Posts from 2009
Fun in Seattle
By: Mike Jan 3, 2010
This past week we braved inclement weather and the dreaded Snoqualmie pass to head over to Seattle for a bit of much-needed book research. Patty is, of course, busily writing Hunting Ground, which involves some of the conflicts surrounding the American werewolves making themselves publicly known. The second book in the Alpha and Omega series has a number of scenes in Seattle. For all we've lived in Washington (off and on) for years, we've spent very little time in Seattle. So, where would werewolves hunt in the city? And where would Charles take Anna for dinner or a movie? Where do the fey live? What makes Seattle unique?
We only had a couple of days to play with. We came with two cameras, laptops, a Tom-Tom for navigation, and hit the ground running. We stayed in a nice hotel in the heart of the downtown, and hit most of the usual tourist attractions: The Science Fiction and Art Museums, Space Needle, Pike Street Market, etc. We ran all over down town, snapping photos and writing anecdotes, lapping up everything Seattle. It's a surprisingly clean town, and the port air is crisp and heavy. The people are friendly, and coffee shops are scattered liberally about. We ran about during the day, then ventured forth at night to see what changed -- unlike some cities that suddenly turn menacing or even dangerous at night, Seattle seems to just party, and work, through the night. We visited the Freemont Troll (awesome), ports, fish-markets and warehouse districts. Of course we didn't see a thousandth of what we'd need to do justice to the town, but Patty has enough photos and enough notes to make a stab at it. And, of course, we have our secret weapon: friendly Seattle residents. We had so much fun, it's hard to believe that it's possible to classify this as "working"!
Publishing Thoughts: Piracy
Over the past few weeks, we've gotten a number of letters from people regarding pirated books. Yes, it's true, the Jolly Roger is flying high, and there are digital copies of all sorts of things being made available for download.
Patty and I actually differ a little in our thoughts on copyright. I'm a big fan of open source, and a fan of Lawrence Lessig and the whole creative commons concept. Patty is a little more nervous, and more of a traditionalist. However, as much as I support giving content away (and in fact, I've contributed to a number of open-source software packages), it needs to be the author who decides whether a given piece of work is commercial or freely distributed. One of the things that I find most galling about the uploaded books is that the pirates often file off the copyright notice, and try to release Patty's work as public domain, or under one of the Creative Commons licenses. It's a strange kind of generous that gives other people's things away. . .
As a reader, I love e-books. We recently moved, and I lugged hundreds of heavy boxes of books to the new house, then set up the shelves to hold them all. The ebooks all fit on a tiny flash card. Patty has one of the Sony readers, and loves it. With the internet and a credit card, she can go from 'Nothing-To-Read' to 'Which-Book-Do-I-Read-First' in a couple of minutes. The instant gratification is addictive. The DRM (Digital Rights Management), not so much. As a consumer, DRM is cumbersome, and a little unsettling — it means the publisher ultimately controls your access to the content you paid for. Naturally, the nerd community has come up with a number of creative ways of stripping that unwanted DRM and converting book formats. Hooray for convenience and flexibility. Unfortunately, once the DRM is removed, and the formerly digitally-locked book is exposed in an unprotected format like HTML or PDF, many readers feel the need to "share".
The problem is that we're accustomed to sharing our physical books, and why not? If I read a great book, it's perfectly natural to loan it to my friends so that they can enjoy it too. Nobody screams about theft or threatens to sue me into oblivion for that, nor should they. However, when you upload a digital copy of a book, you're not sharing with a few good friends, you're effectively publishing a new edition of the book for free. While that might be altruistic, it's also illegal, and all those free copies are taking money out of the pocket of the author. I just read a very well-written article on the topic by Charlotte Boyett-Compo over on BittenByBooks.com. While it's easy to whine about the problem, I don't know where the solution lies. As a consumer I want to own my ebooks, and that means no DRM. However, authors can't survive if their work is distributed far and wide for free, particularly since ebooks are becoming the preferred format for many readers. I want to believe that most readers are honest, and that all those illegal copies don't represent lost sales. I want to believe that, but as it becomes more common, and more socially acceptable to download books, I'm not sure I can.
Bone Crossed Giveaway
By: Mike Jan 17, 2009
OK, I'd forget my head if it weren't attached. A couple of weeks ago Robert Thompsom wrote to let us know that he's giving away a copy of Bone Crossed at Fantasybookcritic. Patty has asked me to put a notice up for her readers, but I managed to forget. I was reminded about it today. Here's a link to the giveaway. Thanks Robert, and good luck everyone!
No news is good news, as they say. Patty's making solid headway on Hunting Ground, and handed her writer's group another chapter this week. Writing isn't always as fast or exciting as people would hope, and the short days aren't helping. Her current office isn't heated very well, so she ends up huddling pretty close to a space heater as she works. The story is coming along nicely, and it's promising to be a great read.
One thing I hate about reading the story as it's being written is that when I get caught up in the story I can't just turn the page. This week, I slipped out of editor mode and was reading as fast as my eyes could scan the pages, happily ignoring various niggling errors and enjoying the story. And then, suddenly, there were no more pages. I knew I was reading a partial chapter, but I couldn't help double-checking the file, and looking accusingly at the printer. Where was the rest of the story? Even the rest of the scene would have enough, but there was no more.
I suppose it's a good sign when I'm impatient for Patty to get back to work. Not because the bills are overdue, or out of an overactive work ethic, but because I'm anxious to see the next few pages of work.
It's cold outside. Not the terrible, biting cold that gives you bragging rights and justifies sitting in bed with extra blankets and cocoa, but the overcast, oppressive chill of a late winter waiting for spring. The snow is gone, so my unkempt and slightly overgrown lawn glistens with ice crystals. It gotten warm enough now and again to thaw muddy patches, and the horses have rolled in them. So now they're not only as shaggy as little mastodons, they're covered with mud, with wind-tangles in their manes. They're feeling it too. The wintertime blues. They don't run around the field much; they just sit there waiting for feeding time. We have sniffles and sore throats and aching knees. . .
Fortunately, we have children at home. They invite friends over, and suddenly theres yelling and laughing, and hide-and-go-seek in the early darkness. "Experimental" foods left in the kitchen, and marshmellow-crossbow fights in the living room. It's not quiet, and it gets a little messy, but somehow everything seems a little happier. Spring is coming. I can see buds on the cherry tree waiting to burst. There's green grass pushing through the frost in the field, and there's more birds in the bushes outside the house. The sun stays with us a little longer each day.
And suddenly, looking for the signs of spring, I understand why ancient people tracked the course of the sun, measuring it's progress, and celebrating the day when it finally stops moving south and begins it's return. My sniffles don't seem so bad, and I'm looking at the fields and thinking, hobbitlike, that I'm anxious to spend some time with good earth and growing things. Happy spring everyone!
By: Patty Feb 24, 2009
Duane at the University Bookstore is awesome as always. It was great to see old friends and meet a few new ones. I saw a familiar face from ConBust (MA-- Seattle is a Long way from Massachusetts), and from Tumbleweed (she lives over here -- I just met her at the Tumbleweed music festival in the Tri-Cities). Forum members Rob and Patti L were there, and they brought me goodies!
Rob brought me cheesecake (yummmy) and Patti brought me a goodie box for my birthday (with a card) Inside theGoodie box were Lots of nifty things. First an assortment of hand made soaps (made by Charmed, bless her). They included: A complete set of Mercy's paw print soaps (made in a mold of a coyote paw print -- they are darling). 2 Samuel paw prints (wolf prints -- MUCH BIGGER than coyote prints). A dragon heart in Hurog blue. 2 bath salt soaps (honeycomb and tranquility). They even threw in a soap for Mike (workmen's soap) for when he comes in from a hard day's work at home. And does he ever work! While I've been gone (since noon) he's fixed the sheet rock in my younger daughter's room and pulled the window in my older daughter's room. And fought the battle with the hosting company to put Hurog back up after we moved it to bigger servers. Then there were the book light (sorry Mike), the tealights, bookcovers, bookmarks -- and Tiger Balm. Patti even brought a warming pad for my back for the trip. And I can't forget the rubber ducky Thank you -- and very big hugs!
By: Patty Feb 3, 2009
I love Seattle. There's something about the mountains and the Puget Sound (and all the lakes and waterways around) that make it feel less like a concrete jungle and more like a park.
Bone Crossed is out, as of today. I'm sitting in my hotel room in downtown Seattle getting ready to do the first big signing event. I've had a nice chat with a couple of the booksellers in Downtown (I didn't fly in early enough to hit all the bookstores I did last time). I've signed quite a few books, which is neat. I worried about the switch to hardcover, but it looks like the booksellers at least are stocking it just fine.
One thing we've been hearing over and over from booksellers and reviewers alike is how terrific the cover is. Daniel Dos Santos is amazing. And the art team at Penguin is great too. They've put together one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. We have the original hanging on our wall and I smile every time I see it. Not only is the painting gorgeous, but Daniel caught a pivotal point in Mercy's life and made it come alive.
You know the saying "you can't judge a book by its cover" -- and that is true. But the beauty of a book is part of the total reading experience. I love to read beautiful books . . . of course I don't mind reading tattered and splattered books either <grin>. But having a beautiful book is like eating a meal that smells really good. There could still be too much salt or not enough pepper -- but if it smells good, you give it the benefit of the doubt.
Hard Cover or Paperback?
By: Mike Feb 22, 2009
Bone Crossed was Patty's first hardback publication. The jump to hard cover is a big one, and not without peril. Hardbacks are a substantially different format, and some readers simply don't buy them. While the overall response from Patty's readers has been overwhelmingly positive, there are a number of people who have written to express their disappointment, displeasure and even anger.
First, the inevitable excuse: Authors don't make that decision publishers do. See, it's not our fault, Patty had no control over the decision. Her publisher did it, blame them! That's true enough, but it's really just a convenient deflection. If the publisher had offered Patty the choice, she would probably have chosen to publish this book as a hard cover, even knowing some readers would be unhappy. Naturally, neither the author nor the publisher want unhappy readers, so why do they make the decision to release a book in hard cover?
Hard cover books have several advantages over paperback. They're a better product. They are more attractive and vastly more durable. The quality of the paper and binding is noticeably better, and the larger print and pages make reading more comfortable for many readers. Some readers purchase hard covers exclusively. Libraries, schools and similar collections typically either don't purchase paperbacks, or don't index them. The hard cover is the only effective way to penetrate these markets, and increase readership.
On the down side, a hardback is fairly expensive. The reader is being asked to shell out a larger piece of their entertainment budget, and that's going to cost the author some sales. Of course, if the book does well enough, most retailers will discount the price fairly aggressively. Bone Crossed has managed to spend two weeks on the NYT Bestseller's list, and is currently priced at under $15 at most retailers. That's still more than the paperback, but it's not bad.
We're delighted with the care and quality ACE puts into publishing Patty's books. Bone Crossed has to be one of the prettiest books I've ever held. While I empathize with the plight of readers who are saving up pennies to buy books, I think that the product is worth the cost. And for those who really are pinching pennies, remember that libraries are a great resource. Because it's a hard cover, the chances are very good that your local library has a copy available (or can get one on inter-library loan).
One final problem with hard covers is that many readers are meticulous in their storage and shelving of books. Hard backs go on one set of shelves, paperbacks on another. All books are sorted by author, and arranged by series. In contrast, we have several industrial shelving racks filled with boxes of books. The boxes are currently labeled with descriptions like "Old Sci Fi" or "Books from Tall Bookcase in Bedroom". However, for those who do organize their collections, having the fourth book in a series come out in hard back throws a wrench in the works. I suppose you can either wait for the paperback version of Bone Crossed, or grab the very nice hard back omnibus of the first three Mercy Thompson books, Preying for Mercy from the Science Fiction Book Club.
Thanks to everyone for your support and understanding, this has been a big jump, and a little frightening.
By: Mike March 14, 2009
The monitor shows "Chapter 6" neatly centered a few inches under a properly formatted header. The cursor blinks. Soft music comes from the tinny speakers of a laptop, while the author sits frozen, staring at nothing in particular . . . The clock ticks slowly in the background, and the calendar shows a due date circled weeks ago.
This is classic description of the dreaded "writer's block", the bane and fear of authors. This week, as she races to complete another long-overdue manuscript, a couple of Patty's readers have written to ask about her take on writers block. There's something either ironic or portentous in the timing, I'm not sure which.
Patty's never had writer's block. At least, nothing like the helpless, horrifying version so often portrayed in books and movies. She has had times when writing is slow, or difficult, or frustrating. Naturally, every author is different, so her experience may not reflect that of other authors exactly. I worked as a computer nerd for years, several of those as a code monkey. In comparing notes, we found that, although what we write is very different, we've shared a number of common experiences, frustrations and solutions, so hopefully other authors will find our experiences useful.
First, while neither of us has experienced the classic "blockage", we've both experienced being frustrated. Writing is no longer fun. There's something wrong, and the solution is elusive. With no quick fix, the mind shies away from the task. Five minutes of looking at the screen, and you're pulling up your favorite website, or looking at the clock. Time drags, and you begin to resent the screen, the cursor, and whatever twist of fate has you shackled to a desk. Sound familiar?
A brilliant artist and author, Mark Ferrari, once mentioned that he'd had some trouble when his art became his profession. We're taught that work is serious stuff, but creativity comes from the part of the brain that focuses on play. His revelation was that he needed to concentrate on playing to be creative, once he started working on a project, things went downhill. This is an absolute gem of wisdom. If you're working on a book, you're engaging the wrong part of the brain, you need to play in your book.
Like most pearls of wisdom, this turns out to be more easily said than done. Sure, forget about the mortgage, the dirty dishes, the kids and the missed deadline. Just have fun. What, your 401 just tanked? No worries. Your neighbor's dog ate your flowers -- don't let it disturb your inner zen. It's not easy. Most authors develop habits that help them find the "happy place" where their creativity lies. Music, candles, reading a good book, whatever holds the world at bay. However, major problems in life, or a misbehaving story can throw a wrench in the works.
The most common problem is that something in the story has gone wrong. This can take many forms: poor character motivation, awkward conversation, etc. The problem isn't always obvious, but it becomes irksome to play with the characters, so the author pushes them around aimlessly like a toddler playing with the peas on his plate. The muse calls in sick, and suddenly it's just work.
We're taught as children that we need to work even if it's not fun. The problem is, trying to push through the situation above often just makes it worse. Push those peas around too much and there'll be nothing left but mush. You can do the same thing to your story. Instead, back up a chapter or so, and start playing with the characters. What does each one want? What do they know? What resources do they have? Remember what makes each character fun. If you can't remember what a character feels like, write a monologue from their point of view. Play. At some point you're likely to find a character saying, "I didn't want to crawl into this dark cave, and I wouldn't have done it. The reason you're stuck is that I'm somewhere I never should have been." If you go back, and re-write that decision, the story may fix itself.
If you're still fighting a scene, just skip it, and write the next one. Write a different story. Go for a walk, and describe the scenery as your favorite character would. We once had a wily author tell us that when he got frustrated, he simply had a shadowy figure assassinate the problem character. Suddenly, there were hundreds of interesting story threads to chase down, more than enough to finish the novel, and that character would never trouble the author again!
Patty usually writes new material four to five hours a day. On a good day she might write ten pages. That's all the creativity she has. She can push for more than that, but she usually ends up with dreck that needs to be re-written. She usually writes new material in the morning, then edits in the afternoon. Editing uses the analytical, critical parts of the brain. It's every bit as important as the creative phase, but it's easier to do when you're worried, distracted, or tired. By realizing that there's really two sides to writing, you can tailor your workday to take advantage of tasks suited to your mental state.
Writer's block, at least as we've seen it, isn't some terrible affliction to be avoided, it's usually an early-warning system that your book has taken a wrong turn. Your brain is trying to tell you that writing further is going to be a waste of time until you find and fix the problem. If you're stuck,remember to play your way out of the jam, working usually just makes it worse!
Chasing the Deadline
By: Mike April 5, 2009
"My dog ate it." "The bus was late." "I thought it was due next week." One of the first bits of advice given to any beginning author is "Never miss a deadline". It's excellent advice, and makes for a happy editor and a healthy career. In browsing the internet, I've stumbled upon several authors who are late with highly-anticipated books, and I've seen some of the letters from their fans urging them to abandon their slothful, hedonistic ways and finish the darn book.
I remember hearing an editor comment that the raw material of the publishing industry is manuscripts, and it's just a crying shame that manuscripts come with authors attached. Publishing is an industry, with production and delivery schedules, advertising costs, and its own set of contractual obligations. How frustrating it must be when the raw materials they've paid for fail to show up at the agreed upon time. After all, when I pay a company to deliver a load of concrete at 8:00 am on Friday morning, I expect to hear the rumble of a big truck at 8:00. Why can't authors just suck it up like professionals and meet their deadlines?
It's not exactly news that Patty has joined the ranks of those undependable authors who can't seem to deliver a polished, professional manuscript in a timely fashion. Hunting Ground is badly overdue, and Patty's working long days to try to finish it, just like last time. Her editor has been remarkably understanding and patient, just like last time. Patty's looking a little frazzled and worn out, just like last time, and I'm desperately trying to keep the house running, bills paid, kids chauffeured to their various destinations and do what I can to allow her to work without interruption. The constant feeling of pressure, the dread every time the phone rings, is disturbingly familiar.
After being terribly late producing Bone Crossed, Patty was hoping to make up for lost time with Hunting Ground. However, she had been working around the clock for about six weeks, and was pretty burned out, so creativity was slow in coming. In addition, Bone Crossed needed to make it through several rounds of editing very rapidly, which cut into the time for writing the new book. Despite my best efforts, there are also other demands on her time. We have children who like to have parents attend their concerts, games etc. We try to make time for friends and family. There's book tours, book signings and conventions. Not to mention taxes, accountants and all the details of running a buisness. Life takes time.
Of course, lots of people are busy, and lots of professionals have deadlines. Sometimes they're even expected to work overtime. However, deadlines are generally based on measured progress and expectations. I used to work as a computer nerd, and estimating development time was one of my least favorite tasks. If I was designing a cut-and-dried application, things were pretty easy. However, if the product involved new technologies or techniques my estimates got pretty fuzzy. How do you estimate the time to discover a solution to a problem that hasn't previously been solved? Creative work was the worst of all. I can bang out back-end code and database routines far into the night, but trying to design an attractive user interface is pointless once I'm tired or frustrated. Authors face a similar challenge. The creative muse is not easily entreated with Red Bull and sheer dogged determination. Creativity sucks, at least from a scheduling standpoint.
It looks as though Patty was overly optimistic in signing contracts for two books a year. Having turned in Bone Crossed a couple of months late, she was doomed to miss the deadline for Hunting Ground. After all, the deadlines are all specified in the contracts; they don't move just because the previous book was late. She'll finish this book in the same sort of sleep-deprived zombie-state as the previous one, with less than three months until the next manuscript is due. Something's gotta give, and it's probably going to be the schedule, since both Patty and her editor are committed to producing high-quality books. With several books still under contract, it looks like we're going to become accustomed to life on the wrong side of the deadline for a couple of years. We're not happy about that prospect, and some readers are already grumbling, but I don't see any way out.
Obviously, I'm not a professional author. I set out to write something pithy, and ended up with a rant. Sorry. At a recent convention, Patty was on one the author's panels and one of the panelists offered some scathing opinions on the kind of authors who can't complete a book on time. Several other authors expressed agreement. Patty was cringing in her seat, and she was fairly quiet for the rest of the convention. I'm not an author, a publisher, or any sort of literary expert, but I am a loving and devoted husband, and I hate to see Patty hurt. Sorry for the vitriol, I'll try to come up with a less pugnacious post on a nice neutral topic in the next few days.
By: Mike April 5, 2009
The "Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hellagood Authors" is a very fun contest run by the bloggers at Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Basically, they start with a field of 64 books in a variety of categories, and then run a massive tournament in which the readers vote on their favorite book. The readers predict the outcome of the votes, and those who come the closest to the actual results get prizes galore. This year, there were many trash-talking twitters and good-natured jibes adding to the ruckus.
Patty actually started out with two books in the field, Cry Wolf and Iron Kissed. The contest generally favors romance books, and we expected Patty to be quickly eliminated. Patty has a has an awesome forum community, but we decided it would be cheating to try to appeal to them for support. However, despite our silence, they obviously found out about the contest, and spawned several threads urging other members to go vote. With their support, Patty's books did surprising well in the early rounds, but then Cry Wolf ran up against Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas and went down for the count. Meanwhile Joanna Borne's historical Spymaster's Lady was dominating the early competition. Iron Kissed was next paired against Blue Eyed Devil, and we really expected it to go down swinging . . . but somehow it held on for the win.
Spymaster's Lady went up against Maya Banks' Be With Me, and again came out on top. And then there were two. Iron Kissed vs The Spymaster's Lady. A paranormal vs. an exquisitely-researched historical romance that Patty had been gushing about ever since she read it.
[Cue gunfighting music.]
[Camera: stage right, tight focus on a battered copy of Iron Kissed, dog-eared pages rustling in a dry wind.]
[Camera, stage left: extreme zoom showing a heroic, manly chest bared in the harsh morning light. Slowly pull out to reveal the gorgeous cover of The Spymaster's Lady.]
[Cue lone tumbleweed, blowing across center stage. Fade music. Pause. Slowly bring up drum-roll on Timpani.]
A flurry of voting. Twitter blazes to life with trash talk. Keyboards explode into action.
It's close . . . so very, very close, but in the words of Adrian Paul, "There can be only one!"
Final Shot: Iron Kissed stands alone, back lit by a a fiery sunset.
Wow. We can't believe Patty won, that's just too cool. There are several very nice prizes, including, and I quote "A hot pink bad ass ostrich feather quill pen." Now, how can an author fail to conquer any obstacle with a pink ostrich feather pen? The sheer audaciousness of it should guarantee success. And, after all, what else would an author use to pen purple prose? Huge kudos and many, many thanks to the folks at Dear Author and Smart Bitches, and to everyone who participated. Woot!
|The entrance to one of several coyote dens.|
There are many things we love about living in the country. One of our favorite benefits is lying in bed, listening to the coyotes sing at night. It usually starts suddenly; a quick howl that elicits more howls even before it stops. For ten or fifteen minutes the night is alive with quavering voices. And then it's over. A final howl hangs unanswered in the air. Gradually the other sounds of the night begin once more. It's another night in coyote country.
We bought an old place that hasn't been tamed. The map has the word "Scablands" printed right over our property. The land is rocky, just a thin layer of soil over hundreds of feet of basalt lava flow. However, all around us, the land is being brought into production. Neat rows of vineyards and orchards have been carved through rock, and the sound of pneumatic hammers makes a staccato counterpoint to the meadowlarks. The coyotes have little difficulty hunting among the rows of plants, but den sites are becoming harder to find. Our little oasis of barren scrub is home to several families of coyotes. They mostly stay hidden during the day, but we see one three or four times a week. Some are sleek and fat, and some look pretty ragged. We had coyotes in Butte as well, but with all the mountains to play in, they stayed much further away. In this environment, they coyotes are forced to live hand-in-glove with humans. We try to keep our pets close to the house, and so far it's worked out fine. It's fun to wake up in the morning and see one of Mercy's cousins out looking for breakfast.
|A glimpse of a sleek coyote looking for breakfast. The photo was taken from our back porch.|
By: Mike May 1, 2009
A Lawsuit with Class
For the authors and future authors of the world, these are interesting times. A couple of years ago I heard some chatter among authors about a lawsuit between Google and the Authors Guild. Google was scanning whole libraries of material including (gasp!) copyrighted materials. Not only that, but they were planning on making it searchable and even showing short excerpts of the books in search results. Gee, free advertisement for the authors, how terrible. Only a litigious madman or possibly the Author's Guild would object. Convinced that a private squabble between a handful of reactionary authors and Google was of little concern to me, I ignored the case. Done, finished, the end.
However, in Tolkienesque fashion, that was not the end. I began to hear rumors, persistent whispers of something evil, a shadow of a threat growing in darkened chambers. The Authors Guild wasn't simply suing for their members. In the fey magic of the US court system they were declared a certified class, and given the authority to speak for all authors. Including the myriad authors who had never heard of them, considered them irrelevant, or actively disagreed with their policies. They were now us.
In October of last year they (or is that 'we'?) reached an agreement with Google. A massive settlement which could dramatically alter the world of publishing. This agreement is currently awaiting the approval of the courts. To be sure, the majority of the terms are benign, dealing with things like granting Google's permission to offer searches of books and agreeing to pay the authors a percentage of the advertising revenue generated thereby. However, there were other terms, not benign, written in the secret tongue of lawyers. These terms were forged into The Contract; scribed with words of binding, awaiting only the order of a judge to compass both weak and mighty in their terrible grasp.
Copyright and Orphaned Works
As one example (there are several), let us consider the fate of orphaned works. Ah, but that's a story that truly begins in another time, in the first glimmers of copyright. The framers of the US constitution realized that the creative arts required legal protection if they were to flourish. What man would undertake the task of penning a substantial novel, persevering through various drafts and edits, if he could not be assured of partaking of the fruit of his labor? Congress was granted express permission to pass laws that would encourage such creation, which shortly led to copyright legislation. A copyright was a short-term monopoly on the reproduction of the author's work, intended to provide a window of opportunity for the author to reap the financial rewards of his effort. When the copyright term expired, the work was to revert to the public domain, thereby enriching the public in turn.
The system initially required an author (or playwright, composer, photographer etc.) to register their work. This both guaranteed a copy was available for the public domain, and clearly distinguished between works created for commercial gain, and those for which no commercial interest was intended. The copyright could be renewed, once, before it expired, granting a longer period of financial gain to the author of commercially successful works.
However, over time, the balance between public good and the content creators shifted. Copyright terms were extended, then extended again. The requirement to register works for copyright protection was removed, granting protection to every scrawl and scribble created by the hand of man. Currently, copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus an additional seventy years for good measure. That's great if you've managed to author a book destined to become an enduring classic; your grandchildren will be receiving royalty payments long after your death. However, the law of unintended consequences has exacted a terrible price. In striving to insure that the rare long-running commercial success garners its full measure of lucre for its creator, the vast majority of works are locked in legal limbo. They haven't sufficient commercial value to justify making them available for sale, and yet they are decades removed from the public domain. A great deal of the culture of our generation is falling into this legal purgatory; unavailable and unprofitable to anyone. This is the hell of orphaned works.
Under current law, anyone wanting to make use of an orphaned work must first contact the person, corporation, or entity holding the copyright on that work. Given the vagaries of contract, the lack of any requirement to register for copyright protection, and the nearly-infinite length of copyright, this task makes the labors of Hercules look like child's play. Without a doubt, there's a problem here.
Beware the Man with a Solution
But wait,there's more. Prior to this agreement, there wasn't any need for a legal definition of "orphaned work", but now we have one. Any work that's been out of print for a year is presumed orphaned. It's unclear whether electronic editions, or print-on-demand books count. Most of Patty's early work was out of print for a year or more, but they're currently in print and selling nicely. Under this settlement, Google could have chosen to grab those books and make them available to all and sundry. Had they done so, it's unlikely that ACE would have elected to re-publish those works.
Of course, Google has provided a means for authors to "opt out" of this arrangement, and preserve their rights. This represents a major change. Currently, the author has all rights, except those she expressly grants to others. Publishers have to negotiate with authors, and contractually acquire the rights to publish the author's work. This settlement turns things upside down, granting publication rights to Google unless an author jumps through whatever hoops Google decides to place in their path to opt out.
There are, understandably, quite a number of companies excited by the prospect of instantly acquiring the rights to market millions of books without the need to negotiate with individual authors. If this settlement is signed into law, they'll have precedent. If they follow Google's lead all they need is a local writer's group and a friendly judge willing to grant that group class status. Then they can hammer out whatever sort of agreement they desire, and take everyone else along for the ride. Imagine having tens or hundreds of companies with opt-out agreements granting them automatic access to an author's work. It would be like playing "whack-a-mole", except that if you miss one, your copyright becomes meaningless.
Copyright is broken, or at least in need of a tune-up. Neither the public nor authors are served by the burgeoning number of orphan works and similar problems. However, changes need to be made in a manner that is fair to all parties. If orphan works are to be made available under a uniform liscense, they should be available for all interested companies, not just one. Problems with copyright should be addressed by legeslative changes to the copyright law, not by judicial rulings.
I like Google. Most of the time I trust Google. My reservations have nothing to do with Google as a company, they have to do with ANY company being given this kind of monopoly through judicial fiat. I'm dismayed that a tiny cadre of litigious authors was granted the legal authority to contractually bind ALL authors, without so much as soliciting our opinions. Finally, I'm not a lawyer, and these comments are just the personal opinion of a layperson.
Viva La France
By: Mike May 22, 2009
Ah, the life of the sophisticated world traveler. At ease among various cultures, adapting effortlessly to changing customs, changing languages as easily as other people change their socks. Urbane, sophisticated, self-assured. That's pretty much the opposite of Patty and I, so it was with both excitment and a full measure of trepidation that we set out for France.
Several of Patty's books have been translated and published in French, by two publishing houses. She was invited by a Editions Bragelonne to attend a convention called Imaginales in Epinal. Since only a fool turns down an all-expense-paid trip to see France, we tentatively accepted, carefully explaining that we were not fluent in French, and hopelessly provential. They said we could come anyway!
We posted the convention to the website under the appearances page. Shortly we got a letter from a French woman asking if we'd be staying in Paris, and offering to let us stay in her flat, in the middle of downtown. A quick exchange to the nice folks at Bragelonne, and our travel plans included a couple of days in Paris and a train ride to Epinal (thanks Leslie!).
So, we flew to Paris. We arrived exhausted, and tried to call the lady we'd be staying with. The French payphones didn't like our credit cards, we had no idea how many digits we'd need to dial to actually connect, and we had no money. France suddenly seemed big and frightening. We managed to find a currency exchange, and obtained a couple hundred euros, then found a nice lady who explained how to actually dial a call correctly, and suddenly things looked much better.
We managed to take a taxi to Xaviere's house. Since the driver spoke no English, and we spoke no French, in involved a good deal of pointing and nodding, and no small amount of humor. The driver was elegantly attired, and sported a huge mustache, waxed of course. He pointed out several good restaurants as well as major tourist attractions on the way, and shortly had us at Xaviere's door.
Xaviere proved absolutely delightful. Stunningly beautiful, and armed with a formidible wit, she welcomed us in, and took us for a short walk around the neighborhood which included a lovely little market street. Then she left us for some much needed sleep. The next day, Patty and I arose and made our way into the market, buying bread, fruit and cheese for breakfast. The Parisians were very tolerant of our inability to speak, and it was a great adventure to buy a few things from various shops. Patty decided to try out her French by telling one lady, "I don't speak French", and the lady gave her an odd look, before responding "English?". We subsequently discovered that Patty's conjugation was wrong, and she had actually said, "You do not speak French.". Being a coward, I wisely kept pointing and nodding.
After breakfast, Xaviere took us on a walking tour of Paris. I don't think I've ever seen so much carved stone, or so many beautiful buildings, in my entire life. The sense of history is palpable -- hundreds of years of it shaping and reshaping the land and the buildings. Paris was everything it's rumored to be, and all the description in the world wouldn't do it justice. It needs to be experienced. Our journey concluded with a climb up the Arc de Triomphe, and the view was well worth the tired legs. The Parisians are justifiably proud of their city, though they embrace it with something like religious fervor. However, despite it's many charms, I don't think I could ever live among so many people.
The next day we nearly missed our train to Epinal by underestimating the time it would take to get across town in a Taxi. However, thanks to a kind taxi driver who missed an excellent career in autocross racing, we arrived rather pale and shaken, and just in time. We met one of the English translators, Annaig (and I've doubtless misspelled that), at the train station. Annaig proved to be a delightful travel companion, and the train was both fast and remarkably quiet. I couldn't help but compare the French train to my very unhappy experiences with Amtrak in the states. Maybe America should pay for a remedial course in rail transport. The French countryside, verdant green fields and small clusters of trees too small to be called forests flashed by, broken with pituresque towns here and there. The whole place looks like a postcard, it's uncanny.
We Interrupt This Broadcast . . .
I'll continue detailing the Imaginales convention in a few days. My wife just mentioned that we're leaving for Missoula to attend Miscon, and I've got about an hour to get packed and in the car. Since I still have to shave and find clean clothes, I'd better cut this short. For those who are heading to Miscon, we'll see you in a few hours!
Viva La France: Part II
By: Mike May 22, 2009
We arrived in Epinal, which is a scenic little town in Northeastern France, after our trusty translator Annaig bravely handled some minor problems with our tickets. We were immediately whisked away from the train station, and ensconced in a charming hotel located immediately across from a spectacular park. The convention largely takes place in a series of tents erected in the park, giving it a whimsical air similar to many renaissance faires.
The convention was largely sponsored by a group of publishers, and one of the largest buildings was reserved for a very large merchant room, filled primarily with books. I couldn't help thinking that traveling gypsies had erected an impromptu bookstore stocked with everything imaginable. However, just like a good fairy tale the joke was on me; though I could browse thousands of titles with intriguing covers, they were all in French!
There were several professional translators, and a number of guests who spoke only English. The translators wore themselves to a frazzle running back and forth between the book signings and panels trying bridge the language barrier by sheer force of will. Annaig, Sylvie, and Katrina, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude, thank you! Many of the panels were held in an intricate tent called the "Hall of Mirrors" which looked like it should have housed a old-fashioned carousel; it was the perfect setting for discussions of science fiction and fantasy.
|Left to Right: Sylvie, one of the overworked translators. Patty. Jean-Claude, the moderator. Isabelle and Stephane (both from Bragelonne).|
There were fewer hall costumes than in many of the American conventions, but there were several professional actors in awesome costumes as well as a full repertoire of dialog, songs, and jokes. Here's a very exotic lady who walked on stilts (complete with hooves at the bottom) and communicated only by shrieking like a falcon. Fortunately, she was accompanied by a strange little man with an enormous nose, who could translate her strange speech. Sadly, he could only translate it into French, and we never did quite figure out what she was talking about . . .
There were also several artists in attendance. Some of which had standard booths, and were selling prints of their work. However, there were several who were doing performance art. A couple of booths down from where Patty spent her time signing books, there was a booth doing body-painting of semi-nude models. They were very beautiful, and very . . .distracting.
A little further on, there were four artists working together on a complex composition, using a gigantic canvas. They painted the entire composition over the course of the convention. What I found particularly amazing was that all of them were putting the finishing touches on their part on Sunday afternoon. Talk about perfect timing! Here's a partial view of the finished mural.
Of Cabbages and Kings
One of the highlights of our time there was attending a dinner with most of the staff of Bragelonne. First, it must be noted that the French cuisine is absolutely superb. However, meals can be complex affairs with many courses and a surfeit of silverware. Patty and I consider Olive Garden the height of fine dining, so this was a whole new experience. However, what really made the event memorable was the company.
This is a small company -- maybe thirty employees. But their enthusiasm is infectious, they love what they do. It shows in everything they do. It's been too long since I worked for a company I really believed in, I'd almost forgotten what that looked like. They seem more like a family than a company, and I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with all of them.
However, the pied piper of the whole operation is Stephane, who's larger-than-life personality and charming manner almost manage to disguise the keen mind of a visionary. I'm very glad his goal is bringing speculative fiction to the attention of the French reading public. If this man were plotting world domination, we'd all be in trouble. Patty and Stephane talked of authors, of artists, of the subtleties of introducing a new market, and of all the joys and challenges of running a publishing house. Sometimes I forget just how smart, and how widely read Patty is. . . she and Stephane left me groping for faint memories of books read long ago. I was mesmerized just listening to the two of them. Very, very cool.
I also met a guitarist at the convention. Now, I play a little guitar. You know, filk songs in your choice of three-chord accompaniments. I've heard some very good guitarists, and have CD's from quite a number of them. So when a man in a booth pulled a guitar case and a small amplifier from behind his display table, I was interested. He used an acoustic guitar, and fiddled with a couple of foot pedals. Some people nearby said that he was good, but I'm jaded, and I've seen lots of players that were supposed to be good. Then he played.
Oh my goodness. This was like Michael Schenker's acoustic work, but with random elements of Richie Blackmore, Shahin and Sepehr, Govi and Carl Tosten thrown in for good measure. The rhythms were complex, polyphonic, and spanned the entire range of the guitar. Syncopated bass played against straight-time trebles, with sparkling harmonics bursting here and there for accent.
He stomped a foot pedal, and nothing seemed to happen. He played for a few minutes, then stomped it again. Suddenly, everything became clear. He'd recorded himself, and was playing it back in a loop. Then he began laying down a complex melody line that wove in and around the rhythm section he had just recorded, echoing the same motifs, but throwing them back subtlety altered. It was unreal. I bought the couple of CD's he had available, and spend some time afterward talking with the man.
His name is David Millemann, and he apparently graduated with a degree in guitar, but has spent the last several years developing his own style. I listened to several bits of him playing electric with various bands, all of which were very good, but none came close to the performance he gave at Imaginales. If I'm any judge of guitarists, you'll be hearing lots more about David in coming years. You can read a little more about him (in French) on myspace.
By: Mike July 1, 2009
By: Mike July 1, 2009
Hunting Ground is completely done, and should be a great read in a few short months. Patty's been spending a little time catching up with interviews, book reviews, and similar things that tend to pile up while she's writing frantically. She's just starting work on Silver Borne, the next Mercy Thompson novel. For the past week or so we've been pretty busy trying to get our taxes figured out. Let me assure you that when you have odd bits of foreign money, as well as multiple contracts with various people, that taxes are no longer the simple affair they're supposed to be. Sigh.
There's been quite a bit of progress on the comic book front lately. The Dabel brothers are cooking right along, and new pages come out every other day or so. The art work is phenomenal, and David Lawrence is doing a wonderful job of working with Patty to make a successful adaptation (which involves some serious creativity on his part!). Actually, here's an interview with Dave [link removed after source document taken down] where he talks about working on the comics with Patty. The first four of the Mercy Thompson comics will soon be available in an omnibus edition, and I have permission to show some of the artwork here.
Life on the Farm
So we bought this little piece of land in Washington. The location is nice, and Patty has her horses. Lots of horses. However, we're desperately short of proper facilities. There's one pasture of about four acres, fenced in with a very disreputable looking excuse for a fence. It's got a sad and sagging shelter for the horses on one end, and no irrigation at all. Thank goodness we raise Arabians, which are a tough desert breed, because pampered pasture pets might just die out of spite.
This summer I was supposed to go get some water on the land. We thought we'd make it look a little less desolate, and maybe even grow some hay. After some creative juggling of the books, we even allocated a reasonable budget for the project. However, first Patty wanted a real fence to keep her horses in. "No problem", says I, with a bit of bravado. I picked up my trusty fence-post pounder, post hole digger, and a shovel, and went to work.
Three days later, I'd placed four fence posts. I was exhausted, sunburned, and my shoulders were so torn up I couldn't hardly raise my arms. There's about eight to ten inches of powder-fine dirt that's blown onto this land over the years, but below that it's a lava field with basalt shelves and the occasional glacial deposit. I'm beginning to understand why the previous owner's fences were sub-standard. In case anyone was wondering, basalt is a very hard rock.
Declaring defeat, I began looking for some serious machinery to help set the hundreds of posts needed. I purchased the biggest, meanest fence-post pounder I could get my hands on, wincing at the damage it did to my budget. Lots of glowing reviews stated that it could drive posts into virtually any terrain. It looked perfect, weighed a ton (literally), and drives posts perfectly . . . as long as the ground isn't too hard. Actually, it's pretty impressive. If there's just dirt, or even broken rock and rubble, it works like a charm. However, on solid basalt it fails. Miserably.
After much more financial juggling, we abandoned the majority of the irrigation project, and dedicated our remaining funds to buy a used backhoe. It's fun to drive, but even a backhoe won't make a dent in our "soil". This was getting ridiculous!
We finally abandoned all hope of getting any water on the land, and decided that living on Raman noodles and bologna sandwiches would remind us of our long-past university years. We bought a huge hydraulic hammer that fits on the backhoe. It's slow and noisy work, but we finally have the ability to actually dig a $*$@!! post hole where we want it. Now, if only I had some money left for fence posts! At this rate, I'll have fences up in four or five years, and then we can take another look at putting water on this place.
By: Mike Aug 3, 2009
So, we're at that stage, just before a new book comes out, where we're starting to prowl around on Google and look for the early reviews of Hunting Ground. Biting fingernails, and hoping that the readers respond favorably
You know, I was recently looking at a book by another author, and noticed a number of negative reviews. Apparently the book (which, like the author, will remain nameless here), had failed to live up to earlier books by the same author. The readers were understandably upset, but something caught my eye. A number of the comments berated the author for being lazy, uncaring or just phoning it in. Suddenly, I felt a surge of sympathy for the author, as well as the readers.
I don't think I've ever met an author who sits down to write a book, and figures, "Well, I've got enough readers. I don't need a great book, or even a good book. Any old book will do, and if I lose a few readers, well so be it." The sad fact is that it takes as much effort to write a bad book as a good one. I also don't think any musician sets out with the intent of writing or recording a "filler" track — so why isn't every song a platinum single?
I don't have any huge insight here, but I don't think artists ever set out to create second-best. Ultimately, it's the readers who decide which efforts were successful, and which fell short of the mark. Of course the readers have a right to be entertained, and have every right to voice their displeasure when a work fails to deliver. However, predicting how a given story will impress a reader is far from easy. So authors write, and publishers publish, and authors sit and gnaw their cuticles, waiting.
So far, the few results that have trickled in are very encouraging. Romantic Times gave Hunting Ground a top pick for the month, and we've seen a smattering of flattering reviews. But the real question is how it plays with the readers as a whole, so the worrying and anticipation continues.
Actually, this month there's twice the anxiety, because both Hunting Ground and the graphic novel Homecoming will be released later this month. Patty's very happy with both releases, so we're hoping her readers share her enthusiasm!
By: Mike Aug 3, 2009
We just returned from Spocon on Sunday night. For a convention in it's second year, this was extremely impressive. Running a convention is a very stressful and time-consuming undertaking, and this one came off like clockwork. Also, for a moderately sized con (probably about 1000 people), they had some very impressive guests and programming.
The writer guest was L. E. Modesitt Jr., one of the grandmasters of speculative fiction. He and his wife are absolutely charming and unfailingly courteous. Also, they managed to raise the dress code to a higher level. Mr. Modesitt was always attired in slacks, dress shirt, tie and matching vest. It made my jeans and T-Shirt look pretty shabby. He's inspired me, for the next convention I may actually buy a few nice clothes. Of course, he not only looked good, he had to be both charming and well-spoken. If he weren't so nice, it would be easy to hate him.
The artist guest was John Picacio. I don't follow art as closely as I might, but I immediately recognized several of his pieces from recent covers. John has a style that is very recognizable. I actually had a chance to talk with him while he was setting up his pieces at the art auction. He was very personable, and happy to talk about both his work and art in general. Many artists do cover art as a means to make money so they can pursue their real passion, but John's passion is cover art. He explained that, just as musicians can reinforce and challenge one another, he sees his art as a duet with the author. The author chooses the theme, and John embellishes it, wraps it in imagery, and plays it back to play counterpoint and backdrop for the original. He's passionate, and even a stick-figure-drawing neophyte like myself can learn from him.
His presentation was unique. Not a simple travelogue, or a slide-show of finished works, John chose to take us on a tour of his creative process. He told us of a couple of his recent contracts. Why he chose to accept the contract, what attracted him to the author's work, and what challenges it presented. He wasn't afraid to show early sketches, even when they took him directions that were ultimately abandoned. As the parade of sketches and more refined drawings progressed, it became clear that great art is a process, not a simple intuitive jump to the final destination. I have a whole new appreciation for what an artist actually does. Bravo John, well done Sir!
Finally, let me mention the filking. Filk, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a brand of mostly-folk-inspired music dealing with space, science, fantasy and themes from speculative fiction that kind of grew up with the genre and conventions. I had agreed to be on several filk-related panels, which frankly is worrisome. You see, I'm a casual filker, not a hard-core dedicado. I play a few chords on a guitar, and like to sing, but I certainly don't have a stack of CD's for sale in my guitar case. The fact that they asked me to sit on the panels was a dead giveaway that they were desperate, and didn't have any real talent.
I was wrong. Char MacKay was there. Her guitar skills are good, but her voice is incredible. Then there was Steve Dixon (sp), and his wife Jody. Great guitar, and a booming bass voice I'd kill for, rich as maple syrup and dark as a forest at midnight. There was also a charming and quiet woman I didn't recognize, who sat quietly for a while, her bare feet propped on her guitar case in the stance of a classical guitarist, but holding a steel stringed dreadnought. Then she dropped the hammer with a stream of notes so rich it sounded like a band had materialized around her. Just about the time I got my jaw back to it's usual position she opened her mouth and sang. This wasn't Char's ethereal, sweet voice, it was a blues singer's voice. Low, and powerful with a bit of a rasp at the edges. The voice of someone who's been there, done that, and is here to tell the tale. Pain and hope and love, dreams and betrayal, life both good and bad were in that voice.
I found out she was the filk guest of honor, Kathy Mar. I'd heard of her, of course, but I hadn't heard her before. Now, of course, we own a full set of her CD's, which I'm listening to as quickly as time permits!
Lately, I've been spending an increasing amount of time trying to get folks to take down copies of Patty's books from various file-sharing sites. More to the point, I've been reading everything I can find about copyright infringement on the net, trying to understand why people do it. I don't want to waste a bunch of space on her home page, but I feel like I need to voice an opinion somewhere. So, I put up a page dedicated to the topic. As a side note, when I looked up L.E. Modesitt's page today, I noticed that his latest post is also about piracy.
By: Patty Sep 3, 2009
Hunting Ground is off and running to mostly happy sounds among the readers who've written to me or posted to blogs. Hurray! Cry Wolf had a huge job to do, and I'm happy with the way it accomplished it, but because Hunting Ground only had to be a book (and not transition characters from a novella to a series) it is, I think, a stronger novel.
I had such a great time writing this one (and not just the very awesome trip we took to Seattle for research). Building a bunch of old werewolves was cool. I got to use a lot of the odd facts and stories I pick up here and there and use them to make the wolves real. And dealing with what happens to the European wolves, who are in a much less stable environment, allowed me to highlight how much the Marrok has been able to do for his people, and how much he has not. Also Anna, who was so difficult for me in Cry Wolf, in Hunting Ground she talked to me almost as strongly as Charles does.
And Homecoming. I am so pleased with Homecoming. I didn't know how I would feel about a work that was a collaborative effort among so many people — David Lawrence, Frances Tsai, and Amelia Woo — not to mention my nifty team of themeatic consultants who kept us all honest and caught mistakes or inconsistencies before they happened, and also Daniel dos Santos who did the cover for the graphic novel. Oddly, I am not so much proud of it as stupendously impressed by the vast talents of the people involved in producing it. It is such a beautiful book that owes so much more to the talents of others than to anything I was able to offer. It was so very much fun to stretch and learn new things. Seeing a story come to life in the hands of talented artists was very fun. I will be a little less involved in the coming graphic novels — the Dabel Brothers are doing both the Mercy books and the Alpha and Omega books. The stories there are already written, though I have oversight on everything. Just from what little I've seen of what they've accomplished on them, we are in for a treat.
NYT Best Sellers, Hooray!
By: Mike Sept 11, 2009
Here's bit of unabashed bragging for Patty:Hunting Ground made #2 on the New York Times Bestseller's list last week, and looks like it's going to be #7 this week! The graphic novel Homecoming actually placed #1 last week, and held on to that position this week. We'd like to say "Thank You" to all the readers out there, we're both ecstatic. It's a thrill to see Patty doing well, and the support of her readers is tremendous. Thank you everyone!
Homecoming is Patty's first graphic novel. Apparently Amazon.com didn't make it clear that it was a graphic novel, and she's gotten a number of negative reviews from people who were disappointed when the new hardback they ordered turned out to be a comic book. I'm not sure how many people read this site before buying, but I'll try to clarify. Homecoming is a comic book. Its got lots of pictures, little balloons for the text and the whole works.
We're very proud of the book. This was Patty's first experience doing graphic novels, and it was pretty exciting. It's a whole different style of storytelling, and it requires a very different skill set than traditional novels. David Lawrence really deserves a big piece of the credit for the success of this project. He's been incredibly good at working with Patty to fit her vision of a story into the panels and pictures of a comic book. It's a tough job, and he's proven to be both dedicated and talented. The artists, of course, are tremendous. Te Dabel brothers, Ernst and Les, have been awesome to work with. They've provided enough hand-holding to guide Patty through the surprisingly-complex task of making a graphic novel, while allowing her the freedom and independence to express herself. She has a nice interview about the process up at suvudu.com
Even traditional books are a team effort, but that goes double for comics. It's kind of unfair that Patty's name is the big one at the top of the book, since this is really a collaborative effort among many people. Patty writes the story, then David works with her to convert it to a story board. He spends hours refining that to a description of panels and pages. The artist then renders sketches, which are passed to Patty and team of thematic consultants who go through the sketches making sure that things remain consistent from frame to frame. What does Mercy's garage look like, and where did the lamb necklace go on panel 21? The thematic consultants are a merry band of unsung heroes that really contribute to the quality of the final product. Then the sketches go back to the artist, along with whatever corrections have been requested. The artist does a finished sketch and inks it all in. The final page gets one more round of inspection and approval, and then the process starts again on the next page.
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
We just got back from a two-day run to Portland. Actually, if I told you how many miles we put on our poor little car in a year you'd probably call me a liar. An author's life consists of two things: writing and promotion. If you're not behind the keyboard, you're behind the wheel schlepping off to a signing, a convention, or some other promotional activity. But I digress . . .
This was our first bookseller's convention. All the publishers are showing their wares to bookstore owners, distributers and buyers. At least, that's what I think was happening. There were panels with strange titles like "The Gen Z reader: Understanding the New Reader of the Post- Electronic Age" or "Link Your Marketing & Editorial Calendars for Optimum Impact". We've been around publishing for the last twelve or thirteen years, but I have no idea what those topics mean. This was a whole different side to the industry. Fortunately, everyone was very kind, and Patty was able to do her part: signing books.
Actually, there's an art to signing books, and I'm really glad Patty's doing it instead of me. Readers come in all flavors, from bold as brass to painfully shy. They wait their turn, approach the table, and suddenly they're face to face with the author. Somehow, in the next sixty seconds, the author needs to connect to that reader. Who are they, and why did they just drive to a signing and stand in a line? Do they just want a signature, or do they have a concern or a question? Do they want to correct the author's history, mythology or geography? Every reader has a story. Patty has gotten pretty good at listening, and letting the reader know that they've been heard. If the line is short, she can chat a bit longer, but even if the lines are long she somehow manages to have a brief conversation with each reader before moving on to the next one. It's also interestng that, done well, book signings are exhausting.
So, we looked at rows and booths and tables of books. Stacks and boxes and heaps of books. Children's books, political commentary, cookbooks and countless others. See something you like? A friendly sales rep will be happy to give you more information. For bookstore owners, this was nirvana. Fun times, and very different than the Science Fiction conventions we usually attend -- I didn't see a single Klingon or storm trooper, which I'd assumed was a legal requirement for a convention.
Writing Schedule Changes
By: Mike Oct 11, 2009
We have some news, whether it's good or not depends on what your favorite books are. As many of you know, Patty's been falling behind on her book delivery schedule for the past couple of books. It's been hard on her, and even harder on her editor and all the folks to try to make sure that all the errors get caught before publication. Rather than continually bumping back publication dates, she's changing her schedule.
Upon completing Silver Borne, Patty won't start working on the next Alpha and Omega novel, she'll instead begin editing her first-ever book, Masques. Those of you searching for this book know it's hard to find, and prices are outrageous. It also has a number of little problems that mark it as a first book — the sort of thing authors always want to fix. ACE is going to re-publish it, and is giving Patty the opportunity to re-work it.
But wait, there's more! Masques has an unpublished sequel, Wolfsbane. Patty's also going to rework that book, and bring it into print at long last. Hopefully, this will not only result in three books getting published next year, it should also give Patty a jump on writing the next urban fantasy, so she can get back on a proper delivery schedule. Unfortunately, it also means that there won't be an Alpha and Omega novel next year.
Hardcover Edition of Moon Called
We've had a number of people writing about bringing the early Mercy Thompson novels out in hard cover editions. Bone Crossed is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen, but it apparently bothers people to have the series split between hard cover and paperback. Patty's editor talked with the folks who make such decisions, and they've agreed to bring Moon Called out in a hardcover edition. Cool huh?
Paperback Edition of Bone Crossed
But wait a minute. What about the readers who have the first three books in paperback, and want Bone Crossed in a matching format? We just got some lovely cover flats, as well as the news that the paperback will be released in February of 2010. See, good news all around!
By: Mike Oct 31, 2009
A few times a year we travel to attend conventions. The Pacific Northwest is our home (especially if you're generous enough to include Montana), and we seldom stray far from the familiar deserts and mountains here. Necronomicon is a mid-sized convention located in Tampa Florida, and Patty was invited to attend as GOH. Naturally we accepted!
So, we hopped on an airplane and flew down to the warm, sun-drenched land of palm trees and sparkling waters. We were met at the airport by Ann and Kendal, who whisked us off to the convention. Our hosts were warm and friendly, chatting as if we'd known them for years. I kept hearing Jimmy Buffet songs in my head, blame it on the jet lag. They dropped us off at the hotel, and we promptly went to sleep to the sound of the air conditioner cooling the October night.
The convention was as close to perfect as I've seen. Big enough to attract some extremely talented people, and support a plethora of programming and other activities. Small enough that you run into the same people every day, and feel like you're among family. The convention ran like clockwork, with the only dark spot being an unknown individual bent on vandalism. Grrr.
One sad side-note. Our little travel camera has finally failed us, and our photos are all blurry. With a bit of effort you can pretend it's avant-garde rather than a failed auto-focus.
There were a large number of extremely articulate self-published and small press authors at the convention; and we had a grand time in between panels comparing "notes from the trenches" and experiences. Every time we think we just about know how the publishing game is played, we find new facets. The industry is changing, and everyone's crystal ball seems to be predicting a different future. One thing's for certain is that the next few years are going to be interesting!
One notable highlight was meeting Catherine Asaro. She's written some seriously awesome science fiction, beginning with Primary Inversion. I read her biography, and was a little intimidated. Ph.D.in Physics from Harvard, ballet, piano, former president of SFWA, and the list just goes on. Naturally, she also has to be stunningly beautiful. You know, the kind of multi-talented overachiever you'd love to hate. Except that, in person, she was charming, self-effacing and genuine. In short, the kind of person you'd like to have as a friend.
I've several times talked about authors doing homework for their books, but Mrs. Asaro has above and beyond. Her latest book features a rock singer. She not only wrote the lyrics to the songs, she started a band, work out arrangements, and cut a CD. She was kind enough to actually host a performance as part of the convention, and they were really good. Let's hear it for going the extra mile for authenticity.
Patty and I would like to sincerely thank the staff of Necronomicon. It was, seriously, an excellent convention. Thank you for having us, we had a blast.
Bless the Readers
By: Mike Oct 28, 2009
As Bob Dylan once wrote, "The Times, They are A-Changin'". The publishing industry is currently in a state of flux: e-books, format wars, release schedules, region restrictions, DRM and piracy create a minefield of social and legal issues. Tempers flare, accusations fly, and readers and writers are both trying to adapt to the shifting landscape and redefine social mores.
Bless the readers of the world, for they have good hearts. We recently got a letter from a reader who was concerned about supporting authors, and wondered if it was appropriate to visit used book stores or even use a library. After all, she reasoned, the author didn't get a payment for those things. Somehow, just knowing that there was someone actually worried about doing the right thing put a little bounce in my step and a smile on my face. So, for all the other readers secretly harboring any feelings of guilt or uncertainty, let me absolve you of any guilt.
Used book stores are amazing, magical places. We love them. Most of them are crowded, cramped with bookshelves spilling over. Thousands of stories, from classic pulp to last-week's best-selling thriller await discovery; eager to share their myriad secrets with a fortunate new owner. It's like going to the pound, except that you can adopt them by the gross, and they don't wet the carpet. Remember that awesome high fantasy you read in high school, that story that fueled your D&D campaign for months? It's sitting there, just across the aisle from the out-of-print mystery you started only to find the last chapter missing. Sure enough, this copy is complete, and you can finally figure out how the butler almost got away with it.
But wait, the author isn't getting anything for that sale. How terrible! Well, maybe authors don't get money, but they get all sorts of intangible benefits. Most established authors have a back list, and it's a rare and fortunate author whose entire back list is still in print. Those titles would be lost and unavailable if it weren't for the used book store. When I stumble onto an author I love, I head to the used book store, where for a few dollars I can feast upon the back list and get caught up. When the next book in their ongoing series finally hits the shelves, guess who's going to be waiting with cash in hand? That's right, me. When I decide I need to re-read, for the umpteenth time, Bujold's Vorkosigan series, and I can't find any of my three or four copies of The Vor Game (did I really loan all of those out again?) the firendly staff at my local Bookworm will take care of me, and I'll probably leave with an Honor Harrington and something by a new author for good measure. It's a lot easier to spend two dollars for a new-to-me author than twenty. Hey, if I don't like them, I can probably get fifty cents back by turning the book back in for credit!
Used book stores and libraries both give readers a chance to explore genres and authors they'd be reluctant to take a chance on a full price. They provide access to books that would otherwise be forgotten or impossible to find. They provide jobs for book lovers, which are the best friends an author could possibly ask for. They create and foster readers. In this day of Nintendo and internet, anything that creates an interest in reading is a boon to authors. Besides, authors want their books to find readers to love them. Their version of immortality owes far more to libraries and used book stores than to the "new arrivals" shelf at WalMart.
So, should you see some tome of Patty's looking back at you hopefully from the discount bin at a used book store, or beckoning from the paperback stacks at your local library, by all means take a chance and take it home with you, guilt free. Authors love to be read.
Regarding Suggestions for the Series
We're running into a little problem lately, and Patty asked me to post a quick note about it. Patty's very fortunate, and there are lots of readers who are excited to see where the books will go next. We've been getting numerous suggestions from readers hoping to help out. In fact, we recently received a very long letter from a reader who had spent a great deal of time and effort laying out a detailed plot line for the next book or two. Her ideas were very, very good. But, there's a problem. (Ever notice how every time I say something's good, I immediately find a problem? I'm beginning to suspect I may be a pessimist at heart.) The problem is that Patty can't even read those letters without risking a lawsuit, or at least a very public censure. When faced with something like that, Patty immediately stops reading, and flags it for my attention. Then I get to read all the letter to her except for the parts dealing with how to write her books.
The problem isn't that the suggestions aren't good. Well, to be honest, not all of the suggestions are good, but some are excellent. The problem is that if Patty uses somebody else's idea, there's a chance that they could sue for copyright violation. For example, that long letter I mentioned detailed a very plausible plot line. It was good. However, the copyright inherent in it's creation rightly belongs to the creator. If Patty based the next Mercy book on it, there would technically be a violation of copyright. Other authors have had scandals start when readers claim that the pivotal idea for the book came from their suggestion, and they weren't properly credited.
Patty's head is, honestly, kind of a cluttered warehouse of ideas and bits and bobs of everything imaginable. The only way to make sure that her ideas aren't accidentally taken from someone else is for her to not read them in the first place. So, she'll happily read letters on almost anything else, and you can certainly point out where she's dropped the ball, or made a mistake, but as soon as you start writing suggestions for further story development, she'll quit reading, and I'll end up reading the rest of your letter to her. Sorry!
Silver Borne Progress
By: Mike Nov 25, 2009
So, I came home the other night, and the house was dark. I walked through the front door and tripped over the vacuum cleaner before I got to the light switch. I took a look around, and saw dishes on the counter where the kids had eaten, and stacks of dirty clothes peeking from the laundry room. Then it dawned on me, the house needs what is euphemistically called a woman's touch, but really means hours of hard work. I know, because it's supposed to be my job to maintain the house. A glance at the cat hair garnishing the sofa confirms that I'm in immediate danger of losing my good housekeeping seal of approval.
So, while housekeeping has supposedly fallen into my hands, the fact is that Patty still does more than her fair share of it. In my defense, I'm usually working, but it's so easy to find projects on this place that laundry doesn't usually top my 'to do' list. The clutter merely confirms what I already know -- there must be a deadline looming.
It took Patty a while to find the threads she wanted to weave into Silver Borne. The right balance of romance and adventure, and more importantly, the right path for several of the characters to follow. There was a lot of writing forward, then retreating to try another path forward. She was more hesitant than usual, and I was beginning to worry. Then, like a bloodhound hitting the sent, she was back on track. She's been doing eight or ten pages a day pretty regularly now, but decided to throw out a large portion of what she'd already written.
The race is on. In fact, like a good pit-crew, I swung by her office yesterday to replace the keyboard she'd worn out. I should probably order another, because they're not built for the kind of abuse she's dishing out! The mad rush of productivity means that she's seldom home, and thus the deficiencies in my housekeeping are becoming glaringly apparent. I'm loading all of her whites into the washer with a couple of pairs of new blue jeans . . . just to send a subtle hint that it's not wise to leave a man alone in the house too long.
Lucky CoyoteWe had several readers send us an email with the story of a coyote who was hit by Honda going 75mph, and became entrapped in the vehicle. The story was charming, and had a happy ending, so I thought I'd pass it on for everyone. Coyotes are surprisingly tough little critters! The original mail has been posted on snopes.com.
By: Mike Dec 14, 2009
Patty's at her office. It's another long day for her. She's been working around the clock trying to finish Silver Borne. It's close — maybe tonight, tomorrow for sure. I'll be glad when she can rest for a little while.
I just finished a great book, Elegy Beach by Steven Boyett, and I've been thinking about it all day. It should have been a warm bit of chocolate-covered brain-candy perfect for a winter's evening of reading. It's unpretentious, a comfort read rather than great literature. . . but it's stuck with me for some reason.
Yesterday I snapped at Patty for leaving her books all over the place. Our house is chock-full of them. There are bookshelves, of course. Stacked two-deep with more books wedged in sideways where there's room and stacked in precariously-towering piles on top. There's boxes of books in the garage, many of them hanging open and stacked several inches over the top. Books peek from under furniture, and between couch cushions. It reminds of the old Star Trek episode about tribbles. The other day I opened up the bathroom cabinet looking for toilet paper, and was assaulted by an unstable stack of books which had somehow come to rest against the cabinet door.
Of all of these books, most are fiction. Oh sure, there's a few intellectual-sounding titles laying around, and a fair sprinkling of technical books, but mostly it's genre fiction. Fantasy, science fiction, romance and a smattering of others. Genre fiction has been a guilty pleasure for me -- I enjoy it, but I always feel vaguely guilty about not reading something more serious. If fiction is mental junk-food, our house shows irrefutable evidence of intellectual turpitude.
So why do we read the stuff? I've been kind of thinking about that today, as my thoughts keep replaying various scenes from Elegy Beach, and I think I have a partial answer. We humans are complex. We can often be petty and selfish and mean. However, there is within us, a spark of something godlike. Sometimes people transcend our expectations and do things that are noble, and selfless and honorable. Those are the times that inspire us, that make us want to be better, that assure us that there is something worth saving in the human race. Now I'm on a roll, and I want to cite Hamlet's "Oh what a piece of work is man." speech, but I'll restrain myself (mostly because someone would doubtless feel compelled to point out that Hamlet presumably intended it as bitter irony).
However, I think there's a grain of truth there. Real heroes, of course, don't brag and usually their deeds remain undiscovered and unsung. So authors invent fictional creations, and imbue them with the very best attributes: honor, charity, selflessness. We see them, in the pages of our pulp addiction, modeling the behaviors we hope to be capable of ourselves. It's a line in the sand, an ensign, a glimpse of morality in a world without morals. Sure the stories are just make-believe, but as I read I find myself reflecting upon my very mundane life, and asking how I measure up. It's a chance to examine our beliefs and values through another lens, to first read the page, then direct our gaze inward and ask, "What if?"
Once in a great while, life provides an opportunity to play the hero, to rise above our own concerns and self interest and do something noble, if only in a small way. When those opportunities come, we readers feel the weight of a thousand heroes whispering, "Sally forth, and return with honor!" In those moments, we find the reward for our addiction.