Monday, May 4, 2015

On Failure

I was going to write 50,000 words during April for Camp NaNoWriMo. I was going to finish my current WIP ahead of LDStorymakers, now less than 2 weeks away. I was going to work more at my freelance writing job. I was going to exercise daily and eat fewer calories. I was going to do a lot of things.

Instead... I didn't. I wrote NO fiction. I increased my freelance hours by a mere fraction of what was possible. I gained weight - and it's not muscle.

Part of my failure is because I had to shift priorities, part of it is because of my continuing addiction to social media (curse my interesting friends saying interesting things!), and part of it is because, well, I got bored with my WIP's plot, and didn't much care what happened next.

I have great excuses, like being a mother, having a traveling husband, trying to jump-start a new career in mediation, and all sorts of other stuff....

But I wrote more words on Facebook last month than I did in my WIP.

I ate third helpings at dinner even when I was full. And then ate a full helping of dessert. I didn't exercise as often or as hard as I could have, preferring to hurry up to my office to web-surf.

But here's the thing about failure: I don't HAVE to do it today, just because I did it yesterday. Just because I spent the last hour on pointless surfing, I don't have to spend the next three hours on the same thing. My day might be shorter, now, than it should be, but I can still accomplish more than nothing. More than I accomplished Thursday and Friday last week.

Besides, I've finally figured out why I was bored and, though I'll have to rewrite about 5 chapters, my book will be better.

Now if I can ignore that shiny blue F.... Hey! Did you know it's possible to CLOSE the Facebook tag on your browser? So weird.

How do you overcome your own failures?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Roots of Knowledge

Last week, I had the chance to visit Holdman Studios at Thanksgiving Point, where my friend DawnRay Ammon works. If you're ever near there, I highly recommend a visit: The glass they work there is so gorgeous!

Holdman is a glassworking studio that provides the stained glass for many of the world's LDS temples, as well as for other religions. I wasn't allowed to take pictures of the temple glass, but it was amazing to see it all come together, from sketches to individual pieces of glass, to the finished windows.

Holdman is working on a huge project for Utah Valley University right now called Roots of Knowledge. It's a truly epic project that promises to be a major attraction in the UVU library.

I did get to take pictures of the Roots of Knowledge project. This is one of the windows currently being assembled:

DawnRay sent me more pictures, too. This sequence shows the assembly of the Adam and Eve window:

What I didn't know (but should have guessed) is that the detail in the glass is painted onto the individual pieces. They're still assembled like puzzle pieces, but the shading on the rocks and the faces and other detail on Adam and Eve is accomplished by painting the glass before refiring it. Several layers are usually needed to get all the right colors, and they have to be done in a specific order, since some colors are more durable than others, and will survive the repeated firing while still maintaining their hues.

The point of the Roots of Knowledge project is to tell the Story of Man from the creation of the world. This will be the first time it is told with art glass, and Holdman Studios is doing an amazing job.

Whether you're a storyteller in search of plot bunnies, a lover of stained glass, or just someone who loves learning stuff, this series of windows will be amazing. Please consider donating to help bring the project to life.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"No Award" and How to Parent Unruly Children

Old news in the 2015 Hugo Awards debacle is that those who hate the Sad Puppies - not the works on the slate, mind you, but the very idea of public slates, the proponents of the slate, those who agree with the proponents of the slate, and, by extension, every author named on the slate - are lobbying that everyone who hates what they hate should vote "No Award" in every category dominated by the slate, regardless of whether they like any of the works nominated. This, they seem to think, will prove to the Sad Puppies that they cannot continue to present slates for mass voting. (Hmph.)

In response, a contingent of SP supporters, led by nobody-likes-him-and-he-doesn't-care Vox Day, are promising that if the 2015 Hugos are No Awarded out of existence, they'll do the same in 2016. And in 2017. And will continue to do so until everyone stops being mean, shares their toys, and admits that the other side is right. 

Did you get confused, in that last sentence, and wonder which side I was talking about? Me, too.

Since we're already confused, let's talk about my sons for a minute, huh?

I have three sons, all spaced two years apart. By the end of the summer, they'll be 14, 12, and 10. In true brotherly fashion, the 14 year old likes to tell the others what to do, and they HATE that. They respond by telling HIM what to do. He persists in asserting his older-than-thou superiority and they strike back with name-calling, pseudo-ugly gestures ("That wasn't my middle finger, mom!"), and general button-pushing. He grows frustrated at being ganged up on and  allows his temper to get the best of him. Physical threats follow. And are returned. Actual physical violence often ensues. And ends with three angry, crying boys.

Ever since the start of this on-again-off-again war, a few years ago, I've sat down with each of them as the dust settled, and tried to impress upon each what HE could have done to avoid the most recent skirmish. I was universally assured that there was absolutely NOTHING he could have done, as the fault lay entirely with his brother(s). Each would insist that I immediately go talk to his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad brother, and convince him to change his behavior to better comport with the preferences of the one I was conversing with.

No one, you see, was ever responsible for his own actions, as they were always the natural result of his brother's actions.

I have pointed out countless times that they all have ample instances of actual bad things their brothers have done to them in the past. These bad actions can serve forever as justification for whatever retaliation they want to inflict upon said brothers. And their retaliation will be added to their brothers' lists of wrongs, fueling their own righteous indignation... and so on and on until my boys are the next Hatfields and McCoys.

Unless. Someone. Starts. Forgiving.

In desperation, I started selecting family scriptures to memorize. One of the earliest was this, from Proverbs:

Be like Yoda. He can control himself AND take a city.
Then came the hard part: I had to actually stop getting angry, myself.

Screaming at the boys when they were in the middle of a scream-fest only made things worse, I slowly realized. Throwing my own temper-tantrum might have momentarily halted their conflict a time or two, but it contributed to the general idea that yelling was a great, effective way to solve a conflict. Striking them or throwing things only taught them that striking and throwing things was an okay way to react to stress.

THEIR bad behavior was a direct outgrowth of MY bad behavior. Once I changed my behavior, we started to see a lot more peace at home. My more calm and measured responses to their disagreements help to diffuse the conflict instead of adding fuel. The boys still get into it on occasion, but I can see them actually trying to choose better reactions to their brothers' bad behaviors.  It's awesome to watch, even when they fall short of actual harmony.

Which brings me back to the Hugos.

I've had fun watching the sides duke it out, but my fun was tainted this morning when someone on the side I agreed most with started name-calling, cursing, and offering actual physical violence to someone who disagreed with him in a comment thread.





Can we talk for a moment about how we want this to end? 

Do we want to lay waste to all SFF fandom awards? To divide into politically-polarized sides? To someday find that we can't tell our closest friends that we enjoyed a book by a liberal or a conservative author lest we reveal that we've crossed some line in the sand? Do we want to have separate awards, which will be universally derided by half of the fans of the genre as not "legitimate?" How about separate cons, where liberals and conservatives will never have to mingle with each other and so can avoid the actual physical shoving that is coming (and fast)? Should we rename SFF to LibSFF and ConSFF? Lobby book stores to designate separate shelves lest we accidentally like a book whose author we dislike?

Or, we can start to forgive each other for the stupid, mean, rotten things we've all done/said/written. 

We can, a few years from now, find ourselves in a real fandom award show, inwardly hissing for the winning works we didn't like and cheering the winning works we did like while knowing that, at least, we'd had a fair chance to see the award go to the books we liked. Resolving to rally more voters for next year. Blogging afterward about why we did or didn't like the results without once mentioning the personal politics of the authors, except when those politics reflected themselves in their works.

Folks, this is more than the Golden Rule, though that's a great place to start. If YOU don't like a No Award nuclear option, REFUSE to give it legitimacy by threatening to use it yourself. If YOU don't like the nasty conflict in fandom, REFUSE to give it legitimacy by participating nastily. 

If you want everyone to be reasonable, YOU must be reasonable. Usually, you have to do it FIRST.

In any fight - especially those that are recorded forever online and can be reviewed years later by heads free of the adrenaline rush of conflict engaged - the actual winner isn't the one who scores the most points. The winner is whichever side is most gracious. Most reasonable. Most clear-headed. The side which controls its anger, rules its spirit, and doesn't try to take someone else's city.

I wanna be on that side.

Now, since I can't resist, some specific advice:

If you're part of those who don't like how the Hugos are going this year, you have some options short of blowing them up completely. 

1) You can do as Mary Robinette Kowal is doing, actually review all the works on the ballot, and vote for the ones you like the best, ensuring that, at the very least, the most worthy nominees win. You can follow that up by rallying behind your favorite works in next year's nomination process, convince your friends and family to do the same, and get your favorites nominated by sheer force of votes. 


2) You can seek to have WorldCon change how the Hugos are awarded and appoint a contingent of "approved" judges, who will henceforth choose the nominees, review all nominated works, and decide on the winners. Careful with this one, though: You can't guarantee that you'll agree with every judge, and you will lose your individual vote.

What you can't do, of course, is claim that the award represents the voice of all fandom while silencing the fans you don't like. That's got some definitional problems: Either you want everyone to vote or you can't call it everyone's vote. Choose wisely.

If you're part of those who are currently celebrating, keep this in mind:

1) Gracious winners are more important than gracious losers. Sore losers at least have some excuse in the emotion of severe disappointment. Some temper-tantrum throwing is normal, if not quite the "adult" thing to do. The sore winner, however, who is too busy trash-talking to smile graciously and shake his opponent's hand... well, that's a special kind of stuck-up, isn't it?

2) Nothing is more maddening to those who act badly than to receive only kindness in return. Kindness isn't being a door-mat, and it isn't being a victim. Only the truly superior can muster true kindness. Only those who can love their enemies – the ultimate sign of superiority – can see those enemies for all their parts (and not just the parts currently acting badly). If you’ve ever been in a fight with someone who knows you that well, loves you anyway, and refuses to return insult for insult, you know how disconcerting it is.

In conclusion…

Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong. Let’s stop trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong on which point and just rejoice that the speculative fiction genre we love has such a wonderful spectrum of thought, opinion, and creativity.

Larry Correia would tell me, now, that I’m an idealistic fool, and that trying to get people to play nice is useless. He has years of hard experience to back up that opinion, and parts of it are obviously correct: There are those on both sides who will always be rabble-rousers who are hungry for a fight and unsatisfied with a cease-fire. There are those on both sides who are incapable of logical thought and who are ruled by their emotions almost entirely.

But there are also those on both sides who are weary of the conflict, and who are actively trying to calm it down. Larry, for all his fire, is not an illogical rabble-rouser: He fights back, and he hits hard, and he has his agenda, but I've never seen him engage in a conflict for the sake of conflict. Sad Puppies was begun as a campaign to give voice to thousands of fans who weren't being represented in the “ultimate award of fandom” and I truly believe he’d be satisfied to see works he didn't like still win Hugos, if only he could be assured that everyone had a voice in the awards.

Mary, too, though she and Larry see eye-to-eye on very little, is also a friend, and a lovely voice of reason. She is generous with her knowledge and her talents and has been publicly trying to calm the flames for days, now.

I want to give ammo to the peace-makers, no matter what else we might disagree on. I want to convince the fence-sitters that an all-out civil war is not the answer.

I've been a lawyer for over a decade and a mother for even longer, and I can promise you this: Conflict without utterly annihilating the other side resolves nothing. And annihilation is rarely a viable option.

Which side are you on?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Guesting on Writerly Passion

Head on over to Nathan Barra's blog to see my guest post on Writerly Passion.

I love professional writers who have been able to dedicate their lives to writing. I love their dedication, I love their obvious talent, and I love that they are so free with advice on writing.

I don't love it when they say that a writing career is so hard, you shouldn't do it if you can do anything else.

I - all of us - can do anything that's in our hearts that we also put our minds and wills to.

And wonderful books can come from anyone, even if they excel at other things, too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Of Hugos, Sad Puppies, and Worthy Blog Entries

Over the last few years, I've been happily diverted on a regular basis by the plight of The Hugo Awards. The Hugo awards, for those still in the dark, are self-proclaimed as "science fiction’s most prestigious award" since 1955. And they're awarded by anyone who is interested enough to pay $40 for a membership: "The Hugo Awards are voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”), which is also responsible for administering them."

Anyone can join. Anyone who joins can vote. Just, well, if you value your right to live a peaceful, unbullied existence, vote RIGHT. Or is that left? Er... vote CORRECTLY.

Enter Larry Correia, a friend of mine and one of the nicest, most accessible and honest people I know. If you manage to refrain from telling him how he should think, calling him nasty names, or claiming that the entertainment he enjoys is unworthy, he's a wonderful guy. Funny, humble (kinda), eager to share his knowledge on how to become a bestselling author. A real decent sort. Husband to an amazing lady and father to several awesome daughters.

Larry, however, doesn't play well with others when those others want him to conform. He has a loud acerbic potty mouth and he uses it to cry foul in hilarious fashion whenever fouls are thrown.

Larry and the Hugos are not friends.

Three years ago, Larry grew tired of the prevalent idea in the Worldcon community that the only Right and True SF/F deserving of awards also conveyed a Message. Or were written by minorities. Yanno, like women, People of Color, non-heterosexuals, and the like. Because white straight men are, naturally, incapable of writing great SF/F. Or something.

Larry - who, it should be noted, is NOT white - decided to do something about it, and Sad Puppies was born. (Check out Larry's own Sad Puppies blog tag for a more complete history. Just get popcorn and a very comfy chair, first.)

Sad Puppies set out in tongue-in-cheek fashion to expose the bias of the majority of the Worldcon voters by asserting that the then-current voting norms were "the leading cause of puppy-related sadness." The movement urged followers to get involved in Worldcon by voting for well-written fiction that was more entertaining than preachy. Larry proposed a list of worthy titles, but never once suggested that his followers should limit themselves to his favorites.

Three years later, the suggested Sad Puppies 3 - The Saddening - slate dominated the nominations. The vocal message-and-minority loving Worldcon members had a complete breakdown. As they've been doing for years, they've attacked Larry personally, calling him a racist and a misogynist. Brad Torgerson - a white, straight male who only coincidentally has been married to a black woman for the last 21 years - has been helping run the movement this year and got painted with the same brush.

Possibly worse, the authors of works on the Sad Puppies slate have been maligned, regardless of the quality of their work (more on that, below).

Last night, Entertainment Weekly stepped in it. Big time. In a truly reprehensible bit of "journalistic" laziness, the writer (who I'm not naming because shaming her for her laziness isn't the point, and she's obviously not actually affiliated with either side beyond her 30 second bit of "research" for her article) presented the following headline:

Hugo Award nominations fall victim to misogynistic, racist voting campaign

Yeah. The article followed suit, claiming that the Sad Puppies only wanted white males to win... utterly ignoring the presence of women, minorities, and homosexual lead characters in the Sad Puppies slate.

Larry, no stranger to controversy or to lies being spread about him, took to Twitter and Facebook and quickly disabused Entertainment Weekly. As of this morning, when I finally noticed this delicious bit of fun, the article bears a new headline (Correction: Hugo Awards voting campaign sparks controversy) and has been greatly altered. The following disclaimer appears at the top:

CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.
This story has been updated to more accurately reflect this. EW regrets the error.

Well, of course they regret it. Larry may actually sue one of his libelers this time.

What I thought was interesting was that even the "corrected" article still links to Philip Sandifer's blog post, calling it "worth reading in full" and explains that Philip's blog "addresses what this disaster means for the sci-fi world."

Philip's post is entitled The Day Fandom Ended. He spends exactly ZERO time discussing the merits of the nominated works, only detailing the Bad Politics of Vox Day, who fronts a Sad Puppies spin-off entitled Rabid Puppies. He claims that the Hugos are a completely useless award, since books that dare to be liked and promoted by someone with Bad Views have now been nominated. He ends by calling for voters to vote "No Award Given" in every category dominated by the Sad Puppies slate. 
Because, naturally, it is impossible for someone who thinks bad thoughts to like ANYTHING that is good, ergo, NONE of the books on the slate are worthy of the award.
I don't know Vox Day, and I have no idea if the Bad Politics Philip describes are actually his views. Given the way he's blowing everything else out of proportion, I rather inclined to visit a salt mine while I read Philip's denunciations.
But I can't help but echo Larry's oft repeated position: Even if Vox is a Bad Person... who cares? If the Hugo awards are only supposed to be given to Good People who have Correct Politics and who Never Say Anything Wrong (as defined by the message-and-minority-loving Worldcon folks), why do we even bother reading at all? Why do we talk about quality writing and excellent plot and moving themes? Why list blurbs at all? Why not just have every nominee spell out their pedigree, sexual orientation history, and political views, so we can vote on what's Really Important in the SF/F world?
As apparently awful as Larry's position is, I'm rather solidly behind him (mainly because he's a big guy, and I can hide). Books are good if the content is good. Authors may be bad people, but if they write good books, those books are still good. Content is good if I enjoy reading it, if I learn something from it, AND if it promotes good things.
I don't care what my favorite authors' politics are. Do you?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Er... I mean 3000

I recalculated with my handy-dandy spreadsheet, and it turns out I actually have to write 3000 words a day to finish my novel by mid-April. 

At my current top speed, that takes a minimum of 2 hours, 30 minutes. 

And I need to spend 4 hours per day writing other things, for which I get money for food and stuff. 

And 9 hours being a mother and homemaker (6:30-8:30 am, 3:00-10:00 pm). 

And 2 hours being a newlywed (10-midnight). 

And 8 hours sleeping, or else I'll eventually get sick and nothing else will get done.

And 2 hours reading or I'll shrivel up and die for lack of creative stimulation.

And 2 hours (here and there) on exercising, eating, getting dressed, etc.

2.5 + 4 + 9 + 2 + 8 + 2 + 2 = 29.5 hours each day

Totally do-able.

Friday, March 13, 2015

2000 words a day...

So, I have this little self-imposed deadline, where I have to have almost 70,000 words drafted by the middle of next month. In order to do that, I need to write around 2,000 words a day. More, if I want to take Sundays off.

Most days so far, I haven't accomplished that. Or anywhere close.

Here's what I've done instead:

  • Freelance writing (yay money, boo time lost on non-fiction writing)
  • Volunteer writing and editing (yay service)
  • Kids and husband  (yay human connection)
  • Housework and meals (usually while watching Netflix--yay inspiration)
  • Facebook (yay friends)
  • Shopping, dentist appointments, driving kids to school and/or visitation, etc (yay... uh... living?)
  • Blogging (yay outlet)
  • Squirrels! (boo. just boo)
BUT, I've been getting better each day that I've actually sat down and made myself draft. Faster.

Thursday morning I drafted almost 1000 words and then spent some time fine-tuning my outline, so future drafting days can go more smoothly.

At my normal top speed (sometimes I can go faster, but not often), I write around 1000 words in an hour. I'm thinking I need to do more 1k1hr sprints, and leave off the break I take if I only write for 30 minutes. 

Anyway, to hold myself accountable, I'm going to start posting my word count each week when I blog. This'll be fun, no?

What do you do to make yourself write faster?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Writing Routine?

Nathan Bransford asked about writing routines on Wednesday. He described his own routine, which basically consisted of waking up, getting coffee and breakfast, and finally settling down to write.

That sounded nice.

My own routine is a bit more complicated, but I'll describe a day that has the maximum writing time, devoid of pesky things like helping out at the elementary school driving for carpools (happens regularly, but not every day) or taking care of church callings.

6:30 am: Alarm goes off. Spend 30 minutes getting out of bed and getting son and husband out the door with breakfast and lunch.

7:00 am: Writing time! (Except on Tuesdays, when this is get-middle-son-ready-for-debate time)

8:00 am: Wake up elementary kids, continue to write in between nagging them to get dressed and eat breakfast, then take them to school by 8:45.

9:00 am: Breakfast and writing time! And maybe exercise!

10:00 - 3:00: Writing time. Unless I decide to actually unpack something that day, do laundry, clean the house, go shopping, get gas.... When I do write, it's divided between volunteer service writing, paid writing, and actually writing my novel. I try to get 2000 words of fiction every day. That's happened once so far.

3:10-3:30: Pick up oldest from carpool, greet elementary kids. Kiss writing goodbye for the day in favor of homework, dinner, family time, and bedtime. I'm honestly perplexed at how I used to get any writing done after working all day.

That's my best day for writing, folks. Most days aren't like that, though. Lately I've been swamped with helping out at the school, getting my legal name changed (yeah, still), and generally trying to keep my house standing. I really must get better at writing when I only have a 30-minute window to do so, but it's so HARD to get in the zone for 30 minutes. *whine*

Now ask me when I find time to read. That's the real tragedy.

How about you? When do you write?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Consequences, Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

My sons talked me into watching Expelled this week. It's an hour and a half I'll never get back, so I figured I'd spend more time trying to save everyone else from it.

The acting was so-so, with a few moments that rang true and just as many that were forced, canned, or relied too much on charm rather than honest emotion. As a Theatre Arts major with a directing emphasis, I blame the director (who is also the writer, which explains SO MUCH). The actors were talented enough that they could have pulled off a terrific movie if someone had been there to say "Um, yeah, that didn't quite work, did it? What, exactly, does your character want in this scene? What is he doing right now to try to get it? How does he feel about what he's doing?" Yanno, the basics.

But that wasn't the real problem with the movie.

The real problem was that, from the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie, there was no actual change. No consequences. Nothing got significantly better or worse for anyone, even though several of the characters did Very Bad Things.

Let me explain. No, is too long: Let me sum up:

[Spoiler alert. Or whatever.] Prankster Felix pulls one prank too many and is expelled from high school in the first scene. For the rest of the movie, he pulls one felony after another (breaking and entering, hacking, blackmailing, theft, fraud, forgery, etc) all so that his parents won't find out and send him to the same juvenile prison-slash-school his older brother is already attending.

Along the way, he gets help from his brother who has escaped from the school, hooks up with the beautiful girl who delivers pizza to ex-high school boys during school hours, and discovers that the high school principal is embezzling money from the school fund (what school has $10,000 just sitting around that no one will immediately miss?!!) to support his nightly gambling habit.

Felix uses this information to... blackmail the principal into letting him back into school and lying to Felix's parents about Felix's grades and general progress in his academic career.

At the end of the movie, the principal is still the principal (and, we can assume, will now allow Felix to pull whatever prank he wants, whenever he wants, and will give him all A's for his trouble), Felix is back in school (with a 10-second nod to "gonna try harder"), and his brother is back in the juvie facility. OH, and Felix now has a hot girlfriend. So there's that.

When I complained to my husband about the movie, he naturally brought up Ferris Bueller's Day Off, that classic yarn of teenage invincibility in the face of overbearing adults trying to make the kids Be Good. Overlooking the obviously superior acting, There are several - okay a few - notable differences in the eventual consequences and especially in the overall message.

First, the Beuller movie is super-duper tongue-in-cheek, with overblown concern for Ferris's "illness" and fantastical escapades that intentionally stretch the limits of credulity. The tone in Expelled seems to want viewers to believe this sort of caper could actually happen - even with an "incredibly light sleeper" mother who slumbers on through ringing phones, creaking windows, and even banging drums.

Then there are the relatively minor pranks in Beuller compared to the antics in Expelled. Ferris wants to take a day off of school. Felix wants to destroy the rest of his life. Ferris fakes a sickness. Felix fakes a report card. Ferris lies for a day. Felix lies for a week.

The principal in Beuller is overzealous and crabby, with a mission to catch the trouble-maker Ferris and expose him for his lie. While his quest is commendable by adults everywhere, his personality makes it easy to root against him. This isn't necessarily a good message, but as an antagonist, he works. The principal in Expelled, on the other hand, comes off in several scenes as a stern father trying tough love... but then he loses all credibility and sympathy when he's first revealed to be a gambler and embezzler and then caves to the blackmail. Where the first principal is a kill-joy, the second is a felon. The kill-joy has a truly rotten, slap-stick-pain-filled day. The felon... is frustrated in his plans. Ouch.

Most notably, there is the classic Beuller scene where Cameron destroys his father's Ferrari, and remarks "I can't hide this." Cameron, at least, will have to face his father and admit what he did. There will be change of one sort or another, though we're not told what it will be. By contrast, Felix... destroys his mother's expensive ceramic bowl to create a distraction. He's forced to help clean it up. Yikes.

The climax in Beuller requires him to race home before his mother gets there. The climax in Expelled requires Felix to work a quick bit of theft and blackmail before his mother arrives at the school for her meeting with the principal. The race is thrilling. The blackmail is deeply disturbing.

At the end of the day (which is how long Expelled felt), Ferris Bueller's Day Off promotes light-hearted fun. Expelled promotes doing whatever you want, so long as you keep committing felonies until no one's the wiser.

So here's a tip for writers everywhere: If your characters don't ever have to face consequences for anything they do... don't bother making them do anything. Like with fantasy magic systems, you don't get to create actions and then skip the equal and opposite reactions. Real life has rules, too... even if you don't get caught.

So... Ferris Bueller's Day Off is on Netflix right now. Now that my kids have already seen (and enjoyed, dang them) Expelled, how do you think they'll like the original?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Creating One-Dimensional Villains - in real life and in fiction

I've been fascinated, lately, by reports of public shaming of one sort or another. Several months ago, the Vanity Fair article on Monica Lewinsky....

Be honest: when you read her name, did you Boo and Hiss? Even a little? Just about everyone does. I sure did. I read it, in large part, because of her infamy, and with a doubtful, gleeful eye toward what she could possibly say to redeem herself. It brought me to tears. Tears for her shame and tears for my shame that I was a tiny, crowd-follower part of it.

Monica Lewinsky's very name is synonymous with Every Awful Thing. And, of course, we all have Very Good Reasons for this. After all, she had sexual relations with a married man, didn't she? And not just any married man, oh, no: The President of the United States... who managed to come out of their affair relatively unscathed. When you mention Bill Clinton, it's bad form to connect him to That Woman, lest his wife - the possible Future Ms. President - be humiliated by the reference.

I'm not going to waste a lot of space, here, going on about how completely asinine that imbalance is. I'm not going to expound at length on the relative severity of misconduct in an affair between a young single girl who falls in love with her boss and the married powerful boss who has made promises to love and to cleave and to not sexually or romantically tempt his interns. I'm not going to detail my personal experience that tells me that the other woman is vastly less blameworthy than the oath-breaker husband.

All of that is irrelevant to the real point: in a few months of public outrage, we as a nation turned a well-rounded, talented young woman with a bright future into a one-dimensional villain. A hiss and a byword and the butt of late-night jokes.  We stripped her of the right to have good qualities because her one bad choice was forever going to trump any good quality she might try to muster.

Shame on us.

Now there is a new article about public shaming in the New York Times, and the author has a whole book coming, appropriately entitled So You've Been Publicly Shamed (available for pre-order). In the article (and, presumably, the book, from which the article is excerpted), the author details his experiences with others who were publicly shamed for relatively minor things--like a really bad joke taken out of context and spread throughout the world to the glee of trolls everywhere.

Last week at LTUE, I sat on a couple panels where I got to talk about my decade as a Public Defender. One comment I made more than once was that, when you're building a villain, you really must give him good qualities, too. Genuine ones, that any reader would relate to. I've sat across from murderers and rapists and drug dealers and all manner of society-defined Bad People, and there is hardly a one of them I didn't laugh with. Very, very few of them who didn't have family and friends in their corner, ready to stand up and swear in court that this defendant was, actually, a good person, despite the bad thing he'd done. They are fathers who love their children, mothers who will drop everything to help a friend in need, daughters and brothers and the truest of friends to someone.

And, yet, we as a society want to define everyone by their worst trait and stop the definition there. We don't want to look past that to the goodness that is always present. We bemoan our history of placing scarlet letters on offenders while gleefully slapping digital and rumor-driven red letters everywhere we look.

It's devastating in real life, and awfully boring in fiction. Mustache-twirling, top-hat wearing, love-to-be-eeeviiil villains are the stuff of melodrama. The kind we got off on in grade school. If we're going to grow up as writers or as a society, we need to be better than that.

There are some few troll-chased "villains" who are able to fight back, like my friend Larry Correia, who eventually dubbed himself the International Lord of Hate as a hilarious counter-punch to those who called him everything from a racist to a homophobe. Those who, like Larry, are firmly established on their public platforms with thousands of loyal followers are practically immune to public shaming. The shaming and thick-skin-building process may still hurt at first, but these few manage to eventually almost thrive on attempts to shame them.

Most of us aren't that famous. Most of us don't have hoards of people waiting to build us back up when someone tries to knock us down. Most of us have armies of supporters that are woefully outnumbered when the Society Hive-Mind decides we are Bad People. Most of us wouldn't survive our 15 minutes of infamy if our worst Bad Thing were ever made public.

Plenty enough lives have been destroyed by tiny black marks multiplied hundreds of thousands of times. We've had enough of the pillories and stocks and scarlet letters that deprive us all of the good that our fellow flawed humans might have done if only we'd let them.

Plenty enough fictional villains have perpetuated the fallacy that being bad definitionally excludes all goodness. We've had enough mustache-twirling and evil-for-the-sake-of-evil and antagonists that no good person will ever understand.

Let's grow up, huh? Let's fight badness by empowering "bad" people to slay their own dragons. Let's call off the wasted-earth nuclear air strikes that get launched every time someone makes a hurtful comment. Let's acknowledge that even people who hurt us badly can have qualities that any unbiased person would see as good.

Why do you think we're so addicted to the culture of shame?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentines Day!

Tomorrow is my first Valentines Day with my new husband, Nate. We were married in December and are still trying to get used to the married-to-each-other life (it doesn't help that he was traveling for most of the last three weeks).

So you'd think that I'd be focusing on this love all weekend, right?

Instead, I'm enjoying myself with my tribe at LTUE. Because he's awesome, Nate will be joining in the fun for a little bit during the weekend... even though, as an introvert, it's not gonna be much fun for him.

He wins V-Day.

Now to try to figure out a present that will be half-comparable.

I love you, Nate!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Life, the Universe, and Everything 2015

It's that time again! Life, the Universe, and Everything is upon us once more next week, February 12th, 13th, and 14th.

This year, I'm reprising my role as Pitch Master, which basically means I get to hang out with the cool kids and boss people around. Because I'm not fond of leaving well-enough alone, I even talked most of them into expanding the format choices to include group sessions. [By which I mean I asked and they enthusiastically said yes.]

Well, except for Toni Weisskopf, Baen Editor and LTUE's keynote speaker. She's insisting on doing individual outline critiques instead.

And Peter J. Wacks, editor for Word Fire Press. He's insisting on doing a clinic on how to present a pitch.

I told them I didn't think we could handle that much awesomeness, but they were persistent.

In all my spare time, I'll also be on some panels--and I know what you're thinking, here. "What? Why is Robin Ambrose on panels when she hasn't published a lick of SFF? And that's a Very Good Question, with a pretty decent answer: I'm on three panels related to my recently-ended career as a Public Defender:

Thursday at 5:00 pm: Crime: What to get right? with Michaelbrent Collings, Eric James Stone, Al Carlisle, and Eric Swedin

Friday at 3:00 pm: Psyhology of a Serial Killer with Al Carlisle (who is the expert)

Saturday at 12:00 noon: Law Enforcement with James Ganiere and Zachary Hill

I bet you didn't even know I was a Public Defender, did you? Well, good. As it should have been. Because confidentiality. But I still know a thing or two about criminals and the criminal legal process, so LTUE is letting me near a microphone. Fun, huh? :D

I might also be on one or two other panels as a moderator (which means I have some great questions to ask, but no answers), but those are subject to change, so I won't tease you. I'd hate to have you show up and find I'm not there anymore.

So who will be there?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ah, Freelancing

I'm new at this, so you experienced freelancers out there should bear with me if I'm painfully naive, but I was quite tickled by this "offer" I received for a freelancing job (from a list I subscribed to).
I'm seeking a writer for an ebook about an international space expedition that becomes lost in outer space. The series will be a serial (meaning it will take several ebooks to finish) and will follow this expedition as they: become lost in space, struggle to return earth, and then finally reunite with their loved ones on Earth. Typical science fiction elements will be involved with the story as the expedition will come across alien species, habitual planets, etc. The story will predominately be about the adventure, but the companionship between each of the astronauts will be largely incorporated.
Up to this point, I'm mostly just amused, if slightly appalled that someone is so confident that they can commercialize the creative process quite this far. As if good, profitable sci-fi were as simple as plugging specified elements into a basic plot with standard sci-fi tropes. I dunno. Maybe it is that simple, but my experience with talented sci-fi writer friends would suggest otherwise. If you want quality, that is. Maybe my true naivete is that I rather expect ANY producer of ebooks to want to make them GOOD ebooks.

Then the advertisement keeps going, and I realize I'm wrong.
A "simple" understanding of science fiction elements (aliens, space, etc.) is preferred for this story, but not necessary. Newbies are highly welcome (as long as you understand grammar).
Yeah... no. Simple understanding of the complex vacuum of space? Simple understanding of the possibility of alien life and how that alien life could develop in a different environment? Etc? And, the kicker: IT'S NOT EVEN NECESSARY. He'd be just as happy with someone who might have heard of Star Wars once, but never saw it. And the solicitor "highly" welcomes newbies who understand grammar. I... can't... even....

But there's more....
I'm expecting a delivery of 7 days (1 week) for the finished project and if achieved before the deadline, I'll gladly double the pay. In terms of the length, I'm looking for about 6,000-10,000 words.
6,000 - 10,000 words in a week.  With a double-pay bonus if that goal is met. (More on that later.) Let's forget about the pre-writing for a moment and pretend that the entire plot of the multi-ebook serial just comes to the chosen writer in a dream. Let's pretend that the dream included specific plot arcs that would span 6-10,000 words so that you're getting a complete mini-story in each book. Let's acknowledge that any writer who has completed NaNo or who is making a living at freelancing is very used to this sort of grueling pace, and can churn it out at that speed.

But let's also acknowledge that 90% of writing is rewriting and that, if these books are to be GOOD, 7 days is utterly insufficient to meet that goal. 7 days is enough time to create a first draft, perhaps, but first drafts Are. Not. Publishable. Or, they wouldn't be, if "Publishable" were universally synonymous with "Quality." Which, apparently, it isn't. And that's a darn shame.

It goes on:
The ideal candidate will be able to/have: -Microsoft Word (any edition) -Understand the Subjects/Genres -Writing Skills and Style (you should be able to write coherent and engaging sentences). What I expect: -The Word Count to be Met -An Engaging e-Book -Coherent, Competent Sentences -A Simple Understanding of the Subjects/Genres If you're interested, please submit an example of your work. It doesn't have to be supernatural or space oriented, but needs to show competent writing and grammatical skills.
Well, I'm an ideal candidate, then. I have MS Word, understand the genre, I'm able to write coherent, engaging, coherent (coherent seems important), and competent sentences... oh, wait. He wants engaging AND the word count met. Yeah, guess that counts me out.

But let's look at all the money I'll be turning down, shall we?
The Pay is $20. I'm looking to commission several more e-Books, so further work will be possible for those interested.
$20. For a week of constant work. Even assuming that the writer can write 1,000 words in an hour (hard to maintain, but I've done it during NaNo), this solicitation is offering to pay $20 for 6-10 hours of work. That's (pulling up my calculator....) $2-3 per hour. With the chance of doubling to $4-6 per hour if I meet the deadline, edit nothing, and turn in the sort of drivel I'd be ashamed to have my name on. Goody!
LEGAL: All rights of purchased work will belong to me.
Which is exactly as it should be. #yougetwhatyoupayfor

Please, fellow writers, don't ever let someone pay you this little for your work. Even ignoring the fact that there are freelance projects with a base pay quite a bit higher than this, don't ever undervalue your work so much that you do it for nothing.

If you're writing your own book, that you will OWN, and that you and your heirs will hold the royalty rights to forever, it doesn't matter if you never make enough on sales on that book to pay more than $2 per hour for all your work. You'll have your sales and you'll also have your book, and that's more valuable in experience and pride than quadruple what this guy is paying.

Freelance writing is honorable work, and you don't need the rights to every word you've ever written--but this guy is trying to capitalize on a writer's hard experience to turn a quick buck for himself while cheating the writer of a fair wage and the reader of the quality of work they should be able to expect. He's a snake-oil salesman looking for children to work in his sweat-shop, and I have no respect for him.

Have any of you seen scams like this?

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Identity Crisis

Boy, have the last two years been a rollercoaster of fun. In two days, I'll hit the two-year anniversary of my sudden divorce. Four days after that, I'll hit the two-month-iversary of my almost-as-sudden new marriage. [Edit: Dang, but do I suck at dates. I was married on December 19, 2014. My 2-month-iversary isn't until February 19. I just passed my 1-month-iversary on January 19th, so what I MEANT to say is "four days ago, I celebrated my 1-month-iversary...." I need more sleep. If you all will just do the dates for me from now on, that'd be great.]

A week ago today, I said goodbye to my decade-long career as a full-time Public Defender, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and have embarked on a new career as a full-time sorter-of-junk-in-moving-boxes, organizer-of-junk-in-closets, and motherer-of-children-who-scatter-junk... or is that just how it seems? Part time (while the kids are in school, and trusting that the boxes will wait) I'll be a freelance writer, with some law stuff training to take care of on the horizon. *Makes note to send in bar dues, just in case*

I'm also planning to really get serious about that Become Bestselling Novelist bucket-list item I've been fiddling with for years. Because I need more red carpets in my life. (Doesn't everybody?)

At the same time that I'm trying on all these fancy new hats, I'm changing my legal name (well, theoretically--the project keeps getting buried in other minutia) to Kirkham. I'm trying to figure out how to alter my scribble of a signature to make the A in Ambrose look more like a K (mostly by writing a K over the top of the A that magically appears .2 seconds after I put pen to paper, despite my best intentions to pause after Robin). (The rest of the letters are utterly illegible anyway.) I'm getting used to introducing myself as Robin Kirkham. To answering to Mrs. Kirkham and Sister Kirham. Even my kids are getting used to my new name.


Here, and elsewhere in the world where I'm a writer first and the rest of it hardly at all, I'm still Robin Ambrose. I've always loved my maiden name, and one of the silver linings of two years ago was the realization that I hadn't yet published a book under my ex-husband's name. When I go to writer's conferences with Robin Ambrose on my name tag, people think I made the name up, it's so perfect. So as much as I love and trust my new husband, Nate, I'm embracing this chance to splinter myself into separate personalities and make myself so confused that I have no idea WHO I am or WHAT IN THE WORLD I'm supposed to be doing, now. Because, fun!

6 months ago, I was a single working mother, a full-time lawyer, and a (let's face it) hobbyist writer. Starting this week, I'm a Stay-at-Home married mother, freelancer, and a serious-but-unpublished writer. The "What do you do" question just got more complicated.

Anyone else ever change just about everything about the Definition of You in one fell swoop?