July 25, 2013 — 361 words
Part of my life is about books, part of my life is about technology, and the last part of my life is about TV shows. Way back when, I made RollBots, and it was a fun time. But today I am going to take a quick moment to talk about a new show I co-created, because it just got picked up by a broadcaster here in Canada! Yay!
The show is called Shutterbugs, and it's a preschool property about a group of friends who solve mysteries using observation and critical thinking. There were three of us working on the concept, but for me, it has a kind of personal angle to it.
I've touched on fears before (in Xander and the Wind) but in the last year, my youngest daughter has been struggling with crippling anxiety (due to all the adventures we've been going through in our family). Part of her healing process has been to learn to really understand her problems, to diagnose what they mean, and to put them in perspective. You can have fears, but you don't need to let them conquer you.
When we were kicking around Shutterbugs, that was one of the things I felt was really missing from the preschool space. If we could teach little kids to do this, to stop and think and respond (even if their logic is flawed or their conclusions are off-base), it gives them the tools to deal with whatever problems come their way. Shutterbugs is fun and silly and full of cartoony antics, but I'm hoping that it might also do some good for some kids out there.
So yeah. That's my story. Show #2 is coming to TV! I will throw little updates on the site as we progress through development, because there are concepts in TV that I think are useful and/or curious for novelists... but for now, I am going to bask in the warm glow of my first press release for Shutterbugs. Yay!
July 23, 2013 — 630 words
Since the accident, my wife hasn't been able to look at TV screens for more than a few minutes at a time. Of all the changes that happened around the house, that was maybe the most jarring. We can't go out to dinner anymore, but an absence of an action is fairly easy to digest. It took me almost a year to realize I was paying for cable I didn't need anymore. And so when watching TV became part of her rehab program — we only just made it to 44 minutes with 50% eyes-on-screen time — it was like learning to walk again... you really appreciate the subtleties of the process, in ways you didn't before.
Due to restrictions linked to brain injuries, our outlet of choice has been Netflix. It's easy to play off a laptop at a comfortable distance and brightness, and we can stop at any time and come back the next day right where we left off. And with it brings a type of show we didn't usually watch, because we never subscribed to premium channels: the True Art shows.
Now, in the literary world, I can wrap my head around what makes art, art, and pulp, pulp. Art is the stuff with complexities beyond simple plot, where the characters have knots in them that can't be resolved or even explored in the space of a story. It's the stuff where the quiet moments breathe, and there's craft in the language that just can't fit in a tighter novel. Art is the stuff that can be painfully self-indulgent, because it's the language that counts.
Literary art, I get.
Some of these TV shows, they're held up as high art, but I just don't see a resemblance. The TV equivalent of pulp is "network show", which means flimsy pandering storyline, and easy melodrama. True Art shows are contrasted to that, but while SOME have stories and character development I'd called complex, the vast majority seem to be done by people who have a shaky grasp of storytelling, and try to cover it all up with blood, boobs and swearing.
Yes, I know it's not on regular TV, so you can say the F-word, slice open throats, and have women walk around wearing no tops for absolutely no reason if you want to. And I can appreciate why you'd want to take advantage of that, as a creator: because it's still relatively shocking, and shocking things draw eyeballs. But to pretend that it's somehow a higher form of art is dishonest. These techniques are crass tricks, on par with big explosions in blockbuster movies. And you know what you call movies that have big explosions for absolutely no logical reason, other than to excite? Michael Bay movies.
In art, everything should have a purpose. You can write a story where characters are indiscriminately killed in brutal ways, but it should be in the service of atmosphere: nobody's safe, never let down your guard. You can have endless sex scenes between all kinds of people, because there's emotion there that's being explored — or a lack of emotion, even. You can have characters speak like real people and curse their fucking mouths off, because there's an honesty to it. But exploring the forbidden fruit is not the same as throwing it at the audience for kicks. And we, as an audience, should stop being suckered into applauding it.
That's what TV is becoming. We are gradually becoming a society of people who turn up their noses at less "risky" fare, usually with stronger characters and better writing, to chase after flimsy stuff held together with the intellectual's version of pyrotechnics. Gratuitous ANYTHING is gratuitous, and it does not equate to quality. If it does, Michael Bay is the greatest auteur of our time.
July 20, 2013 — 587 words
Last week, I wrote three whole posts, announcing and then illustrating that I was not dead. And then the temperatures shot up for six days straight, and I believe I actually died, at least in a functional sense. But while I was dead, I had lots of time to think about important creative issues, the topmost on the list being finishing what you started.
I am not tremendously good at this. On my list of things to finish are (in no particular order) Polarity, The Archivists, Fission Chips and the Scarlet Lemming, The New Real 1 & 2, and one other project which shall not be named. Some of those are just quick fix-ups, some are heavy rewrites, and none are going to happen this year, I think. Unless the temperature drops for an extended period of time.
What causes this creative attention deficit disorder? It's painfully simple: creativity melts.
Every project you start is an ice cube. At the start, you've got a big-ass ice cube, perfectly square, and it cools the room around it, just by existing. That's the project you have in your mind, the one that makes you want to get out of bed and start doing things. When people ask "What are you working on?" you think of that, even if there are a dozen other things further along.
But what happens is the ice starts melting, and almost immediately. You write your first paragraph, and you think it could be better — the edges round a bit on the cube. You finish a chapter and wonder if you picked the right starting point — there's the tiniest of puddles around the ice. You realize you are writing yourself into a place where your Big Twist can't happen the way you wanted — and the cracks appear.
In no time at all, you're looking at something that feels like an inferior copy of what you were working at. You realize you're never going to live up to your own expectations, and it makes you pause, step back, and think of other options.
Some people react by sticking the ice cube in the freezer, vowing to come back to it when the time is right. Some people excel at scheduling a slice of time every day to take the ice cube out, work away at it, and then put it back before too much damage can be done. Some people climb inside the freezer with it, and work until their hands go numb. This often requires strong coffee and/or alcohol.
But no matter which method you employ, the ice cube is going to look different than you intended. And if you're not careful, it will eventually pass the Meh Threshold, whereupon it will not seem worth the effort anymore. All you'll see is the melting of the ice, and the sorry state of your creation.
This is the ultimate danger. Once you reach this stage, it is far too easy to put the ice cube back in the freezer and not touch it ever again. Better to save it than let it melt away forever.
I do this a lot. Worse yet, I have ice cubes in pairs: the sorry state, and a perfect cube that never leaves the cold, both telling the same story. All I need to do is find a way to transfuse the essence of one into the other and... and...
Creativity melts if you're not careful. So the question is: how do you keep your ideas from melting?
July 11, 2013 — 1,213 words
Seven years ago today, I released my first real book. At the time, a group called Access Copyright was rolling out a brainwashing campaign aimed at children, and it made me kinda cranky. So I threw together a story about a pig who finds a magic bucket, and rather than using it for good, tries to restrict its use for his own benefit... and things go wrong. An anti-DRM fable, if you will.
It was called The Pig and the Box.
Now, while Access Copyright's campaign crashed and burned, the Pig book — and I'm horn-tooting for a second here — thrived. Downloaded millions of times, translated into more languages than I knew existed, given away at conferences, at schools... all kinds of wacky stuff. I've received more mail about this book than anything else I've ever done.
But I always knew there was more to this story. Something... mysterious...
I like experiments. I like doing things that are somewhat off the beaten path, out in the darkened underbrush where scary things hide. If I don't frolic in the poison mist every so often, bad things happen. Usually to this website.
Anyway, back to the point.
What is the purpose of copyright? Easy enough: to allow creators to exploit their work, exclusively, for a period of time. I write the Pig book, and I am the only one allowed to earn money off the Pig for a little while. After I've had my go at it, the book becomes part of the public domain, where others can build on it, and make our common culture a little better. It makes a kind of obvious sense. Good work, copyright law-writing people!
The thing that always irked me about copyright was the timing. Going by US standards, the original term for copyright was 14 years, which could be extended by another 14 years by the creator. Over the years, that standard has changed, to the point where I believe copyright is now pegged at the lifetime of the creator + the conceivable existence of the Walt Disney Corporation. Plus some other random number that is never less than 100.
Which is to say: copyright is broken. We are now actively trading our collective cultural legacy in favour of shareholder value for a handful of insanely-rich companies. It's not as if the creators themselves are actually benefiting from the new state of affairs, because these same companies usually acquire all the necessary rights to ensure the creators only get a sliver of profits — after expenses, of course.
Wow, sorry, I got lost on a tangent for a second. Let's continue.
When I published the Pig book, I decided that I was going to limit my own copyright period, since the law has absolutely no self control. 14 years seemed long to me, mostly because I live on Internet time, where a week is a year, and a year is how long Google lets its services survive before sunsetting them. I decided to halve that number, which is why I ended up with today, seven years from publication.
My theory is that the Pig book's active life has come to an end, and it is at risk of stagnation. After a certain amount of time, and a decent downward trend in sales (nearing zero, that is), the benefit of my controlling this Pig is vastly outweighed by the benefit of an unencumbered Pig to the rest of society. There's nothing to stop me from selling copies of the book, but now we multiply that creative and economic stimulus by however many new people are now able to participate as well.
In other words: in terms of creating opportunity for wealth, the Pig can do more good without me watching over it.
I think this is the case with a lot of art, with creators confusing tiny flecks of pride and ego with principles and rights. After a certain point, there's no real value in holding on so tight. It doesn't mean you failed, it means you want to see where your art goes next. We call these books our "babies", but would you sit on your kid's shoulders their entire life, refusing to let them make a decision without your permission? It's not only creepy, it's counterproductive.
Art wants to be free. It's just a question of timing.
Therefore: The Pig and the Box is now public domain. You may take it (and/or bits of it) and do whatever you like. Publish your own version, re-draw everything from scratch, translate it into Martian, write sequels, prequels or reboots starring Johnny Depp. I am not only fine with it, I am looking forward to seeing what you do. Especially if you get Nicolas Cage to play the Pig. Then I will love you forever.
"BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?" you say. Very suddenly, I might add. And it's a valid point: if I give up my right to exclusively exploit the Pig, I am depriving my heirs of lots of money that they will need to survive. Copyright lasts beyond the lifetime of the creator in part to enrich their estate after they're gone. Except... that's kind of insulting to my kids, don't you think? What, you think they're too stupid to earn their own money? Let me tell you: they're much smarter than I am. They aren't going to need to spend their whole lives protecting my legacy, just so they can put food on the table. I'm raising capable girls here, not self-important name-dropping parasites.
But back to business.
If you are interested in disassembling the Pig book for yourself, I have made it somewhat easier than brain surgery. Visit The Pig and the Box page and you should see a variety of downloads. I have zipped up all the original Illustrator files, along with the PNG exports, the cover, and of course the text of the book in an RTF. I apologize in advance for the crap state of the Illustrator stuff in particular... I'm not an artist. And it was 2006. Which was... er... like the 60s or something. Tra la la...
Two last notes... first, the question some of you are probably asking now: does this mean ALL my books are about to become public domain? The answer is: possibly. Typhoon will likely stay locked up until I finish the Dustrunners series, but a book like The Vector is standalone, so it can join the Pig when its seven years are up. I have a seven-year extension available, remember, and I am quite confident I can convince myself of the merits of my application, should the need arise.
Lastly: I apologize for the sloppy execution of this release. I had intended to make a bigger deal of it, to really prepare all the various files, and celebrate the seventh anniversary properly. Unfortunately, medical disasters have complicated matters, to the point where I thought I might miss the date entirely. Thank god for coffee.
This is an imperfect anniversary, but it's still important. And hey, with a little luck — and a whole lot of crazy — it might just be the start of something amazing.
July 10, 2013 — 318 words
There are a whole lot of crazy people in the world, but all the BEST crazy people tend to live at io9.com. It's where I did The New Real a few years ago, and it's one of the few sites I read religiously, just because it never fails to entertain.
But it's not just the writers there that are astounding. The community itself does things that would shock and amaze you. For instance: they have this thing called Thursday Tales, where they post flash fiction every Thursday. I mean, that's the kind of thing the webfiction world does, but it's rarely so centralized, so tied to a community that wasn't explicitly formed for writing.
So how can they make it even cooler? By releasing an anthology of Thursday Tales writing, in book form. It's called We Had Stars Once, and what a book it is! Have you seen the cover? Here, look at the cover. Just look at it:
And the goodness doesn't stop there. Every last story is great. You need to read them all. Now, preferably.
If you want to grab a copy of We Had Stars Once, there are multiple options. I myself would recommend the snazzy hardcover, but there's also a paperback, and even Kindle version out there. And be sure to check the WHSO Facebook page for more info.
This is what the internet is all about. I expect you all to do something at least half as cool before the end of the year.
July 9, 2013 — 467 words
There's an old proverb that goes: "Oops, I did it again."
Wise words. Very wise words.
Once upon a time, I revamped this website every 15 minutes. An idea would strike me, and I would code furiously through the night until I could release something that... well... nobody liked. But it was about innovation, dammit! Innovation!
This new website that you are looking at now, this sucker was a bit slower in the making. Not because I was being intelligent or methodical, mind you. I started this in November 2012, and have been chipping away at it in my spare time — usually at 3am, after long days of medical appointments and freelance gigs — trying to get it ready. It's still not quite ready, but I have some immovable deadlines coming up, and I need to get this out.
There's more to this than just a new site, though. It's about my returning to the land of the living, and getting back to basics. Let me take you on a (brief) journey, if you will...
I'm sure most of you know by now about my wife's accident, and the agonizingly slow recovery we're going through. Situations like these don't resolve quickly or easily, and they have the effect of completely disassembling your life in the most miserable way imaginable. But the bright side of being disassembled is that you get to really investigate what it is that makes you tick. You get to decide if you like yourself or not.
What I discovered is that I miss being crazy. I miss doing the things that nobody else is stupid enough to try, not because it makes good business sense, but because there is an untouched piece of thinkspace out there that needs defiling. I have (oddly) built my career on being foolishly impulsive, and the only thing, in all these years, that's slowed me down... is my wife's apparent propensity for traffic-surfing.
(It's ok... we do the dark humour thing a lot these days)
So what does this mean? I don't know. I have a lot of ideas, and I'm inclined to try them out one by one until something explodes. I've got nothing left to lose. I spent the last year trying to do the sensible thing, the responsible thing, to keep myself from hitting bottom. But now that I'm at the bottom... well, sensible stuff is useless, so let's be a little senseless. Kamikaze innovation.
If you're up for it, please stick around. If you have stopped sticking around, please come back. If you were never here, I don't know how you're reading this, but all the same: let's do some silly things together.
It might hurt a little, but nowhere near as much as the criticisms I'll get about this redesign
April 12, 2013 — 124 words
By 1889 Labs
Yes, we are up to no good again.
We - along with some other excellently amazing people - are involved in this.
Think King Arthur. Except ironpunk.
It will be the best game you ever play.
We can't say more for the moment but if you know which way to put your socks on, you'll head over to Camelot Unbound RIGHT NOW and sign up for updates.
Because you don't want to be the last one to hear about this project. Trust us.
(Psst! See the counter at the bottom of the page? When it hits 500, another piece of the puzzle will be revealed...)
April 10, 2013 — 707 words
By Guest Author
by Annette Gisby
My first ebook, a short story and novella collection, Shadows of the Rose, was published by Double Dragon in the early 2000's, long before the Kindle was a glint in someone's eye and the iPad hadn't been thought of yet. When it was first out a lot of people wanted to know when it was available as, you've guessed it, a real book.
Now, ten to twelve years later, Kindles, iPads and other readers such as the Sony and the Nook are household names and now people ask me if my work is available as an ebook! With the rise of self-publishing platforms like Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing, authors are more in control of their writing than ever before.
Some of my work is with publishers, some of it I have self-published, but they all have one thing in common, they are all available as ebooks. The rise of Smashwords and Kindle Direct has enabled writers to sell short stories electronically, when before the only options were to submit to magazines, who may or may not have accepted them. Then there was erotica, and a lot of traditional magazines and publishers didn't want erotica.
I had written an M/M fantasy romance novel called The Chosen and sent it off to quite a few e-publishers. Some of them wanted me to add more sex, some wanted me to have less sex in it and some weren't that keen on same-sex romances. It found a home in 2010 with Lyrical Press, who wanted it as is, I didn't have to add more sex just for the sake of it, which I was very pleased about. The way it was written, I thought the love scenes flowed within the context of the narrative and I was afraid that if I added more love scenes, they would just look tacked on and not really flow with the story.
The Chosen was my last novel for a while, in 2011 after four years of unexplained dizziness, I finally got to see a balance specialist and I was diagnosed with migraine associated vertigo. A lot of things can trigger the vertigo, it might be food, flashing lights or loud noises and computer screens/television. It also plays havoc with your memory and concentration so I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate on completing a full-length novel for quite some time. This is where e-publishing saved me once again, you don't just have to write novels, some people like short stories too and I have self-published a few using Smashwords and Kindle Direct.
Pink Petal Books/Jupiter Gardens Press is giving one of my older novels, Drowning Rapunzel a new electronic lease of life this year too. It's been revised and extended since that first edition way back when and I'm pleased that with e-publishing, you can give some of your back list a new lease of life and perhaps get more readers who've never seen it first time around.
Annette Gisby grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland, moving to London when she was seventeen. She writes in multiple genres and styles, anything from romance to thriller or erotica to horror, even both at the same time.
When not writing, she enjoys reading, cinema, theatre and travelling the world despite getting travel sick on most forms of transport., even a bicycle. Sometimes you might find her playing Dragon Quest or The Sims computer games and watching Japanese Anime. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, a collection of porcelain dolls, cuddly toys and enough books to fill a library. It's diminishing gradually since the advent of ebooks, but still has a long way to go.
This guest post is part of the FMB Blog Tour.
April 9, 2013 — 639 words
By Gabriel Gadfly
Hello! I’m Gabriel Gadfly, 1889’s “resident poet,” as my colleagues like to say. April is National Poetry Month is the US, and, as is often the way of the online world, you could say it’s Poetry Month for the Internet, too!
There are tons of great poetry-related projects happening this month across the world. There’s NaPoWriMo -- a writing challenge that tasks authors to write 30 poems in 30 days. There’s Record-a-Poem, a Soundcloud-based project by the Poetry Foundation that asks people to submit recordings of their favorite poems. There’s the Big Poetry Giveaway, a project that asks bloggers and poets to give away two poetry books this month.
There’s also Poetry Matters, a little project of my own. A few weeks ago, a poet I admire Tweeted that she was sad and discouraged that poetry didn’t seem to matter to anyone anymore. It surprised me -- my readers have always shared with me how important poetry is to their lives. If talented and successful poets felt like their work didn’t matter to anyone, maybe the problem wasn’t that poetry isn't important to people -- maybe it was that those people had just never been given the chance to talk about why and how poetry mattered to them.
Poetry Matters is a little nudge in that direction -- the project is a collection of short videos from students and poets and teachers and people from all walks of life who just love reading poetry, and it asks the question Why Does Poetry Matter To You? For some, poetry is tied to fond nostalgia -- memories of a first cherished book, or a kind teacher. For others, poetry is a way out of darkness -- from depression or self-harm or grief. And of course, there are those of us who are poets, driven to create poetry and fulfilled by it. Everyone has their own reason why poetry is important to them.
The project has been live for about a week, and there have already been some great submissions. Here are three of my favorites:
I hope you’ll check out the project’s page on my site to see the rest of the videos. Even better, I’d love to know why poetry matters to you. Record your own video and add it to the collection!
Gabriel Gadfly represents a younger breed of poet, embracing the Internet as a medium through which to bring his work to readers.
In 2009, Gabriel launched GabrielGadfly.com with the concept that poetry should be readily available and easy to share in formats that fit today's world. The site launched with just ten poems; today, it has over 350 and Gabriel continues to publish new poems to the site several times per week. His style of poetry uses concrete narration and sharp images to tell stories; sometimes fictitious, sometimes true.
Though Gabriel publishes his works directly on his website, several of his poems have appeared in Four & Twenty, Borderline, Anatomy & Etymology, and most recently, in Subtext Queer Arts Magazine, a publication by the University of Florida.
April 1, 2013 — 647 words
By Merissa Tse
As the beloved T.S. Eliot reminds us, “April is the cruelest month.” And of course it is- NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) is upon us! For those who are aware of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the poetically inclined have their own writing challenge during the month of April to produce 30 poems in 30 days.
To celebrate, 1889 Labs is here with support! Every day on our facebook page, you’ll find a writing prompt for your daily poem- whether it be a phrase, photo, a favourite poet, or just a word to get your creativity flowing.
Our resident poet, Gabriel Gadfly, is celebrating NaPo too! The Poetry Matters project invites you to join in the poetry community as we post videos and create an ongoing dialogue on why poetry matters to us- whether it be writing, reading, or both.
As a NaPoWriMo participant since 2006, I thought I might offer some advice on how to have a successful (and fun!) month when it comes to the poetry challenge. It’s not always easy, and sometimes you don’t finish- but that’s okay. So how can you survive it?
It sounds ridiculous to look at writing from this kind of an approach, but that’s what NaPo is- a way to encourage yourself to write, even when inspiration doesn’t strike you at every corner. Should every NaPo poem be a masterpiece? Absolutely not! The point is to try your best each day, and see what happens. At the end of the month, you have 30 poems (some better than others) to revise and shape into something you’re truly proud of. NaPo is a breeding ground for good writing that you help shape into great writing.
Join a forum! There are plenty of poetry forums participating in NaPoWriMo right now, and it’s a great way to not only keep track of your work, but also push yourself to keep going even when things get difficult. It’s okay if you fall behind a few days- just get back on the horse! Joining a group of NaPoWriMo participants will keep you motivated by getting feedback (fluffy, happy, kind feedback) from writers going through the same thing, and giving it in return.
While waiting for the perfect inspiration may work for some people, sometimes you need to seek it out. Look through novels, poems, or even photo galleries to find something to write about. NaPo has taught me one thing when it comes to writer’s block: there is no such thing as writer’s block, just writer’s laze. Think of writing is a muscle- the more you use it, the easier it becomes to keep doing so.
NaPoWriMo is also the perfect time to experiment! If you love a certain poet’s writing style, try emulating it. Some people find a specific list of prompts that they stick to for the whole month, and some try a different poetic form each day such as sonnets, terza rima, sestinas, or freeverse.
This month you can find me (Merissa) on the 1889 Labs facebook page, for all your writing coach needs! You can also check out my personal NaPo journey on the EveryPoet.org NaPoWriMo 2013 thread. If you're looking to participate, make a thread with your first poem before midnight tonight. If you miss the deadline- no worries! There are plenty of ways you can still participate and join the community.