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MWhere I’ll be:M

Birch Bay Public Market

Friday, May 10 through the end of summer, Cathy and I will be selling her hand-made soaps, lotions, and toiletries, along with my photography, note cards, calenders, books, etc.

Come see us!

Across the street from the C Shop

4825 Alderson Road, Birch Bay, Washington 98230

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I had an automated blogroll here, powered by Google Reader, but Google, in its near-infinite lack of wisdom, killed Google Reader. Prior to this murder, all I had to do to put a blog on my blogroll (or to take it off) was to place it in a Reader folder called, appropriately enough, "blogroll" (or, of course, to remove it). I use The Old Reader now for following blogs, but it seems to have no way to something similar regarding the blogroll. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know.

Got Etsy?

Not related to writing, or to reading, or to publishing, or to anything else…

…just a shameless plug:

As some of you may know, my wife, Cathy, has been making hand-crafted soaps, lotions, and toiletries for some years now. She sells them during the summer at the Birch Bay Public Market (see the link in my left sidebar), and various of her family and friends *cough, cough – oh, nothing, just clearing my throat* have finally talked her into venturing forth into the great Etsy unknown.

These are high quality products, hand-crafted from the best ingredients in very small batches, and she sells them at low prices (better hurry, before I talk her into raising her prices!).

Her products include
  • bath soap
  • shaving soap
  • hand and body lotion
  • lotion bars
  • body spray
  • lip balm
  • and many others on an occasional or upcoming basis
These products have
  • NO parafins
  • NO parabens
  • NO petroleum products of any kind
  • NO lanolin
  • NO added glycerin*
  • and NO dyes, pigments, or colorings of any kind

*The soaps do contain some glycerin, because it is created within the soap during the saponification process, but the lotions have none at all.

New this year will be natural cleaning products, including
  • laundry soap
  • general-purpose spray cleaner
  • tub & tile cleaner
  • carpet deodorizer
  • and a sanitizing spray for your vegetables! (yep – I was surprised, too)
Please bear in mind  that this is a new Etsy shop.

There are a lot of things available that may or may not be listed at any time in the next (hopefully short) while, as she gets more things entered and gets more comfortable overall with this whole new world. (Don’t tell her I said that! Smile ) If you want to order anything I’ve listed here that isn’t listed there, or if you want to check on availability of something I might not have mentioned, or request a certain flavor or scent, or just to say “Hi, Cathy! Good job! Welcome to the 21st century!” please email her at cathy@handmadebycathy.com. She takes PayPal payment (wait for her to send an invoice), and can ship wherever in the known universe you happen to find yourself.

If you can’t get to the market this summer, please drop by Etsy.

More Cover Options for the Starving Author

One of CoverBistro's premade covers.

As Johnny Five never said: “Covers! Megabytes and megabytes of covers!”

I have recently been contacted by Jes Richardson, a photographer and cover designer. She does custom cover design, starting at a very affordable price point, and has recently added a new service, CoverBistro.com, where you can purchase pre-made covers in a variety of designs for an even lower price. The covers offered on CoverBistro, according to the FAQs, are each unique and are retired upon being sold, so for a price that’s comparable to getting a decent stock photo, you get a cover you won’t see on someone else’s book.

Actually, I intend to contact her myself regarding the cover of my next release, A Canto for Zillie (finished and in final edits now (final final edits (no, I really mean it, this time – last time through this MS, I promise!))). Stay tuned!

GOOGLE IS DOING SOME REALLY STUPID THINGS, LATELY.

First, they announced plans to kill off Google Reader, which is a several-times-a-day part of my life.
Now, they’ve decided to make composing a new message in Gmail cooler and more streamlined and a whole bunch of other fancy words that mean nothing, by making you do it in tiny box in the lower right corner of your screen!
And all of this is after their effort to kill cell phones by inventing the Android non-operating system.

</end rant>

Forbidden Tools

I just saw yet another of those “avoid these words and phrases” lists.

It all starts out innocently enough – someone thinks that a word is overused, so they decide to use it less. Fine. But the next thing you know, they’re telling everyone around them that they shouldn’t use it either, and then from there they go to “DON’T USE THAT WORD!!!” in full spittle-spray mode. Especially if they find themselves in a position to enforce their little peeve rule.

This list, as is so often the case, includes a number of things that are just silly, such as:

  • At first glance
  • The American people
  • At a crossroads

The implication seems to be that there will never be a time when you will need to refer to the American people, or to a signpost that stands at a crossroads, or to the first time someone ever saw a particular item. Or perhaps that when such an occasion arises, you should choose a substitute phrase from some putative list of “close enough” options. Because, you know… if the perfect phrase is on this list, you can’t use it.

The list also includes some things that surely belong on a list of types of usage, not a list of banned usage, of which my personal favorite is “Begs the question (unless used properly)”. Look, I fully agree that misusing that phrase (here’s a hint – it does not mean “Asks you to ask…”) is irritating, to say the least, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to put it on any list of Words And Phrases You Think You Should Use But Would See (If You Were Only As Smart As I Am) That You Should Never Ever Use. I’m simply going to point out, every time it is misused in a statement directed toward me, that it means something more like “Beggars the question”, that is, it assumes a preceding, and unanswered, question has been answered in some manner that is helpful to the current statement.

That’s a proper use issue, not a never use issue.

Then there’s the long laundry list of metaphors and dead metaphors, a list so long and so sorry as to make me feel pity for the chosen style of the list maker:

  • A rare window
  • Outside the box/Out of the box
  • Rorschach test
  • Shines a spotlight on
  • etc etc etc.

Not even going to comment on the failure to distinguish between proper and improper uses of metaphor, or the failure to distinguish overuse from mere use. I could, in fact, say something about the baby and the bath water, but… that’s a metaphor, so I guess it goes out the window oops, I mean I guess I can’t say it.

There are also a number of things that are just weird, like “important.” Don’t use that word. Because, um… Because nothing ever is important.

Except this list of Words And Phrases You Think You Should Use But Would See (If You Were Only As Smart As I Am) That You Should Never Ever Use, of course.

Apropos of nothing, I need to get a new mechanic. I caught mine the other day using a half-inch open-end wrench, and if I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a thousand times – NEVER use a half-inch open-end wrench!

Sneaks in, looks around, tiptoes down the hall…

Been a while since I did any blogging.

Not sure if anyone noticed that, or if anyone is still watching to see if I come back. No excuses, just got caught up in that weird “real life” thingy, and don’t, in fact, have much to say even now.

A (huge) part of the problem is that I have no idea what to say. I used to blog a lot about writing, and publishing,and self-publishing in particular, but I decided to stop doing that because it was blogging to writers and wannabe writers rather than to readers, but that left me with not much to say at all. The blogging-to-readers field is packed with the jet-set writers who lead fascinating lives, who co-author movies and video games, who go off on vacation to wonderful paradises and send back having-wonderful-time-don’t-you-wish-you-were-me blog posts, and that’s not me.

My life is little different than anyone else’s. I am as just boring as you, and just as unique. The highlight of the past few weeks has been firing up the smoker I got for Christmas and making some jerky and smoked cheese. Wonderful, mouth-watering stuff, but hardly a blog post.

Nor is this. It’s okay, I have a money-back guarantee on my blog – if you didn’t like it, I’ll refund your cost!


Here, I have a money-back guarantee on this, too:

Click to buy A Different Kind of Free on Amazon!

Schedule update.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am cancelling all travel plans for the rest of the year.

I will not be attending the 2012 Northwest Author Fair at Bob’s Beach Books in Lincoln City, OR, next Saturday as I had planned, and I will not be attending the second annual Florence Festival of Books in Florence, OR, although I urge you to attend both, if you can.

I will be continuing my weekly attendance at the Birch Bay Public Market in Birch Bay, WA, every weekend, so if you’re anywhere nearby, come and see me! Mention my blog, and get a free book!

Finally! The release of Blood Bonds

Don’t know if you’ve been waiting with bated breath…

(BTW, how does a cat catch a mouse? He waits by the mouse hole with baited breath!)

Yeah, anyway, Blood Bonds is out! Or it’s supposed to be, but it’s oh-dark-hundred my time[UPDATE: 1 pm my time now, and still not live], and Amazon still says “Sign up to be notified when this item becomes available.” So I guess we’ll wait and see.

Click to buy Blood Blonds on Amazon.com!

Blood Bonds is also available as an ebook, for Kindle and Nook.

Holding her close in that sweet perfection

I just got an interesting email from a concerned reader. In my novella, The Back Porch, I use the phrase “holding her close.” My reader asks:

“Shouldn’t this be ‘holding her closely’? Since ‘close’ modifies ‘holding,’ and since ‘holding’ is a verb, shouldn’t it be ‘closely,’ the adverb form?”

Actually, I have to give this reader points for actually asking this as a question, since nine times out of ten, this sort of comment is more of a finger-pointing than a question, but, no, it shouldn’t be ‘closely.’ It could have been, of course, since ‘closely’ certainly is an adverb, but so is ‘close.’ In fact, in my New Oxford American Dictionary the examples given of adverbial usage are these:

  • they stood close to the door
  • he was holding her close <—Hey, look! My exact phrase! Smile

Or, if you prefer an argument from logic, if I can hold someone up, or hold them down, or hold them off, then why can I not hold them close?

Although this reader gets points for asking (and this wasn’t the only example quoted, as I do tend to use similar constructions, favoring the non-ly version of an adverb over the (generally much clumsier) –ly version), nonetheless I have to wonder what it is about writing style that makes people hunt down an author’s email address and fire off something like this. Nothing at all about the story. No indication of whether she liked it or not. Just “Hey, isn’t this a mistake?”

I don’t know, maybe she’d been given a homework assignment on adverb use or something, and she just happened to find mine.

The Cabinetmaker, the Photographer, the Sculptor, and the Editor

The Cabinetmaker

John Doe, a cabinetmaker, was wandering through the stacks in the farthest, darkest corner of his local hardwood dealer’s lot one fine spring day, when he came upon a very old piece of old-growth cherry wood that had been lying there air-drying in that very yard for thirty years. It was four inches thick, two feet wide, and nearly six feet long. The two long sides were the uneven, natural sides of the tree trunk, and the two short sides were chainsaw cuts. There was a crack running most of the length of the piece, off center by several inches, ranging from a tightly closed hairline at one end of the slab to a gap a full two inches wide at the far end.

He bought the piece, took it home, and stared at it until he saw the tabletop that was hiding inside it. He trimmed one end, a cut as smooth as a baby’s skin, perfectly square to the centerline of the slab. He cut the other end, just as smoothly, just as perfectly, exactly four feet from the first cut and square to it. He ground and honed the blades in his planer until the surfaces they left were as fine as satin, and then he planed the slab down to exactly three inches, both the top and the bottom so smooth he didn’t even sand them. He drilled through the whole width of the slab four times, one-inch holes running clear from one edge to the other, and he buried one-inch stainless steel dowels in the holes, spanning the gap. If the break is there, he decided, then use it. If the edges are the uneven natural shape of the trunk of the tree, then use that.

You have every right in the world to say “Oh my stars and garters, that’s an ugly table! I wouldn’t put that in my house for all the tea in Peru.” You have the right to say “I would have done it differently. I never would have left that gap in there. I would have trimmed those edges.” But if you’re a furniture manufacturer, and if Mr Doe comes to you and says “Tell you what – you make a thousand copies of this cool table I made, and we’ll split the profits,” then your choices are limited. You can say “Yes, we’ll reproduce that table,” or you can say “No, not on your life!” You don’t have the right to say “We will reproduce your table, but there are some errors we need to correct first. You probably didn’t notice that there’s a big gap running most of the length of the surface, or that you forgot to trim the edges. Also, you used cherry, and tables should be made of oak. So we’ll fix those errors for you. And don’t feel bad about this — it’s nothing personal. It’s just that no one expects cabinet makers to understand the ramifications of material choice, or how things like gaps in the wood can effect the aesthetics of the table.”

The Photographer

Jane Q. Public is a photographer. One fall day in Maine, she took a picture of a huge old oak tree, its leaves every color of red and orange and brown that you could possibly ever dream of. She loaded the photograph into her computer, where she spent half an hour experimenting with various crops until she found exactly the framing she wanted. She created four separate versions of the tree, one showing only red, one showing only blue, one showing only yellow, and one in black and white. She matted and mounted these in a row in a single frame, and took it to the local art gallery to see about getting some posters made.

The owner of the gallery told Jane “This is a very nice photograph, all in all. Of course, there are some issues that need to be corrected. I don’t think you realize this, but you have created four distinct color separations of what should be just one image, and the tree trunk should be exactly one third of the way from left to right. We’ll have to correct those little things, of course, but yes, it’s a fine picture, and we’ll be delighted to sell prints of it. Don’t take this personally — we just want your picture to be the very best picture it can be. No one expects photographers to know about things like color balance and the rule of thirds.”

The Sculptor

Quincy Q. Everyman has created a sculpture, an androgynous figure with a bow, down on one knee and aiming high into the sky. Quincy never talks about his work, but he thinks, privately, that this piece is a metaphor for futility, a figure that could be any one of us, forced already to one knee and yet still firing skyward at the forces of fate that have bowed us down. To emphasize the brokenness of his figure, he’s crafted it from grape-sized pieces of wax, worked in his hands until they’re soft enough to mash together, forming a cohesive whole and yet still rough and lumpy, holding his own thumb prints and the marks of his nails. After this wax armature has spent a year in his studio, where he makes minute changes to it on an almost daily basis, he finally decides it is as perfect as he is ever going to make it, and he casts it in bronze.

He takes the finished piece to a company that makes cast resin figurines of sculpture. “Very nice,” the owner says, after examining the piece. “Except… We’re going to have to make it more obviously a man, or perhaps a woman, but you certainly couldn’t have meant for it to be this either/or hermaphrodite thing you’ve got going on here. And he has to be standing up. That down-on-one-knee thing is entirely too depressing. And the surface is going to have to be smoothed up a lot, to get the satin shine that all fine sculpture should have. Also, the bow has to go. Perhaps a sword. Yes, lots of sculptures have swords, so that will be fine. A standing man with a sword. We’ll fix these things up for you, and then we’ll make a million copies of it. Nothing personal, you understand — we just want your sculpture to be the very best sculpture it can be, and no one expects sculptors to understand things like the marks left by certain processes, or the effects of certain poses.”

The Editor

In what world would these not be profoundly insulting reactions? You’ve got every right in the world to say that you don’t like a certain piece. You even have the right to say exactly what it is that you don’t like, exactly what makes you want to turn away. You can say “I don’t like tables with natural edges. I don’t like the four-different-treatments-of-an-identical-photograph effect. I don’t like sculptures that make me feel threatened.” What you cannot rightfully do is assume that the artist actually intended to make the piece you think should have been made, that the changes you would make are improvements, that every table, every photograph, every sculpture, needs to be reworked by a “professional.” You do not have the right to assume that these are mistakes, and that the artist does not understand the tools that were used.

I’m not saying the table wasn’t level, or the framing of the photograph was crooked. I’m not saying the sculpture was spindly and malformed. I’m saying that the only reason any of these pieces even exist is as a manifestation of the artist’s art. That each of them is a product of aesthetic choices made by its creator. That the inclusion of the gap was not an error, that the color separations were deliberate, that the sculpture’s posture was very deliberately chosen for the effect it would have.

Nor am I saying that these reactions would happen. If there are people in these positions who would have these reactions, they are in the minority. Most furniture manufacturers, art gallery owners, or figurine company owners would say yes or no based on the piece they had been offered. They might even say “No, because I don’t like tables with gaps in them.” I don’t think you would find too many of them who assumed the gap was there because the cabinetmaker hadn’t noticed it, or because the cabinetmaker could not be expected to understand the intimate arcana of his craft.

No, only writers get subjected to this level of indignity on a daily basis. You’ve used too many adverbs — we’ll have to correct that in the editing process. You’ve used the wrong tense. The wrong viewpoint. Too much head-hopping. Too many prepositions. Serial comma. Weak verb. Stream of consciousness. You probably never realized that you fell into passive voice in this paragraph, and again in that one. We’ll fix all of this for you, and then we’ll publish your book. Don’t get defensive — we just want your book to be the very best it can be, and we know what that is, and you don’t. We understand the tools, and you don’t. Nothing personal. No one expects a writer to understand the ins and outs of syntax and grammar and rhetoric and metaphor. Don’t get huffy.

I say it’s time to get huffy. I say if it’s an insult to tell a cabinetmaker that he made his table “wrong,” then it is an insult to tell a writer that he wrote his novel “wrong.” I’m not talking about actual mistakes, which we all make. I’m not talking about the misspelled wurds, or the the extra words, or the missing. We all do that, and none of us are as good at catching them as we should be. I’m not even talking about the places where Miriam says something, but it really looks like Chase said it, or people go out through a door twice in a row, or the teddy bear moves from the crib to the rocker without human help, or the same teacher is teaching two different classes, in two different classrooms, at the same time. (No… Totally random list. Why do you ask? *whistles nonchalantly*)

I’m talking about the stylistic, aesthetic, artistic choices we make every day, in every line of every paragraph of every page. I’m talking about the insult of thinking we cannot be expected to know anything about the tools of our craft, and the assumption that when we make choices someone else would not have made, we have made errors, based on our ignorance. I’m talking about the sheer, deep, profound, basal, chromosome-level insult of assuming that if we were real writers, if we just understood the tools and choices, if only we could be expected to actually learn, we would write exactly as the editors think we should have, and that until then, “every novel has to be professionally edited, because the author is too close to the work to make the choices that need to be made.”

I don’t want my novel to be “the best novel it can be.”

Not if that means shaping it to someone else’s will, not if that means making aesthetic changes based on someone else’s aesthetic sensibilities. I’ll fix anything that doesn’t say what I want it to say, for whatever reason there may be, but I will not make a single change based on someone else’s notion of what “can” or “cannot” or “should” or “should not” be done in a novel.

I want my novel to be the very best novel I can make it. I want my novel to be my novel.

This is why I self-publish. To retain control of all the artistic aspects of my art. The only reason my novels exist at all is as expressions of my art. If I turn my back on my art, I have turned my back on the reason I write.

The publishers of the future will know this. As publishing becomes easier and easier (and it really can’t get much easier than it is now), as the stigma of self-publishing continues to slough off like a lizard’s skin, the publishers who emerge bright and shiny from that shedding will be the ones who read the book that exists and say yes or no based on the book you have written, not on the book they wish you had written.

It’s time to move beyond the sad little argument that writers who reject the stylistic changes of other people are writers who “cannot handle criticism,” or who “don’t know how to accept advice,” or who need to “get over themselves.” There is good art and bad art, there is successful art and unsuccessful art (which is pretty much the same thing as good art and bad art), but there is no wrong art or right art. Art is neither right nor wrong, and the stylistic choices made in producing any particular work of art are just that — choices. Passive voice, adverbs, present tense, prepositions, infinitives, “state-of-being” verbs, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, warping of the timeline of a story, warping of the points of view, “stream-of-consciousness” writing, and all of the thousand and one other things you’ve heard denigrated for no valid reason your entire life are simply tools. Tools to be used or not used, to be picked up or laid aside, as dictated by the aesthetic sensibilities of the author. All of these tools have been used, and used extensively, by well-educated, well-respected writers of English prose since the dawn of English, and it is ludicrous that any writer should ever have to defend the continued use of them.

It’s time for writers to write the book they have, not the book someone else wants them to have. It’s time for writers to take charge of their art. It’s time for writers to stand up.

Come see me at the 4th Annual NW Book Festival!

Come see me at the

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A Family Event – Free Admission

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

From 11am – 5pm

Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland

www.nwbookfestival.com