in the mall, a few independent bookstores. But mostly I just got my books from the library. Then a nice, big Barnes and Noble came to our area right around the time I hit my teenage years and started to have more spending money. My friend and I used to spend hours there, browsing, enjoying the atmosphere, and usually left with a bag or two. It was one of our favorite places to spend time.

I always just loved the feeling of being surrounded by wall to wall books. And I've always enjoyed the feel and the smell and the look of books. Barnes and Noble was like a paradise.

A few years back, I came to a place in my life where I just didn't have the luxury of buying books anymore. We've been very poor for a long time and so going to Barnes and Noble became an exercise in futility. I just stopped going altogether for the most part. But this Christmas we got our usual $50 worth of Barnes and Noble gift cards from my grandmother, always one of my favorite gifts in times past. My husband and I ventured to B&N one night to find something to spend them on. We ended up leaving the store empty handed.

You see, it wasn't my Barnes and Noble anymore.

The place was filled with toys and games and gimmicky books and gift items. It didn't feel like a bookstore anymore. It felt like a vaguely book related gift shop. The smell of the books wasn't there anymore. The first thing that your eyes saw upon entering was a giant Nook display. I don't begrudge them their Nook kiosk. Ebooks are totally the future and I LOVE my Kindle Fire, but man, when I walk into a bookstore I want to see books.

In addition to all that, we legitimately couldn't find anything we wanted to buy. Granted, we didn't have a ton of time to browse, we were wasting time before a movie. But who does anymore? How many people can afford to spend an hour in a bookstore so that they can find just the right thing to buy? Oh sure, I had that time to spare when I was a teenager. But I'm a busy mom of four now. My opportunities to get out alone with my husband are so few and far between that we certainly can't devote a whole evening to book shopping.

I decided to just find something online later on. Later on, I tried browsing their site for books. Wow. What a pain. Has anyone here tried to browse the B&N website? It's got to be one of the most poorly designed shopping experiences from a major retailer I've ever seen. I finally filled my shopping cart by just typing "Miyazaki" into the search engine. Knowing what you were looking for seems to be the only efficient way of navigating their website. My order went a little over the $50 on the gift cards I had. And as I pushed the button to submit my order I thought to myself, "That's the last money I give to them."

All that was before I saw this little news item:

Bookseller Barnes & Noble volleyed another shot at rival  by announcing that the chain will stop selling books in its stores published by the Internet retail giant.

Jaime Carey, chief merchandising officer at Barnes & Noble, said in a statement Tuesday that Amazon had “undermined” the book industry by pushing for exclusive deals with authors, agents and publishers.
. . . .

“Their actions have undermined the industry as a whole and have prevented millions of customers from having access to content,” Carey said. “It’s clear to us that Amazon has proven they would not be a good publishing partner to Barnes & Noble as they continue to pull content off the market for their own self interest. We don’t get many requests for Amazon titles, but if customers wish to buy Amazon titles from us, we will make them available only online at”


 You think Amazon is "undermining the industry" by preventing customers from having access to content and so you're going to respond to this by... preventing your customers from having access to Amazon's books by highly popular authors. 

 I'm sorry, Barnes and Noble, but now you're going too far. You see, unlike you, Amazon has given me an absolutely fantastic shopping experience. I ordered a new camera before Christmas and the estimated delivery date was between Dec. 27-30. You know when it came? DECEMBER 22. My husband ordered a packet of fountain pens and when it came found that it only contained 9 of the 12 pens it was supposed to have. He looked into it a bit, and decided it would just be too much trouble to try to contact them to get the missing pens. Several days later we received a package in the mail containing 3 fountain pens. And their website is one of the easiest websites I've ever used. Shopping there is a JOY.

So, Barnes and Noble, you had your chance, I know you've been trying to adapt to this new digital world. But you're doing a terrible job. You're screwing over your customers in an effort to get back at Amazon for doing everything better than you. So that's it. Amazon is getting all my business now.

Goodbye, Barnes and Noble, from the bottom of my heart, goodbye.

Update 3/5/2012: So I ordered three movies from Barnes and Noble online around 22nd or 23 of February. As of today, we still haven't received them. The latest info we can get from online tracking is that they arrived in Philadelphia recently. (We're about 4 hours north of Philly.) They sat in Kentucky for several days before that. Really, Barnes and Noble, really? It's been well over a week now? I order something from Amazon and I know I'll get it in 2 days. Sometimes sooner. This is ridiculous. Never, never again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More About Me Than You Ever Wanted To Know

I've been writing some heavier posts this month. So today I'm breaking away from that with a little fluff.

A few weeks back T.B. McKenzie of Magickless passed on to me the Kreativ Blogger Award which I am honored to receive. Thanks, T.B.! One is supposed to list 10 things about yourself upon receiving this award. Here goes...

1. I've always hated my name because it is so common. Going through middle and high school there were 13 other Sarahs (or Saras) in my grade alone.

2. To compensate for this, I like to give my children unique names. Possibly too unique sometimes. No one can spell or pronounce my oldest son's name: Maedhros (It's pronounced My thros.) 

3. In high school I had two close friends who were also named Sarah. We called each other Los Tres Sarahs (And yes, I know that's not proper Spanish grammar, but I wasn't the one who took Spanish and came up with the name.) and we "fought crime on the side".

4. Los Tres Sarahs was also in the habit of randomly handing out coconuts to people during our lunch hour. It was always highly amusing to see their faces when you just walked up and handed them a coconut. By our senior year there was a waiting list to receive a coconut.

5. It may already be apparent, but I have a serious obsession with Middle-earth and J.R.R. Tolkien's writings set therein. I have a ridiculous amount of knowledge about that world and in particular about the Elves. For instance, I can rattle off the names of the seven sons of Feanor without a second thought: Maedhros, Maglor, Curufin, Caranthir, Celegorm, Amrod and Amras. I can also greet you in Quenya, the High Elven tongue: Suilanyel! or in Sindarin, the common Elven tongue: Mae govannen!

6. If I could trade places with any character in Middle-earth it would be Galadriel. She was the only main character that actually lived happily with the love of her life for thousands of years. Everyone else was either relatively short lived or had a tragic fate.

7. Despite my love of Middle-earth and all things Tolkien, my favorite book to read (and reread and reread) is actually Dune by Frank Herbert. And if I could write prose like anyone, I would want to write the way Frank Herbert wrote Dune.

8. In fact, I've always had a bit of a literary crush on Leto Atreides II from Children of Dune. Which is kind of creepy, because he's a kid. But he's also an adult. It's complicated.

9. I tend to get crushes on fictional characters far more easily than real people. (For which my husband is grateful.) Currently it's this guy...

Renji Abarai of Bleach.

10. I'm totally obsessed with the anime Bleach and everyone should go watch it. (Or you know, start watching it. There are 300+ episodes.) I'll be posting a writing lesson from Bleach later this week.

Whew. Ok. But wait, there's more. Miss Cole of Miss Cole Seeks Publisher tagged me to answer 11 questions.

1. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Fall of 2010. I've written since childhood, but it was never with the aim of becoming a published author. (I would often joke about "when I'm an internationally bestselling author..." but I never took it seriously.) It wasn't until fall of 2010 when I finally began to think to myself that hey, maybe this could actually be something I could do professionally.

2. What books inspired you to write?

In my younger years, it wasn't any specific book. I was just a constant reader and that naturally spilled over into writing as well. As a teenager I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and that made me realize that fantasy was my true love and from then on I wrote fantasy stories.

3. What are your other hobbies?

Reading, of course. Though I do less of that now than before I had four kids. I also love to sew, particularly costumes. I most recently made a princess dress for my daughter to wear to a Princess Ball at school. I am also a casual MMO gamer though I exclusively play The Lord of the Rings Online. From LOTRO stems my hobbies of making music to play in game and creating role playing events based on the lore of Middle-earth. (I know. Major geek.) You could also say that because of this I'm an amateur Tolkien scholar with a focus on Quendology. (I just made up that word. It means study of the Elves.)

4. Favorite film?

Wow. Tough question. I'm not really a movies person. I'll just go with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That's been a favorite since I was a kid.

5. What is the worst film you have ever seen?

That's a hard one too. I used to work at a movie rental place for a while and we got to take home New Releases the weekend before they came out for free. So I've seen a good many horrible movies. I'd have to say The Scorpion King. Its general badness was heightened by the fact that The Mummy is a pretty enjoyable movie and while The Mummy played around with Egyptian mythology and history a bit too leniently, Scorpion King completely divorced its self from reality and common sense.

6. What would be your ultimate fictional crossover?

Harry Potter and Bleach. Hijinks and hilarity ensues.

7. What's your dream house like?

I used to think it was a castle. But now I think it's a Hobbit hole

8. Best trip you've ever taken?

Easily, the month I spent in Egypt the summer I was 17. Oh the places I went, the things I did, and the wonders I saw.

9. Got a favorite kind of cake?

I'm not much of a cake person. Though I like to get little chocolate ice cream cakes occasionally. Yum.

10. Are you sporty? What's your sport? And if you're not sporty, is there a sport you wish you were really good at?

I'm a champion at long distance chasing toddlers around.

11. What's your one hope for the future?

Only one? I'd say my primary hope is simply to live to a very old age with my family around me.

And I'm spent. That's already too much thinking for one day. So, if you comment on this post consider yourself tagged to answer the questions above (I can't think of 11 more right now.) and if you're on my blogroll consider the Kreativ Blogger Award passed your way.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Very Late to the Origins Blogfest

This is a very late entry for the Orgins Blogfest. Alas, I was not able to find the time to post this Monday, but I felt the subject worth exploring in a post all the same. So I decided to just post my entry today.

As I contemplated my origins as a writer I was forced to dwell not on authors who inspired me (Tolkien, Herbert, Powers) or my silly childhood attempts at Mary Sue fanfiction (me as a female Indiana Jones, no joke) or my desire to create something beautiful in the world... No. My origins as a writer go deeper than all of that.

The simple truth is that I began writing for the same reason that I was always a voracious reader: to escape.

This is an aspect of storytelling that is often looked down upon. And yet, it is central to humanity. There is an element of escapism in all storytelling. Whether you're escaping briefly from the grind of a desk job by coming home to a good thriller or allowing yourself to give in to the unspoken desires that daily life doesn't afford you with a steamy romance. No one has a life so perfect that they don't sometimes need to take their mind to another time and another place and life another life for a while.

Such experiences are refreshing to us. We gain renewed energy from stories and we learn things about ourselves that allow us to approach life in new and possibly better ways. The escape of a good story is essential to life.

Yet these aren't quite the reasons for my own need to escape.

It's not exactly an uncommon occurrence anymore, but you could say that I had a very bad childhood.  It involved divorce and physical and emotional abuse that has scarred me for life. I won't go into details, because that's not what this is about. Suffice to say that as a child I desperately needed an outlet for escaping my life. I was powerless in the real world. There was nothing I could do about my situation. Bur I could go somewhere else in stories and I could be someone else at least for a short time. I developed the habit of getting so deeply involved in the books I read that I tuned the rest of the world out completely. I would finish the last page, close the book, look up... and wonder where I was for a minute or two. I got lost in stories.

But eventually books weren't quite enough. I didn't only want to experience the worlds and the people and the stories that others created. I wanted to create my own as well. I wanted to create another world for myself, a world where everything was just the way I wanted it. A world where I could feel beautiful and loved and important. That's how my writing career began. I wrote terrible Mary Sue fantasy stories for years. I never took it very seriously. It was just for me, my escape.

It wasn't until I grew up and got married and had a good life that I realized that all those years of writing drivel might just have prepared me to be able to write something worthwhile for a change. I realized that I had quite a creative mind and wasn't terrible with words and maybe, just maybe I could create something lasting and beautiful. Something that could help others to escape briefly to lands of wonder and mystery. Perhaps I really could write stories that would help renew and refresh others, as so many wonderful books had done for me.

That is now my fondest dream. To create stories of beauty and truth. To bring something good into the lives of others.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is Love?

The question of the nature of love is something of significant importance to many writers. Even those of us who do not write books where romance is central, usually cannot help but include a little of it in our stories. We have romance subplots or love interests or something of the kind. Love is too much a part of being human to avoid altogether when writing stories about people.

But what is love? Various answers are always being give in various media. Some talk about hearts skipping beats and butterflies in stomachs and call that love. Some talk about the joy of being with a certain person and call that love. Some mention loss of appetite and weak knees. Some maintain that love is not love unless there is physical passion to accompany it.

In almost every circumstance, I find the definitions of love given by books and movies and such to fall far short of what love should be. So I would offer a definition myself:

Love is putting the welfare of another person above your own. 

All those other things I listed above are either symptoms or side effects of true love. They are not the thing its self, and yet they are continually mistaken for love. And because of this, real love has largely been lost to this modern age. No one is willing to place another person's well being entirely above their own anymore. Most people don't even seem to understand the concept. 

We are all too concerned with our own pleasure and our own happiness to truly love another the way we are meant to. And we don't even realize that to do so, to love another before yourself, is the only way that lasting happiness can be achieved.

Today is Valentine's Day and popularly it is a day for making expensive and romantic gestures based around cards, candy and flowers. It is a glorification of everything superficial in romance. It is an insult to the Saint which it is named after.

You see, Saint Valentine, or Valentinus, was a Christian martyr. There is not much known about his life, but tradition says that he was a Roman priest who was condemned to death by Emperor Claudius II for aiding Christians under persecution. You see, he put the welfare of others before himself. In my opinion, that is the only kind of love worth celebrating. 

(Aside: I'm very sorry for signing up for two blogfests on Saturday and Monday and not participating. I seriously over-committed myself and ended up being too busy to post. I'll try not to do that again!)