Errands, the doing thereof

So, in early-ish to town, with a stop at the credit union, which is inside the city limits but no longer in town.  When Steve and I lived in Waterville, more years ago than  I probably want to stop and figure out at the moment, I could walk to:   the Morning Sentinel (where I was gloriously employed as a copy editor); the grocery store; the “department store” (Zayres, then Ames); the drugstore (CVS); the bank; the bookstore; the frame shop; the art supply store; the music store; the copy shop; another department store (locally owned; the name of which escapes me); a lingerie store; a head shop; a newstand; three beauty salons and a barber shop; another drugstore (LaVerdiere’s);  the video store; three jewelry stores; an insurance company; a bakery; a liquor store; the post office; the credit union; two banks; and several restaurants and bars.

I mean, people lamented that “main street was dyin'” but honestly, I had almost everything I needed on a daily basis within a six-block area.

Now, the credit union’s moved out to the edge of town, where you need to mount up your car to get; CVS likewise.  LaVerdiere’s closed, along with the grocery store and both department stores; the video store of course is long gone; Al Corey’s music store closed for remodeling a couple months ago, and now it’s and empty storefront.  Downtown still has stores in it — Children’s Book Cellar is still there; the bars and restaurants — renamed and revisioned, some of them — remain.  Liquor store’s still good.  So’s the post office.  But the lack of a grocery store (and though I Love Them, the fresh market is not a grocery store) has kind of made downtown untenable as far as living goes.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a good deal lately, as Steve and I try to figure out how to move “in town” by which we mean to a place where we can walk to most of life’s little necessities.  And where we won’t be ‘way, ‘way out in the country when we really shouldn’t be driving in snow anymore (I’m watching what some older couples — by which I mean, older than us — of our acquaintance are going through, trying to stay in country houses when one, or both, are becoming frail and it’s scaring me to death, here).

And!  All of that?  Was a digression.

Where was I?

Ah, yes, the bank, thence to the copy shop (which is still there, though much diminished from its days as Office Supply Empire and Quick Print) to make photocopies of the marked up pages before putting same in envelope and mailing them to North Carolina.

Having done this, I walked down to one of the two surviving beauty parlors to see if anything could be done about my hair, but they weren’t open at 9:15, though the hours on the door said “Monday 9-4.” I therefore went to the Post Office, mailed my packages, picked up the mail and returned, to find an undated-or-timed sticky-note on the door stating, “Be back in a few minutes.”

All righty, then.  I stuck around a few minutes, but no one ever showed up, so I walked down to the second salon and there Hilary cut my hair in a very satisfactory fashion and I can see again!

Having achieved this entirely satisfactory outcome, I got in the car and drove to Elm Plaza, there to dispatch an errand at Penney’s, walked down to the grocery store and did that errand, and so to home.

All of which took much longer than I had anticipated.

Came home, unpacked the groceries, made lunch and ate it, did a modest amount of laundry.

Writing happened, though not as much as I would have liked.  I realized rather late that part of what was throwing me off was that there was one (1) scene missing and one (1) scene  in the wrong place.  I remedied those situations and now am officially done for the evening, and yea, verily, the day.


Progress on Ghost Ship

64,035/100,00o OR 64.04% complete

Answers with coffee

Last evening’s post generated some questions, which I’ll try to deal with here, all in one lump, with the morning’s second cup of coffee.

Of particular concern was that I reported “scrubbling” the cats.  Some folks misread “scrubbled” as “scrubbed” and I want to assure you right now that the Cat Farm cats are, in the immortal words of my mother-in-law, “clean cats.”

“Scrubbling” in the vernacular of the Cat Farm is a two-handed, full body rough rub.  Mozart likes his back scrubbled.  He will lie belly flat on the floor, I’ll kneel next to him and rub both hands up and down, like I’m shampooing him.  He grabs on the rug with his front claws and squeaks.  Yes, he squeaks.  What can I say?  He’s a goof, but I love him.

Hexapuma likes to have his belly scrubbled.  The technique is roughly the same as above, except for watching out for the Sudden Grab(tm) when he’s had enough, and that Hex likes to enjoy himself in silence.

Scrabble prefers to let the whole scrubble thing pass her by, thanks.

* * *

Mozart and Hexapuma are Maine Coon Cats.

Mozart’s home cattery is the Kennebec Cattery in Pittsburgh, so his Full Formal Name is Kennebec Mozart; he is Officially a Blue Silver Tabby, and has just celebrated his twelfth birthday.

Hexapuma’s Official Moniker is Blue Blaze Sphinxian Hexapuma, from the Blue Blaze Cattery, now of Delaware.  He is a Black and Silver Classic Tabby and will this month celebrate his fourth birthday.  He is not, as many people assume, a polydactyl, though many Maine Coon cats are (it’s a feature, not a bug).  He was named, so I’m told, for a critter that appears in a series of novels by David Weber, the Sphinxian Hexapuma, which is, as I also understand it, far fiercer and more ambitious than Hex will ever be.

The Cat Farm’s cat-0f-all-work is Scrabble, a calico adopted from the local shelter.  Steve met her while she was interning at the local pet food store, realized her potential as an office manager and brought her home.  Scrabble will soon, so we believe, be eight years old.  We celebrate her birthday on September 1.

* * *

Reading order for the Liaden Universe® novels. . .

There’s a sort-of reading order over here, but honestly, there are apparently as many True Reading Orders as there are readers, so I’ve given up weighing in on the topic.  Read them how you like them; it’ll all make sense in the end.

* * *

There was a request for a description of the process of writing, but. . .I think I’d rather not talk about process while I’m actually writing, so maybe we’ll get to that one later.  I once heard an artist say that she could either draw or talk about drawing, but she couldn’t draw and talk about what she was doing at the same time.  If you start thinking too much about what you’re doing, the centipede gets all tangled up in her feet, poor thing, and goes crashing onto her nose.

* * *

Book length, and can’t Ghost Ship please be longer than 100,000 words.

I use 100,000 words as a target count for word meters and progress reports because (1) it’s handy, (2) we have a contract for a science novel in the Liaden Universe® of not less than 100,000 words, and (3) I don’t actually know how long the book is going to be until it’s done.  We write story, not words, but it’s hard to assure interested folk of the progress of the story in a nice little graphic.  Some days, there are no words; it’s all about staring at nothing.

But! To give those who are interested a range, here’s the word count on a couple of random submission manuscripts:

Agent of Change:  98,000

Duainfey:  101,000

Longeye: 101,000

Fledgling:  117,000

Saltation:  104,000

Mouse and Dragon: 115,000

Carousel Tides:  101,945

. . .so you’ll see we pretty often do go over, and hardly anything comes in right at 100,000 words.

And now my coffee’s done and it’s time to get on the road and run me some errands.

Everybody have a good Monday.

Boring old day

Did chores.  Tidied up some.  Did last tweaks to Carousel Tides proofs with an eye toward getting them in the mail tomorrow.  Scrubbled cats.  Talked to Steve on IM. Washed the winter jackets!  Wrote.  Stared at nothing.  Wrote some more.  Done writing for the day, and wondering if it’s too late to make a grilled cheese sammich.

Hope your day was more exciting.

Progress on Ghost Ship:

63,059 words/100,000 OR 63.06% complete

Day is done

Seems awful early for day to be done, actually, but my brain is kinda marshmallowly feeling, so I think I’d better give it a rest.  It’s not like it didn’t do a little bit of work, today.

So!  Having goofed off early, I’ll goof off late, too, and go curl up on the couch with a book.  For some reason that the backbrain isn’t sharing with me, I need to reread “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  I mean, fair enough, it’s probably been more than twenty years, but why now?

In other news, there’s a new chapter up at Carousel Tides, that being Chapter the Fifth.  As always, the link goes to the first page on the website rather than directly to the chapter, in order to avoid inadvertent spoilage.

Speaking of Carousel Tides. . .  While I was in Belfast today, I stopped by the Mr. Paperback in Reny’s Plaza and dropped off a dozen or so sampler chapbooks.  There were two people behind the counter when I came in — a man and a woman.  The man asked if he could help me, so I introduced myself, explained I was a local writer, and that I had a book coming out from Baen in November that was a Maine fantasy.  Would he be kind enough to give these samples to customers known to read Urban Fantasy and/or Maine fiction?

He took the chapbooks, making noncommittal noises, flipped one over to read the back, and suddenly said, “You’ve written other books.”

I agreed that I had written many books with my husband and that we had signed in the store some years back, with three or four other local authors, in celebration of Nebula Weekend.

“I’ll be delighted to distribute these for you.  Thank you so much,” he said.

“Thank you so much,” I replied and moved off to go, yanno, look at the books.

As I’m leaving the area, I hear the woman say, “Why are you doing this? Who is she?”  And the guy said,  “Her and her husband wrote a science fiction series.  I read them, a long time ago.  In fact, I think we have some of their stuff back in the section.  It’s OK.”

I happened past the SF/F section via the stuffies and am able to verify that, yep, there was some of our stuff in the section.

So, that was OK.

I have written today.  I’m pretty sure the word meter won’t work over here, so I’ll just report the following progress on Ghost Ship:

61,740 words/100,000 OR 61.74% complete

Working from the other office

The heat broke overnight (thank you, Canada!) and today dawned bright, cool, breezy and in all ways admirable.  I, of course, have Writing To Do.  A pretty fair amount of Writing To Do, in fact.   Be that as was, I kept finding excuses to go outside, and it was barely 10 o’clock in the morning.

So I did what any red-blooded writer would do when simultaneously faced with a day that must be worshipped and words that must be written.

. . .I went to the Other Office.  In my case, that would be the Belfast Office.

Here’s a view from the office:

A view from Sharon's Belfast Office

. . .and here’s the office itself:

Sharon's Belfast Office

I also walked up into town, bought a hat, had lunch at Scoops and Crepes, and tried, but failed, to get a haircut.

Now, to turn the morning’s notes into a scene.

See y’all later.

The Writing Life, Part. . .Whatever

So, Steve is on his way to ReCONstruction, the Tenth Occasional North American Science Fiction Convention, in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I had planned to go, but decided to stay home and work on Ghost Ship, which was due on Sunday, and still 50 grand short of a book.

My couple days of being able to stay inside the book paid off in that I now know not only how the dern thing ends, but how it gets there — which is gratifying.  I’ve been alternating making notes with writing straight ahead, sentence structure be damned, with the goal of having a completed draft by the time I finish my vacation and go back to the day-job.  The logic here is that I can edit while the day-job is dinning in both ears, but lately I’ve been having a bad time writing, ditto.  I think I may be starting to crack under the sheer weight of numbers.

A while ago, one of my co-workers at the day-job asked me why I didn’t give up already with the “hobby” (that would be this), when it so plainly added a lot of stress to my life.  I explained that, in 2007 and 2008, I earned significantly more at my “hobby” than I earned at the day-job; and would have done in 2009, as well, had any one of two payments scheduled for late fall arrived then, instead of in the first quarter of 2010.  In 2010, I can’t tell yet which is winning, honest labor or hobby, because some scheduled payments are late.

You’re seeing the pattern here, right?  What the day-job has in its “pro” column are:  (1) on-time delivery of scheduled payments, and (2) affordable access to decent health care.

If I could get (2) any other way, the day-job and I would part company.  Mind you, I don’t like uncertain payments, but I have coping strategies, built over a decade of freelancing without a net, and years of occasional short rations previous to that.

Which brings us, roundabout, to the question of why people make art:  musician, writer, painter, sculptor — there are very few working artists who make very much money at their art, though some of us can pretty consistently manage a modest living (yes, I did say I earned more as a writer than as a secretary).  There is, of course, the Adulation of Millions, but most artists of my acquaintance are pretty realistic about that aspect of the work.

Many working artists who do have day-jobs consciously choose to stay at a “lower” level, in order to have time and space to practice their art.  I’ve made that decision myself, several times.  We’re not idiots, most of us; we know what a promotion and the attendant mission-creep will do to the time we have for our work.

So!  What have you  — yes, you — given up for your art?  Have you ever been tempted to give up your art?  Have you given up your art?  Do you regret it?  Tell all; inquiring minds want to know.

And!  The galley proofs for Carousel Tides have just landed in my in-box.

Doin’ it right, ackshually

This just in from the ISP of yesterday’s offending website:

This account has been terminated for violation of our Acceptable Use Policy. All hostnames associated with this account have been blocked to prevent future abuse. It may take a little while for DNS servers across the internet to reflect this change.

Thank you for your report,

— Alan Ellis
DynDNS Ninja Squad

Expanding Universe Follow-Up

You all know what tomorrow is, don’t you?

Right!  It’s the twelfth day after the ending of the Great Expanding Universe contest, the day on which the prizes will expire!  And I still have three people who haven’t picked up the coupon-code for their free electronic edition of The Dragon Variation.

Missing folk are:

Al MacDiarmid

A.W. Ford

Samantha Brandt

If you know any of these folks, give ’em a nudge, ‘k?

Once again, congratulations to all the winners, and many thanks to all those who threw their names into the hat!

The Glamor!

So what I’m doing this afternoon instead of writing is putting together a DMCA take-down notice for seventeen novels and stories written by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller which have been scanned and made available for electronic download in violation of my copyright.

For each of those seventeen violations I have to tell the site owner:

1.  The exact title of the work infringed upon

2.  The exact URL of the infringing work

3.  The exact URL of a legitimate electronic copy of the work

Gosh, this is fun!

Judging a Book by its Cover

We got a letter from a long-time reader the other day, who, perplexed by the fact that Steve and I aren’t Rich and Famous Writers, as we clearly deserve to be (a thesis, by the way, that I agree with completely), mounted a study to figure out why this was so.  The results of study led the reader to the conclusion that we lacked the readership enjoyed by Author X (as a fer-instance) because Author X has better cover art.  The reader therefore directed us to instruct our publisher to get us cover art like that gracing the books of Author X, so that we, too, could become New York Times bestsellers.

Now, I have no doubt that our correspondent is well-meaning, and that the expressed concern regarding our continued state of non-famousness, or at least, non-richness, is genuine.  However, there are a couple things. . .off-center about both the conclusion and the directive to us.

Let’s do the easy one first:  Authors do not dictate to publishers.  Authors do not commission cover art.  Authors may, in this enlightened day and age, actually get to consult on the cover art for their books.  Sometimes.  Other times. . .not so much.  Some authors, the rare writer-illustrator, get to do their own cover art.  These folks are the exceptions.

Now, leaving aside for the moment the whole can of worms that is “better” in terms of art, our correspondent appears to have missed a couple of important nuances.

The first, and most glaring, is that Author X writes Urban Fantasy, and thus her covers are Urban Fantasy covers — specifically of the tits-n-tatts variety (which, as a reader of this particular author’s work, make me nuts, because while, yes, the heroine is indeed kick-ass, she is not tattoo-entwined, as depicted.  I can offer textev.).  Now, there’s no question that these covers are effective sales tools — for Urban Fantasy books.  For space operas, they kinda suck rocks.

This is because genre cover art is shorthand; it is not designed, necessarily, to illustrate a particular scene from the book, nor is its mission (see my parenthetical, above) to accurately portray the characters.

The Mission Number One of cover art is to get the book into the hands of a prospective reader.  Note that our concerned reader had this bit dead on.

The way cover art sells books is by accurately “reporting” to prospective readers what’s inside the box.

Thus, this cover. . .

Cover for The Dragon Variation by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

. . .accurately reports that there is action and romance inside.  A reader — I should say a reader of genre science fiction — who is looking for action-romance will not be misled in their buying decision should they purchase this omnibus, and they are primed to be pleased with what they will find inside.

This cover. . .

. . .promises magic, adventure, perhaps some romance.  I happen to like this cover very much — full disclosure: I’ve been happy with almost all of our cover art, in terms of accuracy of reporting and reader allure — despite the fact that the two front-ground characters look nothing like the people I described in the story; nor is the horse, while bat-winged, particularly my bat-winged horse.  The art accurately reports what kind of story is between the covers, and invites the browsing bookstore customer to pick the book up and have a look at the first page or two.

Once the art has done its job — enticed the browser to pick the book up and look at the text — my job as an writer begins.  I’ve got a paragraph, maybe a page, to grab the reader’s imagination and convince them to buy this book, out of the hundreds of others right there in the science fiction section, or the thousands inside the boundaries of the bookstore.

The argument could therefore be made that the first pages of our novels are weak, while Author X is strong in the force.  It could be that there are more romance readers (a huge market segment) seeking out Urban Fantasy than will take a chance on a scifi novel.

The truth of the matter is, nobody actually knows which books will have “it” and become bestsellers.  If we did, we’d all do it, right?  I mean, we’d be idiots, not to.  The best any of us can do is the best we can at what we do; hope for good art, good marketing support, a steady breeze in the sails, and kindly people at port.