Category Archives: my writing

What have I published? Struggled with? Where can you go to read my latest work?

Bye, bye, LiveJournal!

I love blogging. It’s like keeping a diary, but you self-edit so your posts are not so torturous to read later. And for those times you absolutely must splay your guts on the page, you can write a blog post and mark it “private.” It’s like having a secret pen pal.

I started blogging maybe around 2009? I quickly settled on LiveJournal, partly because other friends of mine were there too. Then Facebook came on the scene, and LiveJournal started doing pushy advertisements, so I switched to WordPress, leaving my old stuff on LiveJournal.

It’s not entirely the same. WordPress feels more professional and less personal, and with less of a sense of community. But it’s where I am.

Meanwhile, something happened with LiveJournal. It turns out it has been owned by a Russian company since 2007, and I neither knew nor cared. But after the 2016 presidential election, in which the Russian government explicitly meddled in the U.S. democracy, I care a damn lot. But more to the point, the servers are now living in Russia and subject to Russian espionage  (guess it wasn’t a secret pen pal after all), Russian law, and Russian censorship. This is happening in the context of human rights abuses in Chechnya relating to LGBT folks. (By the way, there is a call-out to folks to consider donating to an organization called All Out, for emergency evacuation of LGBT folks in Chechnya.  ) LiveJournal put out a new Terms of Service that everyone using LiveJournal had to agree to, and a bunch of people are leaving in droves and moving over to Dreamwidth.org.

Here’s a blog post with more info (especially see the comments): New LiveJournal Terms of Service.

So, goodbye LiveJournal. I made a backup on Dreamwidth (under an alias so I can splash fanfiction and whatnot on the page without worrying about the mess) and then I deleted my account. I am copying over some of my more interesting posts to this blog, as time permits, and back-dating them.

emma peel moved her blog

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In defense of outlines

I. Introduction

A. Anecdote

B. Not taught in elementary and middle schools

D. Benefits of outlining

E. Call to action

III. Why not taught

A. Scare students

B. What teachers do instead

1. similar to outlining but without the Roman Numerals

2. ex. “mental map”

3. [note: research and give examples]

4. My opinion: this mystifies the writing process

II.  Benefits of outlining

A. Makes the writing process easier – manageable chunks

B. Helps with anxiety

1. There is something on the page

2. Numbers and letters make you feel like accomplishing something

3. Psych yourself into thinking you are not writing

C. Benefits for procrastinators

1. [Anecdote]

2. Can leave writing until the last minute

D. An aid to research

1. Lets you know ahead of time what research may be necessary

2. Lets you know what the gaps are in your research

3. Can take notes and cut and paste right into outline

4. Big screens are a plus. Do not attempt on a cell phone.

5. Old fashioned paper works too.

E. Organization is flexible

1. Often your first idea for organizing doesn’t work out

2. Easy to move around, add new categories

3. Word processors often have tools that make it even easier

F. The more complex the writing assignment, the more helpful

1. [Anecdote]

III. Call to action

A. Bring back outlining!

B. Not for everyone, indispensable for some

C. Yes, I am a geek for writing an entire essay in outline form and posting it to my blog. (What can I say? Organization pleases me.) If you read this whole thing, maybe you are too.

IV. Bibliography

A. [Find sources on any studies re: outlining]

B. [Find sources for any examples of mental maps, etc.]

Categorizable

Took some time today to categorize my posts. Every time I share my URL with anybody, I always say, “It’s a bit of a mishmash!” Everyday stuff, book reviews, Doctor Who, and lots of radical politics. But maybe somebody comes here just for the Who. Or just the feminism. So now, you’re in luck. Here are my categories, and I’ve added them to some of my posts, going back at least a year or so.

books, movies, tv, music
A book, a movie, a show, a song. Was it amazing? Fun? Did I hate it? Am I now thinking deep thoughts about it? Come along for the ride.

doctor who
What is that certifiably insane time traveler up to THIS TIME?

dreaming politics
I’m always pondering how to build a better world. Or how to survive this one. I read, think, dream, act. It’s all here.

everything else
These are all the posts that don’t involve my job, my writing, my interests, or politics. In other words, anything. So either this category is empty, or else my post has ventured into the Twilight Zone.

my writing
What have I published? Struggled with? Where can you go to read my latest work?

on the job
As a parent and a writer, most of what I do is unpaid. But it’s still a job. Here’s what it’s like.

By Balu Ertl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Balu Ertl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sponsor me for the Clarion West 2015 Writeathon!

It’s that time of year again. Serious students of SF/F writing are sitting down to six weeks of intensive study with award-winning authors. They write at the grueling pace of one story a week, while also reading and workshopping everybody else’s story a week. (For some perspective, the MFA program I took required three stories per quarter, and that was HARD.) They learn the craft of writing SF/F, and they make connections that will support their writing and their careers. Maybe five, ten years later, some book of theirs shows up on the shelves of your local bookstore, and you pick it up and stay awake all weekend reading it.

The workshop is expensive. Some of the most amazing voices could never afford the tuition. Hence, the Clarion West Writeathon! It supports scholarships for the students who have been selected to participate. Here’s how it works: I set a writing goal for myself. When that goal’s met, you donate to the workshop.

So please sponsor me for the Clarion West Writeathon! You’ll be doing two great things at once – you’ll be helping guilt me into writing, and you’ll be helping train the award-winning speculative fiction authors of tomorrow. Pledge whatever you’re comfortable with — even a $10 pledge helps!

Here’s my official write-a-thon page, with all the details! While you’re there, be sure to check out the other fabulous writers who are taking part in this write-a-thon!

P. S. Check back on my blog for weekly updates on my progress — I’ll be keeping a log of how many words I wrote.

clarion-west

Getting to the ending

Well, it’s been a year since I started my project on documenting the fanfiction workshop I taught in my son’s fourth/fifth grade class. I got distracted by the end of the school year and never came back to it.

There’s a lovely irony in the place I got stuck: “Getting to the ending.” Endings are, apparently, difficult.

The main thing I told the kids is that there are no hard and fast rules, but people have an intuitive sense of when something is ended or not. The main question to ask is, “Does it feel finished?”

I gave them three general options:

  1. Solve the problem or mystery or find the treasure
  2. Have the character fail to solve the problem or mystery
  3. Leave the solving of the problem or finding of the mystery to the future, but add a resolution

I also provided some examples by reading ending sentences out of various books and asking the kids why they felt a sense of completion.

From that small amount of guidance, most students were able to generate an ending. Some were stuck, and we worked with them individually, offering suggestions if needed. But in keeping with the rest of the course, I kept adult visions of “the proper story” out of it.  Once they felt the story had a sense of completion, it was done.

Next up: revision!

Linkspam: The ethics of self-publishing

Yesterday I got into a great conversation with interesting people, and the topic of self-publishing came up. It brought me back to the ethical issues I’ve faced along the road of publishing Misfits from the Beehive State, so I figure it’s time for a tiny bit of background and helpful resources.

When I self-published Misfits from the Beehive State,  my number one consideration was that it not be “vanity press,” and the way I made that distinction was to keep overhead so low that it made an actual profit. At the time, using CreateSpace was the way to do it. And I made my book available on Amazon, because that’s how a lot of people wanted to buy it.

I maybe wouldn’t do a second book the same way. That’s because my book is one part of a larger ecosystem of readers, books, publishers, distributors, and bookstores, and what I do as an author has an impact on that ecosystem. Here are three links from my website that touch on the issue:

On small publishers and indy bookstores – I propose “We need to band together and support the small presses and independent bookstores we eventually hope will support us.” (March 2014)

What I learned about working with small bookstores – I report on a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association event “Working with PNBA and NW Bookstores” (May 2014)

Misfits available on IndyBound – I explain how and why I made my book accessible to independent bookstores, and why to buy for them. (May 2014)

Here’s a link that discusses the problem of Amazon:

Ursula Le Guin on Amazon and market-based censorship – a little intro to the problem Amazon poses to small publishers and independent bookstores. Quote from my #1 favorite author Ursula LeGuin: “We’re talking about censorship: deliberately making a book hard or impossible to get, ‘disappearing’ an author,” Ms. Le Guin wrote in an email. “Governments use censorship for moral and political ends, justifiable or not. Amazon is using censorship to gain total market control so they can dictate to publishers what they can publish, to authors what they can write, to readers what they can buy. This is more than unjustifiable, it is intolerable.”

Finally, here are links to some potentially viable alternatives to CreateSpace and Amazon.

Roundup of self-publishing services – includes not only CreateSpace but also XLibris and Smashwords

IngramSpark – a self-publishing service that can make your books readily available to bookstores

How to make your book available through IndyBound – a way to make even CreateSpace books available in many indy bookstores

There’s a lot more to be said on this topic, but I need breakfast!

scoobydoogang01

This weekend’s panel at Geek Girl Con

Cross-posted on the Washington Lawyers for the Arts website, http://thewla.org/blog/.

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a panel at Geek Girl Con on “Fanfiction: Sharing, Creating, and the Law,” put on by the Washington Lawyers for the Arts. It was a great experience! It was fun to work with the knowledgeable and friendly panelists, and I got answers to questions I’ve had for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of time researching the concept of fair use and learned a lot of legalities, but less about how I could apply them in a practical sense. Now I’m armed with a lot of knowledge and a solid sense of direction. Very helpful!

Just being at Geek Girl Con was amazing in itself. I brought my spouse and children, and we all spent some time exploring the con, dressed as characters from Doctor Who or Nancy Drew. Who knew you could find a life-sized robotic Dalek standing next to a woman in a TARDIS costume singing along to “Let it Go”? Or make a pocket-sized model of the solar system?

The panel was moderated by Allison Durazzi, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers for the Arts, and the participants were Kristin Ann King (myself); Rachel Buker, WLA board member; and Brian Rowe, chair of the WLA Board of Directors. Our goal was present both creative and legal perspectives on creating fan fiction.

I went first and talked a little about my background. I write short stories, blog posts, and critical essays. My first book, Misfits from the Beehive State, was published last year. It’s not fanfiction — it’s a book of surreal short stories set in Utah, all about people who aimed for perfection but fell down the rabbit hole instead. I also write fanfiction, mostly for the Doctor Who fanfiction site A Teaspoon and An Open Mind. That site has tens of thousands of stories, all put out there for free by fans, mostly using a pen name. It’s a wonderful avenue for storytelling, but I do often wish I felt free to put it out under my own name. I’ve had many questions over the years about the practicality and legality of borrowing others’ work. What happens if someone thinks I’m infringing? Is it possible to know for sure whether my use of a copyrighted work is protected by law?

Rachel went next, and she covered the fundamentals of copyright, including thorough definitions of copyright and the public domain. In brief, copyright is a bundle of rights that protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. It has to be creative expression — for example, ideas and facts are not covered by copyright. Those kinds of works, works whose copyrights have expired, and certain other types of work are in the public domain. She gave links to tools for determining whether a work might be in the public domain. For a fuller explanation of these concepts, check out the PowerPoint slides from the talk .

Then we broke for a little bit of Q&A, and the audience asked thoughtful, interesting questions.

Next Brian discussed ways that people can legally use copyrighted works. Free speech is a first amendment protection, and it’s also built right into copyright law in the form of “fair use.” When courts are considering whether or not it’s fair use, they consider four factors: the purpose of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of work used, and the effect of the use on the market of the copyrighted work. Brian covered several cases in which that the courts decided whether or not fair use applied, as well as a few cases that were settled before a decision could be handed down. He encouraged the audience to create transformative works and pointed out that every creative work is a remix of one kind or another. Star Wars, for example, borrowed heavily from other movies. Brian also provided a list of legal resources, including the Washington Lawyers for the Arts, free and low cost resources, and organizations that help defend these free speech rights, such as the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

These resources are in the slides, but they’re worth adding here as well:

We finished up with more audience questions, and once again they were thought-provoking.

I learned a lot from this panel that I can take home and use in my writing and publishing endeavors. Here are just a few of my key takeaways:

  1. The fair use clause of the copyright is extremely fuzzy and open to interpretation by the courts.
  2. If a copyright holder thinks someone is infringing on their work, it does not always go straight to court, and most cases end up being settled. There are specific steps that can be taken, such as a “cease and desist” letter or a “takedown request,” and specific right and wrong things to do in that situation.
  3. There are organizations out there that provide free and low-cost legal assistance, depending on the situation.

I also came out of this panel with a whole lot more hope for the future of fanfiction as a legal activity. Fanfiction writers always have a cloud hanging over us: we think our specific use of copyrighted material is legal, but it’s impossible to know for sure unless it goes to court.

But maybe this situation can change. Other countries treat copyright and fair use differently. For instance, in Japan, fan works has more respect, and there are more specific rules for whether or not they violate copyright.

One of the audience members asked about the possibility of having a Hugo Award for fanfiction. The idea has been kicked around, but people are a little concerned. Rachel took the question, and of course, there was no definitive answer. But she did ask whether there was a monetary prize given out, and the answer was no, just a statue. She then inquired as to what the statue was made out of, joking, “If it’s chocolate, that might be OK!”

I would be delighted to see a Hugo award for fanfiction. I would love to see a world where fanfiction can be freely shared and professionally respected.

Thanks to the WLA for the opportunity to participate on this panel!