30 December 2009

Turn of a decade

The beginning of the century was warm.

New Year's Day 2000 felt like the beginning of the century, even though I knew that I was a year early. It would be the year the computers would all crash. It would be marred by dire problems, the Second Coming, or some other disaster. Terrorists would take the opportunity of media coverage to execute some dire threat (remember Strange Days, anyone?).

But it wasn't. None of that happened.

I was in Missouri, and it was unseasonably warm. A comfortable, clear day. I wore a t-shirt while my son was bored with all the celebrations on television. And everything went off right.

Planes did not fall from the sky. Computers did not crash. Celebrations went off beautifully, peacefully, around the world.

For a moment, the fighting seemed to stop. The economy was doing great. People were getting along. The violence and anger and tragedy of the world seemed to lower to a background whisper at the beginning of the century. It was the beginning of a better time for our world.

And holy crap, look at what happened next.

Terrorist strikes. George Bush pissing off pretty much the entire world. Enron and the first financial scandal of the decade. Thousands of soldiers dying in Iraq, in a war we didn't need to be in. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. Housing markets collapsed, taking large amounts of the economy with it. Global warming summits come to no agreement, or worse, seem to be run by the rich and powerful. The various priest scandals in several denominations. Racial tensions resurfaced. Even the brief swell of optimism and hope from 2008 seems to have died in the name of so-called "political realism" and pork-filled compromise. Genocide after genocide happened, with the world failing to do anything but watch. Corruption and greed are everywhere. Cynicism is the only practical option.

And it's frakking cold this year.

All this negativity gives me hope.

Unlike a decade ago, we're feeling jaded again. All of us - regardless of creed or political orientation - had our ideologies compromised by those supposed to exemplify them. We have seen our beliefs manipulated for personal and political gain. That is why I have hope.

We have a choice, standing here at the edge of the second decade of this century. We can cling desperately to our ideologies and beliefs. We can ignore how they were used to manipulate us.

Or we can be pragmatic. We can focus on what works, and what doesn't. We can focus on people instead of dollars. We can focus on making everyone's life better.

It's been a crappy decade. That's no excuse for any of us to make the next one any worse.

Happy New Year, everyone.

28 December 2009

Starting - A 100 Word Story

This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.

I found Maria by the airlock, avoiding hyperventilation by puffing into the sack. Her hair swirled in the spaceship's low gravity.

She gasped "It's starting!" before breathing into the paper again.

"What's starting?" I asked.

She pointed at the porthole. I looked out, into the black. "I don't see..." I said, then I did.

The moon, still dark and new from Earth's viewpoint, showed a different face to our spaceship. We saw the far side of the moon. It shone bright and full.

Maria's hand, now more of a paw, fell on my shoulder.

Behind me, I heard a growl.

23 December 2009

Some holiday reading

I've been writing Christmas stories for... well, a while now. This is the first year I've not written one... well, that's not true. I did, but it's dark and I don't like it much. (It's a horror story, and not well done.) So I'm going to leave you with links to the other things I've written ... and a transcription of the very first Christmas story I wrote that's not appeared on the web before. And after this, I'm off for a few days (save for a weekly 100 word story next week). Have a great holiday season!

Christmas 1999


"Go to sleep now; Santa won't come until you're asleep."

He scrunches down into his covers, squirmy worm finding his home, exaggeratedly shut eyes pulling a laugh from my throat as I kiss his forehead.

"G'night kiddo," quickly corrected to "Good night, Daddy," extracting a deep ho-ho-ing as I turn off his light.

Even as I shut the door to his room, I feel the white whiskers begin to grow. Loosening my belt (suddenly a thick leather band against improbably red cloth, barely holding in an astonishingly jelly-like belly), I head for the fireplace, placing my finger against my nose...

22 December 2009

Hat - A 100 Word Story

This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link. The link mentioned in the audio is to this page; scroll down to see the fiction works (they're listed in chronological order).









My son puts on a newsboy cap, picks up a newspaper and his voice rings out: "Extra, extra, read all about it!"

I laugh, and he tosses the hat aside. He grabs a cop's hat and waves a baton. A helmet, and he's lowcrawling along the floor.

I see the fedora, but I'm not fast enough. Steel eyes gaze from under its brim.

"Couldn't wait for the inheritance," my father says through my son.

I stumble backward as my son, wearing my father's hat and my father's eyes, raises the knife.

"You never could wait," he said.

"But I could."

21 December 2009

Avatar's Issues With Race

(Unlike my prior review there's a few more plot points discussed here, so if you want a completely pristine experience, come back after you've seen the film.)



Right. Enough spoiler space, thanks to an image from imdb.

A review of Avatar on io9 (has spoilers) is well worth the read, though I disagree slightly with its premise. It labels Avatar as a story of "white guilt", nominally for the colonization of the Americas by Europeans.

First, I agree with the point that Avatar is clearly a story written by a white male. In fact, the most cringe-worthy aspect is the one skewered in the io9 review - that a white man has to become the most awesums of the tribe and then orchestrate their rescue from the humans.

On the face of things, this cringy bit is mitigated somewhat that Jake Sully has to be personally rescued by the Na'vi. Further, he doesn't take charge in a coup - his actions that make him the awesums are used so that he's able to regain entry to the People. After that, he defers repeatedly to the indigenous ruler, and at the end of the film it's not clear at all that he would have any more (official) status than the other Na'vi.

It's defendable as a morality tale pointed directly at the developed (and predominately white) world. Yes, Jake Sully is a character "accessible" to white people - because they (we) are largely the problem. Unlike the io9 reviewer, I don't think this is an issue of white guilt over a centuries old wrong - I think it's about today, and the continued wrongs that we do right now for our convenience and searching for an unobtainable luxury and ease of life.

But that's not the only reason I'll defend the point of view here.

It's also a matter of story.

For whatever reason, our point of view character is Jake Sully. It is his story, just as District 9 was Wikus' [sp] story. The theme - the central plot - of both stories is actually Man vs. Self. In each, the POV character is forced to come to terms with the hypocrisy and betrayal they have personally perpetrated - and then work (at great personal cost) to personally rectify. We can discuss how Wikus' conversion is more pragmatic (and a bit more realistic) than Sully's "going native", but that's a minor detail.

One of the bloggers quoted in the io9 review asked why it had to have a human POV character at all. Avatar could have been written without one, and been told entirely from the Na'vi's point of view. While true, it would be a completely different story (see Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow for an example of how a POV shift between characters can completely alter a story). Imagine Lord of the Rings from the point of view of Gimli, or Legolas, and you get the concept.

I also don't know if an initial story from the Na'vi point of view would have worked for one big reason - and it has nothing to do with "accessibility".

As it is, the Na'vi's culture is barely alien - a choice that I believe was made quite intentionally. Telling the story from Sully's point of view actually helps keep Avatar from being a heavy-handed morality tale, and helps keep the Na'vi from being simply different-colored humans. While parts of the Na'vi are recognizable, seeing things from Sully's POV primes us to see them as alien - and empathize with his later realization and conversion.

Ultimately, Avatar is recognizably a story by a white person - but a white person who is working to be an ally. It's moral center is aimed at priviledged people, and our culture that exploits the developing countries for our own benefit.

Becoming an ally is a process. The wish fulfillment and emotional themes involved are a common ones among those of us who keep working to be allies - we are accused of being race traitors, we wish we could do more to help. We wish we could do more to actively right the wrongs being done now, let alone the ones perpetrated a generation or more ago.

Mr. Cameron thinks that this story will have an effect on the priviledged audiences that see it.

I hope he's right.

As always, your comments are welcome.

20 December 2009

Reviewing Avatar - Tech, Story, and Race

I saw Avatar yesterday. I've been talking about it ever since. The quick version is this - go see it, in the theater, in 3D. It is worth full price.

Every conversation I've had about the movie has concentrated around three areas. (There's a few very minor spoilerish details ahead.)

Tech: The filmmaking technology is breathtaking. This is the first time I've left any 3D movie with no trace of eyestrain. The 3D effects were not used as gimmicks; instead they simply add depth to the film. The CGI was fascinating - out of the entire 2 hours and 40 minutes, there were only momentary traces of the uncanny valley. It lives up to every bit of hype.

Story: The story is a pretty solid soft-sf story. It makes no pretense at hard sf - they're after "unobtainum" on Pandora - but instead does soft sf well. The characters were well-rounded and definitely able to be empathized with - even if you don't always like them. This is not the film equivalent of Blindsight or Accelerando; there are no huge concepts or brain-twisting ideas here. Instead, Avatar delivers up the twisted funhouse mirror of our modern society that sf - especially soft sf - does well, while telling an entertaining and moving story. While there are political and social themes (addressed below), they are part of the story, rather than being the whole of the story. Ultimately, this is about Jake Sully, Neytiri, and the other characters, not about politics. Yes, in some ways it's Dancing with Elves - but damn, if wood elves were normally portrayed this bad-ass, I would have been playing them for years.

Race: The Na'vi have flat broad noses, many of them have hair that looks like dreads, and tend to speak English with an African or Caribbean accent. When I first heard Neytiri speak, I thought "Oh dear God, please keep this from being a Jar Jar Binks kind of appropriation." The movie manages to avoid that; the strength of the characters helps keep them from becoming caricatures. They're people - despite being called "monkeys" by the overwhelmingly white male corporate and military humans and typically treated as animals except by the much more diverse (both in gender and race) scientific crew. That contrast - along with the degree of characterization of the Na'vi - led me towards interpreting the Na'vi's appearance (and culture, which further borrows from African and Carribean cultures) as deliberate and sympathetic rather than the racist stereotypes used by Lucas in the Phantom Menace. While the Na'vi are primitive - they're not the ones driving mechs - their achievements and worth are consistently overlooked by the majority of the humans because they're not the same kind of achievements. That theme - and the exploitation of indigenous people for profit - run through the ongoing globalization debate and through this film. Its release so close to the Copenhagen talks, and the revelation of a plan to screw developing countries so the global West could get off easy make this film even more timely.

Overall, this film works. If you've seen it, your comments are welcome below.

18 December 2009

My Mafia Coat and Gangster Culture


One of my co-workers said that I was wearing my "Mafia coat" today.

It's this long coat; she said that with it, my ponytail and goatee, and authoritative walk (no, really, she said that), that I reminded her of one of the characters from the Sopranos. [1]

Uh, yeah. Whatever.

But that got me to thinking. While the Italian stereotype of organized crime has gotten a lot of popular attention, they were not the only ethnic immigrants who turned to crime. The Irish mob predates the Italian one, and a Jewish mob existed during that time as well. All three groups were immigrants and - perhaps most importantly - during the time of gangland crime were discriminated against.

It's easy for most of White america to forget that the Irish and Italians were not considered white eighty years ago. [2] Since that time, the Irish and Jewish mobs have become a mostly-forgotten curiosity, and the Italian mob - at least in popular culture - has become a stereotype and cariacture of itself.

Which brings us to black gangster culture.

It seems to share a lot of similarities with the other groups: an ethnic minority trapped in poverty carving out a musical and stylistic niche [3], a glamourizing of violence, and a particular (and strict) ethical code. Also similarily, those musical and fashion elements have quickly been appropriated by white culture - sometimes benefiting the creators, often not. [4]

Okay, yeah, this isn't a full on treatise. I'm not intimately familiar with the history of any of these groups. And there are a lot of differences, especially stylistically. The situations are not identical... but the broad strokes are strongly reminiscent of each other. And that's what makes me wonder.

Our society keeps producing ethnic marginalized minorities that turn to crime and create a subculture that mainstream White culture later appropriates. Why does this keep happening? And when it does happen, why do we blame the minority group instead of system that shapes them?

[1] And, of course, we could talk about the "Trench Coat Mafia". I was routinely followed, treated with suspicion, and even questioned by police officers for wearing a trench coat as a youth - and that was well before Columbine.
[2] Anti-Jewish sentiment had not yet peaked, and is, unfortunately, still with us.
[3] Sinatra, etc.
[4] Strangely, as I was writing this, a white guy in the room had a rap ringtone go off on his phone blasting the N word.

17 December 2009

Is it really a gift? Here's 5 easy ways to tell.

There are gifts, and then there are gifts, the presents of obligation and reciprocation.

Oh, come on. You know what I'm talking about. (WAV links from The Daily Wav)

When I give gifts, I try to do so genuinely. When you look at those presents this time of year, there's a simple test to see whether or not you're really giving a gift.
Is the point of the gift solely for the delight, enjoyment, and pleasure of the other person?

If the answer to that question is no, it's not a gift. Not really. This can seem a bit vague, so here's a few practical examples.

  • A few years back, my son got confused whether my parents or my sister had gotten him a gift. This upset my sister, who had sent it to him. He enjoyed the present, but she expected him to be grateful to her. That was not a gift; she was more concerned about getting affection from him than his enjoyment.

  • One of my co-workers hates surprise parties. Really honestly does not like them. Her husband routinely organizes surprise parties for her. These are not gifts, because it explicitly fails to consider her desires.

  • Were I to get a new car for a friend of mine, that would not be a gift. It would most likely create a sense of obligation for him, and so regardless of my intent, would fail the test.

  • A self-help book, utensils, or tools (except when explicitly asked for). I think this is pretty self-evident. Sure, get these things for the people you care about - but do not try to frame them as a "gift".

  • Specialized materials. I do not buy comics-related things for a friend of mine unless I know he does not already have and would want it. For example, this year I got him artwork for his birthday from a talented, if not famous, artist. If someone has a specialized hobby or interest, and you do not share the same level of expertise, it is very difficult to get a gift instead of an automatic "return".


"It's the thought that counts" is so often misused around this time of year! You see, one of the most fascinating things I've learned is that gifts - especially to a significant other - do not have to be big, or expensive. They must, however, reflect some consideration of the other person.

That is the kind of thought that counts.

[Edit: I've already gotten grief from a few quarters on this, so let me clarify one of the points that came up on Facebook about it, regarding tools. I was thinking along the lines of "Here's your new vacuum cleaner, honey, start sweeping!". A specialized tool or a high-quality tool can be a perfectly acceptable gift for a maker. It goes beyond the "get doing chores" thing, but can step into the "specialized knowledge" field. Just as I got my friend an art print, I've also gotten a mixer and mixer attachments - but they were high-end stuff that was explicitly asked for. I wouldn't get my dad tools, though, because I wouldn't have the slightest idea of what really constituted a high-end quality tool that he'd want. If I did, then that'd be a perfect gift.]

16 December 2009

Hating Christmas

I know, I know. I said this cartoon expressed everything I had to say on this topic... but that's wrong.

I seriously think the "defending Christmas" people hate Christianity.

I'm not screwing around here. There's no sarcasm. I'm serious. I don't mean the stupidity of pretending that "Happy Holidays" doesn't include Christmas. I think that folks like the AFA or "Stand For Christmas" people who make "Merry Christmas" into an annual December farce are actively engaged in undermining the religious aspects of the holiday.

Let's examine.


  1. The sheer hubris of claiming this period can only be about your holiday is as sanctimonious as the most uptight depiction of the Pharisees and Saducees in the Gospels. Really. I mean, claiming that NOT saying "Merry Christmas" is the same as censoring it? (Seriously. From the AFA website: "If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word "Christmas," then the company is considered as censoring "Christmas."") How can you think this makes Christianity look good at all? And if I were considering joining a religion, it probably wouldn't be the one made up of a bunch of sanctimonious asshats.
  2. We are all aware that Yeshua (that's Jesus to you) was probably born in the spring, right? Shepherds don't hang out on cold desert hills at night in the winter, even in the Middle East. Face it - the date was chosen because Christian emperors wanted to subsume pagan winter festivals.
  3. But if we want to be concerned about the date, you're still wrong. It is not Christmas yet. Right now (16 December), it's Advent. Being all "It's Christmastime" now is kind of like celebrating graduating college before you take your finals.
  4. That Twelve Days of Christmas? That's the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany (or 6 Jan). Try wishing people a Merry Christmas then, and you'll get some strange looks. All you people who take decorations down before Epiphany? Anti-Christmas.
  5. Christmas is NOT the most important Christian holiday. Period. The most important Christian holiday (holy day) is Easter. Where's the backlash against the Easter Bunny?


I don't know why these people have been led astray, how "peace and goodwill" has turned into rancor and near-fascist demands to recognize one religion's holy days. I don't know why they make a big deal about a lesser holy day instead of the most important one. I don't know why they focus on the time for preparing for the holy day instead of the actual season of Christmas.

I do know they turn people away from Christianity. That they make Christians I know wince with their strident, selfish demands for attention.

They are more the enemy of Christ than any inflatable snowman.

They are more the enemy of Christmas than a smiling person wishing you a happy holiday.

Happy Holidays to you - whichever you follow.

14 December 2009

Work - A 100 Word Story

This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link. The image this week is the cover of Paul Genesse's book The Golden Cord. It (and the second book in the series - The Dragon Hunters) would make great presents for fantasy lovers!


Kethin's legs squeezed against the dragon's scales as they rose into the winter night. His furs warmed him, but his eyes were freezing behind the goggles. The mountain cave fell away behind the dragon's wings. The cold moonlight shone on fleeing clouds and glittering snow below.

Kethin spotted the town lights below. He leaned forward, and the dragon dove for the city. At the last moment, he drove in his spurs and pulled up. Dragonfire lashed out, and they rose high over the street, wet with newly melted snow.

"One of these days," Kethin thought, "I'll get an interesting job."

11 December 2009

Just Business -

As I hinted the other day, my story "Just Business" went live at the Yellow Mama e-zine. It's a nice little flash work that - unlike most of my writing - takes place during Prohibition. Go take a look at it and the rest of the zine!

9 Essential Tips for Myself As An Aspiring Writer

Today makes thirty six (give or take a few hours) times around the sun, for me. So I've been a little retrospective today. One gift I received was Stephen King's On Writing
- something I've been told I should have read a long time ago.

That got me to thinking. I first started writing short and flash fiction about twenty years ago. If I could meet myself back then, what advice would I give my earlier writing self?

Here's the nine most important.


  1. Reduce distractions. I hate it, but I do best with a full-screen plain-vanilla text editor for flat-out writing. I've had the best luck with Q10 for Windows and JDarkroom (which works on Windows and Macs).and Windows. When all else fails, take a pen and notepad and go away somewhere. Use headphones.

  2. Edit later. Make a note - say, in brackets [like this] so you can search for your notes later. (Q10 has a note function, but the principle doesn't require any specific software.) Even if you're painfully aware how sucky the words coming out your fingers are, keep writing.

  3. Have an ongoing writing goal. NaNoWriMo does this, of course, but it's over after a month. Having a daily or weekly goal is better. I've been using the 100 Word Stories competition as something to keep me writing something, even when I'm fantastically busy.

  4. Have a submission goal. I submit a minimum of one thing a week (I had a backlog when I started submitting.) This does two things - keeps you in the game, and reduces the sting of rejections. How does it do that? Simple: "Oh, that story got rejected. Now I know what to submit this week!" But without submitting, you're not going to get anywhere. It's still just a hobby.

  5. Recognize that your brain is out to make you fail. Or at least, mine is. It's amazing how easily I distract myself from writing and submitting. Things get picked up, clothes get put away, I reorganize my desktop and detangle all the wires... You get the idea.

  6. Keep submitting. At GenCon last year, I had a gentleman tell me he rewrote a short story every time it got rejected. Um, no. Rejections may be because you suck, but they could just as easily be due to editor taste, or because they just bought another story with similar elements, or whatever. This is especially true for anthologies; even with invite-only anthologies, you and a dozen others are all thinking about similar topics. If your short story's been rejected from say, five or six markets, you might want to give it a once over. By that time, you'll have more distance on it anyway, and may notice something you overlooked before.

  7. Proofread, read the submission guidelines, and be professional. I just had a rejection from Futurismic because I didn't read far enough into the submission guidelines. The story was near-future, on Earth. That part of the guidelines I read. I saw the "no space opera", but I didn't scroll down and see the "no aliens". Whoops. Not only is it a rejection, but now I'll also have a harder tiem selling to that editor in the future.

  8. Go ahead and write the dark whiny emo stuff. Keep it in a binder. For the love of god, don't show it to anyone. Pull it out later, when you're feeling doubtful. No, don't try to publish or fix it - but it'll make you feel better about what you're writing now!

  9. You will get better. The more you write, the better you'll get. The more you live, the more experiences you'll have to write about.
    There is no reason to stop. None.



Have a great weekend, everyone.

10 December 2009

When smokers should - and shouldn't - feel persecuted.

Smokers: The insurance companies are not out to get you.

I mean, really. The higher premiums (a local hospital network is charging an additional annual $520 heathcare premium if anyone in the house smokes) are reasonable. Nevermind that the employers - this one in particular - justified it by saying "We're legally allowed to raise it much higher than that." You already know how I feel about that.

But it takes a special kind of denial of the real world to claim smoking doesn't lead to higher healthcare costs. So that makes sense.

The Cleveland Clinic, however, long ago crossed the line.

In a classic example of the slippery slope, drug tests at the Cleveland Clinic now also test for nicotine. Yes, that means that if you're quitting with the patch or nicotine gum, they still won't hire you.

Mind you, I completely understand banning smoking during work hours, or at the workplace. I can even understand banning smoking during the lunch break. Firing or hiring you based on what you do outside of work hours... that's problematic.

And that's why it's an example of the slippery slope. Drug testing (aside from false positives) can pick up traces of drugs long after they've ceased to have an effect. Marijuana is a classic example, with people still testing positive nearly a month after usage. I don't see the difference between smoking a joint and having a couple of beers on the weekend; by the time you're back to work, it won't have an effect on your work performance.

Tobacco has an even less direct relationship to work performance. What's more frightening is that the possibility that the justification is through the "health risk" angle. The CEO of the Cleveland Clinic - a Dr. Delos Cosgrove - said earlier this year that he also wouldn't hire overweight people if it wasn't illegal under federal law.

And the slope only gets steeper from there. It's not that difficult to justify most behaviors as risky in the long run. Ride a motorcycle? What if you get a speeding ticket? I'm sure we can find a correlation between having kids and high blood pressure - or between NOT having kids and higher mortality rates.

There's some sensibility in having smokers - or for that matter, overweight people - pay higher premiums. I personally pay higher health and life insurance premiums due to those factors.

Not hiring someone because of behaviors outside of the workplace? That starts down a path we really, really do not want to go down.

09 December 2009

Five Reasons to Not Give Your Creative Work Away

Yesterday I covered some reasons why putting your creative work online might be a good thing. Today, we'll look at five reasons why it might be a bad idea.

Oh, the llama? It's just awesome. :)

1) Putting your work online for free is not going to get you published. Yes, we all know John Scalzi did it. And he publicly says that he's the exception; he put Old Man's War on the internet because he was done trying to sell it. (From comments made at Millenicon 2009) Likewise, the work I put on the internet is stuff I'm not particularly trying to sell (to other publishers) for one of several reasons. To relate back to the pay rate thing, as Jeff Vendermeer points out, crappy credits aren't going to sell your story. He's writing from the perspective of a reprint market; I've been personally told (repeatedly) by editors that they don't care how many credits are in your cover letter. Whether or not your current story is any good is what gets it bought.

2) None of the positive points I talked about yesterday is guaranteed to happen. You can put your work online, and nobody has to click on it. Or they could download it and never read it. Or they could download it, read it, and never buy your paid work, put money in your tip jar, or click on your ads. As Monica pointed out in the comments of her post, when Doctorow and Stross put full-length novels online under Creative Commons licenses, that was A Big Deal. Now, there's lots of people doing it.

The same thing goes for podcasting - Christiana Ellis, Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, and J.C. Hutchins have all managed to get books from their work. They were also among the first podcast novelists, and so stood out by default. A brand new face... er, voice... starting a podcast novel today? Not so much. Additionally, for a non-trival number of people, they see no reason to buy the book after they've read it online or heard the podcast.

I've had two flash fictions run at Quantum Muse, where they run off of a "tip jar" model (here and here, if you want to read them). I've earned nothing from them.

You have to value your own time and energy, as Jim Hines, Tobias Buckell, and John Scalzi have pointed out. Hence, why I've not been sending anything else to Quantum Muse, even though I like the concept of their pay and submissions structure.

Brave Men Run, by Matthew Wayne Selznick is a different story as far as I'm concerned. His endeavors have been DIY-centric, rather than aimed at getting a publishing house to notice him.

3) There is a limited amount of time people have for entertainment. For every moment I spend reading 365 Tomorrows (or any other for the love market) online, that's a moment less that I could be reading someplace that pays writers. So while free materials are not a perfect substitute - especially for known authors - they can take away time (and money) from other endeavors.

4) Free work online can depress the amount of money authors make. Scalzi recently ripped Black Matrix Publishing a new one - and rightly so - for the horrible pay rates they offer. Yet the vast majority of online, free-to-read markets are token payment or "for the love" markets.

Unlike Black Matrix, I do NOT think 365 Tomorrows (where I've had some of my own work published) or any of the other "for the love" markets are planning to make money off their endeavors. They just want a venue to be available. Sometimes it's a specific niche that nobody else provides or provides well enough. But I'm not so sure that's a valid excuse anymore; even places like Expanded Horizons that have a very specific mission pay a penny a word or more.

But see point number three above. If I'm reading free-to-read work, regardless of the publisher's intentions, it's taking away revenue and money from paid publishers. Which means they have less money to pay to authors. This is definitely something that should concern "for the love" markets; are they helping or hurting what they love? Further, as Ann Leckie points out - if they're that small, is your story really going to get read by that many people?

5) Copyright. As Monica pointed out, it can be infringealicious out there, and it goes both ways. Infamously, SFWA issued takedown notices in 2007 on legal Creative Commons licensed content (the leadership and policy have since changed). Likewise, I'm certain that Creative Commons licensed work has been used in violation of the license; further the license can be confusing. Last year the CC folks held a referendum trying to clarify what "not for commercial use" meant, and I don't think the consensus is widely understood.. Finding copyrighted work (whether books, movies, or music) illegally transmitted over the internet is trivial, with the information being promulgated by mainstream outlets like Lifehacker. When chatting with content creators in Second Life, they were horribly confused about the basics regarding copyright, trademark, and fair use. (One user asked if recreating a building in Second Life would be copyright infringement. No, I said - but it could be trademark infringement. It gets confusing.)

So what's the end result? I think it's a tossup. Personally, I post things here (for free) that I have no expectation of selling elsewhere. I'm writing the drabbles because I'm a full time grad student and a full time worker; it lets me practice and keeps me writing something when the urge to slack off takes over.

Currently, I'm submitting to semipro markets and pro markets. I've got three pending (or current) publications that I'm not getting paid for. The upcoming ones are in the Shine Journal and one in Yellow Mama; both are reprints. The third? My submission for the Spec The Halls contest, which is all about giving anyway.

For my part, I hope you enjoy the things I post here… and get you wanting more of both my work and the work of others. It's the holiday season; give your friends and family books!

08 December 2009

Four Reasons to Put Your Creative Work Online

There's something fun about finding stuff for free online.

It's everywhere. Free software. Free music. Free movies. Free books and stories.

And that's just the legal stuff.

A little while ago, Monica Valentinelli put up a pretty good argument why content creators (not just authors) shouldn't put too much of their work up online for free. It's worth reading (the link should pop open in a new window; I'll be here when you come back), and - while related to the "writer's pay rates" discussion that broke after she wrote her bit, isn't quite the same.

If you read down, you might have noticed that I disagreed in the comments. I've been thinking about it more since then, so I compiled four reasons why authors putting their work online for "free" might be worthwhile - and tomorrow I'll post five more why it's a bad idea.

1) Exposure is the biggest problem that new authors have with their books. In general, this is the case. A publisher is not likely to spend the same amount promoting your first novel as, say, the latest by Grisham or King. Putting your creative work out there can get you fans who would never have heard of you otherwise. This is explicitly how I became familiar with Doctorow, Stross, and Watts' work. Since, I've bought books from all of them. The implication here is that without becoming familiar with them, they would lose net sales. I would not have bought the book I read for free anyway, and then would not have bought later books either. The same thing goes for music; I have not bought any music in nearly a decade without hearing the artist first. (and I don't mean just the track that gets played on the radio.)

Likewise, I hope that when I do link to a source where you can buy my work (such as the Hungry for Your Love anthology, or the upcoming Timeshares that you will do so, knowing that you'll like my story. Podcast novelists have also used this as a selling point when shopping their manuscript to publishers - there's an audience already enjoying the work.

2) Putting your work online for free builds a relationship. Strangely enough, I heard this same model proposed by a gentleman who started "Doable Evangelism" (heard on This American Life). I have a sense of a relationship - almost social obligation - with several authors and magazines who barely know I exist. Escape Artists is a good example here; because of the conversational tone and relationship building that occurs, I feel like I know some of the more prominent hosts like Alasdair, Steve, and M K Hobson. As a result, I didn't hesitate to hit that "monthly subscriber" button, and don't think twice about it.

3) Putting your work online for free can suck people in. Both teasers (first chapters and "previews") and standalone short stories can pull people into your franchise. I first ran across Jim Hines' goblin stories as free podcasts (Goblin Hunter can be found at Clonepod, and Goblin Lullaby can be found at PodCastle). When I later had the opportunity to buy the books, I did. I knew and cared about the characters already. I've bought every book of his since, too. You can read the first chapter of all of his books at his website, too. The Princess Books are especially good.

These points also apply to public readings and libraries. I happened into a reading Lawrence Connolly was doing for his book Veins; I bought the book right afterword. I hadn't been familiar with Fredrick Pohl's work until I picked up Gateway in a military library back in 1995.

4) Free work online is not a perfect substitute for paid work. This is even more easily demonstrated with music. If I wanted to - for example - hear another Lacuna Coil song, I would have to buy their new album. There are similar artists - in this case, Evanescence - but they are not the same. So in one sense - and switching back to stories - the sales of Analog and Asimov's are not threatened by my drabbles I post here. This is also the message of this boingboing post where a paywall helped one small newspaper - but also points out how it would doom larger ones.

Tomorrow, we'll look at five reasons against the idea of putting your creative work online. Now go spend some money on some authors - check out Drive Thru Sci-Fi, Fictionwise, or even buy some works on Amazon!

07 December 2009

Smoke - A 100 Word Story

This was again part of the 100 Word Stories Weekly Challenge. Voting's back, so you can vote for it and listen (and read) the rest of the stories over at the 100 Word Stories site. If you just want to listen to mine alone, you can do so using the player below. (If the player's borked - like in some feed readers - try this link.









The demons came from the campfire's smoke. Jonah woke at Reyald's scream. Boyd slept until Reyald's head bounced off his stomach.

"Last time I let Reyald stand watch," Boyd grumbled, drawing his sword.

"You know," Jonah said as he parried a claw, "I think that someone wants us dead." He thrust upward, drenching himself in demon blood.

Boyd dodged a tentacle. "Nah." He stabbed the tentacle before it could grab Jonah.

"Thanks," Jonah replied, pouring holy water on a demon. "But disagree?"

Boyd sliced open the last demon's abdomen. "Yeah." He sat down. "I think someone wanted these demons dead."

04 December 2009

Annoyances and Expansion: Making Money in Second Life Part Five

This concludes my weeklong exploration of making money renting apartments in Second Life. You can find me inworld as Uriel Wheeler and feel free to stop by my rental office in Avalon Estates).

Step Five: Annoyances and Expansion.

You will have annoying tenants. Ignore them, or kick them as you need to. THIS IS A BUSINESS. I have my boxes set up to allow refunds (prorated to the minute) whenever a tenant wants to leave. That keeps it from not being my problem. I, like most landlords, require group membership to rez objects. The boxes offer a link to join the group... but I still get people who can't figure it out. They cancel, get thier refund, and my blood pressure stays low. And those people do NOT get free rent. :)

I've written my biggest policies up in the Description, but they're in the rental agreement as well. Again, the insta-refund helps there as well. Even though I clearly state that I don't support TVs, I still get a request about every fortnight from a new renter who assumes that I do TVs. When I reply otherwise, they (often) get a refund on thier own and everyone's happy.

Prim limits can be touchy - I've had tenants literally rez twice as many prims as they were allowed. I have a set policy for that as well - after the box has reminded them once or twice, I send an IM and notecard. 24 hours after that, I start returning objects until they are under the prim limit again.

Stick with your niche. I rent skyboxes. I don't custom build them for people or make modifications. I HAVE had a tenant rez thier own home on top of the skybox, which I thought was adorable (and just fine by me).

Harassment - other than group chat - is best controlled by making sure that you have your security systems set up properly. Since it's a residential area, skyboxes over 400m up, and on the edge of a sim, the tolerance for loitering is low. Putz around on the ground all you want, but not around the boxes.

Also, I've seen the inside of my tenant's apartments. Some of them engage in activities... well, I'm not into. They have artwork on their walls that repels or even offends me. THIS IS NOT MY PROBLEM. There is a bit on the rental agreement that states that you shouldn't be doing "improper" things out on the patio or roof - but what they do inside is their own business.

Since I work with skyboxes, I rarely have to worry about neighbors. I would recommend putting them at "odd" heights - that way if your neighbor puts up their own box at 1000m, you'll be at 1200 and a bit oblivious.

And that, obliquely, brings us to expansion. I've expanded slowly - one reason why my net cashflow finally turned black. Each time previously that the skyboxes have been filled, I've expanded one 4096m^2 parcel at a time. Because of my usage of landmarks and routers (I use HippoRent and HippoSecure, by the way), it's not a problem if my lots are not touching each other.

What does that have to do with expansion? For about two months, I had a loud biker bar move in next to me. They swooped in, set up an elaborate club, mall, and (eventually) apartments. They finally moved out, and I think their business failed. They expanded faster than the increase in demand.

I'm not making a lot of money from my rentals. Never will, really. But I'm providing a service that I both use and that I feel fulfilled in providing... while still getting enough income that I can buy stuff in SL without using "outside" money. That works for me.

03 December 2009

Advertising your rentals in Second Life - Part Four of Making Money in SL

This continues my weeklong exploration of making money renting apartments in Second Life. You can find me inworld as Uriel Wheeler and feel free to stop by my rental office in Avalon Estates).

Step Four: Time, Advertising and Traffic.

You will be spending time with your business. You are aware of this, right? When I first started, I would send a reply IM to everyone who stopped by the office thanking them for stopping by, reminding them who I was (L$250/100 prims!) and sending a slurl to the office. I simply don't have the time right now to keep doing that - but I wish I did. It made a huge difference in converting visitors into tenants.

That said, make sure things are set up so that they aren't confusing when you are NOT there. I currently have a cube that can send IM's to me (and my IMs are sent to e-mail). The welcome mat gives a detailed description. The rental office is literally JUST a shack with a vendor in it. Simple, basic, working.

Likewise, my advertising is pretty straightforward, with the most important information right there in a big font. (If the L$10 charge to upload a picture is making you pause, you should reconsider the idea of going into business in Second Life, okay?) I put advertising in a few different locations - a club here and there, a sandbox here and there. I like it when I know they are getting clicked, but that's not a requirement.



The image is straightforward, but conveys a few things. It shows the box, to scale. Key info is right there and legibile in the search preview. There's a furry there, but also a normal human in a wheelchair. The latter is my alt - I wrote about my experiences with him here (it starts on page 16) - and I've had several people tell me they looked at my offerings simply because of including either of those figures. You can convey a lot with your image.

The image I use for advertising is also the image for the rental property office. The land the office is on has the key information in its title (L$250/wk, 100 prims Skybox...). And then there's the parcel description.

PLEASE do not keyword spam. You look like a tool when you do that. Take your keywords, and turn them into a description. This is mine:

Rent cheap skybox homes - L$250/week 100 prims, security, and privacy. Low prices, no frills. Friendly to new SL'ers. cheap sky box rental, cheap rent, rental homes, apartment, rent, rentals, cheap rentals, skybox rent,apartment r


As you can see, it gets a little keyword-y at the end - but that's past where the description displays in a landmark or search box in SL. The part a human sees right off the bat is the part a human needs to see.

How do you get more traffic? If you want to rent at a mall or somesuch to put your vendor, go ahead. Personally, I have the vendor under one lot of skyboxes - the natural behavior of the tenants keeps the traffic high enough that it's on the first page (or so) for my desired keywords.

I also make a point of sending notices and cool freebies to my tenants at random occasions or when they've had to put up with something buggy. I've been known to give someone free rent for bugs I didn't catch in the door scripts, for example. And I've had people try to yell at me that they deserved free rent for not paying attention... and that's the next section.

02 December 2009

Part Three: Choose Your Services (Making Money in Second Life)

This continues my weeklong exploration of making money renting apartments in Second Life. You can find me inworld as Uriel Wheeler and feel free to stop by my rental office in Avalon Estates).

Step Three: Choose your amenities and setup FIRST. Why should people spend their real money on your (imaginary) stuff? In my case - as I mentioned back here - I built the skyboxes I wished I had been able to find. They are relatively spacious without being TOO big. A hundred prims isn't a LOT, but it's pretty reasonable for most things. I make sure I have working security systems - something that often does NOT work in apartments and skyboxes, with locking doors. Apartments far enough apart that even with using the cam, you're outside of voice/chat eavesdropping distance - so it doesn't matter if your neighbor has chickens or barking dogs, and as much privacy as you can get in Second Life.

screen_homeA patio. I don't know why I like patios; I just do. I don't like just TP'ing into a room.

I help my tenants whenever I can.

My motto is: Simple, basic, and working.

And that brings us to what I do NOT provide. There is no "private sandbox". No tenants-only club. No beachside resort area (yes, I've seen this as a "perk"). There are no winding forest trails (yes, I've seen this as a perk as well). There is no official support for TVs or radios.

The last is probably the most controversial. I *do* hand out, on request, a copy of the FreeView TV. If someone wants to deed their @Home TV to the group, they're more than welcome to... but I'm not responsible for the outcome. I have no desire to split up the parcel in the ways needed for that to work properly, so I won't claim to support it and then not do so (I've seen that trick before as well).

new_model_001 Sometimes things don't work, or I find a better replacement. JennyX Turbo (aka Designed by Jenny) offered me a new skybox that let me give more prims to the tenant. Excellent value, and so I ran a rolling upgrade. Tenants could schedule an upgrade time, or as they left I would replace the skybox before a new tenant moved in. I discovered the security system had a bug, so did an upgrade of all the security systems over the course of two days. And then I apologize and thank my residents for their patience.

01 December 2009

Making Money in Second Life - Part Two (Do the Math)

This continues my weeklong exploration of making money renting apartments in Second Life. You can find me inworld as Uriel Wheeler and feel free to stop by my rental office in Avalon Estates).

Step Two: Do the math. I priced land as best as I was able. It's a complicated... no, land prices in Second Life are bloody bewildering. Two side-by-side parcels might be offered for hugely different prices. I still don't "get" it - so as I got started, I rented from a few trusted landlords. It also means that I didn't need to worry about figuring out tier or premium memberships, which keeps the math simple for me. It DOES add in a factor of uncertainty - because someone else could screw me over.

As a result of doing the math further, now that I know there's demand for this, I have recently upgraded to a premium membership and bought some land. The tier costs come out to a bit less than I was paying in Estate rent. The key here is to convert everything to one unit. For example, Premium memberships (annually) cost US$6 a month. Right now, that's approximately L$1500. But it also comes with a L$300/week stipend - so the net cost is L$300 a month. Now I can add that in to the rest of my calculations.

The plots I've been using are 4096m^2 - that's about 64m on a side. That size TENDS to come with about 900 prims.

DaisyHouse_001So here's where you figure out the math. I made a test build of the skybox (I originally started with a mod of the "Daisy" freebie home) with all the doors, windows, security, and rental box. I counted the prims, and added however many I wanted to give the tenant. Then multiplied to see how many I could fit on the plot. Took my monthly rent for the plot, added a margin, divided by the number of skyboxes, divided by four, and came up with a weekly rent.

So for example - let's say you're paying L$8K a month for a plot like I described above. (This is a slightly high rent for commercial use of Estate land, but not by much.) You have a 10-prim skybox model that's simple as dirt but has doors and security and a rental box. You could then put 9 of those on your plot, and give 90 prims per tenant. (You want to leave a little leeway for the rude idiot who goes overprim until you can fix 'em.) For the sake of convenience, you want to make L$1K a month if all the boxes are full, so you take ((L$9000 / 9) / 4). That leaves you with L$250 a week per skybox.

new_model_001Observant readers will have noticed that's the rent I charge - but I have a lot smaller margin, larger and nicer skyboxes, and more prims for the tenant. There are rarely 1:1 comparisons among renting apartments and skyboxes, but spend a few hours looking at all the offerings and you'll get a rough ballpark figure.

One thing I forgot - especially as I started up, I did not have full tenancy all the time. Still don't, because there is turnover. You will continue to sink money into your operation after the startup costs. Be prepared.