Monday, August 31, 2015

The Three Jaguars: A Comic About Art, Business, and Life

I became a fan of MCA Hogarth's after impulsively backing one of her projects on Kickstarter. Since then, I've been working my way through her books (I just finished Either Side of the Strand last week), but I haven't followed her blog very much. That's a shame, as she offers advice about business management for artists there. In 2013, she put this advice into the mouths of three jaguars--Artist, Marketer, and Business Manager--and into a web comic. The format didn't work as well as she'd hoped, and it didn't run very long. I was disappointed when I found the web comic on her page and realized she wasn't drawing it any more. So when I learned she put the collection out in paperback form, I immediately bought it. You can buy The Three Jaguars: A Comic About Art, Business, and Life at the link.

In this comic, Hogarth introduces us to the three jaguars listed above, each representing a different hat the artist-businessperson has to wear. (The Artist in this book both writes and draws, just like Hogarth.) Together they give advice on such issues as publicity, contracts, negative art, politics, and more. Each character has a distinct personality and different skills. Artist tends to come across as the most naive of the three, as the others have to explain things to her constantly. (On the other hand, without Artist, there would be no need for Marketer or Business Manager.) Hogarth makes her points with humor and cuddles. While this book can't offer advice on specific ways to improve your marketing or how to manage your business, it does illustrate what marketing needs to do, what makes contracts bad, why you should be careful not to discuss politics online, and so on.

Award-winning artist Ursula Vernon says this book is "better than setting your house on fire and fleeing overseas!" (She really does, and it's on the front cover. Read the Foreword for more context.) If you're an artist trying to turn your work into a business, or if you know someone who is, I recommend this book.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Science of the Week: 8/28/15

Today is my son's first day of third grade. Trust me, it'll be newsworthy if we can get him to school on time. (Of course, with first day excitement, we usually do manage to get there before school starts, but it becomes more difficult as the year goes on.)

Here are some of the most interesting science news articles I read this week:

Black holes aren't as black as thought
(Information is stored on the event horizon and so can escape, but it's still useless, according to Stephen Hawking. Unless the information makes it to a parallel universe...)

Researchers identify signature of microbiomes associated with schizophrenia

Crash-tolerant data storage could lead to computers that never lose your data

Blood cleaning device scrubs toxins, pathogens, from the red stuff

Intractable pain may find relief in tiny gold rods

A metabolic master switch underlying human obesity

Driverless cars will change the world, but how exactly?

Hunger drives unethical acts, but only in the quest for food

Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Kindle Editing

I've decided it's time to start editing Chaos Season, the next book in the Season Avatars series. The first step I take in editing is rereading the entire work. These days, I like to do that on my Kindle. By sending it to my Kindle, I can read it in a different format so I can read it with a fresh eye. I can also check formatting at the same time. Whenever I see something I want to add, change, or delete, I highlight it and type a note. It works well for line-item edits but not so well for larger edits, which is what I should really be working on at this stage. However, I can at least take mental notes of sections I want to change. Even though I need to revise the opening chapter (it currently starts right at the end of Scattered Seasons; I need to move the action forward a bit to skip some of the less interesting bits), I still wound up making a lot of line comments on lines that will probably be deleted. It may not be the most efficient way to edit, but I may be better at seeing smaller issues than larger ones. I may need to outline the current draft to check for other plot problems before I revise.

How do you edit your work? Do you use a Kindle or some other way to view it differently?

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Thoughts on the Hugos

Although I bought a supporting membership for WorldCon this year and voted, I didn't stay up to catch the livestream of the Hugo Awards. You can get a sense of what it was like by reading io9's liveblog of the event. It sounds as if some of the skits and special award presenters (especially the dalek) made quite an impression. However, what many of us were wondering and worrying about was whether the Puppies' nominees would win. You can find the list of nominees and winners on the official site for the awards, and only one Puppy nominee (Guardians of the Galaxy) won. "No Award" took five categories, especially the ones stuffed with Puppy nominations. Here are my thoughts on the other winners:

Best Novel--The Three-Body Problem--I discussed this book in my previous post about reading the Hugo nominees. Although the intellectual heft of the science ideas in this book are worthy of the Hugo, I didn't feel they worked well in the story. To me, the way the aliens use these ideas during their invasion of Earth are James-Bond-villianlike in their being over-the-top. Surely aliens with this level of technology (and I was surprised they had it because they were initially portrayed as being behind humans) could come up with more efficient and effective ways of dealing with humans. I would have preferred The Goblin Emperor on a story level for the win. However, The Three-Body Problem is the first translated novel to win a Hugo and thus makes this award more accessible to foreign novels.

Best Novella--No Award--I didn't care much for the works in this category. Some of them felt like excerpts of longer works and probably shouldn't have been in this category to begin with.

Best Novelette--"The Day the World Turned Upside Down"--The central metaphor was overbearing in this story, but it was the best of the finalists and the one I voted for. As in the Novella category, some of the nominated works felt like part of longer stories and didn't belong on the ballot, IMO.

Best Short Story--No Award--Another category dominated by Puppy nominees. I did vote for "Totaled," as I thought that story the best of the nominees.

Ms. Marvel #1--I had a hard time picking between this one and Saga for the Graphic Story category. In the end, I thought the characters in Saga were more complex and interesting, so I voted for that one. To me, some of the characters in Ms. Marvel seemed to be a bit one-note, such as the very religious friend or the clueless blonde concern troll. (The main character, however, did do a good job of questioning her identity and what it meant to be a Muslim-American superhero.) I did like how the parents tried to talk to their daughter to find out what was going on, as it seemed as if they were growing beyond the way they first appeared. Giving the Hugo to this graphic novel is a big step forward for diversity.

Editor Categories--No Award--I was a little surprised that these categories got "No Award," as some of the nominees are well-known professionals. Unfortunately, it appeared both categories were also compromised by ballot stuffing. I will admit that one of the nominees for the Long Form turned down the early draft of Day of All Seasons, my first attempt to tell the Season Avatars' story. I ranked him lower not so much for rejecting me (I had very little writing experience when I wrote that one, and it showed despite my revisions), but for promising to give me feedback and never following up on that. I did rank him above "No Award," though.

I don't follow the other categories and therefore didn't vote in them.

If the nomination process hadn't been messed up this year, the final ballot would have had more diverse works (see here for an analysis). The important thing now is to continue to read widely and think of possible works to nominate for next year. One thing I am trying to do is read more short fiction. I should track the stories somewhere so I remember them in 2016. I'm also open to nominating indie works, so we'll see if any of them make it to the final ballot.

How much did you follow the Hugo controversy this year? What works have you read or seen so far that you think deserve a nomination?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spike The Corpse Flower

My husband and I used to be members of the Chicago Botanic Garden. We would normally visit two-three times during the summer, and we even had wedding pictures taken there. Unfortunately, we can't get out there very frequently anymore, though we still try to see the inside model train exhibit during the holidays. However, there's one special event we haven't seen yet: a blooming corpse flower. Spike, the corpse flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden, is due to bloom any day. (There's another corpse flower in Denver named Stinky ready to bloom too. According to this article, the flowers are even tweeting to each other. Amazing who's on Twitter these days.)

No one is quite sure when Spike will bloom, though it could be tonight. The garden plans to be open until 2:00 a.m. the day of the bloom.  I don't have the stamina these days to get up in the middle of the night (though I'd still be awake anyway) and drive nearly an hour to smell something terrible, so I'll just have to settle for following Spike at this link.

How familiar are you with the corpse flower? Have you seen or smelled on in person?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Which Heroes and Heroines Make the Best Role Models?

I'm currently reading How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned From Reading Too Much, by Samantha Ellis. The author takes us on a literary tour through her life on the books she read during different times, how the various heroines influenced her, and how well they stand up to rereads and analysis. Although I haven't read all the books she discusses, it's still interesting to read.

Ellis used different literary heroines as her role models at different stages in her life. For me, I don't think I've ever done that to the conscious extent she did. Heidi was probably the closest I came to a literary role model in middle school and early high school. At this point, I'm not sure what drew me to her; perhaps it was her innocence and simple happiness. She may have helped influence my interest in religion at that point in my life. Other heroines I read about fairly extensively include Dorothy from the Oz series and Nancy Drew. There have been other books and series I've enjoyed a lot, such as Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, but perhaps I've read so many different books that each one has a small effect on me. It might be more accurate to say that like Walt Whitman, "I am large, I contain multitudes." It's a rare book that can stand out above that crowd.

Are there any heroes or heroines who were role models for you? If so, who are they, and what drew you to them?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Science of the Week, 8/14/15

Here are some of the most interesting science news articles I read this week:

Fermilab experiment sees neutrinos change over 500 miles
(I visited Fermilab during high school and am glad it's still in active use)

Abusive men put female partners at greater sexual risk, study finds

Here's what science is learning about zombie cells
(They're talking about cells with disrupted DNA)

Parental experience may help coral offspring survive climate change

Salt flat indicates some of the last vestiges of surface water on Mars

Loss of altruism (and a body plan) without a loss of genes

C-sections could influence babies' ability to focus

Paving the way for a faster quantum computer

Don't panic, but the universe is slowly dying
(not to depress you or anything)

You can get cautiously excited about this fusion power "breakthrough"

Octopuses "are aliens," scientists decide after alien study

Competition from cats drove the extinction of many species of ancient dogs 
(this should be no surprise)

Could flu someday be prevented without a vaccine?

Algorithm aims at combating science's reproducibility problem

Humans responsible for demise of gigantic ancient mammals

Tetris can block cravings

Grammar: eventually the brain opts for the easy route
(but I refuse to give up my Oxford comma!)

Have a good weekend, and see you on Monday!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Are You Part of Your Marketing Audience?

I stumbled across this blog post by Patty Jansen on Tuesday, and it got me thinking. It's titled "Why you are the biggest impediment to selling your books," and I recommend you read it. The gist is that authors may settle for poor marketing advice from their friends, or even follow their own tastes, without realizing that they're not part of their target audience and so aren't reaching them. Sometimes authors may be unwilling to experiment with their marketing techniques or be aggressive enough with their marketing. The point Patty ends up making is that you should pay attention to how successful people market their books, not how you want to be marketed to. I guess this is a new version of the Golden Rule: Don't market unto others as you want done to you.

Patty also concludes with the point that "You are not in your target group." I admit I find this line baffling. Aren't you supposed to write the books that you care about? Wouldn't that make you part of your own target audience? Or does she mean that you have to reach people with a certain set of behaviors you are unlikely to share? I imagine these are the people who not only like your book but are well-connected and are good at providing the word-of-mouth recommendations writers need. I'm still not sure what's the best way to target such people, though.

Are there certain marketing techniques you refuse to use? If so, what are they? Did you try them out before dismissing them?

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Writer's Retreat--From Home

Normally when I take a day off from work to write, I spend the day at home. Last Friday, however, I took the opposite approach and hung out elsewhere. I had to run a couple of errands first, so I didn't get to start as early as I planned. (It didn't help that I had to drive to the other side of town on a wild goose chase, though I picked up something I needed on the way back.) Still, by 10:00 or so I was at my first planned stop of the day: a coffee shop.

I'm currently juggling four different stories, and my goal for Friday was to get past the 10,000 word count for two of them, Fifth Season and "The Unnumbered World." I not only broke that word count for Fifth Season at the coffee shop but went nearly another thousand words past that. I had lunch, did a little window-shopping, and headed to my next destination--the library. It wasn't that close to the coffee shop, but I had a couple of books to return, I wanted to admire the scenery, and it was closer to my son's daycare.

The afternoon session was more difficult than the morning one. Part of the problem was a lack of working power outlets--I had to switch seats three times before I could charge my netbook, which was running low by that point. Although I had some ideas thought out for "The Unnumbered World", the story wound up heading in a different direction and didn't come easily to me. Eventually I did make my goal for that story and switched to the "Young Seasons" short story collection. I was able to make some progress on an untitled short story that I'd been stuck on for a while.

Altogether, my writing total for the day was about 3,600 hundred words, with an additional hundred words or so added before bedtime. Some weekdays I can't even make it to a thousand words, so I was pleased with my productivity. I'll have to try going out again the next time I take a writing day, but hopefully I won't have to move around so much.

Do you prefer writing at home or finding another place to write? What do you look for in a writing spot?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

IWSG: Writing Time Interruptus

During the week, my main writing times are on my lunch break at work and after my son goes to bed. (On weekends, I can't even count on a lunch break, so I have to scrounge writing time when I can. Sometimes I write in the car while my husband drives.) It's not much time when you consider I may also have to use this time to blog, answer e-mails, or take care of other personal chores. Sometimes I have to prioritize other things, like listening to my son when he's upset about something. Sometimes I'm so drained it's all I can do to eke out a couple hundred words. And sometimes I let myself be distracted by Facebook or something else I find online. The important thing is not to let a temporary issue become a permanent one. Even if one writing session isn't very productive, it's important to keep going.

What interrupts your writing time, and how do you cope with it?

Monday, August 03, 2015

Season Avatars News--Free Book and Cover Wars Contest

A couple pieces of news regarding my fantasy Season Avatars series:

1. I've decided to make Seasons' Beginnings free for August. My goals for doing so are hopefully to gain some more reviews for this book (since it's hard to promote a book without good reviews) and to pique interest in Scattered Seasons. Seasons' Beginnings is currently free on iTunes, Kobo, and now Barnes and Noble. Time to ask Amazon to match them.

2. Scattered Seasons is part of the August Cover Wars for Masquerade Crew. You can vote every day (see the link in the sidebar), and you have up to 25 votes. Obviously I'd appreciate it if you could support Maria Zannini's wonderful cover for Scattered Seasons; however, since you can vote for multiple covers, there are some other great ones there too. (I qualify for additional promotion by the Crew if I feature other covers in this post beside my own, which is why the competition is included here.)

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