Shooting Open Locks

So you’re a writer and your character wants to shoot a lock off a gate or a door or something, to get to where they need to be. Does that actually work? What kind of gun/ammo would you need? How many shots? Let’s find out!

Seriously, this is a fun video. :)

Also, that dude is a pretty awesome shot. O_O


Marriage Equality, Finally

The Supreme Court finally grants marriage equality.

Try as they might, people opposed to marriage equality haven’t been able to come up with any rational reasons for their stand. “Because our god disapproves,” is not a rational reason in a nation with separation of church and state. “Because the children,” is not supported by any legitimate research. (In fact, I can’t give a link because I didn’t save it at the time, but I remember reading an article a few years ago discussing research that showed the best outcome for children, looking at emotional adjustment, behavior, and performance in school, came from having two lesbian parents.) “Because pedophiles,” is a null argument because adults having sex with minors (ignoring the complications of what that means and where the lines are drawn) is still illegal. And that idiot in California who tried to get a proposition on the ballot requiring that anyone who commits “sodomy” be executed by whatever member of the general public got to them first (no, seriously) just makes the anti-GLBT side look even more whacked than it actually is.

I’m sure there are plenty of people moaning and gnashing their teeth today. But look, the sky isn’t falling. If you think gay sex is icky, then good news: you’re not required to have gay sex. Your kids are no more likely to be gay now than they were last week. And if your kid does come out to you, you’re still free to disown him or her, and the people around you who disapprove would probably have disapproved last week, while people who would’ve agreed you did the right thing last week will probably still think that now. And if your church doesn’t recognize gay marriage, your church still isn’t required to marry gay couples. Nothing has changed for straight people.

Which is the whole point. Nothing has changed for straight people. We can go about our lives as we always have, because the world still treats us the way it always did.

And in fact, only thirteen states still banned marriage between same-sex couples yesterday. We were already mostly there; the Supremes just acknowledged the way society was moving.

Note, though, that this decision doesn’t mean homophobia is dead in the US, any more than the election of President Obama meant racism is dead. There are still plenty of people who see straight as “normal” and gay as “deviant,” and who want the laws of the land to reflect their views, some of whom are active on the political stage.

Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are two Republican presidential hopefuls who support a Constitutional amendment allowing states to ban same-sex marriage. Considering that the majority of states allowed it yesterday, and polls show a majority of Americans are in favor of it, I have no idea where these guys thought that amendment would come from. There’s no way they’d ever get the two-thirds ratification required to pass it, so…? Marriage equality doesn’t affect them, so it looks like either their own fears and squicks on display, or (more likely IMO) it’s a flag-waving act, aimed at the very small but very loud radical-right voting pool. “Hey, look how conservative I am! Vote for me!” Of course, that tactic hasn’t worked in the last couple of presidential elections, but if these guys want to give it another whirl, bully for them.

And others have already discussed Clarence Thomas’s dissenting opinion against marriage equality. From Thomas’s opinion:

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Seriously? Because being a slave, confined and beaten and raped, isn’t at all undignified. Because being dragged away from your property (often losing it permanently) and locked up in an internment camp, declared a danger to the country of which you’re a citizen, hated and reviled by your fellow citizens, isn’t at all undignified. And having people sneer and snark at your marriage, telling you it’s just pretend, and having your children harassed and mocked because their parents aren’t really married and they don’t really have a normal family, that’s not at all undignified.

The fact that Justice Thomas, who’s married to a white woman, clearly benefits from the results of Loving v. the State of Virginia, and yet declares that Obergefell v. Hodges — which grants the exact same kind of marriage rights (and dignity) to a group of people who were discriminated against exactly the way interracial couples were discriminated against before Loving — is wrong and pointless, is bogglingly irrational. It reflects a lack of compassion, and an “I’ve got mine so you all can go suck it” attitude.

There are plenty of people, though, even in conservative states, who are ready to jump right into getting gay and lesbian couples married, because “conservative” is not the same as “asshole.”

Gerard Rickhoff, who oversees marriage licenses in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, has removed the words “male” and “female” from the licenses. He’s prepared extra work stations and is ready to keep the office open late. He’s planning to have security on site to deal with protesters, “so there’s no possibility of discomfort or hate speech.” And if same-sex couples are turned away by clerks in other counties, he has a message for them: “Just get in your car and come on down the highway. You’ll be embraced here.”

Props to Mr. Rickhoff, and others like him in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan, mentioned in the above HuffPo article, and to people in all states, of all political orientations around the country whose action and support, however loud or quiet, let this happen.

I’ll wrap with a quote from President Obama: “Today we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect … America should be very proud.”

The World’s Biggest Christmas Stocking

If you knit or crochet, or are willing to learn, this is an incredibly cool project for a great charity.

The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation helps kids who’ve lost a military parent in the line of duty pay for college. Caron, the yarn manufacturer, is putting together a project to make the world’s biggest Christmas stocking, and is asking people to knit or crochet three-foot squares and send them in to be assembled. They’re going for an entry in the Guinness Book, which is also cool.

If you buy your yarn from Caron, they’ll give fifteen cents per skein to the CFPF. If you just want to participate in the world’s-biggest-Christmas-stocking project, you can buy your yarn from someone else, or use yarn from your stash, so long as it’s worsted weight. There are knit patterns and crochet patterns you can download and print out. All the crochet patterns are Beginner or Easy, and the knitting patterns are mostly Beginner or Easy, with a couple of Intermediates that use mosaic colorwork. Even if you’re just learning, you can find a pattern that’ll work for you. It might take a while to do a three-by-three square, but if you use a Beginner level pattern, it won’t be hard. If you have a favorite pattern you want to use instead, you can do that, so long as you end up with a three-by-three foot square.

If you’re worried that you’ll be too slow, note that they’ve been working on this since last November, as far as I can tell. They planned for it to go into this year, and sure enough, they’re only 20% through right now. Looks like there’ll be time for fast workers to do several squares if they want, and for beginners or people who are just busy to do one without knocking themselves out. :)

The main page, with a progress meter, is here.

Watch Ireland Passing Marriage Equality

This is a wonderful video, just under 7.5 minutes long, by Raymond Braun who travelled to Ireland for the vote. He travelled around and talked to people, both straight and gay, about what it meant to them. It was pretty awesome seeing the up-welling of support for marriage equality, enough so that there was an entire store in a mall selling just pro-equality items.

This is the first time a country has adopted marriage equality through a popular vote. Props to Ireland. I hope it spreads.

Workshop Stuff

I went kind of radio silent for a few weeks there — sorry about that. I have things to post about, but I’m not going to dump it all at once. First is the Anthology Workshop I went to from late February through the first week in March. Great stuff as always. Anyone who has any interest in writing short fiction should try to get into one of these workshops some year. I think the 2016 Anthology Workshop still has space, or at least it’s not marked as full yet. Click through and scroll down.

For anyone going “Huh?” right now, the Anthology Workshop is an intense week-and-a-bit on the Oregon coast with about forty writers and half a dozen editors. We get six anthology assignments ahead of time — submission guidelines, like you’d see for any anthology — starting right after the first of the year. Each assignment has a deadline a week away, and then we get the next one, boom-boom-boom, six stories due on six successive Sundays. You’re not required to write for every book — you can pick the ones you want — but why wouldn’t you? This is a great opportunity to submit work and then listen to a bunch of editors arguing over your stories. Oh, and possibly make some sales to Fiction River, as a nice bonus to eight days of learning.

Most of the workshop days are devoted to going over stories, one book’s worth per day. They start at one end of the row of editors at the front of the room, and each editor says whether they’d have bought the story or not, and why or why not. The last editor is the one (or occasionally a pair, editing a book as a team) who’s actually buying stories for the live anthology. There’s a white board for each book, where BUY and MAYBE stories are listed, along with author and wordcount. Sometimes all the editors agree one way or the other, but usually not. The discussions back and forth between editors of differing opinions can be entertaining, and are always educational. That’s really what it’s all about — seeing how and why different professional editors can and do disagree over a story, occasionally with snark or sarcasm involved. When we’re done with all the stories, the editor(s) look at how many BUY stories they have, and if there isn’t enough wordcount, they go through the MAYBE stories to finish building the TOC. Watching them do this is another great educational opportunity.

So each day, the editors go over one book’s worth of stories. I always write for all the books, and so do a lot of the other attendees. Before this year, if a story was passed up, we were encouraged to sub it to some other pro market right away, but this time we were told not to. Good thing, too.

The six books we wrote for were, in scheduled publication order:

Hidden in Crime, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a historical crime volume
Visions of the Apocalypse, edited by John Helfers, a book of stories taking place during (not just before or after) the end of the world
Last Stand, edited by Dean Wesley Smith and Felicia Fredlund, stories about characters making a final stand, and no, it’s not all they-died-in-the-end stories :)
Superpowers, edited by Rebecca Moesta, a YA anthology about teenagers learning to cope with some kind of super power
Haunted, edited by Kerrie Hughes, an anthology of haunting stories
Pulse Pounders: Adrenaline, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, a book of short thrillers

Click through and scroll down a bit to see the up-coming anthology covers. Last I heard, they’re planning to find new art for the Last Stand book, but the others are pretty set except for names on the covers.

I initially sold a story to Haunted, which is cool; I’ve worked with Kerrie before and am looking forward to working with her again. I missed with John’s Apocalypse book, which was disappointing; I’ve sold stories to him the last two years, but this time I didn’t quite hit what he was looking for. Dean hated my story for Last Stand, but Felicia liked it a lot. I honestly wasn’t expecting to make it in there, but after going over all the stories, they did some horse trading between themselves and Dean got one he wanted that Felicia hadn’t really cared for, and Felicia got mine. :) Kris teetered a bit on mine, but it didn’t quite make it, which was disappointing, but I’ve never sold her anything before, so I was almost expecting it. Then on the last workshop day, she announced that someone not in the workshop who’d been invited to submit to the book, and who’d wanted a 10K word space saved for them, couldn’t submit something after all, leaving Kris with a 10K word hole. She bought two extra stories after all, one of them mine, woot!

Now this year, there was an extra person sitting up front with the editors. Mark Leslie Lefebvre, AKA Mark the Kobo guy, was a student in the workshop last year. He stepped in and offered some Kobo support when a couple of editors had more stories they Really Really Wanted to buy, but which they didn’t have room/budget for. Two of last year’s volumes have special Kobo editions with three more stories in them, which is awesome, so thanks to Mark for that. But this year, Mark was sitting up front. Huh?

Okay, there had to be a reason. Last year, there was some talk about how, if the special Kobo editions were a success and sold well, they might do special editions of all the books this year. But as days went by, they weren’t buying extra stories, and there was no mention of a Kobo edition. Huh. But there was Mark up there, doing the Yes-Maybe-No thing with all the stories. My guess was that he was doing a stealth book, his own anthology, and I was right. :) They went through all the stories that Mark or one (or more) of the other editors had loved, but either didn’t have room in their book, or it was a story for someone else’s book that didn’t get bought. We had a whiteboard for each book (Dean and company screwed each day’s board up onto the wall somewhere in the room after that day’s workshop was over) and then Mark had a couple more where he assembled his picks, plus all the unbought picks from the other editors. Hashmarks showed which stories had a lot of love from the editors, even if the one it was written for didn’t buy it. That last round of TOC building was great, especially for the folks who got last minute surprise buys.

There’s some great stuff in there, stories I’d have bought if I’d been one of the editors. The book’s not on the Fiction River site, but they were calling it Editors’ Cut at the workshop. Fiction River doesn’t always stick to just one genre in each volume, but Mark’s book will have more variety than usual. Should be great for anyone who just loves short fiction.

Like last year, we had sign-ups to eat lunch with the editors and Allyson (the publisher of WMG), and I went out with a few people. And there were great discussions in, around, and after workshop sessions. Some notes:

If you love a trope that nobody’s writing anymore, other people will love it too, so write it to fill that hole. This is especially an opportunity for folks indie publishing — don’t let New York tell you Horror is dead, or Westerns, or romantic vampires, or kids finding weird objects while playing, or whatever you’re into.

Past a certain level of craftsmanship, whether a story sells or not isn’t really about quality, it’s about taste. Don’t let a rejection, or a bunch of rejections, discourage you. If you’re pretty sure a story is well written, keep subbing it, or indie publish it.

If you’re doing a punch story, a short story with a quick hit at the end, do a double-punch — two hits in quick succession — to make it even more powerful.

When you’re writing for submission, readability is key. No 10pt fonts, no weird fonts, don’t try to be “special.” Try to be readable. If the editor notices your formatting, you blew it.

Define what “success” means to you before you plan a promo campaign. You have to know what you want so you can tell if your campaign was successful and worth the resources you put into it.

80% of people who download a free book won’t read it.

You need at least 3-5 books in a series for perma-free on the first book to be of any benefit. (And there’s some disagreement about whether perma-free is ever a good idea. Temporary free promotions might be better.)

Amazon categories — use Fiction, General and Fiction, [Genre] as your two categories. Then your keywords will get you into other categories under those. There are a bazillion categories under Fiction, General that you can only get in through Fiction, General plus keywords

When you sub to a literary market, don’t label the story by genre in your cover letter, and don’t note genre credits. For literary markets, no previous credits are better than genre credits.

Never use the term “self-published” — use small press, independently published, etc. The stigma is still there, so don’t get it on you.

A good title will sell a story before you’ve even written it (in tradpub). It’ll also sell a story to readers.

Stories about the everyday tragedies of human life need to rise above the everyday tragedies of human life. They’re realistic, but a reader needs more of a reason to read about that particular one. Usually it’s not something anyone outside the main character’s family and friends would care about. [Writer]’s story worked because their character was heroic and had a humorous thread in their voice about what was going on with them. Also, you need to balance the tragic event with being an entertainer. The reader has to want to read that story — they’ll want to read it because it’s entertaining. What about the story and the characters makes the reader want to hang with them, especially since most people aren’t keen to spend time with their own family and friends who are horribly sick, or whatever, much less a stranger?

To transcend the horrible mundanity, maybe the character does something different, something heroic. Or the story could have an awesome voice.

If you’re editing an anthology, or putting together a collection of your own short work, the gut-wrenchingly emotional story should be at the end, or maybe in the middle, but most definitely not right up in the beginning.

When building your TOC, figure about 1/3 of readers will read the book front to back, in order.

Don’t start a story with the character’s first and last name — nametag opening. It has to be up front quick, but not the first two words.

Kris’s technique for analyzing someone else’s book/story — Take a book you never want to read again, underline setting words with a different color for each sense. Then go through and color each word for how it supports the story, setting or character or plot. The idea is to load the technique into your head so it filters to your subconscious and five stories [of your own] later you’ll start using it when you write. It’s not deliberate; it comes out of the subconscious as you write.

Dean’s technique — Take a book and type the opening in your manuscript format to get the feel for what the writer was doing word-by-word. You’ll start realizing what the writer is doing and how they do it.

Whenever you get comments about too many details, it’s always the writer putting the setting details in (the writer’s narrative voice) rather than filtering it all through the POV character’s opinion. Everything should be filtered through the character, which makes the words build character as well as setting. If you feed setting in through the POV character, readers won’t notice all the setting coming in; it reads very quickly.

If anyone notices your setting in the beginning, you fucked up.

Don’t use a series name in the title of a story in an anthology because too many people will see that it’s a series story and skip it.

Stories are circles, and the end has to reflect back on the beginning. If an ending isn’t working, it’s probably because there’s a problem with the beginning, or because the ending doesn’t reflect on the beginning.

On a crime story being resolved — the reader needs to know who committed the crime and that the story is over. A mystery/crime story puts order onto chaos. If the story is noir, the reader needs to know that order will never be imposed on the chaos. If it’s not a mystery per se, they might not catch the crook, but in any case the reader needs to have that info.

This isn’t everything, but it’s most of what I had in my Notes file on my laptop. This is an awesome workshop, and I’d be taking it even if I never sold anything. In fact, the first time I went, the anthologies weren’t “live,” and nobody sold anything; we were all there for the learning. This is a wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in publishing short fiction.


Your Brain on Fiction

A writer friend on a mailing list linked to an article called Your Brain on Fiction, which talks about how the brain responds when one is reading fiction.

It seems that reading vivid adjectives or active verbs stimulates the same parts of your brain that activate when you’re actually experiencing the adjective or doing the verb. For example:

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark.

This also works with social interactions. Reading about characters going through emotional experiences and relationships makes readers more able to understand other people, empathize with them, and navigate social situations.

It is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television. (Dr. Mar has conjectured that because children often watch TV alone, but go to the movies with their parents, they may experience more “parent-children conversations about mental states” when it comes to films.)

Although that last bit made me wonder. It sounds weird that kids would pick up more about social interaction from movies than from television, and I don’t really buy the “going to the movies with parents” thing. When a little kid is really into a TV show, they’re going to want to talk about it, whether or not Mom or Dad knows who all Spongebob’s friends are. And what about watching movies on TV? Maybe they meant to differentiate between watching television and going to a movie theater, rather than between TV shows and movies. It still sounds iffy; I’d have liked to get more info on that.

Still, this is pretty cool. Definitely click through and read the whole thing.


Amazing Historical Archery

Like most people, I grew up thinking that the ultimate display of archery skill was the stationary shooter aiming at a target. When I was in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism — a sort of learn-by-doing history club) I learned about war archers, who massed behind the infantry and shot arrows in volleys, aiming high shoot their arrows in parabolic arcs over the heads of their own fighters to come down onto the enemy. War archers in the SCA counted on the massing of arrows for effectiveness, to make them difficult or impossible to dodge.

Lars Andersen studied historical documents and illustrations and has learned to shoot the way combat archers shot in pre-gunpowder days. This guy is amazingly fast, accurate, versatile and mobile. Watching this video makes me want to dive into historical fantasy just so I can write about a serious archer. :) Check it out:

Thanks to BoingBoing for sharing this.


Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide Cover

The Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology successfully funded its Kickstarter, so the ball is rolling. We have the final cover, with my name on it, yay. :)

 photo YoungExplorers2015Cover.jpg

I don’t have a publication date yet, but I’ll definitely be posting when it’s released.

I love this cover. The art is great — genre-specific enough to communicate “Hey, this is SF!” without focusing on a particular subgenre that’d let out a lot of stories, or trying too hard to be too many things and thus likely failing at everything. Good stuff.