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Lately, I’ve been considering a retreat from social media. The train wreck of political angst that Twitter has become usually leaves me raging mad. There’s just soo much stupid out there that can be expressed with 240 characters. Volumetrically, that’s what most of it is so even if I intend to focus on the better bits, invariably my attention will be ripped away by yet another red-hatted asshole spouting off about the Deep State or whatever. UGH!

With a Twitter vacation, my mental health and diction can only improve.

And then there’s Facebook, the granddaddy of the old school services, which I’d like to talk about specifically. I’ve been an infrequent FB user for some time, and lately, I’ve been thinking about why that might be.

One reason is that I’ve consciously rejected many of the older media models — television, cable, even newspapers — because those models are all powered by advertisement. I can’t stomach the idea that I’m paying for all that bullshyte twice. First with my time/attention and second by subsidizing the service in question. As is the case with YouTube I’d happily pay a reasonable subscription fee to *AVOID* endless advertisement custom designed to twist my pants in knots.

Facebook has been slipping in advertisements into our feeds for some time, and it’s annoying and wrong, but that’s not the biggest reason for my withdrawal.

I think it was 1988 when I asked Daliah to go to a school dance with me, she was the older sister of my middle brother’s buddy, and we all used to carpool to high school in my tiny 1972 Honda Civic. If I remember all that correctly. Anyway, I believe it was a Homecoming dance, and the theme was jeans and flannel or something like that because I’m pretty sure I still have a picture of the two of us which I uncovered while helping my folks move from Colorado. Ultimately it was this picture that reminded me of that night and what a good time we had together.

The picture also reminded me how scared I was to ask her. How excited she seemed when I did. How enthusiastic she was about going with me in the weeks before the dance. I know that I’m probably scraping the bottom of the barrel of my memory, but because of this one posed glossy in the 80’s I’ve now got a pile of good times and memories that I get to sort through.

Since leaving high school in 1991, I’ve not seen or heard from Deliah. Other than a chance meeting with her brother in the early 2000s this photo was the first time I’ve recalled her or that night. I’ve been positively wallowing in the nostalgia of it all.

Thing is that I’m not “connected” to either of these people on Facebook. Even though I have searched for them, they don’t seem to be around. Consequently, my imagination has been freed, I’m able to wonder “whatever happened to Deliah” because the question apparently can’t be answered.

That freedom is actually exceptionally liberating. Time, distance, age — all the things that change us — they’re still variables for her in my mind. Did she grow up and buy a boat? Is she even now single handing the Pacific in search for adventure? Is she happily ensconced in an Eastern Oregon commune happily raising a brood of Brown Coats who worship The Whedon? Is she a cutthroat capitalist quietly managing the board of some weapons manufacturing company? I don’t know!

Honestly, the more I think about it, I don’t want to know.

Facebook was great at first because it did connect me with people from my past. At first, lifting of that mist was enjoyable. “Oh hey, you’ve got two kids and a happy marriage. Good for you. And you too.” “So sad to learn of your loss or mistake.” But it turns out that the uncertainty and disconnection preserved plenty of precious moments like amber. The insect trapped a million years ago inside the sap of a tree is a focal point for the imagination, cut away the sap and you’re left with a crunchy mosquito.

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Toxicity

The degree to which a substance (a toxin or poison) can harm a being varies, but it’s something we can study. Toxic behavior, especially on the male side of our society, is apparently growing like a algae bloom in an over-heated Florida lake. It’s everywhere and it’s perhaps the saddest component of our shared American cultural heritage.

Yesterday, a collection of bigots dog piled Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) after the recent opening of her movie. You can google the trash that was flung in her direction if you really want to, but I don’t recommend it. Here’s one more example of popular culture and technology colliding in a fantastic mess. And that’s how many are describing this instance, which makes me feel an additional level of sickness.

As the world adjusts to the post-Bowie era I believe it may be important for us to describe train wrecks like this with precision, to identify and even persecute those responsible. The public calumny that @Lesdoggg experienced didn’t just happen. Even if it wasn’t organized, or orchestrated, the result was the same.

Sure there’s no hate speech exception to the First Amendment, but that’s no reason it should be condoned. Twitter is a private platform, and even has policies in place to deal with this kind of activity.

  • Violent threats (direct or indirect): You may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.
  • Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others. Some of the factors that we may consider when evaluating abusive behavior include:
    • if a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
    • if the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
    • if the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
    • if the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.
  • Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

It is, on the whole, miserably bad at enforcement of its own rules. So, how does anyone find accountability, let alone justice, in this situation?

Legally, quite a bit of what was lobbed is not protected speech. SCOTUS has ruled time and again that “true threats, fighting words, incitement to imminent lawless action, criminal solicitation or defamation” are not deserving of First Amendment protections. Twitter should be working with local law enforcement to track these folks down. And before someone starts to mansplain that this is “impossible” let me just point you to The Geography of Hate. Yes, you’re looking at geotagged tweets in the US, add the dimension of phone owner and guess what, you’ll get addresses (IP and physical).

The future of law enforcement is in data analytics.

Second, shame. It’s a powerful motivator that isn’t used effectively in society. Imagine, what if your hate speech cost you your job, your friends, and even your close or intimate relationships. Imagine if your racist uncle Bob was relegated to the back deck every Thanksgiving dinner? Let’s not tolerate this sort of BS even for a second. Learn how to correctly identify and respond toxic behavior.

For my part, I’m sorry to have seen one more woman on Twitter treated like this. It’s sick and sad.

Quiet in the Wilderness: Signal Boost THE BIG RED BUCKLE

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Buy The Big Red Buckle

Humanity has survived environmental and atmospheric calamity and begun to move out into the stars. Sport still plays a vital role in our day-to-day affairs. The Big Red Buckle recounts an episode of a single-stage endurance race held between two shield volcanoes on a Mars that is slowly being terraformed. Participants must run and soar over 1,500 kilometers while the solar system watches.

For Marco Aguilar, just being at the starting line represents the culmination of two years of careful preparation and training. He aims to win the Grand Martian Traverse, and take home The Big Red Buckle for himself and for native Martians.

The more I read about it the more I understand that an author can expect a slump in sales some time around the middle of January. That is when the Holiday bills start showing up. When people have less money because they have new gym memberships to pay down. The list of reasons why this happens are extensive, but it happens.

But, here we are, just over a month after The Big Red Buckle released the book has flatlined on all the Amazon lists. What is an author to do? You got it, signal boost.

Here are the details

Welcome to my Twitter signal boost. I want you to tweet about The Big Red Buckle.

To be eligible for the contest your tweet must include these two things.

  • the hashtag: #dancingonlift
  • a link to this blog post

Your tweet can contain anything else you would like. Crazy paragliding photos or trail running images are a bonus, so be entertaining. Boost my signal as well as your own.

The contest will run all day long January 31st, 2014 (MST) – that’s midnight to midnight.

February 1st I will pick three random winners (you’ll need to follow me on twitter @feetforbrains, to get your prize).

The first winner will receive a signed, printed version of The Big Red Buckle and Joulupukki as well as two limited edition cards of the cover work.

The remaining two will receive signed copies of the first run of the book.

I’ll pay shipping unless you’re outside the US, in which case, shipping is on you.

You can tweet as many times as you’d like, but only the first one will count.

And that is how it is done. The idea is to get the book in front of new eyeballs, and break the January slump. Marco needs new sponsorship money to afford a fancy new photobioreactor suit. I’d like to see Marco climb back up the “Paid In Kindle Store” and meet a few new readers.

Writer’s Tool Box: Twitter

I’ve been pitching a panel to a number of Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions which will discuss the “tool boxes” of a variety of writers. I think about these sorts of things a lot, probably too much. This admission is probably just a mea culpa of my character. I love tools! I love to tweak tools, I love to make tools, I love to adapt tools to a task.

Part of my approach to writing professionally has been to test tools, with the intent of optimizing my turn around time for any particular project. Figuring out what works best, what will be sustainable, has been a wonderful part of the experience of learning to write. I’ve posted about these sorts of things in the past, but this is the first in a a blog series I’ve titled “Writer’s Tool Box”.

Using the blog as a repository I intend to further refine my tool box while sharing my observations with you. Suggestions are welcome, this is an open discussion. Comment rules still apply (trolls will be soundly thwacked), but I’m really interested in hearing what you do.

Twitter

The first installment is an open discussion of a social media utility that a lot of authors make regular use. Twitter has been around for a while, and it an excellent means of communicating with readers, of finding new readers even, and, perhaps most interestingly, for keeping up with writing goals. I use Twitter and the #1k1hr hashtag to stay on target with my writing goals and remain accountable to my readers.

#1k1hr

Accountability, especially when you’re an Indie who sets and manages his own writing goals, can quickly become a moving target. Unlike traditional published authors my deadlines are completely up to no one but me. So, I can sit down to my computer and imagine that I’m not in the mood to write. That I can make up the words later. That I can simply push the my arbitrarily determined, self-assigned deadlines out just a little to compensate for a word slump.

But down that road lies doom. I came to this realization during 2013 NaNoWriMo when, after an impressive burst of wordsmithing (7k words in a weekend) I entered the next week drained and unsure where my story was headed. Quickly, my lead evaporated before my very eyes. It was sad, I cried a little. I was endanger of losing because I blew my word load.

By the time I tracked down a tissue and blew my nose, however, I knew where the solution might lie. The answer is pacing and regularity. I did not do all that pre-work, writing outlines and character sketches, creating a project burn down schedule and a back story for my story, so that I could go nuts, lose my pace and bonk hard less than a fifth of the way into the race.

This realization was accompanied by a suggestion that I try using NaNoWriMo word sprints to stay on task. I did and I cleared November 28th a confirmed winner.

So what do I do the other eleven months of the year? I’ve got a very hectic schedule and lots of demands on my time. Sound familiar? But I can usually cram in an hour here or there during the course of most days. And my writing tempo allows me to knock out about 1,000 words in the space of an hour if, and only if, I know where my story is going.

When I have a fresh pot of tea and a little time I will sit down and write. Aral, my youngest son and primary responsibility, knows that when I’m “getting my words” he has to self-entertain for a while and he even looks forward to this time these days. In order to ensure that I stay on task through the whole hour I usually tweet something about the #1k1hr I’m soon to attempt.

And then follow this up when I hit my target.

These daily exercises make me accountable, in bite sized pieces, which remain easily achievable. My readers know that I’m writing and sometimes they encourage me which is very helpful. I wake up each morning thinking about what I need to write next, both to stay on target with my ultimate release date as well as each section of the story.

KSR Got That Right Too

Oh “Science in the Capitol”, how we should have read you more. I was just adding some words to “Up Slope” when I noticed a story posted to the Kim Stanley Robinson Facebook fan page. One of the members posted a news piece talking about the impending cold snap that is expected to move through the District and across the mid-west and east-coast.

Welcome to the Younger Dryas

And on twitter many are reporting that people are planning for the impending cold by bum rushing grocery stores and emptying gas stations. While I notice that there is still plenty of broccoli at Kroger’s, at least my dog will stay fed, it seems that bananas are an east-coast staple you guys cannot do without.

KSR wrote about this kind of extreme weather event in the second of his “Science in the Capital” trilogy. As usual the research for his fiction is ten times more involved and than the rest of our writing crowd. Being a bit of a climate and weather buff, and having read “Fifty”, I always just assumed it was a matter of when. Never if.

Rosby waves reaching down from the arctic have been passing overland with increasing slowness. This means that cold air carried within the troughs tends to be colder, over time, near the center of the weather vortex and the cold tends to stick around longer. It is a byproduct of climate change. Get ready folks, these sorts of weather events are going to become increasingly common in the days ahead.


Incidentally, in case you had not already seen, Tess accepted a position with a new company “providing engineering support to data analysts.” She will be leaving on contract for three to six months in little more than a week. And when she returns, we will likely be relocated somewhere near the District of Columbia.

I find it funny that our family, after this move, will sort of mimic elements of KSR’s trilogy as well. I’m a stay-at-home Dad (Charlie and Joe). Tess is a Scientist (Anna). And between our careers and hobbies we may flesh out many of the other characters in these three novels.

In the mean time, while Tess is out of the country, Aral and I will pack up our house and prepare the move. Then, after the packing is moved to storage, a road trip, seeing friends and family and attending conferences along the way. I need to spend some time really soon seeing if LonCon3 might now be in the cards.

Self Publication Mistakes

There exists a very gray space for “indie” authors. Acting as your own advocate, you must find the sweet spot between advertising your book and bothering your potential readers. I have spent a great deal of time recently watching other “indie” authors in a variety of locations to get a better idea of how to find this balance while expanding readership. Here are some observations I’ve made along the way. What works and what crosses over that line.

Misleading Key Word or Hashtag

I learned my lesson about this one a while ago. I wrote a blog post during the hight of my seizure period in which I complained about “A Fucking Wall of Secretaries” in which I complained about running into officious bureaucrats and busybodies that were universally in my way while I struggled to find help, a diagnosis, and even (a hope in vain) a cure. In 2012, it was the single most searched on post of mine, but not because the rest of the world was running into a similar wall of phone-answering boobs. Rather, some of you watch porn and you search on the terms “Fucking” and “Secretaries” … a lot.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of “indies” out there seeking to capitalize on this phenomenon. About once a day I see this one.

The problem with this strategy is that if you happen to attract Anthony Weiner with this bait, he is unlikely to actually bite your hook. You won’t sell any books to someone searching for “#sex” unless you happen to write erotic graphic novels.

One Book Wonder

In a recent industry guide I picked up, “Write, Publish, Repeat“, the authors, Sean and Johnny, spend the better part of a chapter building an illustrative narrative about anyone’s experience going into an old fashioned book store (the kind with walls and shelves). Within the narrative, they describe the several layers of book marketing that happen for someone searching for their next read. You walk through the door and there will be some choices, usually best sellers, sitting on a table right in your path. They are there because someone, the publishers and their authors, want you to see those first.

Maybe there’s nothing there for you, so you wander over to your favorite section. Genre fiction. Along the shelves you’ll notice that there are a few books with their covers out, but most are only spine out. Maybe you’re interested in a particular author so you side-step down the aisle. Maybe you’re looking for the next in a particular saga. However, in this “indie” marketing mistake, none of that matters because you’re actually experiencing a hallucination. The hallucination is an after effect of the book some overzealous author fired from a cannon at your head when you first got out of your car in the parking lot of your favorite Barnes & Noble.

Yep, there are people out there that write. And then, once the writing is done, they try to sell the crap out of that book. They load it up in their social media shot guns, yell “pull” at the top of their lungs, close their eyes, and pull the trigger. Over and over and over again.

And frankly this sort of self-promotion is annoying. Regardless of the quality or price of your book, the only thing it does is turn people off. It is like trying to attract flies with highly concentrated sulfuric acid or win friends by punching strangers square in the mouth.

And of course I see “indie” authors making this mistake on Twitter all the time too. It has gotten to the point that as I scroll my feed I simply blank them out, already knowing what they’re going to say. I know, when you are the only one at the helm of your little writing and publication company, it can be very tempting to imagine that the aggressive sell might work. You know your book is *that* awesome, if everyone would just cough up the equivalent of half a cup of coffee they too could know the wonders of your imagination.

But folks — and I’m reminding myself right here, right now — if you want your reader’s love and affection, you’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to seduce them. You’ve got to romance them in 140 characters or less. You gotta, gotta, gotta show a lil tenderness. Just try, try a little tenderness, yeah yeah yeah.

Indifference

So you have worked hard. You have written your book or your trilogy or whatever. And you have enough in the way of connections and leverage that as soon as your magnum opus hits the shelves, you have already hit several best seller lists and you’re making plans to attend “WorldCon Where Ever” because there will be a little metal rocket waiting for you when you arrive. And hey, good on ya! Because that sort of fairy tale actually happens so infrequently that it is phenomenal if only for its rarity.

But maybe your modicum of success goes to your head. Maybe you never were a very nice or considerate person in the first place. Or perhaps you are too privileged to recognize what a good thing you have. It is a rare thing when authors actively scare away their fans à la Orson Scott Card style. Most of us will just lose our enthusiasts because we simply fail to recognize that they exist.

This marketing failure is best illustrated by its negative. There are a few very notable examples of what I mean. Near the top of that list are folks like Hugh Howey and John Scalzi. These guys both have earned enviable positions within the publishing world. Yet, both of them have a well oiled socialization mechanism that does two things for them.

First, it keeps them human. Your fans really like to know that you do the same things that they do every day. If they’re like me, if they aspire to your level of success within this business, they’ll want to know the details of each little fuck up or struggle. And you can tell them about these things via your blog, or Twitter, or whatever. They’ll listen.

But with guys like this, who annually receive millions of hits on their sites, it is unlikely you’ll ever get a reply email. Yet it still happens. Even these guys at the top of the game will take a moment to listen to their fans, to their followers. And I think, in some way, they gain something from this interaction, although I suppose no one really expects anything from them.

But then there are guys like Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, and Michael Bunker who are all working very hard at their craft, but who have more nominations than awards. These three examples have built a large and flourishing fan base, but routinely find time to reply to their email, hold twitter conversations with strangers, and are quick to provide a word of encouragement or even publicly acknowledge someone else’s work. That my friends is the stuff of greatness.

Incidentally, if I didn’t mention you here, please don’t take it personally. It is New Year’s Eve and I have had a couple glasses of wine, so much of this is simply coming off the top. I know these authors perhaps better than others (because I’m a fan) and so its easy for me to talk up, not only their work, but also their contributions to other writers. This message is for those of you who *DO* acknowledge their readers, keep up the good work.

Finally, if you’re reading this and wondering “Where are all my readers going/gone?” then you may be illustrating the consequences of not taking care of your readers. Think back: have you ignored someone because it just seemed like too much time or effort to respond? Get followed on Twitter, but refuse to follow back? How about your blog? Do you have followers that you refuse to read? They are all little slights, but even well beyond high school ignoring someone who is just trying to, at the very least, be friendly with you is a fine way to create a foe. They wont forget the slight.

Conclusion

Yes, here is the resolution part. Having thought about these things, in apparently great detail, I also resolve to do my best to remember them. The difficult part of this whole thing for me is the business side of this small business. I can write my fingers off day after day, but ultimately that’s just step one. After the editing and copy work, comes the selling of the books and stories. My intention is to build a loyal if small fan base, and write a mountain of stories. I don’t want to cross that line with any of you, straying into the territory of annoying author/self-publisher, but I sure would love to see more of you reading the stories I have to tell.

Thank You Twitter

Normally I would have missed something like this, but today while reading snippets of information from my twitter feed I noticed a recommendation that immediately caught my attention. A not-for-profit out of the Seattle area called Undriving. Their intent is to reduce car use for individuals as well as around the world.

Asian Brown Cloud

With stories like this one popping up daily I think its important to address this problem. Asia is currently experiencing a car boom which is resulting in 2.1 million people dying early in that region. Often from preventable diseases. Oddly enough, its fairly easy to look at Asia and say “well yea”. But hold on there twinkle toes, while this is an emergent issue on the east side of the Pacific Rim, its a well established issue here in the west.

LA’s Daily Dose of Smog

So while its easy to blame folks over the Pacific Ocean for pollution we’re unlikely to see, we’re equally if not increasingly responsible for the same kind of climate altering, child killing air pollution.

So, back to my super enjoyable twitter discovery. Much of the air pollution that contributes to conditions such as asthma or, take your pick, climate change is a direct result of vehicle exhaust. Recognizing this and taking individual responsibility for the pollution you produce is THE first step in controlling this chronic problem. Better for me too, then I don’t have to breath your car farts.

Undriving is attempting to get you to think about how and where you drive. How you might take some responsibility to reduce your car use. And making you aware of what some alternatives might be to help you get around otherwise. I really like their approach too, it doesn’t rely on scaring the bejesus out of you in order to prompt a change.

If you’re interested in making a change or even considering your options (and its almost the New Year, you’re going to need some resolutions) Undriving is a great place to start. Go take a look!