Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mark of Good Criticism

Lately there's been a big to-do about authors who stalk their reviewers. In particular, this.

I'm not that far into my career, personally, and I have yet to wade into the world of book bloggers, Amazon, and Goodreads reviews. But I do have some material online, on +Wattpad. And I do, in that fact, have exposed myself to reviews. Or rather, criticism.

And I'd like to think that I know the difference between constructive criticism and mean-spirited, unhelpful, envious spew.

Case in point: while I was posting the chapters for RoboNomics Book I, I had a single piece of trolly, pointless criticism. I blogged about it. It was hurtful, basically declaring the story 'boring'. But this being Wattpad, I just deleted the damn thing. Especially since it was posted by an account without a picture, that followed no one and was followed by no one, and was obviously just created to troll me.

This week, I got another negative review of RoboNomics Book II. Unlike the first one, this was from a regular, supportive reader. Unlike the first one, it had merit. It was worded a tad snarkily -- and was enough to send me (almost) into a spiral of doubt.

Being a writer and making the decision to put your thoughts out there means forever battling with self-doubt. This is a well-known fact. It takes courage, especially for a sensitive person, to put one's story or stories out into the harsh world. So even the slightest hint of positivity can send me into throes of euphoria, and even the slightest hint of negative can send me into the throes of depression.

But this time was different. I couldn't just forget it. When I read the criticism in the evening, I was all ready to turn on Netflix to something stupid, wallow in a massive bag of M&Ms, and just try try try and forget about it.

But instead I ate a handful of candies, watched a single episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender and went to bed early. I let it simmer.

And in the morning, I realized that my critic was right: there is something off about RoboNomics Book II. I know what it is, and I know how to correct it.

That's the major difference between the two types of criticism. One is unhelpful. It deserves to me ignored because it's all about that other person. It has to do with their own issues, and has nothing to do about the work. I can let it roll off my back. I can easily forget it.

But the other kind of criticism cannot be forgotten. It's helps me grow as an artist, see the work from a different light, and solve problems. It is to be cherished, even.

Is this a mark of maturity? Well, we'll see. I'm sure I'll come across a ton more negative commentary in the future. Let's hope I respond as graciously as I did this time...

In short, I'll have to keep this in mind:

(Except that part about suicide. I'm not really down with that).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My First Experience with a Tweet-Chat: #NanoPrep

So last week, I think it was Wednesday -- I decided to participate in my first Tweet-chat: this one revolving around the hashtag #NanoPrep.

It was okay. Like everything in life, it wasn't quite what I expected. Granted, I was only able to make it through half the chat because I had to start working, but it seemed like a lot of talk and not so much action to me.

Action? As in, what? I guess I was hoping to make a couple friends. I guess I thought it might be a good way for this lone wolf to connect with other writers. But instead it was a whole bunch of folks trying to one-up each other.

And, in fact, I've been finding that more and more lately about Twitter. The communication medium has so, so much potential. But just like Facebook has become a cesspool of ignorance and hate, Twitter these days it just feels like one big competition for followers. Oh, I could enter that competition. I could pay a whole whack of monies to have more followers than you. But I'm not down with that. I just want to be myself, like I have with everything I've done on the internets.

I'll still use Twitter, no doubt. It's still a good resource, it's still great for communicating with those who actually want to read what I have to write, and for others who are high-minded enough to keep out of the followers competition and the smut of shaming, blaming, and defaming other people. But live-tweeting? Tweet-chats? Ugh. Pass. My life is not defined by a race to be as cleaver as possible in 140 characters.

In other related news, here comes NaNoWriMo barreling around the corner! Ahhhhhhhhhh!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Experiments in Video


This entry is most likely going to end up being a transcript of my first appearance in online video.

The truth is, I am terrified of video. I've thought about wading into that medium before now, but I've always shied away from it. I'm a writer, I thought, what do I need to make videos for?

And so, other than my totally awesome book trailers, I've kept out of the vlogging scene. And not only because I think my voice recorded is the weirdest sounding thing I've ever heard. Also because it seems to be that it's a saturated medium. You could say the same for print, but at least there I know I've got unique, original, interesting thoughts and stories to share. It seemed whenever self-published authors start making videos, it's all about how to interest your sales. And they use the same tactics they just outlined to try and get you to buy some course about how to increase your book sales. That's one hamster wheel I'm just dying to not be on.

Force the Issue

However, now that I've decided that I'm going to launch a Patreon campaign, it's time to say hello to video. Also, I've been invited to join a Google+ Hangout during Nanowrimo to talk about authorly type things. And so it's time for me to suck it up, start honing my public image, and get comfortable with being on camera.

So, I think basically what I'm going to do is aim for a video once a week, and really just talk about the things that I've always talked about: stuff that interests me. If you've been reading my blog regularly, you'll know that this includes speculative fiction (since that's what I write), philosophy, music, popular culture sometimes, robots, automation, artificial intelligence, classic literature, and maybe even theoretical physics.

That's it. That's my introduction to my videos, vlogs, YouTube channel. Whatever you want to call it. Welcome and I'll work on this. We'll talk more later.

(Thank god I already have some video editing skills. At least I don't have to reinvent the wheel on that one!)

Okay, here's the video version:

I'm going to keep them unlisted, and not going to enable comments on YouTube. Not comfortable with that yet. But hey, free feel to comment here! Bye!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Titles and Covers - Already an Update: Conlang, ideographic writing systems, and book cover design

So I've been thinking a lot about those book covers I mentioned yesterday, and I think I've hit on it: I'm definitely going to go with the icon option. And the language option.

See, the thing is, the primary language that I've created for my little world of high fantasy (Omorbia) is the Tree language. Yes, that is what it's called. And the basis for the written version of the Tree language is a pictographic or rather ideographic writing system. Each of the 22 written letters of that alphabet represent concepts or ideas. So what not just match up an idea to its corresponding book and adopt that as the book's icon?

A sample of written Tree, from one of my notebooks
There's only one problem with that. It means that I'd have to create a book cover not from a public domain or creative common image. I won't be able to fool everyone into thinking that I'm not too shabby at this whole graphic design aspect of my endeavours. No, since the Tree doesn't exist in the world outside my writings, I'll have to design the font, and the stylized, iconic book covers from scratch. Eep!

I actually have tried to the font once before. It did not go well. If only there was a way to just take a picture of each letter and then have it instantly, magically appear as a font. Oh well, that's not going to happen unless there are thousands of people who want to perform this one weirdly niche action. If you want something done right, you'll have to go back to the fontstruct drawing board. At least for now.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Messing Around with Titles and Covers

A terrible first attempt

So I was reading this +Wattpad book the other day called "Cracking the Wattpad Code." I've been following its progress since I am very interested in the way that Wattpad ticks. No secret here: I do want RoboNomics in particular to be successful on Wattpad, and I'm not willing to let it go on chance. I'm wiling to use any trick I can, and stock my literary granary with any resource I can. (awkward metaphor? I thought of arsenal and weaponry first, but war comparisons are extremely overused).

Anyways. It was the latest chapter that has my attraction. "Tiny tweaks that yield BIG results" is a chapter about how book covers, description, and one's profile can help or hurt number of reads.

But I am very attached to RoboNomics' covers. They could use some tweaking in terms of having the aspect ratios match better, but other than that, they are good. I've received compliments on them, even. The descriptions of book books could perhaps use some tweaking to make it more obvious what the books are actually about, but the covers are just dandy.

My Tales of Omorbia book, on the other hand, needs some help. Still limping along, I figure maybe messing around with the cover and description wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Original title and cover
So I've tried to make everything about the cover and title, as well as the description, a bit more transparent from a reader's perspective. The original title is unique, but vague. And the original book cover makes it look more like a horror story than the beginning of an epic fantasy.

But what does the cover of an epic fantasy series look like? That really depends: on the story, on the audience I'd like to capture. The fact that I've made up languages for Omorbia and been snarled into the tangled world of constructed languages might appeal to Tolkien fans, which would mean I should put runes or some such on the cover. But making up a language for a high fantasy series is hardly original, and is a little beside the point.

I could focus on the fact that it is a long series in the high fantasy genre, and make my covers resemble the cheesy, cartoonish depictions found on covers of books in that genre. By besides hating those covers, my story doesn't really follow along the same formula as most high fantasy series (the Monomyth). Or I could follow in the footsteps of one of Young Adult literature's most famous fantasy series, and submit to the cartoonish illustrations.

New title and cover
Perhaps something iconic. Maybe I should go with just one single central logo that represents the story, like A Song of Fire and Ice books. That might be best. But then what would I settle on as the icon that represents this story? What do you think I should do?

While I've been debating these nuances, I've at least come up with a new title. "The Mage's Apprentice", as I've argued before, is completely and utterly unoriginal. But it has the advantage of being simple. It states exactly who the story revolves around, and hints at what it is about.

And so settled on a name, I've also made a mock-up of a new cover. It's terrible. It looks like a cook book. Sure, it is representative of a major element of the story; i.e. Vadier's magical practice, but it's just not a fantasy book cover, is it?

The thing is, I do love the colours and the elements. I think it's original and what's move, it can be used as a series.

Nanowrimo is nearly here and I've been thinking about the cover for the book I'll write in November, the second in the Omorbia series. And wouldn't it be nice to have matching covers?

The title for Book II is again, super simple states exactly who the book is about and what you can expect from the story. But now I've got a "how-to build furniture the amish way" book cover. It matches, but it's not fantasy.

So I've obviously got some more work to do. I'll keep you updated about how it goes. And let me know if you have any ideas for me! I am stuck on this one aspect of marketing. I've got to stop shaking my head around and think of some icon from Book I that I can use on the cover. And then I've got to produce a cover! Oh boy, back to the drawing board...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Philosophy Thursday: Lessons learned from The Four Agreements

So last night, still affected by that talk between Laverne Cox and bell hooks, I decided to read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a tiny little volume, but chok-a-block full of helpful tidbits. Especially for me, especially lately when I seem to be going through profound bouts of despair from origins and reasons unknown.

Call this a book report, more than a review...

The Four Agreements could be considered, if you're feeling cynical enough, a self-help book. But I don't really see it that way. The hallmark of self-help, as I see it, is pathologization. It holds the assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong with you, and that you need fixing. Self-help is structured, as I see it, so that you will never actually find the 'cure' for the disease of yourself. You will always need to buy another book, attend another expense course, you'll always be attempting to fix yourself to the benefit of others.

But I see The Four Agreements as different from this. Rather than trying to fix yourself to suit those around you or your environment, it's more about accepting yourself unconditionally, and adjusting your attitude to your environment and those around you. Call it applied philosophy, then. The basic premise of the book is that we are taught, from birth, to form 'agreements' with others. Like the handshake. The form of, and performance of, the handshake is an agreement. You saw it performed as a child between adults, you tactically agreed on its meaning, and then eventually you started performing it yourself.

That's a pretty mundane example, but you can extend that you include nearly everything you do in life. So the book explains that if you want to return to yourself and the childish happiness you experienced before you agreed to any of this arbitrary adult life, you have to throw out every agreement you've ever made with the world. And instead, replace it with just four:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don't take anything personally.
3. Don't make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

And that's it. It's a short volume that I read in a single evening.

But I really have the feeling that it's written backwards. I feel like I might have been more receptive to the process had "Always do your best" been presented first.

1. Be impeccable with your word.

This one takes the most courage, for me. It has nothing to do with good grammar, or being an awesome public speaker. It is basically be aware that words have power to influence and to actionalize, and to speak and write accordingly. Don't gossip. It also mean to not lie to yourself, to not be something you're not, to not hide yourself in order to fit in.

That's the part that is most difficult for me. Because, like everyone, I just want to fit in.

When it comes to this blog and my writings on Wattpad, I think I've been good. I've presented myself in a certain way, and I've stuck to that message. But in real life, surrounded as I am by people who have 'real jobs', who are professionals and who, when faced with under-employment, are bored; I have a hard time representing myself as I am: as a writer. It depends on my level of trust. If I trust you, I'll tell you about my writing. If I don't trust you, I'll fall back on the 'teacher out of work' lie and hide behind it. I don't even have proper business cards yet. It's something I have to work on. Living my truth in my "outside of Internet" life.

2. Don't take anything personally.

This one is about reacting to other people. Nothing that people ever do or say is about anything other than themselves. It's never about me. If you realize that, a lot of hurt can just fall away. You don't have to be reactionary to others' actions, because you can realize that they are walking around in their own version of reality, and are reacting to their own perceptions and thoughts. If they attack me verbally, that's their deal and they have to live with it, not me.

3. Don't assume anything.

This is the one which my personal ethics fits into. Basically it's about taking people where they are, as they are, rather than as I'd like them to be or where I think they are.

But it also means not to assume that people can read your mind. It means that you have to ask for what you want and what you need. Also a thing that I have to keep in mind and practice, although I'm actually not as bad as that as I am at #1. Perhaps the reason why I think they should be written backwards.

4. Always do your best.

It also should be written backwards because this agreement supports the other four. It basically states to do your best on each agreement. The caveat being that 'your best' is going to change from moment to moment, and doing 'your best' doesn't mean doing 'the best'. So don't beat yourself up, basically.

In fact, the point of doing this is that you can free yourself from guilt, shame, etc. Doing your best in these three other areas are meant to make you free, return you to yourself, and the happiness you felt as a child in just doing, just being.

Final Word

It's a simple set of agreements, but I can already see how they can change things. There's more in the book: about how life is a dream (and how to make it a lucid dream), some extras about prayers and god that I consider a bit needless to the main message, but the agreements are the core of the book.

I got the copy I read from the library, but this is one of those books I'll want to re-read constantly, so I am considering buying myself a copy. In fact, the contents of The Four Agreements mesh so well with how I've been thinking of things lately, it might even become a 'best friend book.' I'll wrap with a song that's been in my head these days, that sort of goes with the theme of the book:

(At least it's not 'Heal the World'. I can never get over the fact that they played that song over the PA system of my Catholic elementary school every day for a year after Oh, Canada and the lord's prayer. Yeesh!)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Confessions of a TV Addict

Reading Voraciously

So yesterday afternoon, after all my work was done for the day, I decided to idle a little and check out a talk between bell hooks and Laverne Cox at the New School in New York City. I usually watch any talk made available between bell hooks and anybody. It was an interesting talk that I enjoyed, and it reminded me that I have to get back to that promise to myself I made a long time ago to read and re-read bell hooks' opus of work. It is on the list. It's a very long list of "books and works I'll read one day."

I was first introduced to the works of bell hooks, like the works of Emmanuel Levinas, Paulo Freire and other thinkers whose works I was enamoured with at the time. Up until then, I'd learned all about the classical, and then analytical, philosophers of the Western cannon. It was always interesting to learn about their theories, and I was always especially intrigued with their theories of mind, of knowledge, and of thought. But it always seemed their age-old theories were like artifacts displayed statically, under spotlights, in a museum case: devoid of context, devoid of soul. The scales didn't fall from my eyes until my master's program started and I read about hooks, Levinas, Freire, and others.

But that's besides some of the points I want to make in this blog post. During the talk, when bell hooks is talking about meeting Janet Mock and reading her book, she says that she read it in a single day, since she has a habit of reading one non-fiction book a day.

I nearly fell out of my chair. A book a day? I thought. How is that even possible?? (This coming from me -- someone with a fairly slow reading speed).

Really? My better self butts in. Is the thing you took away from this talk that bell hooks reads more voraciously than you've considered humanly possible? Really??? That's a good, critical question. And one that I'll have to get into another day.

In the meantime, I think about the resolutions I made to myself for 2014, and especially the one for which I promised myself to write 20 books of fiction during all of 2014. And for an aspiring writer of fiction, it now seems pitiful.

I know what I was doing. I was trying to be kind to myself. It was the first time I've ever made such a resolution, and so I wanted to guarantee that I was able to obtain the goal easily. But instead of overcoming that goal in the first six months, instead that number of 20 has been a way to let myself off the hook. Now it's October and I'm still hopelessly far from my goal.

And the ironic thing is, perhaps because of my reading speed and schedule, a single book (of fiction, for me) read each day is an unobtainable goal (I tried it last night. I was up until 1 a.m. and woke with a painfully dried eye), but I could go better. I can easily see how I can carve out hours in my evening for reading hundreds of page a day. And how can I carve it out? By not watching so much darn TV.

But the TV!! It's my friend

The problem -- or rather, the challenge for me is that I am a TV addict from way, way back. When I was a child I would run home from school to watch 'my shows' such as Alf. I loved Alf when I was about eight. Later, no matter the weather, I would stay inside on a Saturday so I could watch Xena: Warrior Princess or Sailor Moon (yeah, I like those shows back then. They had strong female leads, and I was 13).

My addiction to television has followed me through my life, but it's not always served me well. Sure, I've always have a preference for TV shows with strong fantastical elements and narratives. And maybe that's taught me a thing or two about writing, but what I'm not writing is a television show. So I've always considered that reading fiction would be an infinitely better teacher.

It's like this: you ever hang out with someone like a friend or loved one a lot, and one day you do or say something that you feel isn't quite you. It's the feeling of that person "rubbing off on you". I've always had this ability to identified that tendency in myself and I'm always surprised by it. Because as arrogant as I am, I'd like to believe that my thoughts and words and deeds are uninfluenceable. But thinking that is a danger. We are all influenced constantly by outside forces: be they friends, family, books, and TV.
NYC #3 by Thomas Leuthard
CC License Attribution 2.0

So I want my life to head in a certain way. I want to write fiction, so I should allow my pattern of thoughts and words to be influenced by writers of fiction rather than by the TV.

I still want to enjoy certain of my favourite shows, but I am much more inclined to keep it down to an hour a day (or less) and use the rest of my evenings for reading. Especially now I realize I can do more with my time: that I can read more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Need to Know the Value of My Work...and Yours!

My Choices as An Artist, A Refrain

The other day I read an article about Lena Dunham's book tour ("a 12-city extravaganza"! -- seriously, book tours are never a big deal), and about how the organizers of the tour were planning to not pay local 'opening acts'.

The author of the article makes a good point -- that 'content creators' as we're often referred to now in business-speak, are always the ones who are shafted for pay. And yet whole industries -- from the movie industry to the music industry, books, newspapers, fashion, and others -- would not exist without us. But we're all supposed to have this attitude of 'a million girls would kill for that job' and be grateful to have the tiny crumbs thrown to us by the middlemen who make their livings off of our toils.

So how does my attitude that artists shouldn't be taken advantage of mesh with my decision to make my own work as freely available as possible? For me, that's an easy answer. By being my own boss.

I don't view myself as devaluing my work by posting my stories for free on Wattpad, nor for planning to eventually make my novels available through a 'pay what you can' model. Rather, I see it as a way to stick to my personal ethics while at the same time retaining power over my work and how it is made available. I have decided not to give over the rights to sell my work to others, and so I am not beholden to anyone to write what they want me to write, or to take advantage of my readers so that another dollar can be put into the pocket of someone whom I'll never have contact with and who may not deserve it.

I realize my tone is slightly inflammatory. And I realize that literary agents, editors, and designers all have their own important roles to play in the publishing of books. But I would much rather work with professionals in collaboration rather than hand over my work to a monolithic company to be exploited. It's the same reason that I won't seek corporate sponsorship for my blogs, and why I don't seek government funding for my novels. I am determined to write what I have to write with no other compass than my muse. That's all.

Again, as I said in my other blog post on the subject, this is a very personal decision, and one that will not work for every writer or artist. We each have to pick our own way. The way I choose is to run my work like a small business, to be as generous to my readers as I can rather than becoming a cog in someone else's machine.

My only publishing expense so far
A Problem

Having said all that, there is a problem with this model. It's a problem that has plagued me for years in the abstract. That is the problem of professionalism.

So far, I think I've done well on very minimal resources. I've attempted to focus on the writing itself and its improvement, rather than on all the pricey distractions. Because in the self-publishing industry (and even in the traditional publishing industry), there are so very many. When I first decided back in 2010 to take my writing seriously as a profession, the first thing I did was research. I had no idea where to begin and I needed some resources.

And in beginning that research, I found out that being an amateur writing could be a pricey endeavour indeed. Luckily, I had no money. And so I had to dig for the free resources.

Over the last four years, I've spent next to nothing on producing stories. I've published on +Wattpad which has been a big help, and other than a couple images that I bought (because they were and are exactly what I needed to help promote RoboNomics), my 'business' expenses have been nil. I did take a writing course, which was a large expense -- but a personal one.

And I'm proud of what I've put out there so far. My images look snappy and smart, I've been able to create this blog and others which have continuous momentum, and I have a website. But I have big dreams, my friends. I envision being able to hire a professional editor before my work goes to ebook in 2015 (spoiler alert!). I would like to be able to collaborate with designers on book covers, merchandise, sketches of robots that appear in RoboNomics, maps of Omorbia, et cetera. I have many ideas that require capital that I just don't have.

A Solution
Henry Wriothesley, Jr., One of
Shakespeare's Patrons. Uploaded by
flickr users LongLiveRock,
used under Creative Commons 2.0

I've dreamed of an artistic patron for a very long time. Patrons, I figured, believed in one's work without trying to control its progress. With a patron, I thought, I would be able to write without having to worry about where the money was coming from. Which is an ideal situation.

The only thing is, the patron system seems to exist nowadays in old movies.

But the other day I was listening to a Creative Penn podcast while cleaning (something I've got to get in the habit of -- so much helpful information there!), and I heard Joanna refer to a website called Patreon.  

She only mentioned it offhand, but I had to know more. And what I've found out is that it's a website that basically allows folks to become an artist's patron for a couple bucks a month or per piece of content.

It sounds like a dream.

It's not like Kickstarter, exactly, which I've always considered and then shied away from. Because rather than a single big project, Patreon is a way to fund artists who are continuously creating small things such as this blog post. It also means that as a writer, I wouldn't have to have funds available in advance for planned 'rewards' like on Kickstarter. There are rewards offered, of course, but they can be something like a Google Hangout rather than say, a leather-bound, gold-lettering embossed copy of my book. So much more doable.

I'm already planning. I'm already thinking about the vlog (eep!) and how I can use Patreon to puts funds into my writing endeavours. I really don't want to use it to 'fund my life' -- I don't want to use any money raised that way to buy one million espressos or moleskin notebooks or anything. I just really see it as opportunity to forward my goals for my art, and to add a professional edge to my works.

And the best part about all this is, that through Patreon folks can fund my art if they choose to, and if they don't choose to fund me, my stories and blog posts will still be free for them to access and enjoy.

Does that make sense? What do you think? Do you have a different plan for funding your art or writing? Have you found any other free resources that have helped you achieve your goals? I'd love to hear about it!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Move Complete

I'm finally finished moving. I'll be in this house for longer than I have been in any place since...well, since I left my hometown nearly a decade ago. So I took all of last week to settle in. Also I didn't have internet, so there was nothing else for it but to unpack and set up. Still not done, but I have most of it now.

Next to putting the bed together, I prioritized getting my office organized. It's a work in progress, as I have a lot of move-related paperwork on my desk to get through and because I'm a little afraid of putting holes into our brand new walls to hang things up, but all the books are on the bookshelves! And that makes me exceedingly happy.

Writing desk
There are two other bookshelves filled with books along the other wall, so not pictured here. Oh, also my writing desk is this weird murphy-style that opens to reveal a book shelf as well. Maybe I'll have to take you on an office tour when I put the finishing touches on it.

And that empty one is a thing. I am missing one of the tiny plastic brackets that holds up the middle shelf. I hate when stuff like that happens during a move!

Anyways, now that I have the space livable and workable, back to work I go! I know I was remiss in updating RoboNomics and the Tales of Omorbia as well as my blogs, but this week I am getting right back to it! Can't wait for you to read those ongoing stories!