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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Comment Policy

Right now, I still allow anonymous comments. But that's mostly because internet Assholery is the T-Rex of the internet and only one article has "moved"enough for me to be seen. One day I will pull the plug, turn off the music, and tell everyone to get out of the pool.

It would probably take a lot to get ME to blink, much less be offended or actually hurt.  Ever since the death threats and the call for my execution, I've been pretty zen about regular criticism of my prose. However, I won't put up with comments that are hateful or hurtful to other commenters or nothing more than spilled vitriol, so play nice or I delete comments without even an explanation. Though this link is for Facebook, it provides a good basis for what sorts of comments will be moderated into non-existence.

Any comment left on a tab page or a menu entry will eventually be erased.  (It's not that I don't love you; I just want to keep them clean.) I'll leave all the comments on articles up until the day they finally turn power off to The Internet, but the menus and tabs would get very cluttered if I let comments accumulate.

ANY comment on Writing About Writing may show up in a later entry where I respond to it.  Consider that before you comment.  99% of my commenters are rational, calm, and awesome or just giving some quick feedback that wouldn't work to spark its own post. You can comment that you think something is great (or even not my best) without worrying that I'll repost your comments, and you can call me on my grammar mistakes forever without worry.  (In fact, I'm generally grateful if someone points out a mistake I can fix.)

The comments I might repost, are the ones that are clearly intended to pick a fight or get attention usually by some jackhole who thinks their opinion is gilded awesome. Anonymous feedback from trollish twenty something who haven't yet learned how tough it is to put something out there is common....or those who have done so little to be proud of themselves that they are really only capable of feeling better about themselves by belittling others.

So please, unless you 1- Identify yourself SOMEHOW in the comment,  2- ask me not to use the comment as entry fodder you may find it showing up in The Mailbox.

Above is a policy about comments!  I will not post e-mails or other private correspondence unless I have express permission.  I may talk about the content of an e-mail in vague terms, but I won't simply post them unless their author says it's okay.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Have A Tremendous Thanksgiving

Unlike Macy’s, Walmart, Target, and Best Buy, I won't quite do anything for the sake of money. I am an utter, unrepentant whore, but forcing my staff to work on Thanksgiving crosses the line.

We're going to lock the doors and close up shop Thursday and Friday, so everyone can spend time with their families, enjoy turkey, tryptophan comas, a disgusting amount of leftovers, and maybe catch a football game.  Even Grendel and his mom can close down the cafeteria and enjoy some food themselves instead of serving it to everyone else.

If I'm not catching a baby on Saturday (or late Friday night), I should be back with a little something by then. Once baby can be distracted by The Hall of Rectitude's training room, I should have a little more time to write, but until then I might need to drop off radar in a pinch.  Which means this short break for Thanksgiving could turn into a longer break for Thanksgiving + baby-catch.  I will try to keep you updated.

Please have a wonderful vacation. Enjoy family--even the crazy Teapublican uncle who drinks too much, complains about the influence of secret societies of The Welsh, and thinks Snopes is a "libtard conspiracy."  Hug peeps. Eat food of your preferred ideological designation--tofurkeys, real turkeys, sushiurkys, whatevurkey. Have a wonderful day off. And I wouldn't hate you even a little if you didn't contribute to Black Friday insanity by boycotting the whole ordeal and spending more time with your family.

Or if you're one of the 30% of my readers not from the U.S., please have a randomly awesome week of no particular significance, and know that the cuddliest of your favorite snarky Yanks will be back in a couple if days.

See you soon!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

December Poll Write In Phase: Best Classic Science Fiction Author

Who is the best classic science fiction author?

For December's poll, we're going to do something a little bit different.

But first please go vote in this months poll on the best (non-scifi/non-fantasy/non-horror) book of speculative fiction.

Instead of books, this poll will be about authors. And instead of doing a whole genre with over a hundred years (at least) of history, and forcing your decision between foundational classics and contemporary brilliance, this entire poll will only be classical authors.  So if you've ever thought an author wrote more than one great book or series, and should be recognized for a stunning career, now's your chance to recognize them.

The rules: 

1- You may nominate only one (1) author as your choice.  (My nomination will be in the comments.) Please nominate them HERE rather than on another social media.  I will accept a FB or G+ nomination, but if there's a tie to break, I'll go with the ones written here.

2- You may second as many authors as you feel deserve it.  You also SHOULD second authors because very often there are too many nominations for a single poll and the way I resolve such issues is to take nominations with the most seconds.  On our last two polls, no books without at least one second made it to the polls.  So check back periodically to see what other authors people have nominated and give those you think are worthy a second.  

3- Our cut off for contemporary/classic is 1970.  That lets us do New Wave Science Fiction and has the added advantage of not forcing me to be older than something called classic.  

3a- (This one gets tricky.) Several authors have written on both sides of the 1970 divide (Clarke, Asimov, LeGuin and more).  In this case, please consider the works you feel were the best of their career.  

For example, if you really liked Rendezvous with Rama (which kicked off in 1972) and that series, you should wait to put Clarke on the contemporary poll (most likely next month), but if you thought Left Hand of Darkness (1969) was the best thing LeGuin ever wrote you could put her on the classics poll.

3b- You can go BACK as far as you want as long as it still looks like science fiction.  (Mary Shelly would totally fit on our poll.)

As usual, I will tend to trust your judgement rather than make a lot of picky rules. 

I will put this poll up early in December, so give me all the nominations. If you do two picks, I'll take the first one only.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Soon. Oh so soon.

This picture is SO five months ago.
So we're really really close on the baby thing.  I can't tell you how close...but let's just say there's a diaper bag stocked and ready to go in the T.V. room.  (Here's a hint.  It rhymes with slerty pinnutes lapart.)

The Brain has made it perfectly clear that she wants to control the press releases about exactly what's going on, so I have to be really careful about what I say (until it's all over) unless I want all the preferences on the sonic shower changed to icy when I get in and boiling when I'm scrubbing my junk as well making sure that every computer I ever use has its homepage set to 4Chan's MRA group page and that I can't use any search engine but Bing. Ever.

Anyway, the paparazzi can be brutal when it comes to the next generation of superheroes. When Floatsam had little Bruticus, they were so relentless about following him that the dude almost ended up on the villain side of the Great Oakland Rooftop Wars of 2008. As it is, there have been some "antihero incidents" where some particularly bad eggs weren't exactly brought to justice...if you know what I mean. We never did find Jackulator's body...

Plus, The Brain comes from a long line of super hero women on her mom's side. Except the whole lot of them have only one power: worrying. Her grandmother once worried so hard that the entire Platypus gang simply couldn't do crime. But sometimes worry has unintended side effects.  The fallout can be devastating. If it is combined with the little bugger's psychic powers, it could cause a worry amplification feedback wave that engulfs Oakland and leaves everyone genuinely worried about everyone else instead of totally self-absorbed and they would start being nice and showing compassion to each other and....um.....

Well, regardless of how awesome peace and goodwill through all of Oakland might be, I really don't want to have to use Bing.

So all I can tell you right now is that we have definitely gotten some psychic reverberations that the little one is ready to start learning kung fu, and as you know, it's tough to even learn a horse stance in utero, so this is going to happen really soon.

And you will have to get further press releases from The Brain and wait for the post game wrap up to get the deets here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poll: The BEST Speculative Fiction Novel

Is The Handmaid's Tale the best speculative fiction novel?  It is if you don't vote!  The first several spots on our poll are still anybody's guess.  

As we move into the last week of November, we're running out of time to vote and is still anyone's guess how this poll might go. Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is ahead, but only by a tiny margin. And even if she does win, second place is basically a four way tie. Come vote and play kingmaker to your favorites!

The poll itself is on the left hand side of your screen.  It's the lowest"widget" down that side. Everyone gets 3 (three) votes. 

The poll will close at midnight on Dec 1st (unless I fall asleep, which is highly likely given recent circumstances and the chances a baby will be in the house by then, in which case I will close it the next morning and post results soon after.


Also--for those of you who have read this far--nominations for the next poll will be this Tuesday, BEFORE this poll is done, so start to think now about authors. We've done a lot of work-specific polls, but I'd like to give a shout out to authors.  And on the recommendation of wonderful peeps, I will probably be separating future polls of the very popular sub-genres (fantasy and science fiction) into "classic" and "contemporary" categories.  So for our next poll please think about which science fiction authors who wrote the main body of their works PRIOR to 1970 you would consider the best.  1970 lets us incorporate New Wave science fiction, and has the added benefit that nothing younger than me be considered "classic."

I also have a question for you, but you'd have to write in to answer. I get the feeling there's a lot of overlap here with geeks and geek culture and that polls in other genres will probably not get much response until/unless I have a LOT more readers, but how many of you would be interested in polls like "Best Western" or "Best Romance" or "Best Literary Fiction"?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Master Will Appear

IMBD insists he was in the movie, but whenever
you ask about it, he brings up his performance
in Titus Andronicus instead.
What's up with that?
Anthony Hopkins informs us in The Mask of Zorro: “There is a saying—a very old saying—that when the student is ready, the master will appear.” Of course, for writers no mentor comes out of the shadows to teach us (no matter what Finding Forester says). We may have a great instructor (and I’ve had a couple) or we may have worked with a writer of much higher skill who has a soft spot for helping us out.

But writing is a solitary affair. We don’t do training montages until we snatch the marble. We don't do the high kick or catch the chicken. Writers don't have these kinds of mentors.

A writer’s masters are Shakespeare and Faulkner; they are Asimov, LeGuin and Orwell; they are Chaucer, Joyce, Woolf, Carver, and Oats. These masters don’t go around finding students to carry on their legacy. Their legacy is their words. They pour their soul into their craft and create a work that is a tiny piece of it, and that work becomes a training manual for those who can decode it. Writers study them carefully—paying close attention to their word choices and sentence structures—to divine their lessons.  Any student who is ready can find library walls chock full of masters all too eager to give up their secrets.

The point of that expression, outside of Hollywood tropes, is not about some serendipity of the universe dispensing masters in seeming coincidence at the perfect moment to land on the heads of students. There isn't some fate magnet that works only on true loves and masters.

The master doesn't really "appear" at all.

The point of that expression is that masters are everywhere, all around us, always, and that the moment a student is ready to learn--really ready to learn--they will actually SEE the master for the first time. When they cast aside the sense that they are too good to learn, that there is nothing more they can be taught, that they are as good as they will ever be, they will realize that people with greater skill have been there all along. Nowhere is this more true than in writing.

But a good writer--a careful writer who is practicing the art of being a writer--can take this even a step further. They can learn to “read” situations that aren’t so transparently “useful.” Knowing that a study of Shakespeare will help a writer is a no brainer, but the tougher lessons are everywhere in our pedestrian world. A conversation on the bus might give you your next main character. A terrible television show might offer you ten fantastic suggestions for what NOT to do. A LARP can be a non-stop learning bonanza if you experience it as a writer. And of course, shelves are stacked with hundreds--thousands of examples of brilliant craft. For a good student of writing, masters are literally everywhere.

Be ready.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Mailbox: SuperQuickies

More Demon's Rubicon? Will we get baby pictures? What do I think of Neil Gaiman? Will I pimp your shit?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I promise I don't bite--unless you either ask nicely (and tell me your safe word) or you take the first shot.]    

[Folks, I've chewed through my rather extensive backlog of questions, so I may have to start doing jazz hands on Fridays if y'all don't send me new questions?  It's been so long since you've blessed me with some hate mail. What's going on, anonymous?

All of today's questions are super duper quickies. As we approach B-day, our newest little crime fighter is trying to fight crime in vitro (Scanners style), and I'm pretty exhausted from trying to keep up. Please don't forget that if posts suddenly stop for a few days, it may be because the little one is tired of the "hands off" approach to crime fighting, and has psychically commanded me to baby catch instead of write.]


Amy asks:

When will we see more of A Demon's Rubicon?  I love that shit.

My reply:

Psychic baby madness permitting, probably next month. I discuss fiction in my Frequently Asked Questions. Fiction (or creative non-fiction) takes a long time.  It is much more time and energy intensive than any of the other "shit" I write here. I'm not trying to "hold hostage" the posts that get such wonderful feedback ("If you vant to know how zis story ends, Daddy needs a new smoking jacket!"), it's just that as a relatively new blogger in a world where content is king, I have to space out the entries that take me a long time to write, or you'd only see one or two updates a week--and then my numbers would tank.  I hope in 2014 that one of the main shifts you will see in the blog is toward more fiction, but until I'm able to light my cigars with hundred dollar bills, I may have to make sure that I strike the balance as much as possible.

RenĂ©e asks: 

Will we get baby pictures?

My reply: 

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn't exploit baby pictures in order to drum up a few more page views. Of course, you'll get baby pictures!

Eric asks:

What do you think of Neil Gaiman personally. Have you read American Gods and Anansi Boys?

My reply:

I've never met Neil Gaiman personally. If you mean what do I personally think of Neil Gaiman, I think that he is an amazingly imaginative and talented writer. If I had to come up with some salient criticism, I would say that some of his novels suffer from slightly mushy middles--I tend to find myself skimming from about half way to maybe two thirds, but it's actually a lot less than many contemporary fantasy and speculative fiction authors.

Yes, I have read both of those.  I thought they were both wonderful.

Several people have asked:

I am an author/editor/artist/promotor/writing teacher and I have a book/reading/writing class/ anthology/thing. Please promote it on your blog/Facebook Page.

My reply:

~Mark as spam~

I'm happy to do some kind of exchange of pimpification. It's a tough, dog-eat-dog world out there, and half the links I have are those who have given me a shout out in return. The wider either of us can cast our net, the better, but one hand washes the other. I've spent two years building up the very small audience that I have, and I didn't do it to help those who won't give me a shout out in return or can't be bothered to even know what I'm up to in my writing life.

I'm honestly surprised at how common this is. When I started blogging/self-promotion, I figured scratching backs was just a no-brainer, but the number of people who seem willing to directly solicit free promotion is breathtaking.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monetary Support

Writing About Writing will never be behind a paywall site (or have the "best" content only available to Patreon donors or anything like that), and we also will never again host random ads. We may one day post ads for products we truly believe in, but the random ones for butt hair eliminators and robot crawl editing are a thing of the past. I have also opted out of traditional publishing completely, so unless some day there is an unbelievable million-dollar book deal that contractually requires me to remove my online version, everything I ever write will be free online. There might be a small charge for a e-reader version or a cost-covering charge for a print on demand physical copy, but mostly everything will be free.

Which means I am 100% dependent on the generosity of donors.

And while we love all the other ways in which fans show their support–by liking and sharing articles, with engaging and robust comments, by becoming members of or following the blog, recommending us to friends, and a host of other ways–monetary support works a lot better than "likes" when it comes to paying rent or getting a professional web designer to look under W.A.W.'s hood (for example at the shitshow I call top level menus).
No seriously.

I can't ever fully thank the few who donate so that the rest might get more and better content or express just how much that few dollars means. Right now, my efforts average out to somewhere between one and two dollars an hour on a really good day, so even the smallest donations are like mana from heaven. However, as insufficient as any such gesture is, and however "gauche" a rewards tier might seem without keychains, tote bags, and weekends in Napa, I still want to try to let everyone know in some feeble way how much you mean to me.

What your donation supports:

Though your donation may be to Writing About Writing, what you're really supporting is an entire range of my creative efforts. Of course there's Writing About Writing, but there's also Social Justice Bard (which had a rocky launch because of surprise cancer but is getting back on its feet as of this writing). There are other blogs I write for less frequently like Ace of Geeks. I also maintain a Facebook Page for Writing About Writing filled with goofy memes and puns in addition to the daily posts and cross posts. And a lot of my proto-thoughts, social justice bard test balloons and daily shenanigans happen on my public Facebook Wall–strictly speaking I don't expect anyone to donate to me Facebooking but there is a measure of my creative energy that goes in that direction. I will also make sure that W.A.W. is a "home base" with links that go to any other public writing I do.

Also please don't forget that 10% of every donation goes to a local children's literacy charity. (We're doing Oakland Reads right now.) 

Another ten percent also goes into blog improvements, which will mean editing and website construction when there's enough income to do so, but for now gives W.A.W. a very modest promotional budget to advertise some of our "greatest hits" on Facebook, gain followers, and expand our modest audience.

Unfortunately I've really had to ratchet up the thresholds for various rewards this year. This is no reflection on any sort of shifting awesomeness threshold, but simply one of my time and energy away from blogging and fiction. Especially being on the front line with supporting someone through cancer. We have a very large number of smaller donations, and while each of you is absolutely wonderful and awesome, if I stopped and wrote a thank you note to everyone, it wouldn't be long before that was all I really had time to do.

The Agape Love of Ongoing donations- Of course we love any donation we ever get from anyone...ever. It's always a treat that I don't feel like I deserve and a pleasure and an honor. That can't be underscored enough. One-time donations make up over a half of our entire revenue here.

However, ongoing donations help us in a very particular way. They help us budget for things since it is an income we know we can (at least tentatively) count on month after month. For example, ongoing donations were what helped us drop a teaching class each week (down to one), hire a housekeeper, and get a sitter to tag in for a few hours each morning, all of which have made more writing possible. The only reason I was able to keep anything going while we dealt with the cancer diagnosis is because of the help we paid for from ongoing donations. I'm going to need to crunch some numbers to see if I can afford to take off summer school this year (which if you've followed the blog, you know has been my nemesis for three years running), but if it is possible, it will be because of ongoing donations.  It's less like a surprise or a gift and a tiny bit more like reliable income. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a smaller recurring amount will help us out more than a large periodic donation that we never knew was coming and don't know if will ever come again.

It's very easy to make an ongoing donation. Just click on the Paypal link the same as you would to make a one-time donation, but instead, click the ticky box to make it recurring.

Right there in the middle....
Yessssssssssss.

Rewards....kinda:  I honestly wish I had some Writing About Writing coffee mugs and gym bags to make this part a little less ridiculous.

$1.99 or less - While I will never turn down any donation here (because I'm a starving, debased artist with no integrity or something), I will just let you know that Paypal will be taking 30 cents per transaction, so denominations this low lose 15%+ of their value. I will make significantly less if you donated a dollar a month than if you just saved up and donated ten dollars a year.

Up to $100.00- All donors at this level will be included in a post at the end of each year thanking each donor for their patronage and support*. I will use only your first name as it shows up on your Paypal receipt. If you would like your full name to appear, would prefer to be completely anonymous, or be referred to by a pseudonym please either mention so on your Paypal "note" or send me an email at chris.brecheen@gmail.com and let me know that you'd prefer anonymity/psudonymity/fullonymity.

Also, I will shoot you a quick note right away thanking you and letting you know I got your donation.

$100.01-$200.00-  All of the above.  In addition, I will send you a small personal message of thanks, including a few details about what's going on in my world and the projects I'm hoping to get started on next.

$200.01-$300.00-  All of the above. In addition, I will pick your brain about any updates you might like to see coming up in the future, and I will try to expedite that article in my mental queue.(Obviously this is more of a preference favoring than actual creative control, and I can't make any guarantees about time tables.)

$300.01-$499.99- All of the above. In addition I will ask you about anything you generally would like to see more of and try to work that in more frequently.  (Again, I can't make creative or time-table guarantees, but I am likely to at least give it a try for a while.)

$500.00+ All of the above. In addition if you approve (and only if you approve), I will give you a shout out on the blog right away. (This can be as large as your own praise-singing post or as small as a line of thanks slipped in before another article depending on what you are most comfortable with--the point is to thank you vocally, not embarrass the shit out of you.) As with the end of the year post, I will only use your first name unless you inform me you would prefer to be anonymous or have your whole name used. This is in no way intended to put you on the spot or cover you in embarrassing glory if you don't want it; it is simply the only way I have to really thank those who have been so incredibly supportive.

The Great Patron Muses-  There are a few great patron muses (but always room for one more). They have given more to Writing About Writing than I can possibly thank. While blistering hot oral sex or being part of a groupie threesome would certainly qualify one for P.M. status, most of the Great Patron Muses have either donated over and over month after month and/or have donated huge amounts and/or have done something totally amazeballs like show up to a convention wearing homemade Writing About Writing t-shirts. In addition to everything above, I have promised the Patron Muses that should I write a zombie apocalypse story (and there's definitely one rolling around in my melon) characters with their names will be making it to the helipad.


*While I would honestly and sincerely love to get back to every single donor with a personal message, there are just so many small donors, that trying to keep up with them has taken entire days of my writing time and left me with much less time to write.  Please know that I sincerely appreciate every one of you; however, I hope that you'll understand if my thanks in this case is continuing to devote almost all my spare time to bringing you more content.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fortune Cookie Wisdom For Writers V

I felt a lot better about my grammar choices (not my mistakes, but my choices) that were disagreeable to others after I witnessed a 5700 page argument online, complete with references to Hitler and death threats, about which way the toilet paper is supposed to go.


You know, the longer I do this, the more I think the best advice I could possibly give an artist is not to be too good for the baby step--the tiny bit of progress. Expecting that one big pay day is, I believe, holding way too many people with way too much talent back from stuttering forward and actually making progress.

Let's be absolutely clear. I don't "hate" NaNoWriMo. I just think it would be a lot better for most writers if it was only about 500-1000 words a day, and went on for another 11 months.

If people got half as excited for National Novel Revision Month, we'd be onto something.

The trick to sounding really smart as a writer is not in knowing a bunch of things. It's just in knowing where to look and how to search. Because when you're writing, you always have time to look.

The London Philharmonic practiced that song they just played like fifty times before they performed it. You can do one fucking revision of your novel.

The worst offense lit snobs make when making the claim that genre work is crap is that they re-label good examples of genre writing so that it can be acceptable. Science fiction becomes "futurism." Fantasy becomes "literary fantasy" or "magical realism" (depending on its setting in time). While some of their other behavior is merely unconscious elitism, this maneuver actually requires deliberate thought. Though not morally equivalent, this is behaviorally almost identical to how racists say Will Smith isn't "really" black. It's disgusting for such well-read people to be so oblivious of the trappings of rank discrimination and prejudice, and they should stop.


NaNo don'ts: Don't even think you won't need to rewrite. Don't call yourself a novelist. Don't ask anyone to read that first version.


The sooner you learn to accept feedback that points out your writing's errors, the sooner your writing will go from "eh" to "okay." The sooner you go from accepting feedback to wanting it and seeking it out, you will go from "okay," to competent or possibly even good.  You will not get to good without an editorial voice. Every writer needs one.

If you don't believe that you will be a better writer from practice, ask most any writer what they think of the writing they did five years ago and watch their reaction. It is only a writer's unconscionably massive, planetoid-sized ego that allows them to think that now they have truly reached the pinnacle of their ability and no further practice can be of use.

The problem with successful authors who tell hopeful writers that they have to spend a lot of time not making money before they can make money is that the usual response is "Great.  I'm already not making money!"  What they should be saying is that you have to spend a lot of time working really hard and not making money. There's the rub.

The dream of creating the final product is what drives many to writing (or indeed any art), but if there's one thing that separates the true artist from the desultory dreamer it is a love of the process for its own sake--the mistakes, the cutting feedback, the long hours, the not-quite-right hair pulling of it all.

I need more fortune cookie wisdom!!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Demon's Rubicon By Chris Brecheen(Part 3)

One seriously fucking kick-ass game.
A Demon's Rubicon (Part 3)
By Chris Brecheen

Return to Part 1
Return to Part 2

Mother would not forever stay my immaculate protector. Life is like that. The inevitable moment where every child realizes their parents are all too human was still out there and I was not to escape our rendezvous.

Our culture has a phrase that I particularly can't abide by: "Lost innocence."

Innocence is not lost. You don't play soldiers with your friends on the last day of school (summer stretched out ahead of you like a boundless promise) set up intricate camouflaged forts, finally make a daring raid (after boredom sets in from building defenses), do a spectacular and dramatic death roll when you are gunned down by Matt Defronzo's unseen machine gun nest, and later discover that, like your keys, your innocence must have slipped out of your pocket somewhere along the banks of the creek.

Innocence is taken.

Perhaps by slender, feminine hands unaware of the effect they're having. Perhaps by gentle, liver-spotted hands that think that they are doing you a favor. Perhaps by the bone fingers of figure in a dark robe holding a scythe. And perhaps even by thick, calloused hands better suited to ripping potatoes from the ground. But regardless, innocence is yanked from tiny hands that try futilely to hold on. 

"Mom," I asked at eight. "Is it really you? Do you drop the presents after I go to bed, and then eat the cookies yourself?"

Mom nodded soberly, her lips pressed together so tightly they were white.

Wait. What?  I was right? I was just throwing spaghetti at the wall. Two hours before I had been talking about how much better trains would be if they could fly and Tyrannosaurus Rexes with wings. How could she do that to me? I was only eight. She was supposed to say, "Why that's the silliest thing I've ever heard!" until I was......at least ten. Worst of all, this revelation led to a total cascade failure of pleasant fictions. Within minutes the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy joined Santa behind the chemical shed of my imagination, soberly facing down the steely-eyed firing squad of harsh truth as they passed one of The Easter Bunny's cigarettes between them for one last long drag each.

"Well boys," The Tooth Fairy said, "It's been an honor."

They declined the blindfolds. They had more dignity than that.

There was a lot that wasn't awesome about my life when I was eight. My parents were in graduate school and couldn't afford much more than Iowa City's version of a ghetto. Our slumlord's unwillingness to fix the air conditioner was giving me heat rash. My second grade teacher Mrs. Blanchard thought I was a ringleader of troublemakers and that the solution was to keep me in a cardboard box called "The Timeout Box" permanently. Everyone who was not my mother wanted to get me on this new drug called Ritalin. And my step-dad kept taking my mom into her room and locking the door--it was like they didn't want me to know what was going on in there or something. Sometimes she would even cry out, but I couldn't get in there to stop him from hurting her.

These things pale in comparison to the day that Santa died. Innocence wasn't lost that day. It was torn from my hands as I screamed "Noooooooo!"like a character in a bad movie.


Sometimes innocence isn't taken by one set of hands but by uncountable invisible multitudes.  Each takes only the tiniest bit--barely enough to notice--but the end result is the same. I never saw whose hands went to work between the Halloween of my tenth and eleventh birthday. It was just as if that innocence had evaporated. But in the span of one year, it was gone.

When I was ten I marched my cat costume through the Halloween parade.  I held my head high, and may have even tilted my chin upward the tiniest bit, so I could gaze ever-so-slightly down my nose at all the non-cats out there. I stood triumphantly in the contest ring, not understanding that I would never win.  I didn’t know that it was old and un-fancy costume--twenty dollars of material to make some ears and a tail. I didn't know it wasn't much more than last year's black clothes.  I didn't know it didn’t fit quite right.

That night I ran with my friend Josh through the streets of his neighborhood, gathering a dragon's hoard of candy, which would be systematically consumed in fewer than half a dozen sittings (to the horror of my parents).  We laughed, and sometimes even literally whooped, as we dashed from one house to the next, each interlude of street a gleeful new race to the next oasis of spoils. I had no idea I was wearing the ratty costume of "a poor kid."

The next year I knew.

We moved to Calabasas, an opulent neighborhood east of the San Fernando Valley.  Of course Calabasasans (that's totally what they're called) always say that it’s the people in Thousand Oaks that are really stuck up, and Thousand Oakers like to point at Agoura Hills. I believe in Agoura Hills they feel they are down to earth and it is the people in Oak Park who are really snobs.

There's probably some metaphor about humanity to be found there....or something.

Pretty much once you moved east of Woodland Hills, it started to smell like money.  My parents had come for the school system—having moved as fast as they could out of our Canoga Park apartment after my friend Jonathan gleefully recounted the tale of how we watched a man get beat up in the park. My mother could ignore the tiny little baggies I ran past in the alley behind our apartments, the syringes crunching under my sneakers while I played Commando Warriors, or the men who stood very close together and exchanged small brown bags for finger-thick rolls of cash in the park across the street where I played every day, but this was just too much.

"And there was this one hit where the blood went flying through the air and the guy totally screamed!" Jonathan recounted, eyes wide and gleaming.

"Mom," I asked, not at all sharing Jonathan's enthusiasm. "Do you think he died?" I couldn't eat that night, and I kept asking about the fate of the stranger who I'd watched get pummeled.

I wouldn't understand until much later how intimately connected this recount was with the fact that I spent the next weekend bored out of my mind while my parents looked at apartments in a new neighborhood. And so the Canoga Park chapter of my life closed, and we moved to Calabasas, but we were not made of Calabasas money. We lived in a run of condominiums, that (literally) looked up the hill upon multi-million dollar homes.  We were…poor.

We weren't really poor, you understand. Actually, we were doing quite well. We had a personal computer back in the eighties, I had private trumpet lessons, and I never had to skip out on a field trip--no matter how spendy they became. I had grandparents that took me shopping for school clothes every year, and each Christmas I made out like a bandit. 

What was actually happening is that I was learning one of the most fundamental lessons of socioeconomics right there in middle school. That it doesn't matter how much you make absolutely, but only relatively.  If we were making that our Calabasas money in a trailer park in Kansas, we would have been the trailer with the swanky bling light strings, the three cars parked in the carport, the herb garden on the porch, and the vertical blinds.

However, one’s sense of poverty or wealth is entirely relative.  In Calabasas, I was the one living on the other side of the tracks--or in our case a man-made, landscape-engineered brook that wound through the community.  Though it was the nicest place we'd ever lived in, we had an entire bedroom we didn't need, and in almost any other place on Earth these condos would be outrageously swank, in Calabasas, we were the have-nots.

The other kids had far more money to spend on costumes or stay at home mothers eager to flex their crafting muscles and sew up intricate outfits for their kids.  Their unique and detailed costumes could never be matched for 29.95 plus tax. I could tell my costume was a rag.  I could see the difference. I decided I didn’t want to march in the parade. I watched the contest from a distance and witnessed a perfectly detailed home-made bottle of aspirin--her legs jutting from the bottom, arms from the side, and her head poking out of the neck complete with a perfectly rendered child proof cap affixed to her head with a puffy thing that looked exactly like the little ball of cotton.

That night, as I slogged through the neighborhood with my friend Brandon—a friend so tall and lanky that we looked like a comedy team when he stood next to me; 4'10 and already stocky—I wondered what the affluent people handing us full-sized candy bars off of tastefully arranged platters were thinking about my cheap costume. I begged Brandon to trick or treat in my condominium complex. I told him that it was because the doors were closer together and we could get ten times as much candy that way, but really I just wanted to get out from under the gaze of the people in their dazzling costumes who came to the carved oaken doors that we pounded on, and looked at me like I was some strange bug that was not indigenous to the region.

To this day I hate Halloween. I hate looking for a costume. I hate that sense that I don't belong. I hate the feeling that my costume is being judged.

My family moved away from Calabasas during my last year of middle school. I worked hard to hate them for uprooting me from an established clique at a time of social awkwardness, mostly because I didn't have a lot of other really good reasons to hate them, but I was at the age where I had to come up with something.

When it comes to unforgivable childhood trauma, you have to work with what you've got.

Honestly though, I think they saved me a lot of grief. The real stratification was about to start. Calabasas is the kind of community that to this day could be the setting of The Outsiders (and I wasn't a particularly good greaser). Many hard lessons were coming down that pipe, and my awareness of my crummy costume was only the first of them.  I was only just starting to notice how many mom smiles froze solid or went saccharine when I mentioned that I lived "in the condos down on Park Grenada"--usually right before that friend and I stopped hanging out. I remember girls, so excited I had asked them out that their voices trembled, telling me they would call me right back with an answer. Hours later the phone would finally ring and a completely austere voice would inform me of a newfound sense that things would never work. On the hills of Calabasas was the kind of wealth most only see in movies.  The “stay-away-from-my-daughter” kind of wealth, or the“they-aren’t-like-us” kind of wealth.

My parents whisked me away before the worst of it, but I had a bad taste before I left. A taste I would never forget.


I remember the exact moment my mother became a human being. Before that she was simply Mom--a celestial being free of humanity who existed only for me. When she slapped me at the top of the stairs, a little too close to the edge, and my young body went tumbling down with staccato thuds, it was not because of any mistake she had made. Moms couldn’t make mistakes. 

But my awareness of my mother’s fallibility crashed upon me suddenly.  I’ve read about so many who look back and realize they weren’t sure when they stopped seeing their parents this way--they weren’t sure when or how it had happened.  But I can remember the exact moment.

The game was called Dark Castle, and it was the cutting edge of 1986 Macintosh technology.  

In a world of Nintendo’s barely-better-than-Atari amorphous blobs that shot other amorphous blobs with little squares or triangles, Dark Castle was as good as it got.  Duncan looked like a person. You could tell the difference between the rats and the bats. And the Dark Knight really did look bored as he flicked empty chalices at you (until you got to his level, he pulled out his sword, and the shit got real). There were no blips and blops as sound effects.  When Duncan threw rocks at the rats, they squeaked, and he distinctly said “Yeah!” when he picked up an elixir, or a bag of rocks. Far from the electronic pings of midi files, the squish noise when the got hit with a rock sounded like a stick of butter falling onto linoleum.

I wanted Dark Castle.  I wanted it bad.  

I struck a deal with my mom. Well, technically, my mom struck a deal with me.  “Get your math grade to a B," she said, "and I’ll buy you that game."

“Promise?” I asked.

"I promise," she said.

Math and I have always had a rocky relationship (even long before, and long after Mrs. Franklin became giddy at my failure).  When we finally parted ways at thirty-five, after an oral report on fractals for my Math For Liberal Arts class, we agreed that we were better as friends.  Distant friends. No need to call...really.

Math sent me a friend request on Facebook, but I ignored it.

My mom was not above using rank bribery on a thirteen year old to motivate him. While I enjoyed the stacks of books we were given to read in my English class and could be pressed to do my Humanities homework with only typical teen-age resistance (and I even found science interesting enough to stay pretty engaged), math homework was a particular kind of torture. Each night was an excruciating battle royale between the will of a teen-ager with crippling A.D.D. and a passionately anti-Ritalin mother.

Despite her best efforts, thirteen year olds are increasingly difficult for working parents to truly dominate. I couldn't really be grounded if they weren't home to know that I was watching TV or at Eugene and Eric's house. So nothing really managed to get through to me about the importance of math. I failed out of the high math class within one semester, and I was well on my way to failing out of the regular math too.  If I didn’t pull out of my tailspin I would be, in my mother’s words “sitting in high school remedial math with the guys who take shop.”

Shop sounded kind of cool, actually—power tools made fun noises, and they could probably teach me how to wear leather and lurk behind the D building in a way that girls would be unable to resist. But no power tool could make a realistic sounding “yeah” when it picked up an elixir the way Duncan could. I came home each night thinking of Dark Castle as I did my math homework. I even showed my work, despite the fact that I could just see what the answer was, and this was obviously oppression of the highest order. For ten weeks, I honestly tried.

It was, perhaps, my worst report card ever.  Well at least until my freshman year of high school when I actually started failing classes. But until that moment, I had never gotten a D.

Social studies, science, and history had all fallen due to my allergy to homework. I had been able to cruise through elementary school without really doing homework, and in middle school my bad habit chickens were coming home to do their cliche roosting. Social studies=C. Science=D.  I was even getting a C in English--a subject I never got less than an A in before or since. But shining like a beacon in the middle of the report card was my B- in math. 

I had done it. I had earned my game.  

“I’m not buying you that game,” my mother said when I showed her my report card, handing it to her at the dining room table, unsure whether I should be ashamed or triumphant.  “Look at this--it's terrible!”

“You said you’d buy it if I got my math grade up.” I said. “I got it up.”

“The rest went down.”

"P.E. didn't!" I argued.  Thirteen year olds have a poor grasp of when it's a good idea to be semantic.

“You have to keep things at a B level, Chris.  One C is okay, but D’s are unacceptable and this is barely a C average.”

“A C average was never part of the deal!” I said.

“I shouldn't have had to say it was,” she said. "It was assumed."

“You can’t do that,” I said, lip quivering.  “You promised!”

And then she said it.  The words that shattered my world: “I don’t care what I promised.”

Betrayed!

We see our parents as perfect, flawless, incapable of error.  They stroll about--when they’re not on Earth attending to us--with the gods. Mother was not one of the roles this woman fulfilled as part of a diverse adult life--it was all she was. Even as testosterone hits my bloodstreams and I begin to rebel, I had the strangest sense that I was committing sacrilege--that I was some sort of fallen angels at war with perfection; not because she was flawed, but because I was.  That a mother could be mercurial, fallible, maybe even capricious (like humans tend to be) is something that hadn’t really dawned on me.  But with those words, light broke over the eastern sky.  

My mother had broken her word.  

I pouted.  Glory but I pouted.  I pouted the week away and went into the weekend. It was a thing of legend.  A.D.D. has always made it hard for me to hold grudges.  I get distracted about them just like I do about everything else.  But not that week.  That weekend I was Hercules of attitude.  That weekend I remembered to brood like I never had before. I could not be broken by my favorite meals or my favorite shows or an offer to go to see a movie.  I scowled.  I glared.  I tromped.  And by Sunday night, my mother had had enough of me.

“Fine, I’ll get you your damned game,” she said.  “Is that what you want?”

“Yes,” I said, ignoring the protocols of a guilt trip.

It was her turn to smolder and brood as we drove down the hill to the computer store in the village, but I didn’t care.  She went in after checking the name of the game with me, and I waited in the car, humming.  She threw the game at me when she came back to the car.  “I hope you’re happy.”

I was.

I looked at the game in its shiny box.  A laminated cover with an outside shot of the Dark Castle on it. My lips lifted at the edge.  Duncan could learn to throw fireballs instead of rocks if he could get to Merlin.  My finger traced the edges of the cardboard and I read the back of the box over and over again.

“You really just care about that game, don’t you?” She spat. "Not anything else. Not your grades. Not school. Not your future. Just that stupid game."

“I earned it.” I said.

“No you really didn’t.” she said.  

"Yes I really did," I said, frustration building. 

“Your grades were terrible," she said. "You don't deserve it."

I said something after that that was uncharacteristic for a 13 year old.  It was wise in its own way, and years later mother and I both agreed that it communicated more than I’d ever intended at the time.  “I do deserve it.  Ground me off of the computer for my grades,” I yelled across the car at her. “But you keep your promise! You promised, Mom!”

A tear had slipped out from my the corner of my left eye. I had never been so righteously angry in my life. I'm not even sure I knew what that meant.  "You promised," I repeated.

My mom looked like she’d been struck.  Twenty years later I wonder if she didn’t realize that the illusion had been shattered.  Or maybe for the first time she saw me as a person as well.  Not as a child, a responsibility, a burden--no matter how welcome--but as a small human being with feelings that could be hurt and trust that could be betrayed.

“Okay,” she said. “You’re grounded.”

I nodded, sniffing up the snot from my nose.  Fair was fair.  “Can I play it on Saturdays?” I asked.  (This was often a grounding exception in our household.)

“Saturdays,” she said.   “But that’s it until you have a C average.”

I turned back to the sleek, laminated box and smiled.  Saturday was six days away, but I could wait.  I was sure I’d sneak some time in before then, anyway. Kent didn't get home until six on Tuesday, and mom never got home before seven or eight.  I ran my fingers over the glossy cover.  It was about as close a thing to a victory as a 13 year-old has. 

And yet I paid a heavy price. I would never see my mom in that celestial light again. After that she was a wonderful woman: a fighter, an activist, a wife, a mother, a full time bank vice-president who worked a second shift, a better parent than I gave her credit for at the time. But after that day...always human.

[© 2013  All Rights Reserved]

Continue to Part 4 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Remote Milestone

Before this blog, it never even occurred to me that a milestone
was once literally a stone to mark the miles.
I made myself a promise when I started this blog.

Well, I made myself two promises, but you probably aren't interested in the one about the brie cheese and the day old carp jerky.

It's been almost two years now, and way back in February of 2012, I made myself a promise that I wouldn't get "stuck" blogging.  I was going to give blogging a serious try and I wouldn't hold anything back in the attempt, but it wasn't going to be a thing I did endlessly with no progress. I wouldn't be one of those losers forever gnawing at the same bone and claiming that some day my ship would be coming in. (The writer versions of these types are particularly self-delusional and pathetic.)

No, I would have something to show for my efforts by February 2014--two years from my start date--or I would focus much much more writing attention on something else.  I'd probably still blog, but something more along the line of once every week or two.

I just didn't want to be one of those writers that kept spinning my wheels trying the same thing for decades. I see them submitting stories over and over to no avail or forever retooling their novels to submit yet again, and it breaks my heart. More than that, it makes me really wary of the fine line between not giving up and not knowing that it's time to give up. Writing is very much a world where tenacity merits out, but tenacity alone isn't enough. It must accompany some measure of skill and creativity.  It's really hard for a writer to know what the difference is between not trying hard enough and just totally sucking.

There is a point at which writers need to face that they must either do something drastic to get much better at their craft or decide that writing is just for their own personal enjoyment, but that they are never going to carve out a living.  I needed a point at which I evaluated whether to "stay the course" like all the follow-your-dreams cliches, or if I should "know when to say when" like all the know-your-limits cliches. The choosing of cliches upon which to live one's life is a serious matter.

I even set a goal, so that evaluation would be objective: $100 per month.  

Technically, I also threw in an "and/or one blistering groupie threesome per quarter" clause, which I figured was imminently reasonable since supportive girlfriend has already committed to being one third of such an event. You'd think being two thirds there would make the rest a cake walk, but it turns out that last third is the real doozy.

A hundred dollars a month is not enough to pay the bills. It's not enough to live on. It's not enough to justify the 30+ hour weeks of writing I do to get the blog content out to the world.  (For the hours I put in, it would be, in fact, less than a dollar an hour.)  But compared to the $.05 per week I was making back then, it would represent real, genuine progress. I thought it was a good amount. It seemed to me that it was a number that crossed the Rubicon between "hobby at which I happen to earn some money" and "(extremely) labor intensive side line job that no self respecting Malaysian sweat shop worker would accept."

Because that's totally where I want to be!

I watched that two-year mark getting closer and closer.  February 2014.  I even had an app counting down the days.  Slowly, inexorably, the it approached.  18 months. 1 year.  200 days. 16 weeks. A penny every few days became one a day.  A penny a day became a few cents a day. A few cents a day became ten or fifteen but with the occasional day of a dollar or two. A high school friend (whose inspiration is matched only by her generosity) began to earmark ten dollars a month for Writing About Writing. A few dollars here. A couple more there. I always felt tremendously grateful, but it simply wasn't getting anywhere close to $100.

Now here we are three months from the date, and I can already tell you that it's not going to matter...

The world of snarky writing advice sheds a single tear....
Because I've hit that number three months running!! And I've hit it five months out of the last seven. And unless something goes very wrong, I'm going to keep on hitting it.

It's always from different combinations of revenue streams.  Sometimes it's a birthday present donation. Sometimes it's a bunch of little donations that manage to add up. Once it was a reader and friend--who hates paypal--pressing a twenty dollar bill into my hand at a social function over my objections.  Most of the time it is more miracle than anything--a reaction to one particular article, a fluke day of four small donations, or an 11th hour ad click that tips me over the edge.  Often it has a lot to do with The Patron/Muses and their awesome awesomeness. (And I will be adding a new one soon to that list.) But somehow it just keeps happening. Some synthesis of events ends up stumbling over the milestone. And while $100/month is not even starving Bohemian money, it's progress enough to stay the course.

So despite some of the best attempts of "Anonymous" to make me cry, I'll be sticking around. Oh there will be new goals--new points in the future where I will have to admit that I'm never going to save up for retirement on a few hundred dollars a month or that hookers and blow require more than a four figure salary.  And perhaps my pen is destined to be hung up one day. But for the time being, it seems you're stuck with me.

Thank you all so much for reading, and for many of you who have taken a chance on me by donating your hard earned money. I can't tell you enough how much you inspire me.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Mailbox: Traditional vs Digital Publishing

Should I do traditional or digital publishing?  
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I promise I don't bite--unless you either ask nicely (and tell me your safe word) or you take the first shot.]    

Also, I'm low on questions for the mailbox, so send them in if you've got them.

CAH asks:

Hello, My name is C.A.H. [last name redacted], and I am a recent follower of this page. I have what might be a very stupid question for you as I think you have heard this many times. I have written my first novel, working on my second now. I would like to know your opinion on what you think about putting it on line and selling it as an E book? Or if you think traditional publishing is even worth the attempt?. I really get choked up on my writing when it comes to query letters to agents. I never feel like they are good enough. I am a writer and I want my stuff out there just appreciate any feedback you may afford me..thank you..c. ausband [last name redacted]

My reply:

There are no foolish questions C.A., only-- Oh who am I kidding.  There are some wicked foolish questions out there.  I mean the one about my favorite snack food is actually NOT the worst question I've gotten. I have one here wondering if my balls itch when I write for long periods and what I do about it if they do.

"Please don't just answer 'scratch them.'" the question goes on. "I need details."

Here's another: "What's the best country to find thai hookers?"

I mean how do you even begin to respond to something like that?

However, this is not one of those questions. This is a really good question, actually.

A couple of disclaimers are probably worth mentioning right up front before diving into something like this, so why don't I start there:

Disclaimer the first I have not personally leapt through the full array of traditional publishing hoops. I've submitted a few places, been rejected by (almost) all of them, but never really turned that into an impressive cover letter or tried to push toward the next stage of traditional publication. And while I have a little more experience with electronic media (obviously) I am not exactly a household name or making "hecka scrill" at this blogging thing either. My choice to go through digital publishing is still in its proto-stage.

However, one of the spectacular side effects of a good reading comprehension is the ability to dig through what dozens of people have said about a subject, and get a pretty good idea about it.  This works less well with stellar physics and understanding what the hell a Higgs Boson is, but really well with things like the publishing world. But if you're the type to say "What the hell does he know?" if I haven't personally experienced something, I understand. (Most well-read people seem to have a pretty good sense that this is bullshit.)

Disclaimer the second Pretty much anything I say is probably wrong. Not WRONG wrong, mind you, but possibly not fully up to date or completely encompassing--especially if you read this months or years after I wrote it. The publishing industry is experiencing massive tectonic upheaval on par with the music industry about twelve years ago. Some publishing houses are making the transition, and others are having more trouble than a toilet full of snakes. New tech changes the game almost monthly.  Trending lines have not stabilized yet.  Stuff changes fast!

Disclaimer the third Digital publishing is starting to become a pretty wide umbrella that covers everything "non-traditional." Blogging, self publishing, e-publishing, print-on-demand, a ton of other non gatekeeper models, as well as things like apps, and password web sites are basically called "digital" even though they may end up involving a paper book. An article trying to break down the different forms of digital publishing would be way outside my expertise, the internet attention span, and the fun factor here at Writing About Writing, so I'm going to tackle the question at the broadest level only.

Lastly, most traditional publishing involves digital publishing, and many of the the things called digital involve physical books (like self-publishing or "print on demand") so the real difference here is between publisher-backed and independent.

First let's dispel a few myths about both kinds of publishing:

The Beale Ciphers and the Phaistos Disc
have nothing on the mystery of how
this piece of shit became a bestseller.
1- No one really knows what in the name of Athena's left nipple happened with E.L. James, so thinking anyone's career trajectory will mirror hers is sheer madness. Someone could probably earn a PhD by figuring out what perfect storm of internet insanity set up the dominoes that led to that underwear skid mark of a book becoming so fucking popular. (I don't just mix metaphors; I throw them into goulash.)

Once 50 Shades was "a thing," it snowballed due to buzz/hype, but how it got to that point is the subject of campfire horror stories. It is literally the worst published book many people have ever read. This woman tweaked her third rate Twilight fanfic and became an internet sensation. That just.....doesn't happen.

EVER.

Not in the real world.

I mean you can't punch "Mind Control Erotica" into Google (or....um....you know....something like that) without finding fifty websites with better writing. Way too many self-publishers have dollar signs in their eyes because of this book when what they should be doing is running around in shark-infested waters with a lightning rod and lottery tickets trying to get eaten by a shark, struck by lightning, and win the lottery all at the same time...

...because that's actually more likely.

Second draft erotic fiction, which couldn't possibly get past a gatekeeper, is not going to make money just because it's published digitally. Basically the only books making real money in digital publishing are the ones that a publisher probably would have published.

Let me say that again in obnoxiously big font and bolded:
Basically the only books making real money in digital publishing are the ones that a gatekeeper publisher probably would have published anyway.

With, of course, this one laws-of-the-universe defying exception. There are other exceptions as well: publishing is notoriously whitewashed, so many good books get passed on that are perfectly well written and would make some money in non-traditional publishing.

2- This upheaval isn't over, and neither side has "won." The digital world is changing the publishing industry. If you don't think that's true, go back to listening to Fleetwood Mac on your eight track. However, depending on who you talk to (and which sources they conveniently ignore) you may hear that the publishing industry is finished and that digital publishing has irrevocably torpedoed it. You may have heard that publishing houses are unfazed and not even truly threatened by this flash in the pan fad. You may even hear that the evil "big six," Amazon, and other monopolies have dipped their greedy fingers into the digital pie and all but defeated the poor struggling independent artists.

All of this is total bullshit.

The big six have gotten gobsmacked pretty good. There are a lot of bookstores scratched their heads as they went out of business and said in their folksy accent, "I guess people just don't read anymore." (Hint: book sales are up--even a decade or two ago.) But not everyone has quietly rolled over and died either.  Bookstores are holding readings, agents are helping with digital media, new publishing house models are being adopted.

The emergence of "hybrid" authors (those who write in both the digital publishing medium and the traditional publishing medium) are increasingly ubiquitous precisely because neither side has said "There can be only one!" and decapitated the other.  Digital publishing has become a multi-billion dollar industry....and yet it is still less than a quarter of the publishing industry as a whole. And yet paper book sales shrink every year and show no signs of slowing.  And yet....

3- Digital media is not a faster road to money, but then neither is traditional publishing. D pub wanks like to point out that you will make only a few cents per traditional book sale, but will make almost all the price of a digital sale to put in your pocket, but then conveniently leave out the part about how you will sell far, far fewer copies. Unless you are already a well known author or experience outrageous success, you will be making dollars on a few hundred sales instead of pennies on a few thousand.  If you've written a good digital book (the kind that a publisher would publish), it will pretty much be a wash.

(On the other hand, if you've written a shitty digital book, enjoy the few dollars from your friends and the morbidly curious. That's about all you'll squeeze out of it.  Ever.)

T pub wanks will tell you will have to do all the editing and promotion of a book yourself if you digitally publish it, but they leave out the part that unless you are a household name, you will pretty much be expected to do that anyway. And if you are a household name, you still have to market your book, but it involves readings and signings and shit that is really only awesome and glamorous for the first half hour of the first time you ever do it, and then feels a lot like a private, introvert writer in a room with a thousand strangers.

It's easier to make some money right away in digital, but we're talking a few cents a day.  In traditional publishing you usually have to wait longer (possibly years) but the payout will be bigger.

Basically the cold, hard sucktacular truth is that you probably won't make much money as a writer until you are doing it with a mind numbing dedication for several years, no matter which medium you pick.

4- DRM doesn't even slow pirates down. You will get pirated.

It is like needing to pee while pregnant--just a fact of life that it will be better to simply adjust to. It is going to happen. I've already had multiple articles turned into tumblrs or put on Readability against my wishes. Some people have even gotten pissed off at me for asking if perhaps their copyright violation (going viral on some other site) could maybe contain a link back to my blog. I'm not even good enough to call myself a second rate blog--I'm like an eighteenth rate blog. Yet the wonderful world of people stealing my shit for their benefit is already known to me.

Do you think some fifteen year old with Kazaa who has been told how cool the latest Stephen King novel is by his friends is going to have any trouble downloading it? Yes, they suck. Yes, they're thieves. And yes, they've convinced themselves they're doing you a big favor of "exposure," so they don't even have to spend any time feeling bad. But DRM won't stop them, so don't waste time letting T-pubs tickle your self-righteous gland about how they will prevent you from losing your hard earned pay.

No publishing company is able to prevent this, and their claims that DRM can stop folks pirating your work are simply untrue. There is no technology that can really even provide a reliable speed bump against how fast someone will be able to get their hands on your product if they want it and don't much care about supporting artists. Traditional publishing may mitigate this, but now that electronic media are over 25% of the publishing market, only a few small presses ignore it completely.  If your book has a e-reader version (even Kindle), it is very easy to pirate. And if your book doesn't have an e-reader version, you are losing money anyway by being a luddite. Pick your poison.

5- Digital publishing is not just a fad. Traditional houses tried to convince themselves of this for years, and every year they lost more of the market share and acted confused about it.  "Gee golly whiz, how is this fleeting fad of provisional temporariness cutting into our sales again this year?  It just doesn't make sense!"  Finally they are starting to get their shit together and wrap their heads around the fact that artists who don't want to put up with their elitist crap might be a thing--possibly the shape of things to come.

So what should you do?

It's still a very personal decision. If there were a right way (or even a best way), everyone would be doing it. No one had any illusions about self publishing back when it was "vanity press." That wasn't "really" published, and it didn't count. End of story. Now things are a little more interesting.

Digital publishing is much, much faster--like Speedy Gonzalez compared to the other mice.  You can basically publish digitally on the same day the ink dries on the final draft. Traditional publishing would take eight to eighteen months of proofs, edits, and printing (unless you were fast tracked for some reason).  That's good in some ways and bad in others. Yes, you don't have to put up with agents, but you also don't have the advantage of having crap stopped at the gate by an unsmiling guardian who isn't going to put up with your fucking bullshit, and agents are actually pretty useful for most writers who have no idea what to do with something they've written. If you publish your shit with fifteen typos and an incomplete sentence, no one is going to be there to object to it, and you can't notice it three weeks before your print date and rush a change to your editor. The first you will hear of it is the nasty e-mails that start flooding in about how you are the worst human imaginable and they would relish the chance to push an exacto-blade through your face since you can't write but have the temerity to try.

I admit it!
Traditional publishing provides a legit stop gap between the dreamer and the doer.  I'm going to be the asshole here and drop the truth that no one talks about at parties. A lot of people who "are writers" don't write very much. They like the dream of being a writer more than they really like writing or they really enjoy basically churning out endless first drafts, but not really the rewriting and revision necessary to prep something for an audience. They will tend to avoid digital publishing because it involves simply doing it. A gatekeeper is a built-in, ready-made excuse not to really write or to give a few half hearted tries and claim defeat. They can forever be shopping agents, retooling "that one thing," and basically just about to achieve success. A lot of people "too good" for digital are really just glad to have an excuse not to have to put their money where their cliche is.  "Oh I can't submit that YET. It's not ready for an agent."

You will make more of the money your art makes in digital publishing. In traditional publishing, you will probably never make more than 10% of a book's commercial price per unit (and that's if your agent negotiates a pretty sweet contract). Usually it's closer to 5%. (It may get worded in lots of colorful ways: amount per unit, % of wholesale, % of retail, wholesale return value, but it'll mostly come out to the same amount.) In digital publishing, you might make as much as 90%. Finding your audience might be difficult, but there is a reason established traditional writers are going hybrid--they get more of what they make on the digital end.

You will make more money at once despite being an unknown through traditional publishing. Be careful with this advice. A small press may not be able to pay you very much of anything. A few copies of your book if it's a very modest run. If you have an established reputation, you might be able to negotiate a low four figure advance off your next book, but you have to be a household name or experiencing one of those one in a million publishing stories to get the kind of money that means you never have to have a day job again.

Now, if you close the deal with a big six, you're going to get an advance on the books they know you will almost certainly sell, and that is nothing to sneeze at. It's usually thousands of dollars. It may take you years to make that kind of money through non-traditional means.

Neither side really makes "more" money. Both "sides" claim they make more, but it's basically a wash for most young writers. Digital gets you less money more quickly. Traditional gets you more money, but it will probably take years.

You will not have to face gatekeepers to put your art out in the world in digital publishing. This can be especially useful if your art is not of the type that traditional gatekeepers like. (While whole other entries could be devoted to this [ETA: And have], suffice to say that non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual voices have a harder time getting published--especially in certain genres.) Also certain genres are less likely to be published. SF/Fantasy is very popular,  but what is called "literary" is not.

In traditional publishing, you get the benefit of gatekeepers.  Not facing gatekeepers can also be a downside.  Rejection is good for you. It makes you go back and develop your skills. Digital publishing can be too much instant gratification. And while the rejection of a pissed off anonymous comment can still sting, an agent or a publisher giving you thoughtful feedback on what is still lacking is a very good experience. A writer needs a whetstone. Yes, you can find good, critical feedback without submitting to a gatekeeper, but most people don't.

Traditional publishing is still vastly more "validated." If you just want to see your name in print, get your work out there, and get feedback, go digital. If you want to be "certified" as a writer by the world at large, digital may not cut it. You could make a million dollars blogging, and putting together article collections into print on demand books, and some a-hole at a dinner party is STILL going to ask you if you've ever "really" published anything.  Sure, you can bitch about them in your blog later on that night and get some validation in the comment section, but how will you deal with the gnawing doubt within your own soul? I've made more money and have FAR more readers than most writers I've met, and they still sneer at me.

Digital publishing gives you much more control. It might be cool to have a "real" book coming out with a "real" publisher, but there is almost no better way to feel exploited as an artist by a corporation. You lose control of a lot of creative decisions--which may be as small as cover art or as huge as editorial control, and a contract can be canceled the day before the book goes to print.  A lot of writers go to digital publishing AFTER traditional publishers leave a bad taste in their mouth.

In fact, one of the MAIN reasons writers are being treated better these days is because they have options.

The quality of digital publishing is very, very low. There are mountains of shitaculastac writing out there under digital publishing (and not just E.L. James either).  Everyone who ever got a rejection letter from a gatekeeper and thought "Fuck you; I'm a dragon," everyone who convinced themselves they were the tragically misunderstood next Gertrude Stein even though the real problem was their grammar was still at a junior high level, and everyone who simply couldn't handle the slightest chance that they wouldn't be seen as a genius by an agent or publisher--they've all gone digital. A huge huge chunk of digital publishing is erotica of questionable quality. (Trust me on this one. I've thoroughly researched it for quality control. Thoroughly.) Plus, the recent development of Kindle Worlds means that a lot of digital publishing now encompasses fan fiction.

And then of course there's the dinosaur erotica.

Sweet butt-licking Jesus do I wish I were making this up.

You're throwing yourself into a really dark world, and the quality is deplorable. Actually we need a new word, below deplorable, to properly handle this taintstank. (I vote for Santorumy.) Your writing will need to shine in order to lift yourself out of the cesspool. The expectation is that your digital publishing will suck and you have to prove otherwise.

In traditional publishing a certain quality is the expectation. If someone picks up a traditionally published book, they expect it won't have unedited sentences and be total crap.  Horrific paper books are the exception rather than the rule. It's like the opposite of digital. This expectation isn't always born out by reality, mind you, for there is some truly epic shit that publishers have put out. (They are motivated by what will sell, not what is good, and in some genres that sell very well [sf/f, romance, self help] there is almost no quality filter.)

The work isn't really any easier for either side.  If you think that marketing and branding and basically making a name for yourself to become successful while every yahoo with an e-mail gets to tell you how much you suck will be any less work or frustration than submitting, collecting rejection notices, and slowly building up a cover letter, you should probably check your expectations.

Traditional publishing is whitewashed, sexist, and heteronormative. I'm not going to impugn anyone's personal choice, but many writers consider this an important factor in their decision. Working within a system that marginalizes certain voices--especially if the writer benefits from that favoritism--is seen as being complicit in that system, and many writers would rather opt out. Not to mention that many non white/male/heterosexual voices wouldn't be able to be out in the world otherwise.

Digital publishing is on the rise.  The trending lines are showing digital publishing is still growing every year. Traditional publishing just keeps getting harder and harder to break into, and digital publishing is showing no signs of slowing--not just it's natural growth, but its encroachment into traditional publishing's markets. If you are a brand-new, unpublished writer with your eye on a twenty or thirty year career, the shrinking market may not be the smart one.


And here is the last thing I'm going to say about this. Whatever you decide, C.A., you have to get past that fear of rejection. You can't make a query letter perfect, so make it the best you can and let the chips fall where they may. Because here's the fact of the matter, and there's no getting around it: the meanest, most unprofessional, three-days-from retirement agent to send you a rejection is going to be more civil by an order of magnitude than your average reader. You should see the comments I get at least once a week from some anonymous asshole who tells me in explicit language how much I suck for even wanting to try my hand at this crazy writing thing.