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August 1, 2009 — 685 words

Saturday Update

By MCM

Due to my obsession with iPhone app creation, I neglected to post here for several days.  Happy August!

RollBots

Just a little over a month until RollBots starts airing on CW4Kids in the US, and I can't wait.  I will have to figure a way to re-post my recaps so everyone can see them again, now that they'll make sense.  I don't know when we start airing new eps on YTV, but I'm assuming it'll be around the same time.

The App

The App starts today and runs for the entirety of August.  It's about a programmer trying to make an iPhone app, and things go horribly wrong. I am not that good at horror (either writing or watching) so this is kind of a horror/thriller/scifi hybrid you'll be reading.  I'm trying to write to a visual length this time (which is to say: I write until I fill two formatted 5x8 pages), so the chapters are short.  Also, each chapter takes place on a different day, so you only ever get a short window into the character's life.  It's more fun that way :)

Topic Tag Tuesday

Topic Tag Tuesday starts (wait for it) this Tuesday, and follows a fairly simple theory: I will "tag" someone on Twitter, and they need to reply to me with a topic.  Any kind of topic.  And I will write a 500-word story using that topic and their name, and post it here.  The next Tuesday, they tag someone else, who then sends me a new topic.  And we repeat.  It keeps my brain working, helps me find new friends, and should be lots of fun for everyone.

Logo Thursday

If only there were a day of the week that started with "L".  Logo Thursday is much like Topic Tag Tuesday, except a tiny bit sillier.  Send me the name of a company, a secret society, a personal brand or anything else made-up, and I will draft a logo for you as fast as humanly possible.  I won't do REAL companies, and you don't have any input into how it looks, but it's the process that counts.  I am having a miserable time getting Xander and the Wind completed because my artsy skills are growing rusty, so hopefully this will help.

The Vector on Kindle for $1.99

For a limited time only, buy The Vector on Kindle for $1.99.  This undercuts my personal eBook sales, but unless you make some sales on the Kindle store, you never get anywhere.  So yes.  Go buy it.  Now, if you can.

Test of the Emergency Broadcast System

You will hopefully not see it in the RSS feed, but right before this post, I'll have written my first "subscription only" entry to the site.  Don't worry, it's nothing too exciting.  I mostly need to test that it works.  That new premium space will be the place I post the stuff deemed too sensitive to show the world, like whatever happened to D'Myr, insidery information about working on RollBots, and upcoming projects.  Today, it just contains some Google search words that I want to be sure don't somehow get indexed :)

Final thought: attitude

You know what bugs me?  Artists online.  I've noticed that lately, a great many artists (of all shapes and sizes) have adopted a very cold and almost resentful voice when talking to their fans.  It bothers me to no end.  I appreciate that getting hundreds of emails a day can prove daunting, but that doesn't excuse a baseline of snark across all correspondence.  Especially not publicly.  I do my best to reply to each and every message I get, and I can foresee a day when I won't be able to keep up with it anymore... but anyone here ever notices me treating my audience with anything less than cordial (and/or silly) respect, please kick me in the ass.

August 1, 2009 — 54 words

Testing Premium

By MCM

I am writing the word gazerblaster here because it currently does not show up on any searches, and if it starts to over the next few days, I'll know there's a way past my paywall :)

Eventually, this area of the site will house all the can't-show-the-public stuff I do.  Right now, not so much.

July 29, 2009 — 818 words

Unintentional Racism in Fiction

By MCM

Racism is a touchy subject, and not the kind I enjoy dissecting (for a variety of reasons), but over the last week, I've had a steady stream of criticism about The Vector and its apparently racist tendencies.

These aren't new for me.  I've been getting this kind of feedback throughout the revision process, most of it focussing on my treatment of the Chinese character called "the Healer".  Briefly: Healers are roving agents sent into eastern Europe to hunt down and neutralize synthetic pathogens before they infect the homeland.  The character in The Vector has been at it a long time, and is viciously good at his job.

That seemed to spark outrage from some quarters.  For instance, this email arrived recently (note: all emails reprinted with permission):

Your depiction of a person of Chinese heritage as a faceless, soul-less killer with limited language skills plays to all the negative stereotypes that East Asian people are fighting to disprove.  Your caucasian characters are sympathetic, often victimized people with real emotions, while the token Asian is nothing more than a two-dimensional devil substitute.  If you are not prepared to treat different races with the respect they deserve, I suggest you stick to what you know and limit the damage to your reputation.

Now granted, this critique is based on the first few chapters of the book, where the Healer really does seem to be the devil incarnate (as was intended) — it's not until you read further that you see his layers emerge — but what really strikes me is, first, that I should stick to what I know.

I can't decide how to respond to things like this.  On the one hand, I see the point that writing beyond your own life experiences leaves you open to inauthenticity.  The protagonist in The Vector is Eva, whose parents are Czech and Russian.  I don't have any Czech or Russian heritage, nor do I have a background in computer science... also, I've never travelled Europe in the midst of multiple concurrent plagues, and probably most importantly, I'm not a woman.  What is the threshold one must pass before it's acceptable to write about other people?  Can I only ever write about white males from Ontario, Canada, who followed a life path similar to mine?

One reader who finished the whole book at draft five said this to me:

I feel that with the Healer character, you're stretching too far.  Maybe you need to consult actual Chinese people...?

It's an interesting question, and one that I can't reconcile.  Now granted, if I were writing a story about an average citizen of China in the here-and-now, I might want to make sure what I was doing was somewhat accurate.  But I'm writing about a near future where the world is crumbling, where the Healer has left his home and seen (and done) unspeakable things... so how would anyone be able to shed light on that situation?  Would someone from Beijing offer better insights?

It's somewhat clarified by this quote:

I can't tell by your name, but I don't think you're Chinese.  It shows in your writing.  You don't understand asian culture.

Having passed earlier drafts by many Chinese (both recent immigrants and 2nd generation Canadian) friends, I can say that I don't have a particular problem with Asian culture, because it doesn't really factor into the story.  So the problem with the writing appears to be that I'm not obviously Chinese myself, so I appear to be some kind of poseur, trying to cash in on the kung fu craze.  I wonder if I presented the story under a Chinese pen name, would I get the same criticism?

That, I think, is the heart of the matter.  Despite the fact that we're told we want greater diversity in our writing and film, we as a society appear to have trouble seeing past our prejudices.  The knee-jerk reaction to a white man writing about a Chinese man is that I'm creating a caricature, something not far from a cardboard cut-out, even if I try my hardest to present him in a fully-developed way.  There's some fundamental soul to an Asian man that I can't capture, no matter how much I get inside his head.  I can create a complex, conflicted caucasian character from my imagination, but not for someone born in China.

It's an odd situation.  It doesn't apply across the board, but for some people, it appears to have bothered them quite a lot.  I'm not trying to criticize their views, because I find them incredibly interesting.  Can white writers write non-white characters in a serious way?  If not, why not?  Be truthful: when you saw Memoirs of a Geisha was written by Arthur Golden, did you feel the same way about the characters?

July 28, 2009 — 523 words

Maintenance Tuesday

By MCM

Some things to clear off the schedule for today:

The Calendar

You may have noticed the calendar module under the "do" link in the menu up top.  This shows you what my week is like.  It's about to get crowded (see below), so this is your handy-dandy key to everything fun.  Check back often!

The Vector

The Vector is far my most popular book in terms of email responses, I'm getting one "upgrade" every 1.5 hours now!  The cover art fundraiser is still ongoing ($120 raised!), so please consider dropping a few bucks into the pool for me.

I'm also upping the release frequency from Monday/Wednesday to M/W/F because of the insane number of snarky comments from people about having such a big gap at the end of the week.  I thought nobody would want to read on a Friday because of the weekend etc, but it appears you guys are reading at work, so it's no big deal.  Consider it fixed.

Oh, and if anyone wants to do me a big favour, please go and review The Vector on Amazon's Kindle shop.  It will make me immensely happy and stuff.

The App

I am going to be building an iPhone app companion for my Reader site, which will allow you to subscribe and read offline.  It's going to take a lot of work (mostly because I know next to nothing about iPhone programming), but I will get it done.  In a month.  Yes sir.  But as if that weren't enough, I'm also going to be writing a story in WeSeWriMo that dramatizes the crap I'll be going through.  Kind of like a fictional production diary.  Chapters will be short, and released every day for the month of August.  Wish me luck.

The Chaos Book

The revised schedule for The Chaos Book will see each episode split into three parts, released on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.  It's because each part is turning out to be a tiny bit longer than I expected.  For those of you who pre-paid, you should see ALL of episode 1 appearing later this week.  The rest of you will have to wait until next Wednesday to read the rest of part 1!

Reader/Books Integration

Over the next few days, I'll be moving a lot of back-end stuff around to merge the books system with the Reader system (they are stupidly separate right now).  As such, you may see a few glitches here and there.  If that happens, please do not call the police.  It will pass.  I hope.

Wrap Up

That is my update for today.  Expect the first part of my racism series later today.  I got the most outrageously provocative email last night, and it needs to be addressed.

July 27, 2009 — 331 words

I Can Help You Succeed at Publishing Online!

By MCM

Actually, I can't.  Sorry.  It sucks, but it's true.

I get a few of these emails every week, asking me to sell people my software or expertise, and I have to give the same answer every time: I can't deliver what you're looking for.

Look: I can sell you my Reader software, give you a PDF with a 12-step plan for success, have a one-on-one chat session to boost your confidence... but honestly, there's too much voodoo in publishing for me to guarantee results.  I don't feel comfortable taking money under false pretences, and that's exactly what it would be.

The biggest thing you need to understand is that it all comes down to how good your writing is, and how well it connects with your audience.  You can have the best viral marketing campaign in the universe, but if you can't hold your readers' attention past the first few sentences, you're dead.  Some of that is craft, but a lot of it is dumb luck.

History is littered with really great ideas that flopped upon release, and even the smartest of the experts in the world can't really predict how any particular property will do.  You're coming into this game at a disadvantage already, so honestly, anyone that tells you they can make you rich is either lying or delusional.  Don't be suckered by them.  They're not making a living publishing, they're making a living selling the dream to others.

So no, I won't take your money to help you become successful.  I'll offer you tips about what worked and didn't work for me, and I'll definitely chat back and forth about whatever you like... but if you're looking for a magic bullet, let me save you some time: it doesn't exist.  Concentrate on other things, and prepare for a long, hard battle.

Note 1: This is a sample of my Optimistic Pep Talk™ 2.0, available as a PDF for $4.99 in my e-Store!

Note 2: Not really.

July 25, 2009 — 206 words

Nicest Email Evar

By MCM

The geographic distribution of readers of "The Vector" is amazingly even across the world, which makes me anxious because I've taken a lot of criticism about my portrayal of non-North American characters in the past.

Last night I got a short email from someone named Nikolai.  It really made my day:

Thank you for writing about Russians that aren't drunks or villains.  It is nice to see a Russian protagonist who we can sympathize with!

I didn't set out to make Eva (who is half-Russian) some kind of anti-stereotype when I wrote her, but it's good to see that my efforts to create a layered character with a complex history paid off.  In the world of The Vector, Russia is in ruins, Russians are generally despised, and Eva has to cope with that baggage while surviving an already difficult situation.

There's so much vitriol about Russians in the dialogue that I was afraid some might think I was personally voicing those opinions... so it's a big relief that nobody has taken offence.  A big, big relief.

I'll cover the racism issue next week, which is like the polar opposite of Nikolai's email.  Probably a multi-part series.  Yick.

July 24, 2009 — 638 words

Announcing The Vector in Print

By MCM

Updated to include the new Limited Edition Lite option.

You asked (and threatened) and I listened.  And then I forgot.  And then I remembered, and now I'm doing something.  Announcing The Vector in print!

No, it's not available right now.  It needs some tweaking first.  A better blurb for one.  A few typos people have found.  And then there's this: there are going to be two three editions...

Paperback

The paperback version should be available via Amazon in the next few weeks.  I need to check the proof, but after that, you should be able to snag a copy.  It's 300 pages and has a taller version of the cover you see on the Reader site.  It'll retail for $12.99, and will make you happy in places you never imagined.

Limited Edition

The Limited Edition is something even better.  Due in October, it will be hardcover, with a polished compilation of the "Disassembling the World" posts I made here (telling the backstory to the Healer and international plagues), plus "The Virus Coder's Girl" and a few other surprises.  It will also have a new cover by the amazing artist Nykolai Aleksander... a shot of the Healer, battle-worn and weary, alone in a bleak world.  Mind-blowage will ensue.  The LE version will cost $75 (including shipping), and come signed and numbered.   There will only be 300 of them made.  Presales will start shortly after the cover art is done (see below).  If you bought an eBook version, you get $5 off the LE price; whatever you donate for the cover fund also counts against the LE price.

Limited Edition Lite (New!)

By popular demand, I am adding a third kind of print book to the mix.  The LEL version will be paperback, with the new cover, but none of the bonus materials of the LE.  It will be signed and numbered, so there will be a limit to how many I do (I hate shipping), but I won't set a cap just yet.  They will sell for $35 (including shipping), and go on sale at the same time as the LE.  This way, you can get something special, even if you're not stupendously rich.  As with the LE, if you bought the eBook, you get $5 off the LEL; whatever you donate to the cover fund also counts against the LEL price.

Speaking of not being rich...

Help me fund the cover

The cover art is going to cost $500, and I need some assistance paying for it.  If you had been holding off donating for some reason, this is an excellent time to try!  I've set up a Fundable page where you can chip in to help me reach my goal.  Any money you donate will count towards your LE or LEL purchase (because you know you'll want one with this artwork!), and you'll also get a digital copy of the cover as a poster, so you can adore it forever and ever.  You'll also be thanked in the LE/LEL editions, so everyone else will know how cool you are.  So think of this as an investment in art, and an investment in your LE/LEL ownership.  Donate $20 and the LE is only $55!  Donate $30 and the LEL is $5!  Donate $100 and the LE is free!  Bonus!

To conclude

A big thank you to everyone that's given me so much support over the last 5 days.  To recap: over 9,000 reads, 700 RSS subscribers, 105 ebooks sold, and close to 300 emails demanding a print version, or they will kill me.  You guys rock.  I will do my best not to disappoint.

Thanks!

July 23, 2009 — 795 words

Why Books Don’t Need Pages

By MCM

This will into things a lot of people won't care about, but some will care very passionately about.  It's the future of books, and more specifically, the technical and UI considerations of how pages work in eBooks.

The thing that got me was this post on the always-exciting eBook Test.  In particular, this bit:

For example, while held in landscape mode, an eBook reader could display two pages, side-by-side, just like this current online software at The Internet Archive:

Now, The eBook Test is a very forward-thinking place, with lots of great ideas about the future of books, but in this regard, they feel strangely behind the times.  Look at it this way: writing used to happen on scrolls, right?  It's like if someone invented the bound book, and said "we must write all the content with the binding at the top, down through the pages, to better simulate the reading experience we're used to".  It's silly, and it makes no sense.  We're talking about a dramatically changed medium, and we should be embracing it.  But how?

Forget pages

This is one of the things that bothers me most about ebooks.  We're doing massive amounts of work to create artificial pagination which will never stack up to a properly-typeset page, to what end?  So people find it familiar?  People read emails onscreen, in one long stream.  They read blog posts the same way.  People are used to non-paginated content.  In fact, when you're reading a post on  a site and it's broken into multiple pages you need to click through, doesn't it ANNOY you that someone is obviously misunderstanding the conventions of the web?  Like it was designed by old-media nutters who refused to accept the world had changed?

Forget pages.  They're useless.  Relics.  They don't provide any benefit, and they destroy any semblance of quality design.  Make page breaks according to thematic shifts, not because of an arbitrary word count.  Pages of a picture book?  Sure, that's fair.  Pages of a novel?  Why?

The major complaint of this system is that it's easy to forget where you were when you were reading.  Fair enough, but easily fixed.  I added a little javascript to my Reader site that records the reader's scroll position as they read.  Bookmark the result and revisit, and you are automatically put back exactly where you were.  It's better than a page.  You pick up exactly where you left off.  A reader can read all the way through the chapter without an artificial page shift — and believe me, every page you ask them to flip is a chance they'll decide to come back later — and thusly, we're moving the exit decision to chapters, not pages.  We're buying more time to convince the reader to stay.

Look at the idea of a side-by-side presentation.  Reading in columns.  Again: why?  How does that improve the experience?  How often do you look at a printed book wide open, just to see the two facing pages at the same time?  To appreciate that they exist?  Or do you read the one page, then switch to the next, then turn the page?  You're reading within the columns.  The columns are a limitation of the medium, not a feature.  If I used Windows, I wouldn't be using it for the Blue Screen of Death.  That's insane.  Trying to recreate the flaws of one medium into the next makes so little sense, you'd think it was coming from the RIAA.

Look: short of a standard pixel size for all ebook screens, you can never really know how your content is going to fit.  So you're left with a certain amount of guesswork, but certainly no more than the web has already overcome.  Focus on making your books make sense in the medium.  Design them appropriately, design them beautifully, and forget the old ways of doing things.

I remember designing sites ten years ago, being told: "We have to make sure it prints well!" and cutting back on our techniques to match.  These days, we have sites that are so fundamentally un-printable that they're truly amazing to behold.  But you know what?  That's GOOD.  We've started designing for the medium at hand, and it means there are some gorgeous sites out there.

We need to do the same with ebooks.  We need to break free of the paper mindset, enhance the capabilities of epub (giving it proper rendering capabilities for a change) and replace old-school typographers with web designers.  We're not talking about paper books, or websites either.  We're talking about ebooks, and they need the attention they deserve.  We need to do something new, something amazing, something that says "this is what an ebook is".

July 22, 2009 — 193 words

Contest Time!

By MCM

So you may have seen that The Vector was mentioned on the incomparable io9 today.  Seriously, the highlight of my month.  Really great write-up, except for one tiny thing...

What this blurb doesn't capture is the creepy, dark feel to the prose in this well-crafted novel.

The blurb doesn't capture it.  Bugger.  See, this is why you should never write your own blurbs.

WHICH IS WHY... I am having a contest!  Write me a better blurb for the book, and you can win the very first paperback copy of the book!  Yes, I set it up today, so it should be ready to go soon.  So you'll get a free copy of the book, plus your quote on the back cover.  How's that for a prize, eh?

Right.  So email or comment me your submissions.  I'd say about 400 words is the max for this kind of thing.  Brevity is key.  Punchy is key.  You know, the kinds of things I apparently suck at.

I'll give you all until next Friday (31st of July) at 9PM Pacific to submit, and then I'll choose.

Good luck!

July 22, 2009 — 551 words

Wednesday Fun

By MCM

Random things for a happy, sunny Wednesday that I will only see through the window because I never leave my computer...

Guest Posting!

Today, I have guest posts up at Brian Spaeth's site and also at Dyscultured!  I have been a busy bee.  Please read them, and comment extensively.

Best Conversation Ever

A TV producer acquaintance (who shall remain nameless) gave me permission to post this summary of this discussion we had yesterday after he looked over my website.

Producer: I saw your website.  That TorrentBoy idea is cool.  Is it available to option?

Me: Well, technically you could do that, but it's open source, so you don't really get to own the rights.

Producer: [random expletives]!  Why would you do that?  It'd be perfect as a series!

Me: Um... sorry?

Which just goes to show you that sometimes, people don't like it when you make your stuff free.  We had a great conversation after that, though.  I just wanted to share it, because it was really funny to hear a passionately negative reaction to TorrentBoy for a change :)

My Damn Schedule

Looking ahead, I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing next.  Fission Chips will wrap up by mid-September, I think, meaning I will have a Thursday timeslot to fill.  I have another Marx and Richardson story I'd like to do, but I think we need to give Gare a rest for a little bit.  So looking at the week, it runs like this:

Monday: Vector
Tuesday: TorrentBoy: Pirates Attack!
Wednesday: Vector
Thursday: ???
Friday: Chaos Book

Looking at the options, I have no clear answers.  Typhoon would be fun, but it's still not done and with all the subplots and mysteries, it'd be hard to release regularly unless it was polished.  A Quiet Life would be fun for me, but I think the rest of you will need some time to appreciate it.  Maybe  something like "Liberty Bell", if I changed it into a voting story.  It's about the most hated man in the open source world, wanted for a murder he didn't commit, in a city so wired he has nowhere to hide.  That could be fun.  It's almost 15 years in the making, so maybe it's time to write it down.

Anyway, here's the question: what kind of story would you like to see?  Comedy?  Action? Romance? (ha!) or something totally different.  Am I right in assuming the interactivity would be worthwhile?

Testing Premium

Over the next few days, I'll be testing my premium subscription service on the site.  This means you should be seeing a post or two that you can't access.  Do not panic.  It is only a test.

A video for your enjoyment