Sunday, September 29, 2013

Practice What You Preach

I read a lot of e-newsletters. Some give me tips on how to write better, some give me clues about markets I might submit to, and some try to tell me how to market my work, once it gets published. Most of them I can read fairly quickly. But one of them I read this week... !

I don't remember which newsletter I was reading, possibly one on marketing, because the article seemed to be on what type of website to make announcements, timing and the type of announcement. After almost every website type/announcement type that it listed, the author expanded by saying you should edit, edit, edit everything before you sent it off into the world. The reasoning was that if you make an impression on potential readers with poor grammar, spelling and punctuation, they aren't likely to look up your book and buy a copy.

I have to agree with that sentiment.

A lot of people never learned these things in school well enough to know how to follow the rules, and therefore, they don't think it's really important. Texting, when it required hitting the same button a number of times to get one letter, further eroded people's ability to spell, it seems. But as long as the idea gets across, anything goes these days, right?

No, I can't agree with that sentiment.

I have re-worked and proofread and edited enough to be pretty familiar with most of the rules of the English language. It doesn't bother me to get a text on my phone with 'u' for 'you' and 'ur' for 'your'. I consider that a kind of slang.

But when I'm reading something that purports to be informative and professional, I expect it to be well edited. This particular article in this newsletter was NOT. Here it was, expounding on the idea that everything you put out there should be edited, and the author did not appear to know the difference between [its] and [it's], or where commas belong, or how to spell.

Now I'm left in a dilemma. Do I believe this author was knowledgeable in the field and take the advice offered? Or write the article off as a waste of time because the author couldn't be bothered to take his/her own advice?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Atlan Journal, Entry 1

My name is Lacelia. I am an Atlan historian. Yesterday marked the end of my 12th year, and I received my first journal, quill and ink. No longer will I try to formulate my thoughts and observations on slate with chalk or charcoal; now I can keep them for years and years, and eventually, my journals will join our growing archive.

Knowing that what I commit to this parchment might well be read by future generations any number of times, I tried all night to decide what my first entry should be. This morning, Opaan, my mentor, asked why I had not written in my journal yet, and I told her of my difficulty in deciding on a topic. "I have not had any adventures. I have only the hum-drum chores of my life."

"This is a common complaint of young historians, for we seldom leave the village and those chores. But we are charged with recording history for all the Atlans, not just ourselves. When someone returns from the Outside, many of us will sit and listen to their tale, and commit it to our journals. But in the meantime, we hone our skills by recording what we see and know around us. This is how future generations will learn about us, and thus, where they came from."

"Surely they do not need to know we sweep our cottages and wash our clothes! Everybody does that!"

Opaan nodded. "Today, everybody does that. But I have read the first journal of Tolka, the first historian of this village. In it, she reports that the founding mothers of this village were refuges from some terrible disaster at the original Atlan home, which was an island. The total number of refuges that found their way here were six, and four of them were under the age of fifteen. She did her best to report the important facts about this disaster and how they came here, but she was a child of the youngest of the six, and the two who had arrived as grown women had become feeble with age."

"I certainly don't have anything as important as that to write about!"

"I should hope not. But that journal was well used, and obviously had been consulted many, many times, although, not the pages dealing with the disaster and its aftermath. Those pages were much cleaner and far less wrinkled." I wondered why anyone would have consulted a book without bothering with such an important story, and Opaan continued. "Tolka had also described such things as the local berries and fruits, where they could be found and when they were most likely to be ripe. How to plant certain grasses and harvest the seeds, then grind the seeds into flour and make bread. Noxious weeds that would cause distress to the livestock, and less noxious weeds that would dissuade wild creatures from invading the gardens."

"But the Plant Women and the Cooks would have that knowledge."

"They had none. And like Tolka, when the first of them were born into the village, they had no one to teach them these things. Without mentors, they would have had to start their learning process by trial and error. As you did, when you were learning to ride a horse. Luckily, somebody realized the knowledge Tolka had in her journal, and used those clues to help them find their own Power, like caring for plants and cooking."

"Yes, but that was then, Opaan. At last count, we had over 500 Atlans in this valley. Plenty of mentors for any of the 27 different Powers."

"Then consider this, young one. Tolka reported that the village had grown too large to shelter under the waterfall anymore, and had started to erect huts made of twigs and mud. You could follow her instructions and make one, if you wanted. They bathed in the river. These days, our sturdy cottages are of wood and stone. We have constructed a reservoir that is filled by the waterfall, and pipes to bring that water to each building. We bathe in tubs. Things have changed since then."

I thought maybe I understood. "And some day, our descendants might want to know about such things?"

"Exactly. So, make your first entry. And once the first page or two is written on, you will no longer hesitate to write more. Or, at least, I didn't."

I think she might be right. Unless something more interesting comes up, tomorrow I will write about my family.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Have you ever done spring cleaning? It's not something I grew up with, but every once in a while I just have to give up, shovel out my office, organize what I'm keeping and throw away everything else.

I'm in the middle of that now. We've moved all my office stuff out of the family room into the front room these last 2 days, and now I've got boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff to sort through. When I look at those boxes, I figure it will take months for me to get them all cleaned out. It's such a depressing thought, I can't cope, and I give up.

Happily, the way my desk is currently set up, I actually sit with my back to all those boxes (which are stacked halfway to the ceiling in the corner of the room). So I don't have to look at them, in the normal scheme of things. That helps me keep my mind on an even keel.

What I'm planning to do is pull one box over at a time to the side of my desk and clean out that one box. Then I'll take a break and write a scene or fill the dishwasher before I pull out the next box. And when my shredder gets full, then I'm done cleaning out boxes for the day.

It's not the kind of spring cleaning my grandmother used to do, and I'm not doing it in the spring, but it's a deeper cleaning than I usually do. Why do you think I have so many boxes to sort through? Because my usual way of 'cleaning' is to shove things I don't want to deal with into a box, to be dealt with later. Can't do that with bills, of course, but most everything else gets shoved.

Right up until times like now, when I'm tired of them trying to shove back. And frankly, when my office space is a mess, it also seems to clutter my mind, preventing me from writing. Or getting much of anything done. I really should clean more often, to keep my mind organized and my imagination purring.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Working a World Con

This year, my husband and I were in charge of Opening Ceremonies at Lone Star Con 3, the World Con held in San Antonio. Last year, we were in charge of both Opening and Closing Ceremonies at Chicon 7, the World Con held in Chicago. We have attended many World Cons over the years, but these were our first efforts at being staff members of a World Con.

I don't know if these experiences will help me in my efforts to establish myself as a writer, but they might. Instead of going to publisher parties and winding up being a wallflower, I showed myself to be an active participant, a capable and flexible planner, and a person who was easy to work with.

But wait, I was a behind-the-scenes type of staff person, so who would have seen all those good things about me? Good question, one I've been thinking about the last few days.

We were late getting access to the stage, so any convention attendees who arrived at the ceremony location early in search of a good seat, saw me moving set furniture and props, consulting with sound techs and the convention Toastmaster. When others could not decide on a good location for a late-arriving set decoration, I made the decision. If any of these good people noticed me in particular and caught my name, ... well, I only know of one person who attended this convention who does not do a lot of reading.

We met and interacted with other staff members. We received compliments from some of them for being cool, collected and flexible, but maintaining control. Some had expected us to have a melt down over the loss of our major piece of set decoration, a set of cardboard swinging doors. Happily, it was found and brought to us an hour before we were to begin, and 3 people immediately set to work putting it together for us. It would have been a shame if that item had never showed up, but we figured the attendees were coming to see the guests, not our choice of decorations.

Finally, we had some interaction with the guests, as we introduced them to the Toastmaster, explained what we expected from them, and alerted them that they would be next on the stage. Despite our efforts ahead of time to work with the Toastmaster on the list of guests, last minute details meant our list of people for him to introduce almost doubled in the last half hour before the ceremony started. He was a trooper, speaking briefly with all of them and taking notes. We were hard pressed to keep track of where he was putting them on the list, but we must have done something right, because we never had the wrong person waiting in the wings. These guests included (but were not limited to) famous authors and a well-known editor. Hopefully, they noticed our efforts in a favorable light.

In any case, we took our enjoyment of world cons and paid it back/paid it forward by being staff members.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

World Con

What better subject for me to blog about while I'm at this year's SF Worldcon than the convention itself?

The World SF Convention has existed for nearly 75 years. It's a traveling convention, meaning it is held in a different city every year. For instance, last year's was in Chicago, this year's is in San Antonio TX, and next year's will be in London England.

This year's attendees have the opportunity to vote on the site for 2 years from now, 2015. We had 3 choices; Orlando FL, Spokane WA and Helsinki. Well, technically, we also had the choices of 'No preference' and 'None of the Above'. These locations already have some people who have scoped out the best place in town to hold the convention, have presented an acceptable plan to the Worldcon parent organization, and have been trying to impress people with what their location has to offer.

This year, the attendees also have the opportunity to vote on next year's North American SF Convention. When the World Convention is in another part of the world, like next year's convention in London, a great number of North Americans can't afford to travel that far, so a similar convention is held within North America.

If you have never attended any science fiction convention, I don't really suggest you start with a worldcon. Try a couple conventions in your area of the country first, so you have a better idea what to expect. (Google 'sf convention' + 'your state' to find some within easy reach.) If you've been to one of those huge comic cons, you might not be quite so lost, but I find the worldcon has more things to do.

With an attendance of 6,000 or more, a worldcon has the usual dealer's room, panels, art show, panels, con suite, panels, autograph sessions and panels. Did I mention there's panels? Looking through the pocket program (a booklet of 260 pages), there are easily 2 dozen Things To Do in any given hour of the day, slowing to 1 dozen in the evening.

Worldcons differ from local sf conventions in another way. Local sf conventions are usually 3 days long, from Friday through Sunday. A worldcon starts on Thursday and goes through Monday. So a smart attendee tries to pace themself. Or else, trains for the marathon ahead of time.

Even with thousands of attendees, by the time you've come to 2 or 3 worldcons, you'll start recognizing some faces, and others will start to recognize you, too. There really are groups of friends who do not see each other except at conventions. Thank goodness for internet for sharing thoughts at other times!

Woops, there's a panel coming up I want to be at. See ya next week!