Thursday, August 30, 2012

We interrupt this broadcast....

And once again, the "Cover post" gets postponed. This time, I like to think I have reasonable excuse, though... Hurricane Issac. Right now, I am roughly 1800 miles from Casa Cerio, in the mountain town of New Paltz, NY, staying with relatives.

It's difficult for outsiders to understand the mixed bag of emotions that comes with living in a storm-prone city like New Orleans. In fact, the question I get asked most often during evacuations (right after "is your house still standing") is "Why do you stay?". I hate getting this question, particularly from Californians, who live in a region where the ground is actively trying to kill them with little or no warning.

The fact is that we as a species actually have limited tolerances for the disasters our planet throws at us... our bodies don't handle extremes of temperature, wind velocity, or moisture very well, except for having brains big enough to create protective technology like houses for our fragile forms. If we only chose our living conditions by where the weather is most hospitable to humans, chances are all 7 billion of us would still be living on the African savannah, running from lions. Let me tell you, this fat guy would be the fastest man on earth if that was the case. Ain't no way this guy is going out as lion chow.

As a species, we are explorers by nature. This is primarily because we have learned over the past ten thousand years or so that new lands open up new possibilities in our lives. Outside of Africa, a bounty of natural resources awaited us. Beyond the oceans that divided our planetary land masses, still more splendor awaited the first humans to find it. It's really a romantic notion when you think about it... The first Humans in the gulf region were probably in awe of the fertile soil, the variety of wild game, and the ample building materials. In many ways, the citizens of my adopted hometown still are. For many of us,it's why we return and rebuild after a storm. There is something unique about New Orleans that makes it worth the occasional setback.

Soon, the debates will begin once more about the futility of living in a disaster prone region, with many suggesting that we clear the Mississippi delta region of human habitation for their own safety. They will say that the profit exceeds the cost of keeping a city like New Orleans safe, without having lived there or experienced the things that make living there such an incredible experience. During these talks, no one will suggest evacuating the cities on the San Andreas fault, Tornado alley, or the blizzard prone cities of the great lakes.

Disasters happen, and always will. It is the Human will that allows us to rise above them that should be our focus in the coming months, not our Human stupidity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We interrupt this blog to interrupt your your collection...

I know that my next post held the promise of being all about cover art for Indy Publishers, but I wanted to take a break and discuss/rant at length about a show I caught last night on Syfy... "Collection Intervention" from the show's Syfy website:
"Collection Intervention follows Elyse Luray, former Head of the Collectibles Department at Christie's, as she helps couples, families and individuals whose pop-culture memorabilia collections – from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica to Catwoman and Barbie – have become damaging obsessions, creating financial strife and a huge strain on their lives.  Elyse will create a strategy that helps these collectors curate and showcase their collection by assessing where the true value lies and then allow them to decide what's worth keeping and what they can sell.  These massive collections include dining rooms stuffed with 30,000 comic books, a garage filled to the rafters with Catwoman memorabilia, and an almost uninhabitable house filled with Transformers.  For each collector, parting with some of their collection may free up some much needed space in their home, provide cash windfall to get out of debt, or even just allow a  couple to become more focused on their relationship."
I tuned in last night, curious about the show... and was absolutely horrified by it.

The big problem I had with this show was how they presented the collectors. Don't get me wrong, I know that to some degree, being a collector of specific geek culture items requires a certain level of obsessiveness, but they presented both collectors last night as being downright emotionally unstable. There were two stories of 'intervention' presented last night, but the one that really galled me was the Catwoman Collector.

This guy loves Catwoman, and has been collecting Catwoman items his whole life. His wife does not understand this obsession, and just wants the crap out of her garage. She refuses to let him display any of his collection in their house, and complains for most of the episode that he needs to sell all his crap and get them out of debt. I kept thinking "how on earth did this guy marry this woman?". I understand wanting a loved one to sell some of a valued collection to help pay the bills (shortly after Cheri and I married, I sold my near mint set of original "Watchmen" comics) but this woman was basically belittling his hobby, and insisting that he not only get rid of things that he personally loved, but do it so she could be more financially secure. Again, not all that unreasonable... but the way it was presented was like the wife was sane, and the collector was nuts for wanting to hang onto any of it. It came to a head when they went to sell some stuff at a local comic shop, and the wife sold a bust of Catwoman that the collector said was one of his favorite pieces. He protested, and the wife is all "but this guy is offering us money, what's the problem?"

[begin rant]

THE PROBLEM IS HE LOVES IT, YOU BITCH! YOU WON'T EVEN LET HIM DISPLAY A THING HE LOVES IN YOUR HOME!!! And then... then... (Jesus, this made me angry) he buckles and lets her sell it. They then heap praise on him, telling him that he's "turned a corner" and how proud they are of him. WTF IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!!!! I understand needing space in a home, but the dude just kept his stuff in the garage because his wife forced him to keep it there. I even understand selling some of a collection, but the show kept making the point that having emotional attachments to any of the things you collect is a little bit nuts! WHO THE HELL ARE THESE PEOPLE TO JUDGE!?!

The second story, about a Star Wars collector was no better. She even explained that the action figures in particular had special meaning to her, because of how they represented her father's sacrifice to get the perfect gift for Christmas morning, and a lonely geek childhood where these toys were her best friends. Then they make her sell them, insisting "it's for her own good". When in tears she finally gives up an Ewok action figure, they say "see that wasn't that bad, now let's get rid of more of this crap", COMPLETELY IGNORING THAT YOU PRACTICALLY TRIGGERED A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN IN THIS WOMAN!!! YOU GUYS ARE ASSHOLES!!!

[/end rant]

Okay, now that I've got that out of my system... the obsession to collect is one I understand, and to some degree share. I collect all sorts of things that have no real value to anyone... they are things that hold special meaning for me. If someone, (particularly a loved one) insisted that there was something wrong with me for wanting to keep and display something that I have an emotional connection to, I'd have a long talk with that person about the nature of our relationship. As far as "damaging obsessions, creating financial strife and a huge strain on their lives" goes, that's really realitive. My wife is a collector, and I know that even when our bank account is running the ragged edge of disaster, buying something like this...
it's a purse.
does something emotionally good for her. That to me is not a financial burden, it's an investment in my wife's sanity. If that makes her crazy, it means I'm crazy too. I would never ask her to sell her Muppet/Star Wars figurines, and she would never ask me to sell my starship models. Part of being in a relationship is accepting the other person's flaws, and learning to appreciate the things that make them smile.

But I guess that would make for poor television.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Indy publishing for dummies part 3- the mechanics of it all...

So, you have your polished manuscript, and you're confident you can find an audience. What do you do now? This is the part of self publishing that separates the men from the boys, after all. Readying a book for print is a daunting task, but our modern world has made it much easier than it once was. Most computers ship with the necessary tools to turn your manuscript into a nice looking book... It's just a matter of learning a thing or two about layout.

Now you could sign up for a learning annex, go to the bookstore and drop a few hundred dollars on 'how to' books, or if you're really desprate pay someone to do it. Or you could do what I did. I picked one of my favorite books off my shelf and did my best to make my manuscript look like it in Word. What I learned is how to make a title page, a copyright page, a dedication page, chapter pages, and everything else. I sat there with a ruler, measuring font sizes and white space until I was confident it looked good.

I know I'm making it sound easy, and that's because it is... If you can make a document in word, you can layout a manuscript. After you've got it looking pretty, you export it as a PDF.

This is where it can get a little tricky... Ideally, you'll be using a Print On Demand service as your publisher, and different sites have different rules about how to submit the files. I chose Createspace for my books, primarily because their package includes a listing for your book on You'll be asked a few things about your book when you start the process, including what size you want your book to be. Before you export the PDF file, it's important to set your page size to match whatever you've told your POD service your book size will be. Again, I picked mine by measuring a book on my shelf I liked the look of. It's also important to set the page settings of your file to "custom postscript" before you create the PDF, or it will default to 8 1/2" x 11". Not good if your book is 6"x9".

Then you upload it (the PDF file) to the publisher's site. You now have an interior for your book! Congratulations! Next up, Cover design...

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Indy publishing for Dummies part 2- quality control.

Getting a book to print is absurdly easy. Getting a quality book to print is an altogether different animal. One of the reasons that self publishers get such a bad rap is because there really is no quality control involved... Basically, if a writer thinks it's ready, there's little stopping him from taking the plunge and printing off a few copies.

As a writer, I think it's important to hold ourselves to a higher standard than that. This brings us to the self publishing prime directive:

Don't write in a vacuum. What I mean by this is that it is imperative that someone other than you reads your manuscript before you get it out there. It might be hard for your ego to accept, but you need other people to tell you if there's anything wrong with the work. Find one or two friends that won't spare your feelings, and let them give you notes on it. This is a very hard thing for any writer to do, but it is essential to putting out quality work.

Don't believe me? Let's talk about a famous writer, without mentioning names. In the mid seventies, a talented writer created a script for a science fiction film that was revolutionary. It was also crap. When he sold the idea to a major studio, they had people give him notes. He took them to heart, and came out with a better product. The film did fantastic at the box office, and so he was asked to write sequels. The problem was that because of his previous success, he was granted more "creative control" and the movies started to go downhill. Still good, mind you, but not great. Then he moved on, starting his own media empire... After around twenty years, he decided to come back to the story, but was now one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. With his fame came a bubble around him of people that were all paid to kiss his ass. As a result, he cranked out three more movies in the franchise with no notes from anyone, and complete creative control.

The point is, without negative input to keep him in check the resultant movies were a huge disappointment for all involved, and led to endless debates on the Internet about whether the writer was now on crack.

Now, this is an extreme example, but shows how important feedback can be for even the best of us. Get others to read what you've written, and take their advice to heart. Rewrite it until you have a product you are insanely proud of. Then and only then will you be ready to take the next step. I have three readers that I hand my finished manuscripts off to, and I consider each helpful to my writing in a different way...

Reader 1 shares my sense of humor, and will generally tell me if a plot point or a gag doesn't really work. Reader 1 is also one of my biggest supporters, and loves my writing, so I pay careful attention as to where that reader stops reading for whatever reason... I know that this reader only puts down my books when the plot flags a bit, and so I take a careful look at whatever she marks as her put down points.

Reader 2 is my science/continuity nerd, and I rely on them to tell me if something makes no sense in the context of the world I've built. This reader is also a avid follower of my genre, and will generally tell me if a plot device is overused or confusing.

Reader 3 is my spelling, punctuation, and grammar Nazi. I am embarrassed to say that the first edition of Dimensional Games went to press with a lot of simple capitalization errors, and I was lucky that reader 3 stepped forward to help me with the issue.

Then I go over the manuscript with a fine tooth comb myself, incorporating all 3 readers comments. It's my process, and it works pretty well. I don't get nearly as crazy about my short stories, thank goodness, but putting forward your best work is essential for any writer.